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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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!

Race Report: Monaco 10K

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What was supposed to be my third race of 2017 actually ended up being my first race of the year. The Coastal Endurance race at the beginning of January ended up being cancelled due to safety concerns and I then consciously decided to pull out of the London Winter Run in February as my feet were in no fit state to put in a good race, so I wanted this to be a good debut for the year. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Monaco 10K is my favourite race that I do each year – Monaco is somewhere I spent a lot of time whilst growing up so there’s a level of comfort and familiarity with racing there, it really does feel like home. This year my uncle and cousin were planning on racing with us too, but my cousin fell down some stairs and broke her foot shortly before the race so had to pull out (Sasha – I’m convinced you did this deliberately and we will get you racing with us next year). We were blessed with really beautiful weather once again, and after spending a few days relaxing by the pool felt in pretty good condition by the time race day arrived.

Then I woke up on race morning and felt so unenthused to run – not to the point where I wanted to pull out as there really is no pressure with this race, but I didn’t feel like I was going to put in much effort. So, we went down for breakfast and whereas usually I’d be quite strict about just eating a bowl of porridge before the start of a race, I actually decided to fill up on croissants and discard any nutritional needs my body might require for a good performance. I then got dressed into my race kit and swapped my shorts out for tights, despite the fact that it was approaching 14’c outside and I knew I’d be overheating within 10 minutes of starting. Essentially it was an exercise in self-sabotage, or so I thought…

We got to the start of the race with just a few minutes to spare, heard the announcement that Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe were running in the relay event after our race, and then set off on our way into Fontvieille to run a lap around the Stade Louis II and then back into Monaco Ville to tackle the first of the hills. Monaco is hilly, though not ‘properly hilly’, and what I refer to as hills during this post are more steep but short inclines – but there’s a lot of them during the first half of the race and you really have to dig deep to keep momentum going. I’m the type who usually struggles on hills quite a lot but I actually breezed up these ones and felt great (I’m going to credit this with the Barre classes I’ve been going to religiously since last September), I was certainly overheating though as I had predicted and then drank far too much water at the 5K mark to cool myself down…nobody really enjoys running with a full tummy of water, but I’m greedy and never learn from my past mistakes. At this point I could tell that my husband was starting to struggle with his ITB so I dropped my pace a little so that we could continue to run together. I was still feeling very strong at this point. At 6K I had another hill which really hurt my bad feet but still didn’t slow me down as the pain was just about manageable. We then took the switch back down onto Ave Princesse Grace and took the last 2.5K in our stride before crossing the finish line at the Stade Nautique Rainier III, still feeling strong.

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Despite all the consciously-made rookie mistakes I made in the lead up and during that race, I really enjoyed myself and had the strongest and most consistent race performance that I had had for years. Considering I woke up that morning not wanting to run, I was just amazed at myself for pushing through and getting the job done whilst genuinely enjoying myself…I think there’s certainly something to be said for forgetting any external pressures and racing just for yourself. Now that my feet are slowly deteriorating and I can’t get to the times I used to be able to reach I’ve had to really adjust my approach to running, and this race really helped me to see that when I forget about everything else going on, I can still be good. Not brilliant, but good. And good is good enough for me. This is also the only race my husband will run so it always feels a little fun and special to be taking it on side by side.

So what’s next? Well, I haven’t mentioned this on my blog yet as I want to do a proper post after the launch weekend, but I am now part of the UK ASICS FrontRunner team. This is a really exciting opportunity, and we’re making our debut at the Manchester Marathon on the 2nd April…so watch this space!

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