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Animal inspiration

I woke up on Monday morning the proud owner of a sub-50 10k time and it felt good. After the disappointment of just missing out at the Women’s Running event last week, it was great to have finally cracked it.

‘Stampede’ is a 10k race in and around London Zoo, although the Regent’s Park 10k is probably a more accurate description. The start is right inside the zoo and first half to three-quarters of a kilometre is a loop around before you head out into the park for three laps, then the final 150m and finish are inside the zoo.

Despite the promise of rain, the weather was perfect, clear blue sky and a comfortable running temperature. I’d arrived an hour ahead of the event, mostly because I hadn’t expected the traffic to be so quiet, and all went very smoothly.

There were plenty of staff to check you in and guide you to the start and not a single portaloo in sight. Yes, there are plenty of real toilets – and a tiny queue – which felt like a luxury for a race day.

About 10 minutes before the start, we were guided into the time pens, I optimistically slipped into the back of the 45-50 minutes section. The race instructions were read out, my favourite was being told to ‘turn right at the bearded pigs’, then we were off.

Despite only being in the zoo for a short leg of the race, it wasn’t disappointing. I don’t know Regent’s Park so it was a great way to get a feel for the place, and you could see the camels and tigers on the way past the zoo.

As it was three laps, I was worried that by the third lap, you’d be catching up the slower runners and it would all get a bit congested, but it was fine. There were plenty of marshalls around in bright pink, giving lots of encouragement and a water station which you passed three times, which was about right.

After turning into the zoo, I could see the clock ahead of me, it was still on 49 minutes, the adrenaline kicked in and I kicked on, determined to get that sub-50. It just ticked over onto 50 as I ran past the finish line, but I knew my chip time would be under. I’d done it, with an official chip time of 49.48!

I collected my medal and goodie bag and did some cool down stretches in front of some monkeys. Not a bad way to end a race.

Now, how am I going to beat that?

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Running with the girls at the Women’s Running 10k

I’m in between races this week, I ran as part of the Write This Run team at the Women’s Running 10k on Saturday, then this weekend it’s Stampede, a 10k in and around London Zoo.

My training had gone fairly well, considering it was the school holidays, I think the knowledge that I had a 10k just two days after the kids went back gave me that extra little nudge to get my running shoes on and get out there.

I did my final training run on the Friday and included a loop of Finsbury Park, where Saturday’s race was happening, to remind myself of the ups and downs – more of that later. There were people erecting a marquee in the middle of the park, which had to be part of the event, and it gave me a little tingle of excitement.

I had a bit of a panic about what to wear ahead of the race, after enjoying a fabulous summer, the temperature was set to drop and rain was forecast. I got home after my run on Friday cold, with soggy shoes.

At five in the morning, I was woken up by the rain absolutely pelting it down outside my window. The idea of running in Finsbury Park suddenly didn’t seem so appealing. By the time I got up to get ready, it was blue sky and I was all smiles again.

I really enjoyed being part of the team for the race, meeting up before to chat and reassure each other, then, at the end, a bit of post-match analysis and a glass of Prosecco courtesy of Write This Run – all races should end that way.

The course itself was two laps round Finsbury Park with a few twists and turns to make up a five-mile loop. This meant two things, there were several opportunities to spot your fellow runners, in front or behind, and cheer each other on (all good) and it was extra hilly (not quite so good). Still the latter could be easily sorted by a bit more hill training on my part.

Because I hadn’t fully prepared myself for the hills, I had a bit of a mental battle with myself at one point. I’d stopped to grab some water at the drinks station and walked to drink it – just can’t seem to run and drink. It was the start of another uphill stretch and I found it hard to get back to my pace. That was the moment I lost it.

Write This Run’s Laura shouted some encouragement as she passed me, which gave me a bit of a push. She then called out when there was 10 minutes left to hit the sub-50. So, so close.

I crossed the line at 50:21, not too shabby, outside my target, but I was happy given my lack of hill training. It was definitely one of my favourite races so far, a great atmosphere, cheery marshals and friendly faces, so huge thanks to Women’s Running for organising such a wonderful event and Write This Run for having me on the team, I’m up for it again next year.

I’m sure London Zoo will be a completely different experience. It is flat, so you never know, it might be my chance to get that goal, maybe I’ll have to imagine they’ve released the tigers.

From Parc life to dark life

I had thought that Center Parcs would be the place where my youngest learns to ride her bike, allowing me a few sprint sessions as I chase down to where she has fallen or given up for some reason. If it took several sessions to get her up and pedaling, that’s fine, good training for me.

 

Turns out, after the first night – we picked up the bikes and were cycling back to our ‘chalet’, very slowly with lots of stop starts, me parking my bike, going to help her, trotting back to get my bike, catching up, repeat, repeat, repeat – that she was a natural. So instead of sprint sessions, we did loops of the holiday village, about 2 miles a loop, so not bad going for a brand new cyclist.

 

It was here, though, that my training fell off a little. We did do lots of cycling, around things to do and “Please can we do another loop?” which was the catchphrase of the week, I didn’t make as many opportunities to run. I tried to sneak off early to run, I was heard and how could I refuse the, “Can I come?” from a new cycling convert?

 

Oh, and there was the odd bottle of wine and a pint or two.

 

Still, I managed to do a couple of loops alone once, and it was good to get the feel of a hill again, my poor old injury ravaged calves get very nervous at the hint of a slope, and my left Achilles seems to brace itself, but all held out and I enjoyed the foresty feel of the Parc, lots of sun filtering through the trees and twisty paths over rivers.

 

Still, I can’t say that I did more than 4.5 miles over the week and was really worried that I’d set my 10k progress back.

 

Back home, Monday night, I had an opportunity to run and went for it. Garmin ran out of battery after 1.5miles – I’d forgotten you have to charge it, it’s usually plugged into the computer, but being away, it hadn’t happened – so I just winged it.

 

It felt good, winging it, but I was shocked by the dark, I haven’t run in the evening for a long time and the lack of street lighting surprised me. Even if there were plenty of street lamps, the trees seemed to absorb all the light and I couldn’t see what was in front of me, it was just darkness. I felt nervous about hitting a broken paving slab or an unexpected bin bag, but I ran a decent distance in my local area and enjoyed it.

 

I ran the same route the next night (Garmin now fully charged) and was reassured to discover I’d run 6.1 miles. I’m happy that I seem to have kept my fitness up so far.

 

Only two weeks now till I join the Write This Run team at the Women’s Running 10k, looking forward to being part of something that supports sport for women and girls. I’m going to make every effort to improve my training over the next two weeks.

A run in Provence

I might have mentioned this before, but I’m not really a morning person. I usually need at least two cups of tea before I can hold anything resembling a conversation and as to early morning running, no thanks.

 After today though, I think I might be converted. I set my alarm and was up and out before 7am, ok, not spectacularly early, but good for me. It does help that I’m in Provence. The sun was still climbing above the mountains, which was pretty spectacular, and had the added bonus of making my shadow really long, so I could pretend that I was about 10 foot tall, ok, it made me laugh, at that time in the morning, I’m pretty easy to please.

The route itself wasn’t particularly spectacular, a basic out and back along the main road in (and out) of the village, doing this twice made a pretty simple, and very flat, 10k run.

It was the circumstance and the scenery that turned my run into something much more memorable. I’ve already noted the sun rising over the mountains, but hey, it definitely merits another mention. The mountains themselves were a fantastic backdrop, the smell of lavender will now always take me back here, there was no one and nothing around, even the cicadas were silent.

I ran this route earlier in the week, but later in the day, I counted 14 cars, 4 cyclists (all lycra-ed up and on a mission), 3 pedestrians (two of them, a pair of elderly women, I saw three times on my out and back, the other was casually pushing an empty wheelbarrow down the road) and one motorbike. That day, I also enjoyed the cicadas, their chirping was like a cheering crowd and I imagined they were encouraging me to the finish line of some race or other, I felt like raising my arms in celebration when I got to the end and half expected to receive a medal.

Today though, I enjoyed the silence, the shortening of my shadow, the emptiness of the road and the engagement of my other senses. I paid much more attention to what was around me and managed to not look at my Garmin until right near the end.

I wasn’t expecting much in terms of speed, I knew the distance as I’d mapped it out earlier, so I was really shocked to discover I’d run 10k in 49 minutes and 22 seconds. I thought I’d been on a leisurely run, but maybe that’s the secret, just spend more time enjoying what’s around you and the rest will follow. It does help that it was completely flat, but it does make me a little more optimistic about achieving my sub-50 minute 10k in Finsbury Park as part of the Write this Run team at the Women’s Running event.  

I’m definitely much more inclined to go out for an early morning run now, and am determined to pay more attention to what’s around me.

Summer runnin’

School holidays started today, which is brilliant. I love having the kids at home, no shouting to get to school on time, making packed lunches or them taking ages trying to decide what to wear. Mostly just fun stuff, pleasing ourselves, going wherever and whenever we fancy it, and if we have to buy a cheese sandwich ‘cause we spent too long in the park, then fine.

The only flipside for me is that I no longer get my regular 9am running slot. To keep up my regular running habit, I’m going tohave to drag myself out of bed before 6am, which is going to be a challenge, I’m not good in a morning! It does mean that I might see a whole new side to my local area, and a whole different set of people.

Instead of fretting over the potential lack of running, I’ve come up with my alternative exercise plan – or tenuous pseudo-exercise – for the days when I can’t face that early start.

  1. End of term parents’ party. I’m a very ‘enthusiastic’ dancer so this should count as a work out. I’ll be wearing these shoes too, so I like to think it is more of a challenge.IMG_1020
  2. Carrying all our equipment from the car to the campsite at Womad. I think this should at least count as a weights session.
  3. Womad, of course, lots of dancing, hopefully, but in slightly more sensible shoes. If I can sneak in a run, I will, but we’ve got four boxes of wine to add to our friends’ five, I’m thinking lazy, coffee-fuelled mornings.
  4. Helping the youngest learn to ride her bike. This will inevitably involve a lot of stop-start, with me chasing the bike, so I’m hoping to work some kind of intervals around it. Given the progress so far, there might be a few of these sessions. You never know by the end of the holidays, she could be cycling alongside on a normal weekday run.
  5. There’ll be a pool when we go away, so that’s easy, swimming.
  6. It’s in beautiful countryside too, so if I can sneak in a run I will, but there’ll be leisurely walks with the family.
  7. I can definitely get the kids to time me doing short intervals on the beach – a chance to run barefoot – and they might join in too. Never too early to get them interested.
  8. We’re at CenterParcs for a week too, so lots of opportunities for alternative exercise, definitely a game of badminton, some cycling and more swimming.
  9.  I’m sure I read somewhere about how housework counts as exercise, I wouldn’t normally, but for the next six weeks, I’m going to claim it.
  10. Rest, ok, not a form of exercise, but it’s probably won’t be too bad to give my legs a bit of a rest.

More seriously, I’ve just signed up to do the Stampede at London Zoo on September 15th, so I do have to get some real running in. Let’s face it, I couldn’t go for long without and I’ll be finding ways of sneaking it in somehow.

 

A whole load of excuses

Last Sunday, it was the 10k I’d been working up to, in London’s Hyde Park. I woke up nice and early to have a decent breakfast, including the obligatory two cups of tea.

Then hitch number one, no clean socks! I was convinced I’d saved one pair, so had to do that awful thing of fishing an old pair out of the laundry basket. (Note to self, buy more socks.) I left home just after 7.30am, which left me plenty of time to get over to the park.

Hitch number two, I’d put £10 in my back pocket to buy water and a paper for on the way back, but it must have fallen out when I took my ticket out. Grrr.

Hitch number three, the bead on the sports band on my sunglasses that allows you to tighten them broke, so I had to put a knot in it.

If you believe in omens, things were not looking good ahead of the race.

On top of that, it was ferociously hot, even at 8am, the run started at 9am and it would just get hotter as the race wore on.

Still, I’d done a good amount of training and was quietly confident that I could make my under 50 minutes target.

I started well, with a first mile in 7:58, but it all went slightly wrong after that. The fifth mile was the hardest, the heat was really getting to me, I had caught up with the walkers and was having to navigate a path through them and I’d run out of water. All of which took my time down to 8:17 for the mile. I made a bit back on mile six, then really ran for the last little bit as I could see I was close to the time.

Sadly, I finished just outside the 50 minute mark, by only three seconds, tantalisingly close, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.

I know now that I should definitely be able to complete a 10k in that time, then I’ve got to think about the next challenge, 5k in 20 minutes? Maybe I’ll just wait till this box is ticked first.

Sunday’s stats: 10k, 50:03

Another piece of ‘necessary’ kit

July 10, 2013

Today was so hot, that I didn’t even put my jacket on for the warm up, and believe me that takes a lot. I haven’t been doing much in the way of distance lately, focusing on the 10k and a bit of speed work, so I decided to have a go at 15k today.

I chose my route so that there would be a decent amount of shade and a water fountain to fill my bottle so I didn’t have to ration it too thinly. 500ml got me round to the six mile mark, I had a drink then filled my bottle, well, you might as well. I downed the lot at the eight mile point waiting for the traffic lights to change.

Confirmation, as if it was needed, that it was proper hot today, yes, my hair was actually dripping and there was sweat running down my back. It felt like I’d worked hard today, so I was interested to look at my stats when I got back.

I was consciously trying not to go too fast as I knew that I had the distance to cover so I was pleased to see that most of my times were around the 8:20 mark.

My problem today was sunglasses, I’ve just bought a new pair and they’re just not comfortable for running, even with the sports band. So, finally, after avoiding it, or even dismissing it as unnecessary, I committed to buying a pair of running sunglasses.

Just over £30 later, I am now the owner of some shades just for running. They’re very light, have a really soft bit that sits on your nose, and come with four sets of lenses for differeny levels of sunshine. I feel like I’ve taken another step on the ‘I’m a proper runner’ chart – if there is one, I need to know!

Today’s stats: 15k, 1:17:40