Back to normality

Normality has finally returned to the house. The kids went back to school yesterday and I’m getting along nicely with week four (really, week four already?) of my marathon training programme.

I admit that I was really anxious about the school holidays as often it’s hard to find time to go running but this year was the most successful yet. I only missed a couple of days running over past few weeks, and, given that one of them was Christmas and the family had banned me from going out that day, I don’t think I’ve done too badly.

It all started well, with my last parkrun of the year, I was pleased to finish ahead of Santa fascinator lady, but just behind tinsel fascinator lady! I think I might have passed a couple of Santa hats too.

The next day there was a bit of a hiccough, I pretty much lost my voice and developed a lovely chesty cough. Still, didn’t stop me running on the Monday, whoops. Got home and nearly collapsed, so took Christmas Eve off.

I convinced everyone I was better by Boxing Day and there was clear blue sky so headed out for a refreshing 10k, including a bit of the parkrun route. It was a bit weird doing it on my own and felt slightly naughty, like climbing over the gate to play in the school playground.

The next few days went according to plan, including a 13-mile long run.

I made it the New Year’s Day parkrun! It had been a very late night on New Year’s Eve and there were a few scoops drunk, but it was the best way to clear my head and sneak in a nine-mile run.

Two more 6am starts followed, getting used to it now, then up north. I got to take in a run along the river Dee and the Wirral Way which I like – apart from the big hill at the end. Then I got to see a completely new bit of Manchester for me, running along the canals there.

So, I’ve surprised myself by remaining on track with my training, sprints yesterday and then back in the pool this morning. First yoga session for three weeks this afternoon too, teacher broke us back into it gently but my body was still a bit shocked by what it was being asked to do.

Finished the class feeling all enthused about my up coming training and planned my long route for Friday as I cycled home.

I think a soak in the bath and some Christmas chocolate is called for tonight.

First run done

Happy New Year! So far, so good.

Woke up just after nine, and pretty much threw my clothes on and headed out of the door to make it to parkrun for 10am. It was raining seriously cold rain, and the wind was, well, biting, but the sight of my fellow parkrunners waiting to get going made everything warm and tingly.

Hats off to the few who were on their second parkrun of the day, they were easy to spot as they were already sporting mudsplashed legs.

I have no idea what my time was today, I forgot to start the Garmin going so just ran. It felt like a decent pace and the cold rain was an incentive to go faster anyway.

It was great to chat to some of the regulars at the end before heading home on the last leg of my nine mile run. Back in time for a perfect hangover / post run refueling breakfast of scrambled eggs and beans.

What a great start to 2014, looking forward to a good year of running.

So that was 2013…

As we’re about to start 2014 and a tough set of running challenges, including three marathons and a duathlon, I’ve been trying to think what my running highlights have been for the past year.

This was the year I ran as part of the Write This Run team at the Women’s Running 10k, discovered – and fell in love with – parkrun, completed the Paris Marathon and notched up a few new PBs.

I’m really proud of completing the Paris Marathon, there was one point when I thought it wasn’t going to happen after twisting my knee in training, but a few days of intense resting and icing and it was ok again. I loved starting on the Champs Elysees and running through that beautiful city.

In October, I finally got my act together and registered for parkrun, completing my first in Edinburgh. Since that first one, I’ve knocked two minutes and three seconds off my PB at my local event and feel that Saturday isn’t complete without my 5k race, which often comes in the middle of an 8-10 mile run.

It’s great to chat with other runners at the end and I’m getting to know a few regular faces. One week even led to a spontaneous hug at the end with a fellow runner as we’d been pushing each other on during the race, which helped us both.

This was also the year I started this blog and tweeting more, which led me to a blogging workshop held by Write This Run and their conference at the Running Show. These events have been fantastic, inspiring and fun, best of all though was getting to meet lots of other fabulous runners, putting faces to twitter handles and blogs. I now feel part of a community that is supportive, informative and entertaining.

Now, as the year ends, I’m in the third week of marathon training for Brighton in April, which is followed six weeks later by Liverpool. It’s been going well, especially since it is school holidays and my usual routines are all over the place. I’m really excited about my challenges for next year, my most full on so far.

Happy New Year to all!

Shopping, shopping and a bit of running

It all started with the Write This Run conference at the Running Show last month. It was the lunch break and I wandered around looking at all the stuff to buy, ‘One little running skirt won’t hurt,’ I said to myself, and ‘Well, you can’t not need laces.’

Skip to three weeks later and my small, but perfectly formed, purchases at the Running Show have been joined by a thermal base layer and running vest from Sweaty Betty (it was my birthday, ok), new Asics running shoes (essential item), three pairs of socks (it was three for two, how could I not?), a pair of Kalenji running tights (after @Cat_Simpson described them soooo toasty (and super comfy)) and a pair of thermal gloves (absolutely essential in my case).

Oh, and a new blue jacket, so I’m slightly more visible in the dark.

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My credit card is exhausted and has taken itself off for a well earned rest. I’m not usually one for shopping but I found myself in a whole new kind of zone, I think it’s over, for now.

Back to concentrating on the running again, it’s suddenly week one of the 16 week training schedule for Brighton Marathon, and my new kit is going to be thoroughly put through it’s paces over the next few months. My new shoes are already a bit muddy and have lost that brand new look. Let’s see how they look in April.

Swanning around

I saw a mink on the way back from parkrun on Saturday, yes a mink. I’d never seen one before, but there it was just sitting by the side of the path. Very cute it was too, it looked at me, then hid in a pile of leaves, poked it’s head out a few times, then bounded off.

It was one of those, “Wish I had a camera,” moments. That was the second time in a week it had happened.

There are usually one or two swans hanging about on the canals as I run past, but not this day, there were two groups next to each other, all stood on the bank too, not in the water, the first bevy had 11 adult swans and 3 almost adult cygnets. A few metres away, there was another group, this one had 9 grown swans and one almost adult cygnet.

I was so thrown by this I had to stop running, a cyclist rode past me, “I know, weird isn’t it,” he said, and it was. I’ve been back to that bit of the canal since, and the flock seems to have dispersed. Back down to just one or two.

It’s funny the things that you see when you’re out running, I’ve been a bit guilty in the past of zoning out and not really noticing what’s going on around me, but I’m making an effort to engage a bit more with what’s going on.

Who knows what I’m going to see next.

A Saturday well spent

What a great way to spend a Saturday. The alarm went off at ridiculous o’clock in the morning, and I set out for the Write This Run conference at the Running Show (only stopping briefly at Waterloo station to marvel at the number of Doctor Who fans already in full fancy dress waiting for the big moment).

The day didn’t disappoint, there were lots of truly inspirational speakers, including, Sophie Walker, who found running and blogging helped her and her daughter cope with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.

She asked the question that we runners don’t ask, “What are you running from?” But I think that’s for another day.

There was a session on brands and building relationships with them, tips from journalists and bloggers about improving your writing – just do it seems to be the best way – and advice from experts on injury, rest and recovery.

Aside from the sessions, it was lovely to meet so many other running bloggers, there were a few familiar faces, and even more familiar names from twitter and blogs. It was a real pleasure to be in a room with so many enthusiastic people, all passionate about running and blogging.

After a day of sitting and listening it was a treat to be taken out for a training session led by the Running School.

On top of all this, there was the chance to wonder round the Running Show and buy lots of new kit and other goodies.

So a huge thank you to Laura and Liz, the Write This Run team, for putting on such a fantastic event, if you missed, make sure you catch the next one.

Filling up the race card

The past few weeks mostly seem to have been about entering stuff. My race diary is filling up nicely for 2014. So far, I’ve got two confirmed marathon places, Brighton and Liverpool, and I’m hoping to get a third in York – I’ve pre-registered so fingers crossed for that – a duathlon and the British 10k. I’ll be hovering over my keyboard in January too to enter the ballot for the Royal Parks half marathon.

On top of all that, there’s the weekly parkrun, which I can see becoming an addiction. At the last one, I wasn’t really in the mood, so ended up sticking behind another woman and using her pace. It led to us both getting a new PB and a spontaneous hug at the end. How can you not love parkrun!

All this planning leaves me with a couple of things to think about – can I now get away with buying more kit and how am I going to top it all in 2015? I think I’ve got an answer to the first one already (running skirt, jacket and gloves so far, and that’s just one weekend) and I’m thinking London Marathon and Royal Parks Ultra for 2015 to kick off with. Hmm, do I have another triathlon in me?

Legs, we can do this!

Discovering Parkrun

Why haven’t I done this before? That’s what I asked myself, repeatedly, after my first parkrun last Saturday.

The family was off to Edinburgh for the start of half term (booked ages ago when there was the promise of a baby panda, ah well) and I’d just signed up with parkrun two days before the holiday. Oooh, I said to myself, wouldn’t it be lovely to do my first parkrun in Edinburgh, I wonder if there is one, and of course there is.

So, we arrived at about 7.20am into the station, took our time getting dressed – I was ready in my running gear all ready to go first – then got a cab over to the start of the Edinburgh parkrun. We were about an hour early, and the first volunteer was just arriving as we did.

The venue was pretty spectacular, a view to Cramond Island over the Firth of Forth. The sun was still coming up over the hills, “There’s pinkland!” my daughter said. So after a bit of shell collecting and stone skimming, I dispatched the family to the café so I could get down to business.

As it was my inaugural parkrun, I was obliged to listen to the newbie chat, the importance of the barcode, and the funnel – don’t overtake anyone there or bring your mates in as it could all go horribly wrong – at the end needed explanation. The 9.30 start time was upon us and he was still talking, but he assured us they wouldn’t start without us. They didn’t.

I didn’t have any game plan for the run, I’d just arrived on the sleeper, I don’t normally run 5k, my general everyday runs are 10k, I rarely run less, regularly run more. So I just thought, you know what, just run, run like you’re having fun and there’s no goal, aim, time or whatever.

So, I settled into the pace dictated by the smile on my face – blue sky, my “oh my god I’m running right next to the sea this is bloody brilliant” feeling – and just ran. I ran just over three miles at 7:32 minute mile pace. And it was, to quote my 8-year-old, “awesome”.

I loved that because it was a short distance, you could just go for it, and I surprised myself, because I’m a lone runner normally, I loved being a part of something, seeing the T-shirts with 50 parkruns and 100 parkruns, the community, I’m hooked.

Then, later in the day, I got an email from parkrun with all the stats, an official time of 23:42, I was 175 in a field of 410 and was the 24th lady, 4th in my age category. That’s fired up the competitive streak in me.

There are three parkruns really close to where I live, the hard part now is to choose which one to do first.

Pandas, herons and general ramblings

Well, that was quite a weekend. I’ve been thinking about sorting out a double marathon year for a while, training during the school holidays has been my big worry, but I’ve gone and done it, well, I’ve pre-registered for York next year.

Having read @nylonruns great blogpost about it, I’m a little nervous of that hill, but, as I’ve got a good year till the event, I’ll just remember to fit it into the training.

Then, feeling all inspired, I finally got round to signing up for parkrun, which I’m pretty excited about. There are a few local to me, but as it’s half term and we’re going up to see the where the panda baby might have been, I’m hoping to do my first one in Edinburgh.

I like their description, that as it borders the Firth of Forth, “you can be exposed to the elements”. I’ll be able to see just how much of my northern grit is left after living in the south of England for so long. (Not much I reckon.) Time to dig out the full length running tights perhaps?

Other than planning more events for next year (Brighton was already booked in for April), I have been doing some actual running too.

I’m experimenting with some new routes, just to explore the area a bit more, even doing a route anti-clockwise instead makes the whole experience seem completely different somehow.

This Friday I’m planning to finally get out on my bike and plan some longer runs in new areas, hills, here I come.

And finally….I have to say, I’ve been a bit worried after my last few runs, I’d got used to seeing this group of three herons at the same three separate spots, all very close to each other, but they’ve not been there for a week. I sought reassurance from the RSPB website, but they don’t migrate, so I’m just hoping they’ve moved somewhere new, with better fish.

A soggy Hyde Park 15k

I’d been looking forward to the Stroke Association’s Resolution Run, a 15k, three looped run round Hyde Park on Sunday. Training was going well, I’d run a few 12 milers, so wasn’t worried about the distance, and my pace was decent, I was aiming for somewhere between 75 and 80 minutes.

Then I started watching the weather forecast earlier in the week and sank inside as it changed from cool, to a bit damp to drizzle to unrelenting torrential rain. Ah well, I don’t mind running in the rain really, but it was a little disappointing to think that I’d be running somewhere new and it would just be a big grey blur.

That said, I was buoyed to be travelling to the race with a group of women, two of whom I didn’t know, but it was a great way to prepare for the race, all chatting and joking in the car.

We arrived at the start with about 15 minutes to spare, and then spent most of that time queuing to use the ladies, just made it to bag drop and then it was time to go. I was glad there was no hanging about and on a day like that, with stair rod rain I just wanted to get on with it.

There were three races going on at the same time, a 5k, 10k and my 15k. We were grouped in that order, which was fine. There didn’t seem to be that many people there and according the Stroke Association website, there were 495 finishers over the three races.

Since we all started together, it was quite a big group, but by the end of the 15k, everyone left were fairly spread out, so it felt like a training run.

The laps were pretty much round the Serpentine with a bit tagged on the end. There were a few stewards along the route indicating when to turn and they were really encouraging, which was especially lifting as, unsurprisingly, there were no other people around to offer up any support. In fact, they can’t be thanked enough, smiling and encouraging us whilst stood in the pouring, cold rain.

My timings had gone ok for the first two laps, but I really struggled for the last mile and a half, it had been more than three hours since breakfast and I was in need of an energy lift – the banana in my bag was calling – my feet were soaked and the cold was getting to me a bit.

Such relief when I turned that final corner and saw the finish line and then heard one of my fellow runners cheering as I hit the end. I clocked up a time of 1:20:49, which apparently put me 40th in a field of 114. I’ll take that, considering I felt so rubbish towards the end.

All in all, it was a decent course, the runners were comfortably spread out and water provided every 5k, which was more than enough given the weather. My only criticism was the lack of distance markers. Doing my first every 5k – with no sports watch – the markers had been a really big psychological boost. Still, that’s a minor thing really.

I gave myself yesterday off and ran a slow 10k today, I feel like I’ve had my confidence knocked a bit and need to build it up again. Still, it’s ok to have a bad race every now and then, I guess, makes you appreciate the good ones.