Tuesday 27 December 2016

Returning to running after having the twins

People say having children is life changing. It's a massive understatement.

I struggled through the later stages of my pregnancy (as I was so enormous, uncomfortable and unable to walk more than a few meters at a time) but on Thursday, 10th November, after 15 hours in labour, I gave birth to our twin daughters - Eleanor Katharine Tilley and Florence Elizabeth Tilley.

Thankfully I managed to avoid a cesarean section, and Ella and Ren (that's how we're shortening the names) avoided all but the briefest of treatment in Special Care. We came home from hospital two days later and they're now nearly 7 weeks old and are doing incredibly well.

Those 7 weeks have been a mixture of emotions, but it's fair to say it's been really tough at times, and although it's also been wonderful too, I don't think anything could have prepared me for the impact of becoming a parent. Nothing I read came close to exposing the reality of it. My mum stayed with us for the first 10 days which was the only reason I think i managed to retain my sanity at the beginning, and Francis has been brilliant and is such a natural! We've totally shared the work, we've slept in shifts, and have now got to a stage where I'm relatively confident looking after the twins.

As hard as it is, sometimes it's absolutely lovely
I've had one particularly bad day that will stay in my mind and prompted my earlier than planned return to running. Ella and Ren were five weeks old and suffering with colds. The idea that I was now a parent was still sinking in and I still felt that I had no idea what I was doing. On this particular day there were tears - a lot of tears - and I don't think any of them were from the babies. I was still finding it overwhelming and to be honest, scary, looking after the twins on my own all day with Francis at work. I found trying to deal with the needs of both of them at the same time too much, and was also struck by the feeling of "Is this it now? Is this my life?" Looking after newborn twins comprises of crying (all of you), feeding them (not yourself), brief cuddling, changing nappies, changing clothes (theirs, not yours even though you may be covered in milk), lots of laundry. It's constant and although you know it isn't true, it feels like that's all there will ever be.

The following day my mum came to visit and I took the opportunity to get out of the house and to take Chewie for a walk. On a bit of a whim I wore clothes I might be able to run in...although didn't mention it to my mum. On arriving in the field at the start of the route I was taking, I decided I needed to try. I knew it was too early (you're meant wait for the 6 week post-natal check up) but I had recovered quickly from the birth, my stitches were healed, and the stress I was feeling was just too much. It'd been eight months since I last ran, and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I needed to do it. And rather than thinking about it too much, I did.

My legs seemed to remember what to do. I remembered how to breathe. I didn't need to walk, and just carried on. Three miles later, I thought I should probably be sensible and stop. Absolutely elated, I walked back to the car.

It was brilliant! I certainly took it easy and I was very slow, averaging 11:57 along a pretty flat trail, but even so, I was surprised that I didn't find it as tough as I'd expected and seemed to have retained some level of fitness. I loved he sensation of being out there. I've been out for a few walks since 5 days after the birth, with the dog and the twins, gradually increasing the distance, and was happily walking for over an hour before the run, so didn't just do a 3 miler straight off the bat.

That first run was also a perfect reminder that just because I'm now a mum, there's no reason at all why I can't be a runner too. Possibly not an ultra runner for a while (as I doubt I'll be able to find the time to train) but I will definitely be able to get back to marathon fitness with the support that I have from Francis.

Christmas Day 
It also heralded a completely new, more relaxed approach to looking after the girls. I was no longer worried about having lost my identity, I felt less stressed and I'm not just trying to cope any more. I'm actually enjoying it now, although am aware that as Ella and Ren get older and their needs change and increase, there will be new challenges.

Yesterday, Boxing Day, I managed to get out for my second run. This time I did about 4 miles and it was so rewarding again! I'm just incredibly glad to be back.

I'm still an horrendous 26lbs heavier than I was before falling pregnant, and I'm conscious that it's going to take me ages to get back to proper fitness, but I'm just happy I can still run and that I've made a start. I'm confident that after the excesses of Christmas, and with regular runs in the New Year, I will start to drop the weight, and my fitness will improve.

With this in mind, I've also signed up for my first event of 2017!

The Hockley Woods Trail Challenge at the beginning of March. It's 5km laps, over 6 hours in my favourite local woods, and I can do as few laps as I like and still "count" as a finisher. Regardless of my fitness I wouldn't leave the twins for too long, but I'm hoping that I can do 15km. We shall see!

Monday 27 June 2016

Life-changing times

It's been a strange few weeks...all rather unsettling, and I feel like I'm going through a bit of a personal crisis.

No, not being pregnant itself (I'm actually quite enjoying that, despite the various aches and pains and constant worry that's associated with it) but the ever increasing separation I feel from my life as a runner.

The last time I ran was nearly 10 weeks ago. Since then, I have manned check points at both the Thames Path 100 miler, and GUCR, and I absolutely loved both experiences. Both were overnight shifts in excess of 12 hours, and it was a privilege the help the runners as best I could, and to see some truly gritty performances as they battled through epic levels of pain to complete their goals. They were also great learning experiences as I had the chance the see lots of different race strategies and kit choices! However, I'm now too pregnant to be able to support at checkpoints - standing for long periods of time isn't really an option, and I get exhausted pretty easily. I would probably be more of a hindrance than a help.

So, although I'm still trying to remain active through walking, and I will soon be going for my first swim in my new maternity costume, I am starting to feel less and less like part of the community, as I no longer share the focus of training, recovery and commitment to the weekly mileage. I'm still following everyone's exploits on twitter and facebook, but I'm not seeing anyone in person at races, and I'm not finding myself as engaged as I was, feeling that I don't really have much to add to conversations about races, or kit, or injury... My focus is becoming more insular I suppose, as I start to prepare, emotionally and practically, for the arrive of our twins.

This scares me.

For the past 6 years I have defined myself as a runner. Running has changed me, for the better, in many ways, and the running community has been a wonderful support network and has enriched my life. I feel I have made true friends though my running, but that I am now starting to lose some of those connections, and some sense of myself. I know that inevitably I am going to become "mum" as well as "Naomi", but it's incredibly important to me that that the one doesn't cancel out the other.

I know in my heart that in the grand scheme of things, the next six or seven months will pass incredibly quickly, and I shouldn't wish this very special time away. I know that my children are going to become the most important thing in my life, and that my priorities are inevitably going to be very different once they are born. This is as it should be and I'm realistic enough to realise that 145 mile ultras may be out of the question for the foreseeable future, but marathon training is much easier to schedule.

I just hope that by the time I am physically capable of a return to training, I haven't lost the desire, and I haven't forgotten that I'm a runner as well as a mum.

I have more that I want to achieve...there's more that I know I can achieve.

I want to set a great example to my children.

I need to do all I can to be healthy...in mind as well as body.

Running will give me all of those things, and I have to make sure I don't allow myself to forget how life-changing it was the first time I became a runner.

Saturday 28 May 2016

Ultra runners in training

My first baby purchase, to go with our first pictures from my scan yesterday, at 13 weeks 3 days.

It's going to be at least a year until our twins are big enough to wear these babygrows...but I just couldn't resist.

Many thanks to Centurion Running!!

Monday 2 May 2016

A DNS at Viking Way to prepare for an even bigger challenge

Written on 10th April. 

For the last ten months, my goal race has been the 147 mile Viking Way ultra.

So many of you supported me in this most crazy of goals, seemingly equally impressed with the scale and challenge of the event and with my evident madness in wanting to take it on. I really appreciated the belief that everyone had in me! My training was going well, and I was feeling very confident about how I was going to do in the race.

View from the 50 mile checkpoint in Fulletby.
But, I decided not to run - I dropped out the week before the race.

I volunteered to crew instead, and spent the Saturday evening and night stood in the cold, the wind, and then the rain, following by a bright and sunny Sunday morning, thoroughly enjoying myself, trying as best I could to help some of the most incredible, hard-core runners I've ever had the pleasure to meet. It convinced me, that one day, I would go back to run the Viking. It is a truly epic race.

So, why didn't I run?

Well, here's the news...Francis and I found out that I'm pregnant!! :D We've been married for three years now but together for ten - we're so excited about this next adventure! But if that wasn't news enough...it gets more exciting...we're having twins!!

The beautiful peacock medal from
Larmer Tree
We now know that I ran my last race, the fabulous, best 26.6 miles I've ever run, beautiful Larmer Tree Marathon, while in the very early stages of my pregnancy, back in February. It was too early for a positive result on a pregnancy test at the time but I definitely suspected, and it was tough! It's quite a hilly race (2,433 feet elevation gain) but even on the flat sections I found myself a bit breathless, struggling more than I'd expected to, and walking a lot, finishing in 4:58. I loved it though and I am very happy with the concept that it was baby's first marathon! However, it showed me that never mind the inherent risk to the pregnancy, it would have been absolutely impossible for me to run 147 miles. Feeling sick and tired before you even start running really wouldn't have helped either!

Although incredibly happy about the double baby news, I'm disappointed to have missed Viking Way, and I've also pulled out from the other big races I'd planned for this year - GUCR and the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam, and obviously wont be hitting my 100th marathon in 2016 as I'd planned. I doubt there are many who understand this but after so much thought, preparation and expectation, I've found it a bit hard to get my head around the fact that I'll not be running these races. I've volunteered to crew them instead, and will try to make sure I stay part of the race scene that has become such an important part of my life.

I've also found, that despite my strongest intention that when I fell pregnant I would be one of those women who ran all the way through, I have found myself unable to run these last few weeks. The exhaustion that seems to come with growing twins has left me wiped out after a day at work, and needing to rest after a walk, never mind anything more strenuous. I've decided though not to worry about that and just enjoy my pregnancy and see how things go over the next few weeks.

We had the first scan this week, and the babies are due at the end of November. We've started telling friends and family, and although I know it's earlier than most people would share the news (we still have weeks to go until the 12 week milestone), everything looked good on the scan, and hopefully all will be well with them both.

So, although I thought this year was going to be full of running challenges, now I need to start preparing myself for the biggest life challenge of all - becoming a mum, becoming a mum of two...and becoming a mum who runs!

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Larmer Tree Marathon

A video from what must be one of my favourite ever marathons. The scenery was stunning, the course was perfect, the medal beautiful. I had a wonderful day out.

The Larmer Tree.

Coverage of the actual running starts at about 2 minutes in...

Monday 29 February 2016

Many miles, three medals and a plate

My preparation for the Viking Way is really going well and I'm just loving running at the moment.

In the last two weeks, I've added a fair weight of bling to my collection, completing two marathons and an ultra. I ran my fastest marathon for 4 years (a negative-split 4:06) at the 100 Marathon Club's AGM Marathon, ran 5 laps of the Deal seawall at the Marathon Day Marathon and finished as 2nd Lady at yesterday's St Peter's Way 45 miler which runs cross country along an ancient pilgrimage route through Essex. I've racked up over 150 miles during the fortnight, and apart from an Achilles niggle over the weekend, my legs are feeling surprisingly good. Whether this is the right way of preparing for a non-stop 147 mile race I don't really know, but we shall soon see!

Marathon Day Marathon medal
100 Marathon Club's AGM Marathon medal

St Peter's Way medal & 2nd Lady trophy

I've surprised myself by really enjoying some commute runs through London, accompanied by some beautiful sunsets, and have managed to fit in some much longer mid-week runs than I would usually find the time for. Changing from running at 10pm to getting out straight after work has made a really big difference and, with Francis being very understanding about my later arrival time at home after work, it's has made fitting in training much easier.

The Thames!
This photo didn't nearly capture how beautiful sunset was

Yesterday's St. Peter's Way race, put on by Challenge Running, is one of my favourites, and this year was my fourth running of it. We were lucky with the weather and underfoot conditions - it's usually ridiculously muddy - and although there was no course record, it lent itself to a faster than usual day out. Everyone gets a bit lost on this race, although I'm always surprised at how easily some manage it. I only missed one gate this year but luckily realised and didn't add on any extra miles - it was surprising though how much of the route I didn't remember. You really need to pay attention to the route instructions on this race!

I finished over 40 minutes faster than last year, in 8:03, which I'm incredibly pleased with, especially as I ran without a watch, just on feel. If I had been clocking my time, I think I could have probably got a sub-8, but not to worry - I'm more than happy with what I achieved and how I felt throughout the race. I'll be back again next year for my 5th go - maybe I'll train up specifically for that one (and not tack it onto the end of my biggest mileage week for months) so I can try and get to the top step of the podium!

Next up though, is the excitement of my first international race in Cyprus, which is this weekend. It's my 90th marathon/ultra, and I'm really looking forward to it. Although the trip is focused on the marathon, we're extending our visit and spending a week out there for a mini-holiday, so lots of sunny runs by the sea await me next week. Just a few days at work to get out of the way first...

Thursday 11 February 2016

My new tattoo...with 7 weeks to go until the Viking Way!

There are 50 days left until I take on my toughest race so far...the 147 miles of the muddy, cross country, self-nav, no GPS, tight 50 and 100 mile cut off, 40 hour time limit, Viking Way Ultra.

But you know what, I'm really looking forward to it.

I know there's going to be lots of pain, it's going to be hard, and all of those bad things, but the positives of being involved in this race really outweigh all of that. Truth be told I can't wait.

Training has been going well since Country to Capital, and I have a realistic plan to get me through these last 7 weeks. I've been losing some weight, had some wonderful training runs that I really enjoyed, and yesterday I got my tattoo finished by Julia at the King of Hearts studio in New Cross, London.

Am very pleased with it, and although it means a few days of enforced rest (can't get sweaty for a while!) I'm ok with that. Here she is...taken just minutes after the tattoo was finished.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Country to Capital

My first run of 2016, in fact my first run at all since getting injured after Christmas, was the Country to Capital ultra on 16th January.

I was pretty nervous as to whether my hamstring would cope with the distance (somewhere between 42 and 45 miles) and the hills, and the mud I was expecting, and even less enthusiastic about the 4:15am alarm call and the freezing temperatures, but nevertheless I was still really looking forward to the race. It covers some beautiful scenery on the cross country route from Wendover in Buckinghamshire, down to London, and finishes with 20 odd miles along the Grand Union Canal.

Getting ready to go
Very cold at the start

Thankfully...my hamstring held out. I took the first half of the race slowly, and whenever my leg grumbled a bit, I slowed my pace, and generally had a wonderful time. I ran the first 15 miles chatting with my friend Anna, and just soaked up the scenery, and once I'd warmed up, realised the weather conditions were perfect! Cold enough that the mud had frozen pretty solid in most places, but dry, clear and sunny. I plugged into the iPod for the last stint as we headed towards the canal, and after about 20 miles I really came into my own and finished off strongly. Although my watch died before the end, so I can't be certain of the final distance or my pace, I felt like I was flying for the last few miles and was so pleased.

I finished in 8:27, which is a far cry from my time of 8:10 that I ran in 2014, or the sub 8 hours I'd been hoping for, before my 17 day injury layoff, but it was fabulous and I was very relieved to have got through it without crippling myself!

I also practiced being self-sufficient, only filling up my water bottles once along the route, and I didn't take any food from the aid-stations, eating only what I was carrying. My race vest was packed with jelly babies, salted cashew nuts, 2 babybel, 4 "finger of fudge" chocolate bars, and two flapjacks. I didn't finish all the jelly babies or the nuts (although snacked on them on the train home), but it worked well. With races this year not having aid stations for 15 or 20 miles, I need to be comfortable and disciplined in doing this (making sure I do actually eat during the run and not wait for the aid stations).

The whole race was a real confidence booster and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! 

Friday 15 January 2016

"Catch up" It's been busy, now I'm injured, but I have a race tomorrow

I have been a very bad blogger. My last post was at the beginning of November, and since then a lot has happened that I've missed telling you about!

We moved house, and I'm now on the Essex coast. I found moving VERY stressful, but have been exploring new trails and local routes. Lots of my runs are now, inevitably, by the sea but my heart always pulls me back to the woods!

With the structured training I've been doing, as a result of Lindley coaching me, with the hills, tempo runs and intervals, I've actually been getting fitter and faster. Brilliant stuff! All very positive. I've also run a few races in the last couple of months - 4 trail marathons in fact, and a 20 miler:

* The tough Trailscape East marathon - very hilly but beautiful, along the North Downs Way.

* The Kirkstall Abbey marathon, which is a bit of a 10in10 reunion and Brathay fundraising race. There were lots of us there, but this is a photo of those of us who finished at about the same time. Lovely to catch up with everyone.

10in10ers at Kirkstall Abbey Marathon

* The Usual Suspects challenge - 6 hours to run as many or as few laps as you like by the White Cliffs of Dover. A social event more than anything...so many friends there. A medal to treasure for ever too.

* The Great Barrow Challenge - three muddy marathons in three days. I only did the first two days...

So, what else has been happening since my last post? Obviously, we've had Christmas and New Year! It was a whirlwind of seeing friends and family, but lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed decorating our new house and eating and drinking far too much!

I've missed out on doing the traditional "review post", although here is my haul from 2015's 10 miler, half marathon, 20 mile, 13 marathons and 12 ultras! I'm very proud of what I achieved last year, particularly of my TP100 and GUCR double!

Oh, and I've managed to pick up an injury. I was signed up for doing all of the days of the Great Barrow Challenge, which is three trail marathons in three days, between Christmas and New Year. They're absolutely brilliant events and was SO looking forward to it. Sadly, on the second day, after a good morning when I was on track for a sub 4:30 on the hilly, muddy, fabulous course, at about mile 19, I suffered a hamstring injury. The pain was so excruciating when I tried to run, that I had to walk the last seven miles back. I considered dropping, but with the really long races I've got coming up, when you never know what's going to happen, walking seven miles with an injury is actually still pretty good training!

As a result of this, while it's been healing, I haven't run a step in 17 days! Yep, 2.5 weeks! It's really not good at all. But it is feeling better than it was and my physio said I could start running again this Saturday to try out my leg and see how it feels. Nothing too strenuous (no running up hills or trying to be fast) but I can give it a go.

Saturday happens to be the day of the Country to Capital 45 mile race that I have a place in - a race I enjoyed so much in 2014. So, I'm going to try out my hamstring there. I know that's not what the physio meant, but if it starts hurting, or cramping, or aching...I'll stop and DNF. I will be sensible. But I have to give it a go....