Race Report: Saxon Shore Half Marathon

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(Disclaimer: my race reports are always long and convoluted…)

I’ve skipped reports from my last two 10K races, mostly because they were uneventful and uninspiring and also because I didn’t perform as well as I had wanted to – I was chasing PBs and I failed on both occasions; 10K really isn’t my distance. But a half? Oh, now we’re talking.

There’s something magical about the half distance. I love running, so having around 2hrs on my feet is how I would naturally want to spend a Sunday. I also don’t feel the need to ‘race’ a half in the same way that I do when I’m on the start line of a shorter distance. Shorter races are more about my performance compared to other competitors and where I might place (one of my bad habits is seeing who’s on the start line of a 10K so that I know what field I’m racing in…and it always stresses me out), whereas a half is more a race against myself and an opportunity for some time inside my head. It’s a distance I know I can run comfortably providing I make the right decisions early on in the race.

The inaugural Saxon Shore Half Marathon was one I had to sign up to when I saw it advertised. Race HQ was a 3 minute walk from my house which made for a very relaxed race morning and this was my first half of the year so I had high hopes for it in laying down a time I could be proud of. I wasn’t in the best condition come race morning (story of my life…bad feet, painful shins, iron meds had been making me sick) however I knew that my body was a lot stronger than it had been in previous races thanks to 6lbs of weight restoration so far this year (Renee and Holly, you were so right), and I was hoping that would work to my advantage and that I might be able to hang on to 8min/miles for the duration of the race. At the beginning of the year I had posted my goals for 2018, including to achieve a half marathon time of 1h40 – so I thought I might be able to get a conservative PB of around 1h45 if I was feeling 100% on the day.

As ever, the race itself was well organised, Sporting Events UK really are superb and I am always keen to sign up to more of their races. I’d say they could have put more toilets on than just relying on the ones at the King’s Hall as there were some serious queues even when the race was due to start (luckily I skipped the queues and went to my sailing club instead). The course itself was great – obviously again it is a route I often run in training and so for the past few weeks I’ve taken my long runs in the opposite direction along the coast so that I wouldn’t be bored by the time race day arrived. The only downside to this route was that, despite it being a coastal route, there were hills…more specifically what my husband and I affectionately refer to as ‘the slope of death’ at mile 1 and then a few more further in, but for the most part it was flat and the kind of route you could get into a good rhythm on and enjoy the scenery. Oh, and there was a headwind up until mile 8…but whatever, you can’t control the weather.

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 I felt surprisingly strong in that first mile (7.11) and thought I should perhaps slow things down if I wanted to have a solid race throughout, but I soon pushed that thought out of my head and decide to ignore my watch and run to how my body felt for as long as possible…turns out my body felt great for every single mile and I probably glanced at my watch 5 or 6 times throughout (usually I’m a serial watch-looker). I felt a slight twinge in my shin at mile 5 but taping my leg really saved me and that pain soon disappeared. I actually think I could’ve run faster than I did, but I was enjoying myself without killing myself and that’s quite a nice feeling in a race. I took a bottle of water at every water station (they were every 5K), drank a bit and poured the rest on my head as I was fairly certain things would be getting warmer later on in the race…anticipating this was a great strategy. I also chose to run with my water for a really long time (mostly because I wanted to put my bottle in the bin, rather than throw it on the floor for someone else to collect, but also because it wasn’t inconveniencing me holding it and meant that I didn’t have to take on too much water all at once).

Mile 5 was also where the first marshal told me I was currently 3rd lady…and then it seemed like every marshal started to repeat that to me. That was great to know, but I also knew that if I focused on that I might end up putting too much pressure on myself and my race could fall apart. Every time I overtook another guy they would comment on how strong I was racing to which I kept responding with ‘oh, this is just a fluke – I’m probably going to crash and burn soon’…but I didn’t, I remained strong and had a really comfortable and happy race. And my gosh, I needed a race like that.

In terms of fuelling, I ran with a pocket full of jelly babies. The day before the race I had decided I would take one at mile 6 and then every other mile after that…on the day, I ended up taking none. My energy levels felt fine, the frequent water stations were doing their job, and I really didn’t want to take on any fuel in case it messed with my stomach. I did make a couple of significant changes in the lead up to the race, the first of which was a slightly panicked email to Renee early in the week saying I was finally ready to start having snacks during the day and she gave me some good ideas to work with – so from Tuesday not only was I eating three meals a day, but also a decent size snack in the afternoon so my energy levels were good. Then on race morning I decided to double breakfast, which is something I never ever do and I was mildly horrified that I decided to do that, but it meant I had energy at the start line (always a good thing!) – so I had porridge with chia seeds and blueberries as my first breakfast with a glass of warm water and lemon, then a cup of tea and a bagel with almond butter on one half and honey on the other. Plus another glass of water. I felt really well fuelled and hydrated. Oh, and I had reduced the intensity of the training I was doing in the week leading up to the race so I wasn’t exhausted at the start – no more junk miles.

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I felt like I had prepared well, and I thought that if I had another bad race despite doing all the right things then I would really need to think about whether racing was for me. Feeling so strong right from the beginning fortunately meant that my headspace was where I needed it to be…I knew I enjoyed the half distance, but I had forgotten just how much I really love it and how those slightly longer runs suit me better. My internal dialogue was great throughout and not once did anything negative creep in…so I was happy inside my head, happy with my body, and just feeling very positive about the whole experience. Oh, and when I crossed the finish line I felt like I could’ve kept going – which bodes well for this weekend’s silly race.

So, results? 1h39 with 7.36 min/mile average and 3rd lady (out of 279), 33rd overall (out of 596), my very first running podium, and one goal ticked off my 2018 list.

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Race Report: The Fix Run Whitstable 10K

IMG_20180418_194023This was a bit of a bonus race for me as it was originally scheduled for March but the snow forced the organisers to reschedule to April…I had planned to keep April clear of racing as I have a fair amount of work travel this month which is always a little disruptive, but luckily this race was rescheduled to the one weekend where I was actually in the UK. Parfait. This was a new event for Whitstable (the ‘official’ Whitstable 10K takes place in May, and yes, I’ll be on the start line) and I have to say that it was superbly organised – there was a race for children, a 5K and a 10K all starting within the hour, and it had quite clearly attracted some new run/walkers to the event too; so something for everyone.

Everything about this race was efficient – from registering and collecting my race number, to dropping off my bag, to queuing for the toilets (actually, there were no queues)…and the marshalls were friendly and encouraging. In fact, my friend and former-colleague, Emma, was one of the marshalls and it was a rather unexpected and pleasant surprise to hear her cheering me on during the race.

The race started on time and I worked my way to the start line – I decided to go to the very front this time as I was fairly confident that I would be one of the faster runners – I bumped into James at the front too (he ended up winning the race in 33:55…incredible!) and had a few conversations with those around me. Everyone seemed in good spirits and raring to go. I had told myself that I wasn’t PB chasing in this race – but I still wanted a fast race and in my head wanted a sub 50. I started off quickly but rather than maintaining my pace it just got progressively slower, still keeping to sub 8 minute/miles so knew I would be well ahead of my target, but I did have to work hard to keep to a pace I was satisfied with. My body is pretty tired at the moment and I suspect that’s why I’ve had two consecutive races where things have not felt as good as they perhaps should have – I’m also struggling with my feet as my hallux limitus has gotten a little worse which means deciding on the right shoe to wear is becoming a bit of a nightmare. All week I had planned to wear the Gel Nimbus 20 in this race (my comfortable shoe in terms of foot pain, but my legs have to work harder in these to maintain speed), and then it got to race day and I switched back into RoadHawks (my fast shoe, but it doesn’t have enough cushioning to keep my foot pain at a manageable level) – I don’t regret my shoe choice at all, but I do need to rethink my racing shoe going forward. So yeh, having arthritis in your feet when you’re a runner isn’t the easiest thing in the world to manage – but until I can physically no longer walk, I will continue to race.

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I actually really enjoyed this race – it’s a route I run in training all the time, so I’m familiar with the intricacies of the ground and which part of the promenade to run on to give my legs the easiest ride. I couldn’t quite keep up with the lead pack, but was considerably ahead of everyone else behind me so there were parts of the route which felt a little lonely – towards the final quarter the 10K runners started filtering into the 5K participants which gave me a real boost as it meant I could shout words of encouragement to the people I passed and the sun started to come out too which makes all the difference for me. My headspace was great during this race – I felt like there was no pressure and I was just there to have a good time, which is exactly what I did. The only real issue I had was my jaw dislocating at mile 5, but that happens to me more often than I’d care to admit so it no longer bothers me as I know I can fix it once I’ve stopped running. All in all, a very happy race.

So, results? I came in at 46.59 (about 15 seconds slower than my PB) and was 5th lady – so not too bad, although I definitely feel like I have the capacity to improve on that time.

Oh, and here’s a bonus video if you want to see me unleash my inner-competitive gremlin on the start line…

 

Race Report: Folkestone 10 Miler

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Where do I even begin with this one? In terms of where my headspace was at, this would definitely rank as my worst race; it was a huge mental struggle from start to finish…but that’s just what running is sometimes and all you can do is pick yourself up afterwards, dust yourself off, and move onto the next one.

On the Monday before the race I told myself that I would have a good taper; lots of fuelling and plenty of rest. But actually March has been a pretty big month for me, it has been stressful and tiring and challenging and wonderful, and essentially everything that prevents me from just sitting still and looking after myself. So, unsurprisingly, I deluded myself that I was having a good taper, when realistically I was running every day and skipped lunch every day too – I know, idiot. I woke up on Good Friday, the morning of the race, and felt terrible…my body was heavy, I felt lethargic and I hadn’t really slept the night before. I had my usual pre-race porridge with a tea, and then had half a bagel with nut butter too for some extra fuel and packed three jelly babies to potentially have during the race and a bottle of water for the hour’s journey to race HQ.

I arrived at a muddy field in Hythe just as it started to rain and as the wind was picking up. My headspace was already pretty negative by this point, because, you know…I’m fed up of the rubbish weather. But I did a few Insta stories and interacted with some of you which raised my spirits. I then started to strategise. This was a last minute addition to my race schedule and done as a knee-jerk reaction to my last race being cancelled due to snow. Technically I didn’t need this race, nor had I been training for it, but last month I ran 10 miles in training at 7.20 min/miles so I knew I potentially had a fast race in me and told myself that my main goal was to keep below 8 min/miles throughout.

The weather started to get worse whilst we were all huddled at the start line – I had positioned myself quite close to the front because it was a busy race and I didn’t want to get stuck behind people. The first part of the race was a lap around the very muddy field – I wore my Roadhawks and was sliding all over the place, but soon we were out on the road and straight onto the seafront. I was fairly familiar with the route as it’s the same as last year’s Folkestone Half, just run in reverse and with a few miles taken off the distance. On a sunny day, this route is glorious. On a day like we had, it is soul destroying. The route is entirely exposed as you run along the coast – on the way out to the 5 mile turnaround we had an almighty headwind which made things very difficult and the rain became heavier and heavier; the route felt boring and hard work. By this point my internal dialogue was the most negative it has ever been whilst running – at 1.9 miles in I seriously questioned whether I had this race in me, and at 3 miles I saw someone retire and start walking back (he was in an Ironman top, no less) and thought about doing the same. But I decided to stick at it because I knew I had overtaken a few people by this point and despite feeling low, I thought I was probably still putting in a decent effort. At mile 5 there was a very slight incline and I honestly thought about walking, thankfully I decided against it as I know that if I had started walking that would be my race well and truly over (or at least, the race inside my head). Hitting the turnaround point gave me a boost, and as it was an out and back route it meant that I could start to encourage other runners as I crossed their path whilst on my way back – that actually made me feel significantly better. I like to encourage others, and it also helped to frame my own inner-competitive gremlin too. I had become so preoccupied by the thought that I wasn’t hitting a time that I deemed acceptable for myself, that I had forgotten about the fact that actually, even at my worst I am still a fairly speedy runner.

After what felt like the longest time, I made it to mile 9 which was probably my worst mile (and where my speed dropped to 8.13 min/miles – my slowest mile on the course) – I really hated the world during this mile, which wasn’t helped by the fact that one of those fast food vans was on the side of the road and all I could smell were burgers being cooked. Oh man, I felt sick. It took a lot of effort to hold myself together, but I did, and persevered through to the finish line.

I did my usual sprint finish, and came in at 1:18:59 with an average pace of 7.54 min/miles. As soon as I crossed the finish line I started beating myself up about it – I shouldn’t have, because it doesn’t really matter and actually that is a respectable time, plus my average pace was sub 8 min/miles, which I should’ve been satisfied with – but I soon realised that my biggest battle on the day was in my head, rather than my body and that actually if I had just set aside those intrusive thoughts, I would have performed better.  I bumped into my ASICS FrontRunner teammate, Yiannis, at the finish too – he had a brilliant race which was really great to hear and made me feel happier.

So, lessons learnt for next time? Don’t feel the need to add a last-minute race into the schedule (you have nothing to prove), leave your inner-gremlin in the car (he won’t help you at all), fuel properly (because everyone needs food, duh), rest when you need to (because you don’t need to punish your body), and don’t take yourself too seriously (because nobody else is). Racing is usually a fun thing for me; I’m the person who will smile from start to finish and will cheer anyone and everyone on. So onto the next race, which is just two weeks away…

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Race Report: Monaco 10K

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Ah, the Monaco 10K, my favourite race that I run each year. I love being back in Monaco as I have such fond memories from my childhood spent there and this year I knew that I had a PB in me so was even more excited than usual to race. My (non-runner) husband also does this race each year, and usually we run the course together which always feels pretty special…this year however, I felt like I had something to prove to myself and so we decided to each run our own race (after a few funny exchanges where my husband was pleading with me to run with him and when I asked why his response was ‘to ruin my race’…love you too, G-man).

The day before the race we walked down to the expo which had moved to Le Stade Nautique Rainier III and was far more convenient and well organised, collected our bibs, and had a really great time catching up with Blue Coast Brewing. At this point, I felt great – I had fuelled well, I had rested, I had trained properly and I was feeling happy. Sunday arrived and I still felt great so knew I had the potential to have a good race – although the weather was truly atrocious – I’m talking biblical rain, which is something we don’t experience too often on the Riviera. Whilst the weather wasn’t going to deter me, it did mean I had to add a jacket to my race kit which I was really loathe to do as I don’t like to race in anything that makes me feel bulky. I knew that the ten minute walk to the start line, and potentially hanging around for about 20 minutes at the finish line would mean I would benefit from the extra layer though.

We arrived at the race start and went off to the toilets where we bumped into Paula Radcliffe. Dream come true. In terms of inspirational female runners, you don’t get better than Paula – we had a brief conversation about the race and said good luck to each other before parting ways. At this point my husband and I decided to say goodbye to each other so I could work my way closer to the start line – I actually found this quite an emotional moment. I was so proud that he had chosen to run the race again and I really wanted to be there to encourage him throughout, but this was also my first race of the year and I had something to prove to myself and knew I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t give this one my all.

The race started and I went out fast – faster than I think I have ever run, but I felt good and the pace didn’t feel unsustainable. I reached the first gentle incline at around the 5K mark and started to fall into a negative and very critical head space, I also took on too much water at the 6K mark and felt like my race was about to fall apart. And in a brief moment where I was really suffering, Paula Radcliffe ran past me (she was running the second leg of the relay race) and shouted ‘well done – keep at it’…which was just the boost I needed. That moment taught me that the discomfort I was feeling within my body was perhaps psychosomatic – something to bear in mind in future races. Eventually the finish line came into view and I knew I was on target to achieve a good time, my official time was 46:43 and 13th lady (previous 10K PB was 50:20 and achieved quite a few years ago) which was better than I could have hoped for – I wanted to come in sub 50, but thought realistically I would be at the 49 minute mark so I really was over the moon with this result. My husband came in at 1hr 4mins which was also a PB and a great result for someone who doesn’t run.

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28700932_10214213609646829_6613599846373325931_oI started to suffer post-race. I was very very cold from the rain and my hip flexors seized up whilst I was waiting for my husband – I also really had given the race my all and could tell my sodium levels were low which can make me quite ill if I don’t fix it quickly. So what did I do? Refuelled at McDonalds…I know right, who even am I?! But that Happy Meal really hit the spot after a successful morning.

I’m racing another 10K this weekend and am quietly hoping for another PB, although snow, ice and 25mph wind is forecast during the event so I think I perhaps need to manage my own expectations on this one.

Monaco run

New year, new me?

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I’m back, I think. I fell out of love with blogging last year – mostly because my head wasn’t really in the right space and because I felt very conflicted with what my goals were and the means by which I was trying to achieve them. I fell into that classic overtraining cycle which is so difficult to break out of and my health was up and down throughout the year. But things are getting better and I’m feeling happier and more focussed – I also have a great support network keeping me on the right track, but more on that later.

In autumn of last year, I finally found my perfect distance after years and years of flipping between things half-heartedly. I entered my first half marathon in September and came in at 1h55…I raced with a cold that day but the weather was glorious and I loved every minute of it. During that race something clicked in my mind that this was the distance I wanted to focus on and that actually I wanted to change my approach to running and racing (which up until that point had very much been a ‘need to be in control and punish myself’ thing – definitely not the right reason to run), so I made a commitment to myself that things would change. Of course, life then got in the way and I forgot about that commitment. I entered another half for November just to check that I really did love the distance, and on very little half-specific training due to a busy work travel schedule, I came in at 1h51 and felt like I could have easily given more. And then I forgot about looking after myself once again and my weight dropped and life just started to feel a little tougher…but I was still hitting good times (a 5 miler 38 minute PB and a 23:02 PB at ParkRun) so carried on until I was hit with the flu at the end of December. The flu was the worst, I have never felt so low, and it lasted for two weeks…not how I wanted to start a new year.

But something good came out of the beginning of the year too – I started working with Renee McGregor. Renee is a performance and eating disorder specialist dietitian, as well as a best-selling author. We’re working on a lot of things, including fixing my relationship with food and exercise, and restoring my weight. Which all sounds very simple and straightforward when you type the words into a blog post, though trust me, it’s a lot of hard work and continual effort. But still, it’s a positive kind of effort and one we’re making progress with.

And so this weekend was supposed to be my first race of the year; the Deal Half Marathon. However it looks like it’s going to be a DNS for me. A DNS is a complicated thing – ordinarily it wouldn’t be something to celebrate and I would only not be on a start line if I had a broken leg or some other horrific injury…and whilst I’m not injured, I’m not 100% well either and if I forced myself to race it would be for the wrong reasons, which is exactly what I am trying to move away from. I had been going back and forth in my head for the past fortnight as to whether I should be on the start line…deep down knowing that I shouldn’t be but also feeling like I had something to prove with my first race of the year (but this is the thing with working with Renee and starting to work through my issues…there’s now a rational voice in my head rightly questioning my motives for a particular action). And when at the beginning of last week I was comparing last year’s results for that race with this year’s names on the start line document to see where I might place if I did race and whether I would make it into the top 10, I realised that my behaviour was falling into that completely irrational space that I know so well. So coming to the decision not to race tomorrow is actually a good thing for me, and is something I will celebrate because it means that I really am making progress. Plus, my next race is back in Monaco – and quite honestly, starting my racing season in my happy place in warm sunny weather sounds rather delightful to me.

Despite the things I’m struggling with, I am genuinely quite excited for this year’s running. I have started to place a little less pressure on myself so that I can just run for the joy of running – and it’s working. I haven’t reduced my mileage, but have started to run for myself rather than for my stats…in fact I don’t think I’ve uploaded to Strava for about two weeks now (which may sound like nothing but is progress for me). I have another great year ahead being part of the ASICS FrontRunner UK team who are just a fabulous bunch of people and provide so much motivation and inspiration, and I am genuinely feeling a lot more positive than I have done for quite some time…which may have something to do with the daffodils I’ve just bought for myself, but hey, spring is on its way and self-care through flowers is a very good thing indeed.

 

 

RUNaissance

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Back in March I got ill. The kind of ill where everything feels like a gigantic effort, where even waking up and getting out of bed in the morning felt like an unbearable challenge. I hadn’t been 100% well since last autumn, but come mid-March I felt like I could barely function – although also felt like I had to keep going (note to self: next time you’re properly ill, take time off from work and exercising, it’ll make the recovery so much easier). Thankfully things feel like they are finally back on track – I’m having to take iron medicine each day which is disruptive in other ways (can’t take it with dairy, eggs or tea…how’s that for an awful breakfasting experience?), but it has seriously improved my energy levels.

I thought that my low energy was normal, I knew I was not looking after myself as much as I should be, but always assume things will just figure themselves out without needing to be addressed properly. It turns out a little bit of medicine goes a long way. In the past month I have seen the most noticeable difference and have felt so inspired with my running once again – to the point where I didn’t want to take a day for granted so ignored the need for rest days and did a 14 day streak. And then I remembered that one of the biggest challenges I face in life is striking a balance (I’m an all of nothing kind of girl) and eventually forced myself to take that much needed rest day and was all the better for it.

And whilst it’s safe to say the first half of 2017 didn’t exactly go to plan, the second half is on the horizon and filled with exciting things. I have an aquathlon in September and may try to fit in another triathlon late summer, although if I am honest all I really want to do these days is run. I have some great running events coming up with my ASICS FrontRunner team though; we have the Ealing Half in September, the Florence Marathon in November, and lots of other fun events along the way.

I haven’t run a marathon before but am incredibly excited and, actually, it is a big goal of mine to achieve. It comes with some heightened challenges for me; firstly, the bones in my left foot are slowly deteriorating (and so my rationale is to use my feet as much as possible before I have to have surgery), and secondly, I am terrible at fuelling. Truly terrible. I eat all the right things, but I don’t eat enough and this is a problem that consistently returns and is something I need to address in order to perform in the way that I want on race day. Unfortunately I cannot run a marathon on fresh air and enthusiasm alone so there are a few hurdles to overcome here – the fact that I am at the lowest weight I’ve been for a few years isn’t exactly a good position to be in, but it has been recognised and is being worked on. Once I am back from my holiday in July I will be working with a sports nutritionist in the lead up to the marathon and I hope that this will be my opportunity to get on top of everything again – for me, having somebody else control and assign what I need to eat and when should hopefully make this journey a little easier. It will be a challenge and filled with the usual ups and downs that come with trying to gain some racing weight (and just ‘living life to the fullest’ weight), but running feels more important to me at the moment than any kind of aesthetic benefit that comes with not fuelling adequately.

So running has, once again, saved the day for me and brought back a whole lot of focus and happiness. Here’s hoping it continues!