Wednesday 29 February 2012

The beauty of photographs

More and more races these days seem to have official course photographers (or rather, arrange for a company to come and take photos of the event).  I really value this, as I tend to go to races on my own and there's no-one to take any pictures for me!  Although the resulting photos are usually extortionately expensive, I usually end up buying a couple. 

Sussex Sport were the company working at this weekend's Roding Valley Half Marathon, and, I suppose because it was a lapped course, there were lots of opportunities to take pictures, but even so I was really surprised, and pleased, to see that when the race gallery went live online there were loads of photos of me...the grand old total of 18! 

There was a package deal if you bought all of the photos, which worked out much cheaper than buying the ones I particularly wanted, so although it made a ridiculous dent in my wallet, I forked out for the lot of them.  They all looked good in the low-res quality that were online, and I was really looking forward to getting the high-res ones that I'd ordered...and they arrived today.

As you'll see, I've scattered a few of them through my blog post about the race and I'm really pleased with how those ones came out - in fact all of them are great from a technical point of view - colour, clarity, sharpness etc!

However..... most of the photos that I haven't used in my blog, I really hate and it's through no fault of the photographers.  

It's because they show me how I really look...which is of course the beauty of photographs!  The ones that I've chosen to put on the blog have all fortuitously caught me in a relatively flattering position but most of the other ones haven't, and it's a real reminder (read slap in the face) that although I lost a fair bit of weight last summer, I've started putting it back on, and I never got down to where I wanted to in the first place!

So, the photos are a wake-up call.  I've had a lot of those in the past, and blogged about "how this time I'm sorting out my diet", but it never seems to last, and I usually forget about whatever the wake-up call was, about the time that I fancy a biscuit or someone brings in cake to work, or we decide to have pie and chips for dinner.  

I think I need to print out a few of the really shockingly wobbly photos and tape them to the fridge and store cupboard!!  Just imagine how fast I'd run if I was skinny! :)

Monday 27 February 2012

Roding Valley Half Marathon

Yesterday, I ran the Roding Valley Half Marathon, my 13th half marathon since I started running. Unlucky for some, but it was a gorgeous sunny day and I managed to get a PB so I shouldn't think of it as unlucky for me, but it was a bit of a weird one and I've come away not as happy as I should be.

I really wasn't feeling all that great about the race.  I knew it was going to be very hilly, and my 6 miles on Saturday had been a bit too much like hard work, so I wasn't very confident that I was in the best shape to have a good race. However, getting up on Sunday was easy, I was in a great mood, and feeling very keen so headed off full of the joys of spring ;) I arrived, parked up, picked up my number and timing chip without any problem (although I really don't like having to pick up my number...much prefer having it sent out to me) and got myself sorted out before having a bit of a warm up and lining up.

It's a track start (and finish) which was great but from early on it was apparent just how congested the course was going to be - I don't know if in recent years they have allowed more people to run but I don't think the route is suitable for the numbers of us that there were, as pavements were generally very narrow along some pretty busy roads, with lots of parked cars along them and without any road closures - it just wasn't that fun.  A couple of times I got beeped at by cars as they passed, and I saw other vehicles come very close to runners...and many of the motorists seemed to get really annoyed at having to wait for us to cross the road.  The route was also very suburban - I don't think I'd plan a training run around such uninspiring roads, never mind have a race route around them!

But any way - the route isn't what was significant for me about the race.  On Saturday, I'd been thinking about what I was going to aim for, and decided that on a regular day on a flat course, I should be able to run 8.30 min/mile which would get me a 2 minute PB.  However, as I said, I really wasn't feeling it, and this course was hilly, and so I started the race with 8.30 very much in the back of my mind, but with a sub-2hr race my real target which would leave me running at marathon pace of 9 min/miles.

When we started, I went off at a comfortable pace (although as always at the beginning of a race at bit slower than ideal because of the crowds) and although my first three miles were pretty much warm ups, by the time I got to mile 4 I ran it in 8:09. Mile 5 was 8.25 and then I managed to get really consistent and ran 6,7,8 all at 8.23!  I was amazed at the pace showing on my watch, especially with the hills, and then put in 8.16 for mile 9! Mile 10 was harder for me, with 8.37 showing on the watch, but someone running close by to me was pacing their friend, and she kept shouting all of these motivational phrases: "you've put all the hard work in, you can't let this go", "come on, this is where you've got to dig deep" "keep going" "just run a few seconds faster" and so on.... It really helped motivate me as my legs were starting to feel heavy & I waited for my surrogate coach at the finish line to thank her for her help!

Anyway, by this time I realised that my average time was still looking much faster than I'd expected - I was under 8.30 average pace and I realised that I was definitely on for a PB and so started to try and dig even deeper.  It's a shame I hadn't done it earlier, but got mile 12 done in 8.28, and mile 13 was my fastest mile of the race as it dawned on me that I might just get a sub 1:50...I ran it in 7.56!  I managed a sprint finish for the line (my Garmin recorded that .1 of a mile at 6.44) and I was checking my watch to see how I was doing, knowing I was so close to a PB time that I NEVER thought it would be possible for me to achieve. I was really excited that I might just do it, as well as being aware that it was great that I was still feeling strong enough to run well.

I crossed the finish as fast as I could, stopping my watch as soon as I got under the gantry.  I glanced down at it, and it read 1:50 and my stomach just dropped away, I was really disappointed. My official chip time was 1:50:02...just a few seconds over a sub 1:50 time, but still a PB of 3 mins 20 seconds on a hilly course, having run 6 miles the day before.  I should have been absolutely over the moon at running 1:50 and I think every other race I've ever run, I would have been.  But this time was different...I couldn't believe I had let a sub 1:50 time slip through my fingers.

When I got home, I wandered out into the back garden to find Francis.  He couldn't believe though that I was disappointed by running a few seconds short of a sub 1:50.  It is still a great time, and now a bit of time has past, I am very pleased...incredulous even that I ran 1:50.  I came 35th out of 178 in my age group, and 55th out of 276 ladies...but my overwhelming memory from this race will be the disappointment I felt as I crossed the line which is a real shame.
As the weather was still so lovely, after a bit of a rest, I went out again to get a few more miles in, and ended up running an extra (very slow and steady) 7, giving me 20 miles for the day.  I felt pretty good about having done it, and as my next race is a 20 miler in a couple of weeks, am feeling much more confident than if I'd left it at 13 for the day.  Surprisingly my legs don't feel too bad this morning either which is a result...although my back is complaining so going to have a massage tomorrow :)

Friday 24 February 2012

Ultra crazy

I went to buy some new trainers yesterday at Runner's Need, Holborn in London. Absolutely recommend the shop - the sales assistant who helped me was excellent and I came away with shoes that were cheaper than the ones I'd planned on getting, but that fitted me better!

While the assistant was fitting me for my shoes, he asked about my mileage and the type of running I do. I told him that I was training for a couple of marathons at the moment, but had a 50 coming up in July.

He obviously thought about this, and then a little while later, the conversation went:
"You know you said you were running a 50...did you mean 50 miles?"
"Yep, my first ultra"

I tend to assume that, at least within the running community, ultra running is pretty much understood and if not the norm, it's accepted. I think that because I follow so many ultra runners on Twitter, it makes it seem more normal to me.  I always forget that there are runners who concentrate on shorter distances and can't comprehend why anyone would be interested in, or put themselves through, running an ultra - they probably think we're crazy!

Anyway, today I find myself falling further into the ultra-running trap.  I was looking through my training schedule for the few months before the Challenge Hub 50 miler in July, and realised that I had a lot of weeks where I was due to be doing some incredibly long runs on my own, and without the reward of a medal at the end ;)  As a result, I've been scouring the web this morning, and signed up for a few more races, although I will be running them more as training runs rather than to try and get fast times.

This means that I now have the Brighton Marathon in April (where I'm aiming for my sub4hr time) the Halstead Marathon in May, the Kent Roadrunner Marathon four weeks later, and the Engima Ultra of 30 miles on 1st July before the Challenge Hub event two weeks afterwards.  It's a lot of miles and I'm really excited about it, especially completing 2 ultras in one my mind, that'll definitely make me an ultra runner, I might even change the name of my blog ;)

Wednesday 22 February 2012

A Run Streak for Lent

Although I'm not a Christian in the normal sense of the word...i.e I don't believe in God...I am, what my mum calls, culturally Christian - I celebrate the festivals I was brought up with, I know about the Bible, we have a nativity scene at Christmas, and I love all the traditional hymns.  Many of you will probably find that weird but there we go...

So, yesterday was Shrove Tuesday and I ate copious amounts of food including pancakes, and today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  As is traditional, I'm giving something up for Lent...and I've decided that I'm going to stop drinking all soda! This is massive for me as I currently, single handedly, support the share price of Coca-Cola through the amount of Diet Coke I consume on a daily basis.

I know that the caffeine withdrawal headaches are going to be hard to cope with (I don't drink tea or coffee to counteract it) but the health benefits of not drinking diet coke will be massive!!

I read the results of a 10 year study recently, that followed a few thousand people, and amongst the participants who drank diet coke every day, there was a 44% increase in their risk of heart attack or stroke!!  I've known for some time about other studies that have also been completed into the effects of diet soft drinks showing that high consumption is linked to suffering from lower bone density. It's commonly thought that these health risks are as a result of the sweeteners that are used in the diet version of sodas, although this is subject to controversy, but whatever the cause behind it, there is definitely something going on and I think it's finally hit home just how much of a risk I'm taking, seeing as I'm drinking at least two litres of the stuff a day!

The other thing I'm doing for Lent is starting another Run Streak.  I did the Thanksgiving '11 to New Year '12 Run Streak that Runner's World organised last year, and really enjoyed that, so think this will be another great opportunity to have a go at running every day - it's a positive thing to be doing, to go along with the more difficult "giving something up" and will I'm sure really help with my marathon preparation - Brighton is the weekend after Easter.

With both the Run Streak and eliminating my Diet Coke poison, I really like to think that I will continue them beyond Easter, but we'll see what I manage...

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Inspired by a Night of Adventure

Last night, Francis and I went to the Night of Adventure at the Vue cinema in Leicester Square, London...which is an event which brings together some of the most inspirational "adventurers" I have ever seen, each talking about their experiences.

Each speaker had 20 slides, shown on a huge cinema screen, with each one displayed for just 20 seconds before it automatically moved onto the next, and in this short time, they told the absolutely packed audience their story.  The night was hosted by Dave Cornthwaite, a hilarious and intrepid world-record breaking adventurer in his own right.

There was a real mix of people presenting and different types of adventure that they had experienced - from Mitch Stokes who had travelling the world with his girlfriend and their (when they started) 8 month old baby, and who's now going to cycle around Iceland, to Andy Campbell, an ex-soldier who was paralysed during a climbing accident, and now lives for the adventures he experiences...skydiving, scuba diving, and ski-ing to name a few...and is now going to travel 30,000 miles around the world in his wheelchair to raise money for the Chutkara Initiative.  We also heard about phenomenal feats of endurance, from Chris Martin and Julia Immonen who have rowed across the oceans, to many other inspirational people, including Alex Flynn who was the initial reason that I wanted to attend the event.  Alex is an amazing man who has been motivating me for the last few months as I follow him on Twitter, and he did so last night. His adventure has been a challenge that he has set himself to run ten million meters (that's over 6,000 miles)  to raise £1million to help fund research into finding a cure for Parkinsons - a disease he was diagnosed with in his 30s. Alex is 38% through his ten million meters challenge, and his next adventure is to run & cycle across America in an inconceivable 24 days!!

The event was also a fundraiser for the charity Hope and Homes for Children - I'd not heard of them before, but from the information we were shown last night, they do incredibly important work and you should have a look at the video below which shows just one of their many success stories.

To raise some more money for Hope and Homes, there was a raffle last night too.  Francis bought a strip of tickets, and took part in the "business card drop" and amazingly won an awesome prize. It happened to be a Women's Latok Alpine jacket in the very lovely "lagoon" colour (as seen in the pic) and so that translates as me having won it! Hurray! :)

What was even more amazing though, was that the top prize (£600 worth of holiday to Paris...the prize that everyone obviously was after) was won by Alex Flynn!  When the number was called, and Alex stood up with his ticket in the air with a soft call of "that's my number" you could tell the audience was all really pleased that such an amazing guy had won...but then he turned around and said to the audience..."I'll auction it".  And he did...he auctioned off his prize for £400 to a guy in our row, and that was just the icing on the cake for me. Alex is so dedicated to the cause that in that split second he made the decision to use this good fortune to make some more money for his charity.

Francis and I went for Chinese food after the talks and I seriously felt that I should ebay off my coat (worth nearly £200) and donate the money to Alex.  Francis decided that I've raised lots of money for charity, he had actually won the coat, he was gifting it too me, and I should keep it - I'm a little ashamed to say that I'm not as good a person as Alex, and Francis didn't have to twist my arm too hard to convince me ;)  I have sponsored Alex though, to assuage my guilt somewhat!

As well as our discussions about the coat, the evening had definitely inspired us, and our conversation for the rest of the night focused on what would you do for an adventure, what could we do together and how could we make that happen....

Today I am just as inspired as I was last night.

I am also ruined for work in the office, and can think of nothing but becoming an intrepid adventurer.  To experience something that would truly be life changing, that would challenge me and open my mind to a different way of life would be a wonderful thing to do.  I don't know if I am brave enough to ever get past the "what about work" and "what about money" questions, but I sincerely wish I could be. 

I have often thought of doing challenges - I have my marathons, and I have long planned to go on a trip to climb Kilimanjaro, and have seriously considered trekking to Everest base camp, but these are short trips that would work around my day to day, office based, life.  That, for me, isn't what a real adventure would be about.  Maybe completing my first ultra will be my first step on a whole new journey and I will realise that I have the strength of character to really try something completely inspiring...

Thursday 16 February 2012

I've been AWOL but I'm back

I can't believe it's been near enough a month since my last blog post!  Lots of things have happened, and I really should have been telling you about them at the time, but as I didn''s a quick run through. 
  • I ran a PB (1:22:57) at the excellent Canterbury 10 mile race on 29th January.  I put a lot of effort into this hilly race, and although it was hard going, I was really pleased to come away with that time and it's a race I'd probably do again.
  • I completed my first 20 mile run since last September and it went really well. I was very tired by the end, it wasn't enjoyable, but I did it without any food or water throughout (I'd expected to pass a shop but didn't) and I completed it in just over three hours so I was really pleased!
  • Francis turned 40! For his main present I bought him a skydive (we went but the weather was bad so we've rebooked for May), we went for a meal with 15 friends to Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen, and on his birthday, 6 inches of snow fell, so we went for a walk in the woods, threw snowballs and made snow angels! 
  • We also went on a truly lovely holiday to Venice for a week. It was unbearably cold for a few days, but it's a beautiful, unique and interesting place, and we really enjoyed ourselves.  I saw lots of locals out running, and every single one I saw made me feel incredibly guilty for not having taken my trainers with me!
  • Most importantly, as a result of the snow (and subsequent ice) and then our holiday, and general laziness two weeks have passed without me running a step, and in fact, I've just checked and over the last month I've only run on seven occasions! A far cry from the minimum of 16 that my schedule was showing!
So yes, that's hardly any running at all - with just eight weeks left until my target race, the Brighton marathon in April.  I'm shocked at that...obviously I knew I hadn't been running as much as I should have been, but going back and looking through my log makes me realise just how bad my training has got! To be honest, I'm embarrassed about it and can't really justify being so lax.  I just couldn't find the motivation to get up and get out most days, and always ended up finding excuses.

Anyway, after getting back from Venice on Tuesday, I planned to make myself get out of the funk and go out for a run last night (Wednesday), but I just couldn't do it - I couldn't be bothered and I just sat on the sofa all night and watched TV, despite having told myself all day that I would go running.  I have to tell you there was a big part of me that was really quite scared last night and I couldn't help but feel a little freaked out by the questions running through my head....was I ever going to find that feeling again and start training?  Had I stopped being a runner?  Was I going to be able to get control over the weight gain that's been creeping up on me over the last couple of months? Where had the dedicated and committed runner gone that I thought I had become? I honestly wasn't sure of the answers, and didn't know what was causing my loss of enthusiasm.

However, despite feeling so bad about myself and and despondent about the whole thing, on the off chance, I set my alarm for this morning to go off early - before 6am - because maybe I would wake up a different person, and I would go for out for an early morning run! I knew it was unlikely and I'd probably turn off the alarm and roll over, but if you stop trying then that's when you know you've failed...

But you know what, it worked!

I got straight out of bed this morning, got changed into the lycra, logged onto twitter for the first time in a fortnight (because I can't be on twitter when I'm not running, I feel too guilty/jealous/ashamed) to tell everyone I was joining @6amCLUB and I went out and I ran.

I felt awful to start with.  I had creaky knees, I couldn't find a natural form and felt generally heavy and clumpy.  But I persevered, and I got through it, and finished an easy 4.5miler.  I felt so pleased as I logged it on my training schedule!  I've also restarted my Weight Watchers plan, have been logging my food all day, am eating sensibly, and I've brought my running gear into work with me so I can get in another 4.5mile this evening.
I don't know what happened overnight, but I feel like someone flicked a switch and turned my inner-runner back on...I feel motivated and confident again.  But I don't need to know why, I'm just going to go with it, and try and work very hard over the next couple of months to get in the best shape I can for my sub 4hr marathon attempt.  I've got another three races between now and Brighton which will hopefully keep me focused.  It feels good to be back, and to be excited about the training I've got coming up...I just hope no-one jumps into my head and messes around with that switch again!