Discharged

I saw Lucy the physio yesterday. She smiled a lot at my progress, and I’ve been discharged. Hurrah. Not that there aren’t things to work on: she still doesn’t understand my mysterious hip pain that I’ve had for years, which happens only when I’m sitting for a long time or lying on it, but not while moving. She dug her fingers into my q10 muscle in my back again, and it screamed a bit. But she’s very happy with the progress of my tendon, and so off I go to be cautious but a runner. Thank you, Coach House Physio.

So off I went to race again. Except, I was exhausted. After Eccup 10 on Sunday, I should have had a day of rest. And I did, sort of, apart from walking 5 miles on the treadmill, a Pilates class, and then a two mile cycle home. On Tuesday, it was the fifth race in the Yorkshire Veterans series. I love the Yorkshire vets, as I’ve written loads of times. I love being overtaken by 60 year olds, because it gives me hope that when I’m 60, I’ll be overtaking 45 year olds. This one was at Crossgates, a not particularly lovely area of Leeds. It’s where the Vickers tank factory used to be, and the factory is still there, forlorn, along with the tank testing track in the car park. The race was hosted by St. Theresa’s running club (STAC). I ran it two years ago and all I can remember of it is the tank testing track.

We got there early, I did my usual three toilet visits, FRB checked the course route, because he cares about things like that, and I don’t, being of the “just run and follow the person in front with an occasional glance at the scenery” race runner. We walked ten minutes down a field to the start and race-milled. There were about 300 runners, I’d guess, who on a Tuesday evening when they could have been flopped in front of the TV instead chose to come out and run five miles through Yorkshire countryside. The race organizers gave instructions: go up the field, pass between a tree and the fence, loop, down the field and up the hill. Too many “up”s for how I was feeling, which was knackered. It was just one of those days where I had very little energy. Maybe because of my overactive rest day, maybe because of hormones. I don’t know, but it was so bad that I scoffed half a bag of Skittles before I set off, hoping the sugar rush would shove me round the five miles.

Off we went. Up the hill. Over narrow paths that had too many hidden tussocks for my liking. My ego was in the box where it currently belongs, and for a while I was content to be neck and neck with a 60 year old woman. But then my ego peaked out and I ran a bit faster. It was a lovely route, through green fields, on a cool and dry evening. The light and the clouds were beautiful, there weren’t too many hills, there were some dark woods for a bit of excitement (perhaps a bit much for my tendon). I was overtaken by a few team-mates, but my ego was back in the box so that was OK. And I just steamed along, concentrating on my form: head up, torso tall, arms powering back, shoulders relaxed. I felt good. The Skittles must have been working. And god bless STAC for sticking in a water station at half-way, which was very welcome.

The last mile came out of some woods, down a field, down another field, then up the field where we’d started. I kept it steady, tucked in behind a woman from Baildon runners, but then the Kirkstall cheerers started. GO ROSE. COME ON ROSE GEORGE, sung with a football chant tune. Oh, OK then, and I sprinted past the Baildon woman. Another 200 metres to the finish, and there was FRB who had of course long since finished. “TAKE THE STAINLAND!” This meant, there is a runner from Stainland Lions in front of you; go get him. FRB was not meant to be encouraging me to sprint finish, I was not meant to heed him. But I did. A big sprint, I got the Stainland man, and finished in 47.14. The course has changed slightly, but that’s still five minutes slower than my result two years ago, and six minutes slower than a friendly nemesis of mine from another club, who I used to regularly beat. Never mind. I’m running. I read this nice post on Too Fat to Run, begging women to stop describing themselves as slow. We run, and it doesn’t matter at what speed. Yes, I’d like to be as fast and strong as Tanya Seager, who won last night with a time of 32 minutes. But that won’t happen. More, I’d like to be as fast and strong as I can be, and if my fastest for now is slow, with no injury, then that’s fast enough.

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 13.09.34

 

Ten miles, or why and how I love my running club

Since the Pudsey 10K I’ve kept running. No more than three times a week. But I did break my golden rule of not running two days in a row. Last week I went to club training. It was the beginning of the week’s heatwave. There weren’t many of us there; under 20, and the route was not the best: along the canal, but then a big dose of ugly industrial Holbeck, before going up to Armley Park. I found it hard. Partly that was because most people around my pace left after five miles. I thought, nonetheless, I’m going to try the full seven. Half a mile later, I was deeply regretting that. I ran with a clubmate I don’t know very well, and we chatted, but god it was hard. The scenery was horrible, the rest of the group were all speedy blokes, and the hills never stopped. I arrived back at the club somewhat battered. The next day, it was the Danefield Relay, a three mile team relay around Otley Chevin. I did it last year and loved it. Even so, this would break my Golden Rule. I am trying to push my tendon to see what it will tolerate; I’ve increased distance, changed terrain, run slightly faster. This was the first test of frequency. I ran and I was slow – 31 minutes for 3 miles, though with hills – but it was OK. The route was through fields and woods, and was what fell-runners call “technical,” i.e. lots of rocks and roots, in not very good visibility. The next day I paid for it. My tendon was sore. I couldn’t do a deep squat without the soreness kicking in. So, ice and rest.

On Sunday I was meant to run the Eccup 10. I love this race. It’s on mostly closed roads and lanes around Adel and Eccup, with a tour around Eccup reservoir, which I love. But then I did something a bit daft. I installed a treadmill desk. I’ve been thinking of doing it for ages, and finally did, with the help of a friend, a powerdrill and a Jigsaw. I wrote about it, and how I built it, on my serious blog. Walking while working makes all sorts of sense, particularly to a runner. But installing it a) during the hottest temperatures for years and b) with a still slightly dodgy tendon: maybe not the most sensible idea. I didn’t overdo it: I didn’t walk for more than 90 minutes each of the three days I used it. I couldn’t anyway as my studio was so baking hot, I was melting (I’m walking while writing this, at 2mph, with the assistance of a desktop fan). But my right foot and ankle niggled. It was a different niggle: more towards my Achilles than my post tib tendon. On Saturday, it was enough of a niggle that I iced it and worried. I think I was stupid to walk barefoot for the first day, and soon switched to my running shoes and orthotics. On Saturday, I said to FRB, I don’t think I’d better run. Ten miles is too much of a stretch in distance, my Achilles is niggling, and I won’t run.

Then we went to do some allotment work, my mood lifted, and I started saying, I’m going to run, only with a really annoying Forrest Gump impression.

And I did. The next morning, race mode: A bagel with marmalade, as usual. Too much tea, as usual. I wanted the tea to get alert, but I’ve fallen behind with my pelvic floor exercises and knew there was a big risk of peeing my pants. Then again, I had a great and illuminating chat with a few women runners at a party on Friday, which began with one of them saying, “I totally pee my pants all the time!” Her reason, I think, is because she’s super fast. Mine is because my pelvic floor has got as out of condition as the rest of me. Anyway before that there was another slight problem: I’d left my running shoes and orthotics in my office. Oh dear. This was not the best thing to do when FRB gets quite race tense. But to his enormous credit he said, “OK, let’s go,” internalised his anxiety and we called in at the office, and got to race HQ with plenty of time. It took five minutes to pick up my number and then I had no choice but to join the toilet queue, which had about 100 people in it. I thought, oh. It’s going to be a pee and sprint to the start line. It wasn’t, but I only had about five minutes to spare. We gathered and milled, and then we were off. I was so busy trying not to set off too fast that I didn’t even notice Jonny Brownlee waving the flag to start us off. My friend Gemma did though:

GemmaRathbone_2015-Jul-05I set off steadily, at about 9.30 minute/miles, and I kept that going throughout. The first mile, though, was awful, because my bladder lost it. I was embarrassed, and desperately looking for a bush where I could pee without 800 runners watching me, but there was nothing for about a mile, until finally the route went off to the right and to the left was a coppice of trees. What a bloody relief. After that, I was fine, but I lost a couple of minutes. That shouldn’t have mattered: no way was I going to be anywhere near my ten mile PB, which is 1:23. So I stuck my ego in the box and concentrated on running properly: head up, torso straight, slight lean, arms going strongly backwards, shoulders relaxed. I’ve been examining race photos of me, not for vanity, but to check where my feet are going. A splayed right foot means my hip and pelvis need strengthening. I noticed that my pace was similar to a woman who was 50 or 60, so I stuck with her for a few miles. The roads were nice, the temperature, I thought, was perfect: cool, and cloud cover. And I just enjoyed it. There were water stations at miles 3, 5 and 8. I took a gel at the second and third, and I felt fine. I felt good, and strong. I overtook a few of my clubmates, and they all encouraged me, and I stayed steady.

I’d noticed a young lass in front of my Accidental Pacer, who was also going at a really steady pace. I couldn’t catch her for a long time, then with about two miles to go I did. We got chatting. She was running unattached, and said she’d only been running since January. This was the longest distance she’d ever done. She has just moved to Lancashire so I said, there must be some good fell-running clubs there and she said, yes, but clubs are so intimidating. Everyone in them is so fast. I had my usual response: ours is so friendly, everyone is encouraged, no-one is left behind. But I remember when I was unattached – a horrible word – and had entered the Kirkstall 7. I felt completely excluded by all the cliques of club runners in their same colour vests, and they were all talking about PBs and sub this and that. I told myself I would never be like that. But of course I am. Anyway, all that chat got us to the bottom of the last hill. Eccup 10 is a lovely race, but it ends on a hill, which is not lovely. The route has changed this year, in fact, and now there are two climbs at the finish instead of one. But the gels must have been working, because I didn’t walk any of the hills, and I still felt strong with half a mile to go. As we climbed the last hill, the young lass was slowing, and I chivvied her along. Slow steps, stand tall, don’t lean into the hill, it’s easier. And she did. And as we climbed, I heard a faint “ROSE!” then louder and louder, “GO ROSE! WELL DONE ROSE! STRONG FINISH ROSE! GO ROSE GEORGE” and there were a dozen of my team-mates waiting to cheer us in. Some had not run but come along to support anyway, some had finished but come back to support us.
At Danefield Relay, when most teams had finished and gone home, we still had a runner due back. A few of my club-mates went to the finish to cheer her in, because the hill that Danefield finishes on is even worse than Eccup. I thought it was weird that no-one else was about, but assumed they had just gone home. Then, suddenly coming round the corner was not one runner in a purple vest but a dozen. And they were singing. They had all long since finished, but run down the course to escort Bethan up the horrible hill, singing “rolling down the river.” I actually choked. It was a really lovely sight.

KHarriers_2015-Jul-01And so were the Eccup cheerers. So I said to the young lass, whose name was Steph, “See?’ and she said yes, with a look of surprise on her face, and then I said, “come on, sprint finish” and we did, and I beat her.

11695772_10206627326582578_1194791104406700692_n

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 13.32.27

 

The return

I have braved waters infested with pirates. I have gone down sewers and into slums. I’m supposed to be intrepid and courageous. (Though I’m not, really.) But this morning? This morning I was due to do nothing more complicated than run for six miles, and I was alarmed. In fact, my nerves were shredded. This state wasn’t helped by the fact that my cat had disappeared all night, something she never does, and something that sends me spiralling into panic. This is reasonable, as her mother was run over by a car and I had to bury her smashed, bleeding body, and I won’t ever forget that. So, all in all, I was nervous. I was due to run the Pudsey 10K, a local race in Leeds. I’ve never run it before; I was meant to race it two years ago but took too much magnesium and discovered, too late, that magnesium is often used for its powerful laxative properties. No way was I going to run the hills of the Pudsey worrying about messing my shorts.

Hills. Yes. Many hills. I didn’t sensibly choose a flat, easy race as my first one in three months. I chose one that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 16.54.35

 

(That is not my time or pace.)

There were other worries. I hadn’t run since Monday. Partly, this was because I’d had to travel to Dusseldorf and back. I’d planned to run in the city I was going to (it wasn’t Dusseldorf; I can’t say more because I signed a confidentiality agreement), and when I finally arrived late one evening, after two planes had developed technical faults, a fellow guest at the conference offered to run with me the following morning at 7am. At 6.30 though the phone rang: he thought the weather was bad, and he was right. It was raining hard. That wouldn’t deter me usually but combined with a very poor night’s sleep, no idea where to run, the city being in a steep valley with lots of hills, and a dead iPhone and no charger so no way of carrying a map: well, I had lots of excuses that at 6.30am on crappy sleep seemed to be very reasonable. So I did a seven-minute workout instead and that was that. I would have done Parkrun on Saturday, but FRB and I went out the night before and slept through Parkrun, and anyway it would have contravened my strict no-runs-back-to-back rule, which I will stick to to give my tendon time to recover between runs.

I haven’t stuck to the other rule though. The golden rule, of not increasing distance by more than 10% a week. My longest run had been five miles, on Monday I’d only run four, and this would be six, with hills.

There was something else. I like to think I’ve kept up exercising, but there is no way I’ve done as much as when I’m fully running. I’d then be doing 25-30 miles a week, probably, plus strength training. I haven’t done that. And I have also been more indulgent with my food, probably because I don’t have to submit to Jenny weighing me every week. The result: 1.5% increase in body fat and half a stone in weight. I don’t like it. I feel heavy and sluggish, even without the bloating that is a constant, apparently, in my new perimenopausal life. I’ve stuck this to my fridge as inspiration. I’d rather have Victoria Wilkinson, who is super strong but not so skinny, but this will do for now:

IMG_6212

Weight, risky distance, hills, no racing for three months. Gulp.

However.

I was going to race!

I got my kit ready, and it felt good.

IMG_6219

I knew other people were running in road shoes, but I also knew it had rained overnight, and there were trails, so I chose my Brooks PureGrit. They are so comfortable, anyway, that I wear them around town. It’s not like winter running of cross-country, when only Inov-8 grips well enough, but Inov-8 studs are painful on tarmac and your feet get knackered.

I had my usual race breakfast of toast, marmalade and marmite. I made a flask of coffee, swallowed with the usual profound disgust a shot of Beet-it (because it works) and left for Pudsey. Some of us were meeting at some clubmates’ house for pre-race tea and coffee. Three toilet visits later – my pelvic floor has also suffered from not running so much – then I warmed up on their carpet, and at 10.30 we walked up their road to the start of the race. Suddenly there were purple vests everywhere. Group photo. How long since I’ve done one of those? I’ve watched on our FB page as the official group photo gets changed with race after race, and been miserable about it. And here I was in one, finally, and it felt great.

Then there was some milling. Before a race there is always milling. FRB had given me a strict race strategy. He knows the course perfectly, and probably would even if he didn’t live locally, and he had given me strict instructions mile by mile. The summary: don’t peg it on the initial downhill because I’d pay for it on the hills and in the last couple of miles. There would be four hills, though officially no-one counts the last one, because it’s a long steady rise up to the finish in the park. No-one, he said, will be running the bad hills except for the first twenty runners. I hadn’t run this race, but I’ve run around Pudsey and bit and know the ones that come out of the valley. I knew what to expect.

The milling was wet. The weather was supposed to be dry, but this was a heavy shower. There was much good-natured grumbling about the weather, an announcement that I couldn’t hear because I’d put myself so far back in the pack, and then we were off. I thought: Don’t peg it, and I didn’t. In fact, I followed the plan perfectly, even when I wanted to speed up. And then later, I probably couldn’t have sped up.

It was a lovely race. I was outside, in fresh air, running through woods and alongside fields, and it was gorgeous. It was such a gigantic pleasure. I didn’t even mind being so slow.

I’m lying. I did mind. But I ran along thinking what Janey wrote in her Veggie Runners blog about running the Coniston marathon: Put your ego in a box. Just enjoy the race. So I did, until I was overtaken by a lovely man who runs for my club, but whose marathon times are about 45 minutes to an hour slower than mine. I tried very very hard to keep my ego in the box, but in the last mile I had to overtake him. The incline up to the finish in the park was hard, and I felt sick in the last 200 metres. I did it 1 hour 1 minute, which was perfect according to FRB’s strategy, though it’s twelve minutes slower than my PB, and though I was beaten by slower runners I’d normally be way ahead of, including our M70 runner.

Oh well. I’ll be back.

Afterwards there were free sports massages being given out by a local physio practice, so I asked for special attention to be paid to my hip flexors, glutes and tendon, and they were all so tight the physio was wincing. Me? I was yelping. It hurt.

I’m knackered now. But it feels good. A swim tomorrow, and another race on Tuesday. It’s so good to be back. It’s good to be running, and racing, but probably most of all, it’s good to be running and racing with this lot:

DSC09573

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 16.54.35

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 16.54.52

Achievement

Yesterday Nicky Spinks ran up 27,000 feet of ascent over 66 miles and 42 of the Lake District’s highest peaks in 18 hours and six minutes. She broke her own women’s record by six minutes. She is 47 years old, has had breast cancer and a hysterectomy, and she is an astonishing athlete. What an achievement.

Yesterday I ran 10K through the woods and canal of Guiseley and Esholt. It took me 1 hour and 1 minute or so, which is the slowest time I’ve ever run a 10K race in, even an off-road one. I ran without a watch. My aim was to get round without my ankle or tendon exploding, and I did. That was my achievement, and I’m happy with it even if my ankle isn’t.

Of course Nicky Spinks did something more marvellous than I did. But even her amazing result has been reported by no newspapers or TV. I pointed this out on Twitter and was told – by men – that fell running is not a spectator sport. When I’ve argued with the sports editor of the Guardian, he made a case similar to the one he makes in this piece by the Guardian readers’ editor, that when they publish stories about women’s sport, hardly anyone reads them. Might that be because women have been so drastically excluded from mainstream sports coverage that they don’t bother picking up the sports sections any more? I don’t, because if I do I just get angry. They are profoundly insulting, because they don’t acknowledge women in any way. The odd female by-line, usually accompanying a piece about men’s football, doesn’t count. As FRB pointed out yesterday, the Sunday Times ran a full page spread on the Augusta golf tournament, which hasn’t even happened yet, and a tournament in which a British woman had a good chance of winning, and which *has* happened, was given one paragraph. Elsewhere in the Sunday Times, admittedly, there was a good article on the Oxford and Cambridge women’s rowing teams, who are for the first time being allowed to race on the same stretch of the Thames. It didn’t say so in the piece (which is behind a paywall), but I get the sense that this was only contemplated while accompanied by the promise of a large amount of sponsorship for the mens’ race. It’s the thoughtless exclusion that enrages me: that whenever anyone asked the organizers of the Boat Race – the Sunday Times weirdly called the piece Boat Grace – why the women had to race on a further away stretch of river, no-one could give an answer. Also in that piece, a statistic on how much women’s sport is covered in British TV and newspapers. TV: 10%. Newspapers 2%.

I’m not suggesting that cameras should have accompanied Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round. Fell running is a minority activity and I hope it stays that way, as does everyone who gets up the fells. We like the space. I just mention her because it’s an example of amazing achievement that will never be applauded widely. Just as Jo Pavey has been dropped by Nike, yet they have decided to sponsor drugs cheat Justin Gatlin. Inconceivable.

Anyway. Well done, Nicky Spinks. Well done, me and my posterior tibial tendon.

Nicky, post-run:
11138672_10150531726554969_1789667640185625612_n

Me, post-run:
IMG_5786

IMG_5779

From Haiti to High Cup Nick and beyond

It’s been a while. Such a long while. This is what has happened.

1. Rombald Stride
This is a well-known and beloved race in my part of Yorkshire. It takes its name from a) Rombald Moor near Ilkley and b) because it started as a long distance walk. Now it’s mixed, so that walkers and runners set off together – though some walkers set off earlier – and all along the 22 mile route, you pass walkers. I said hello to all of them. Some of them said hello back. Anyway. I was nervous. I had no idea how I would run 22 miles. And I was scared of getting lost. You’ll be fine, said FRB, who was also doing the race. At your pace, there will be people around you. You’re unlikely to be on your own until Baildon moor. This didn’t give me much confidence though. I’m terrible at orientation and navigation. I did as he suggested and photocopied my OS map, then drew the route on it.

IMG_6182

The official directions from the organisers are hilariously brief and enigmatic. They say things like “at Baildon Moor, turn left for five miles”. So FRB did me some very detailed ones. I packed those and the map in a transparent folder. I got my fell kit ready: waterproof trousers and jacket, with taped seams. Hat. Gloves. Spare gloves. Spare socks. Gels. Dried fruit. Chocolate. Rombald is famous for its wonderful refreshment stops along the way. I was tempted into doing it in the first place by someone saying, “You get to run along Ilkely moor munching a pork pie and drinking a cup of tea. What’s better than that?” It sounded great, even if I can’t drink while running and I’m vegetarian. But I knew there would be hot and cold drinks, and cake.

The race start was from Guiseley. Registration was in a local school, where I tried to calm my nerves by looking at the wall displays. This pleased me a lot:

IMG_6211

But it didn’t calm my nerves. I just swallowed them and headed out of the door when everyone else started walking through it. A mixture of runners and walkers – shoes and boots – crossed the road near the McDonalds and headed down a ginnel – though it may have been a snicket – to gather in a huddle, mass and gathering. I remember that a young woman, neither runner nor walker, was trying to walk in the other direction. She can’t have made much progress against a few hundred runners in a narrow ginnel, because someone shouted, “let her through, she’s late for work!” and with laughter, we made a space, and she made it. She looked a bit befuddled.

I chat to people at the start, and it was a treat to chat to walkers for a change, although the few that I did talk to were all of the same mind: You’re RUNNING this? You’re MAD. And then, we were off. The weather was clear, the visibility was good. I began with no hat, and never needed one. The gloves came off quite soon. I’d listened to FRB and put on capris and knee compression socks, rather than my usual race gear of shorts and socks (and of course was niggled when he turned out to be wearing shorts). To such stupid inconsequential things do minds that are running turn, because they are trying not to think of things like : I’VE RUN HALF A MILE AND THERE ARE TWENTY-ONE MORE TO GO.

Or, I HAVEN’T RUN BEYOND 15 MILES AND I HAVEN’T TRAINED AND OH GOD HOW AM I GOING TO KEEP UP AND WILL I BE LAST AND WHAT IF I GET LOST

etc

We left Guiseley and ran through Esholt and up to Baildon Moor, and there were always people around me, and I didn’t get lost. Up and up to a trig point, then the Twelve Apostles, then miles of flags across the moor. It was beautiful.

IMG_6192IMG_6215

 

There were regular stalls with drinks, or drinks and cake, staffed by lovely volunteers. I took a fig roll at one of them. “A fig roll?” said the young woman serving them. “Not a Jaffa Cake??? You’re mad!” The first drinks were cold, but after that there was tea, although I took none. From Baildon to Ilkley, past the Sunday walkers who were tiptoeing on the icy footpaths and looked at us running on them with amazement and awe (or bafflement and pity). By now the rest of the field had thinned out. I was desperate for the toilet but an exposed moor doesn’t offer much shelter, and I wasn’t desperate enough to squat publicly, though that would probably come. I walked some of the climbs, but mostly I kept moving, through black bog and heather and ice and flags and moor and paths. Then we dropped down into Burley, to the best equipped food stall of all. “We’ve got pork chops!” they said. And, when I said I was vegetarian, “There’s nut-roast in the van!” If only I could eat while running, I’d have had some. But I had flapjack and cake. And probably another fig-roll.

IMG_6194

Burley to Menston would be urban and peri-urban. But I’d recced this part and actually remembered it, except for one moment in a farmer’s field in Burley where suddenly nothing looked familiar. I waited for runners to appear over the near horizon, and asked them the way, and they told me in detail and with kindness so off I ran. My legs were OK, though my socks were rubbing, but I’d been putting off changing them for miles. I sat down in a ginnel in Menston though to sort them out, and every runner asked if I needed help. Runners are kind people.

Through Menston, through fields, over stile after stile. Some beautiful, lovely, delightful person had rigged up this licorice allsorts staging post, and I will be forever thankful.

IMG_6195

Then there was a dash long dash down, down and down to the bottom of the Chevin. And I was running down, and down, and I knew that I would soon be going up, and up. I knew the Chevin. I know it is STEEP. I’ve walked it and run through it, and I’d recced it with FRB. I’d been dreading the climb, but actually I enjoyed the walk. It was hard, and it was steep, but I chatted to another runner on the way and it began to feel like a nice 20 minutes of not running. And then, to the top, and I knew there were less than two miles left. I looked at my watch and it was about 20 past 4. I thought, I’m going to do this in less than 4 hours 30, dammit, and I belted down into Guiseley, down residential streets, through the centre, over the roundabout, back to the school, into the back entrance, where I stupidly sat down on a chair for two minutes before going in to report back. I ran nearly 22 miles in 4 hours 30 minutes, and they gave me a key-ring.

IMG_6206IMG_6205

 

2. Haiti
Ten days later, I flew to Haiti. I was going to report on cholera, and I was going to be based in Port au Prince. I’d organised a guesthouse, a driver and translator, and set up all my meetings. But what I hadn’t managed to organise was a running guide. I try to connect with local runners wherever I go, but Haiti defeated me. It was so hot. The streets were bad and dreadful, as was the traffic. And I never saw any runners, ever. I didn’t even see this guy. I’d been told by my hosts that it wasn’t safe to walk on the streets, and certainly not at night, so I was over-cautious. By the end of my ten days, I’d happily have rewound and gone running, even at 5am. That would have been easy, what with my jetlag and the loud dogs and cockrels that blasted out their morning crows and barks right outside my window. I eventually made contact with Run Haiti, a new organisation that is trying to get Haitians to run. The director had not only read The Big Necessity, but had also run a cholera treatment clinic. Even so, we couldn’t manage to meet. So no running in Haiti, and instead I did endless 7 minute workouts in my bedroom. I had a fascinating time and met wonderful people.

IMG_6485

By the end of ten days, my press-ups were pretty good, I never wanted to see another fried plantain again and I dreamed of green salad.

3. High Cup Nick
I got back from Haiti on Friday morning. I’d had nearly 18 hours of travel, no sleep on the overnight plane from JFK, and stayed awake all day. I slept like the dead on Friday night, then got up on Saturday morning to be driven to Cumbria to run up this:

4-highcupnick-30819j©Visit Cumbria

Yes, at this point I did question my sanity. High Cup Nick is known as one of the iconic fell races. It’s small (the race, not the fell), and based in the lovely village of Dufton.

IMG_6799

This was my fourth fell race and I wasn’t getting any less nervous. I did the usual race preparation: Go to the toilet. Get my number. Pin my number. Change into my fell-shoes and compression socks. Strip off all layers. Make sure I had full kit (FRA rules: full waterproofs with taped seams, map, compass, whistle). Go to the toilet again. And again. And again.

We gathered on the village green, and off we went. A steady incline for the first mile or so, and after that I can’t remember much until we got to the valley bottom – black bogs – leading up to the climb up High Cup Nick. I remember passing a woman and telling her I was jet-lagged and she said, “you’re mad!” It seems to be a theme. Then, the climb. It was like the ages of man backwards: upright first, then to a crawl as we got near the top, where the waterfall was spraying uphill. Really. The clag had come down and the temperature dropped, so I put on my waterproof. By the top, I was trying not to look down, as the footholds weren’t huge and my head for heights is not great. But staring straight ahead meant staring at the backside of a man wearing rather short shorts. So the safest thing to do was watch my feet and not look beyond my next handhold. I did stop at one point to gawp though. And my goodness, it was stunning. A silver river snaking through the valley for so far, it disappeared into the horizon. I always try to stop and gawp, though I don’t think I’ll ever do what a runner near me was doing, which was climbing with two feet and one hand, because the other one was holding his phone, to video his ascent.

At the top, I ran with Jenny of Pudsey Pacers. There was a nice ridge run for a mile or so, then a pelt down a farmyard track. I’d knocked my watch putting my waterproof on, so I had no idea how much distance was left. Running at 7 minute mile pace down the track was a bit reckless, in retrospect, as there were a couple of miles to go. But it was fun. So on, and on, until we got to a house, and a yard, and then there was the blessed village green, and a village hall full of delightful women dispensing hot soup and bread. By heck, I love fell-racing. So I did some more.

4.Brussels & Pendle

But first, I went to Brussels, for a shipping conference. It was fly-by-night, and I meant to go running, but instead worked on my speech. Back home, and a ten mile run with FRB on the streets of north Leeds. He asked me what pace I wanted to do but I’ve discarded my plan so thoroughly I no longer knew, so I settled on no slower than 9.30 and no faster than 8.30. We did the ten miles at 8.45, and it felt fast, and I was exhausted. The next day my calves were extremely sore, so I foam rollered and ibuprofen-gelled, and the following day got back in a car to drive to Barley to run up and around Pendle Hill. I’d watched FRB do the Tour of Pendle, a 17 mile fell race, last year, and promised I would do it too. This was the warm-up. The Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round, a 9 mile run with nearly 2,000 feet of ascent. It was beautiful, and hard. I was limping before I started, and when I did start running, I realised how tired I was. I came the farthest back I’ve ever come in a race, 165th out of 176. I spent a lot of it looking round making sure I wasn’t last, and seeing that there were only about a dozen runners behind me. I wasn’t last, and I got round, and I’m proud of that though a wee bit mortified about how slow I was. But some days there’s just nothing in the tank, and this was one of them. I thought I might DNF (Did Not Finish) but I didn’t, and so well done me.

Before:
IMG_6848

After:
IMG_6849

And on Sunday, I rested.

Fells

I’ve been saying it for so long, I began to bore myself: I’m going to start fell-running. I’m going
to start fell-running. Why? Because the fells are there, and they are magnificent, and I love mud. And because one day I want to look like Victoria Wilkinson:

IMG_5496

But it’s not just that. I love all sorts about fell-running, or what I’d heard about it. I liked the fact you can turn up and pay £4 and get infinite tea and biscuits when you’ve finished. I like that
sometimes the registration takes place in someone’s car. I like the camaraderie. I like the mud. I like Inov8s. But mostly I like the scenery.

IMG_5888

I do love road-racing, and I’m proud that this year I’ve done many firsts, including my first
marathon (which I followed with another one), and my first sprint triathlon. And, finally, my first fell
race. The Burley Moor Run is part of Burley’s summer festival, but in November, obviously. I didn’t sign up, because another great thing about fell races (though not the big important ones) is how many you can enter on the day, but I wrote the date in my calendar, and then got more and more nervous. This is what I do with new things: the London marathon terrified me, as did the triathlon, which gave me nightmares the night before of endless bloody swimming pools (yes, I WILL go to our club swimming coaching sessions soon). But it was also because I’d been reading Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds, about fell-running, and my reaction was a) my mild-mannered editor Richard at the Independent was a proper fell runner and he’d never even given a hint of it and b)oh God. It’s steep and terrifying and I’ll be last. I’ll definitely be last.

I looked for advice on the Fell Runners Association website. I asked club-mates who run fells for some wisdom. One of them said this: Train for fells. “Even the entry-level races require a base level of fitness that is very diff erent from normal ‘social’ running. If you want to be a fell runner, you have to train properly. Go out and run hills. Not short sprints, but something that will take you 1-2 mins of hard effort. Run 5-8 ofthem, recovering inbetween. It will feel absolutely horrendous but that feeling should be embraced because it is you improving and becoming a fell runner!”

So of course I didn’t do any of that. Or at least, I didn’t do any special hill training beyond the ones that you have to do living and running in Leeds. I did have a good level of fitness, but still: these were fells. Or at least, Burley Moor, and 10K to run around it.

Then there was the question of kit. I had fell-shoes. I had my stripey socks. But what of all the compasses, whistles, taped seams and stuff that are listed on the FRA site? Luckily Burley isn’t an official FRA race, and I was assured that a kit check was unlikely, so I packed my waterproof (with taped seams) into a borrowed waist-pack and set off. The race was in Burley, somewhere, but I hadn’t written down the post-code, so I just followed my usual race orientation of following people I saw walking along in high-vis (not the ones who are running; they’re just out running). The weather was cold but not awful. No-one else seemed to be running with waist packs, but I kept mine anyway because I was going up onto the moor, and you never know whether the heights will turn wuthering. The route was kind at first; a fairly flat track, and then we started to climb. And here was my first surprise: nearly everyone around me was walking. It was a very narrow track, and it was a steep climb, but if I hadn’t been stuck behind so many walkers, I’d have tried to run it. I’d made the error of starting too far back, out of nervousness.

But at the top we could run again, and it was glorious. Wind, scenery, moor: it’s a visual and sensory treat. It’s like cross-country on drugs: you have all the stunning scenery, but you’re having to concentrate on your feet because the terrain is so varied. I learned that “technical” means “watch your feet even more closely.” I learned that fellow fell-runners, if you ask them if that’s the last hill, will lie to you. I learned that on that not-the-last-hill, to run with smaller steps and to think about breathing, and at the top to try to a) take in oxygen by breathing through my nose and b) take in the view. That’s what we’re there for, surely? But it’s surprising how many fell-runners, even if they’ve stopped to catch breath, didn’t have a quick gawp at the gorgeousness of the moors.

IMG_5891

I loved it all. And as I was hurtling down the final descent back into Burley, I remembered the woman I ran near in one PECO or Vets race, who hesitated at every patch of mud and tried to run around it. Finally, as I nearly ran into her again, I said, “embrace the mud! Pretend you’re 7 again.” She didn’t but on Burley Moor, I did. I wasn’t a 45-year-old with an aching hip, but a kid on a hill, going down at top speed, careless of everything but the thrill of the descent. There was no chip timing, no crowds, no bands, no water stations. But it was captivating. I’m still going to do road races, but this is the year I’m getting up the fells, with bells (or Inov-8s)on.

DSC_0602

Three tips for fell-running

1. If you see a photographer, i.e. the ones with zoom lenses, then look at the ground, not at the camera: He or she is probably at a spot where runners are likely to fall, as it makes a better picture.

2. On a vile day where the registration is in someone’s car, remember you can print out a blank entry form for FRA races and fill it in beforehand, so you’re not standing around outside someone’s car door for ages in howling rain and gales.

3. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to train and push you outside your comfort zone. Avoid people who constantly refer to the fells/fellrunners as mental, nutters, crazy, “you must be mad” etc. You’re not!

I’ve also been spectating a few fell-races recently. And one day, once I’ve managed to run like Victoria Wilkinson, I’ll have a go at running like Alistair Brownlee, Olympic triathlon champion.

DSC_0212

Alistair with his brother Jonny run the Auld Lang Syne fell race in Haworth every year. This year they brought some Olympians along too. Where else but God’s own county could you run a 5 mile fell race alongside people dressed in the most extraordinary fancy dress (Baywatch and the shark was my favourite and, please remember, THEY RAN FIVE FREEZING MILES IN CROTCH-HIGH BOGS DRESSED LIKE THAT):

P1080612

and then go to a pub for prize-giving where chocolates are lobbed at amateurs and Olympians alike, the Olympic gold medallist in triathlon gets a crown, and everyone has a right good laugh? Nowhere.

Yorkshire marathon

I did it. I wanted to do it in under 4 hours, and I did it in under 4 hours, in 3:59.04. Which is a bit of a miracle as my training had not been perfect, as I have travelled about 8,000 miles in two weeks, and as on the day my left hip decided to become very painful at mile 19 and continued to be very painful until, well, now.

Pre-marathon weeks
September and October have been busy and filled with travel. The last couple of weeks included a trip to Louisville, Kentucky, then Glasgow, then Cheltenham, then Cyprus, then London. I got home from all this at 11pm on the Friday night on marathon weekend. It was not the best marathon preparation. But I did try to keep my training going despite the travelling. I ran along the magnificent river in Louisville:

IMG_5345 IMG_5325

I ran until the riverside path ran out at a cement factory and then I turned around and ran back and along the way discovered that one of Louisville’s many beautiful bridges has been pedestrianised. The Big Four bridge starts in Louisville and ends in Indiana, and it’s wonderful.

IMG_5344

On the way over I tried to take a selfie – or as my mother calls a selfie, a “meesie” – and managed only to look petrified. I wasn’t petrified, just hot.

IMG_5347

All of Louisville’s riverside park is pretty great. Especially, as I had set off without water AGAIN and it was getting hot, that there were open, clean toilets at frequent intervals, and drinking water fountains! When do you see drinking water fountains anywhere in British parks any more? I don’t hold with Britain-bashing, which I hear far too often. I think that a country where you don’t die before the age of 5 from an easily preventable disease, where you can get education and healthcare is, with all its problems, a highly enviable place in which to live. But I do object to the wholesale removal or neglect of drinking water fountains. So well done Louisville Water, which has a great campaign to get people to ditch bottled water in favour of tap water called Louisville PureTap. I approve in principle, and when I was parched after 7 miles and couldn’t find a shop, but I did find drinking water freely available, I approved heartily on the spot too.

IMG_5339

 

From Kentucky, I flew overnight to London, didn’t sleep, flew to Glasgow and almost immediately went onstage at the Infection Prevention Society’s annual conference. Then I slept for about 16 hours. The next morning: another run. I love that hotels increasingly have running/jogging maps for guests. Well done to Crowne Plaza Glasgow. I set off along the river, this time the river Clyde. The sun shone – really! – and it was cool and lovely. Along past early morning rowing crews, and people getting to work early, and walkers and runners, to the People’s Park. A quick picture of the shoes that I couldn’t resist buying in the US because they are so cheap – many thanks to the kind man from Waterstep who drove me to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Indiana to buy them – then back and home to Leeds, finally, but not for long.

IMG_5366Then it was down to Cheltenham for 24 hours for the books festival, back home, then to Cyprus for 48 hours for the AGM and annual conference of the Women in Shipping Trade Association (WISTA). They invited me to give me an award for raising the profile of the shipping industry, which was lovely. And I got to run along the very fine beachfront promenade in Limassol from my hotel, which was right on the beach.

IMG_5389 IMG_5392

So, unlike in Leeds, I could run four miles, take off my running shoes and jump straight into the gorgeous, warm, delightful Mediterranean. I flew to London then to give a talk at the annual supporters’ meeting of WaterAid, who I was running the Yorkshire Marathon for, two days later.

Pre-marathon day
I got home late on Friday night from London, lazed around all Saturday and got increasingly terrified. I just didn’t feel that I had done all the training. Perhaps it is retrospective revisionism, but I remember feeling much fitter before London, though I was equally scared. This time, although I have done a lot of training, I’ve been ill, I’ve been injured, I’ve been not as assiduous as I should have been. I was running the marathon with my friends VeggieRunners i.e. mother and daughter Janey and Bibi. We all had our WaterAid vests, although it wasn’t an official WaterAid race, so there would be no massage or great snacks unlike at the Great North Run, which I missed. Of course I had to customise my vest to show my priorities:

IMG_5415 (I’ve requested that WaterAid add “toilets” to their running vests the next time they order some.) Anyway by Saturday evening I had got all my kit ready. Namely:

To run in
Vest, with number pinned
Carefully selected shorts (Brooks)
Carefully selected socks (Sock Mile, with Run Mummy Run leg compression sleeves)
Carefully selected shoes (Brooks Pure Connect)
Carefully selected pants (the ones I always run in: more on those later)
Gel belt with 6 gels plus one extra just in case
Electrolyte tabs

For before, during and after
A flask of black coffee
Flapjack
2 bagels with cream cheese and gherkins
1 litre of chocolate milk
Change of t-shirt
Change of pants
Change of trousers
Change of socks
Change of shoes
Flip-flops

Of course the night before I realised that my Garmin charger was not as I thought in my house but probably in a hotel room somewhere in Kentucky, Glasgow or Cyprus. And that is one of the many, many reasons that I love belonging to a running club: a quick Facebook request and I had a borrowed charger within half an hour. Thanks, Claire and Russell!

Marathon day
Oddly, I slept OK. I’ve been sent a Bodyclock by Lumie, which wakes you with light, which is supposedly far better for your body as light switches on the right hormones in the right order and with the right pace so you wake up refreshed rather than startled. I did wake up quite gently, and even my cat seemed to have taken my timetable to heart and woke me at the perfect time of 5.50am. Breakfast, although nerves were making nonsense of my appetite, was toast and peanut butter and rhubarb jam. Fling everything into a bag, last toilet visit, prepare a flask of coffee and off I go to pick up David then Janey. There had been fog warnings the day before, both from the weather forecast, and from the Yorkshire Marathon people via text. So there were fog nerves to add to race nerves. Plus parking nerves, as David and Jayne were sure they would find somewhere to park near the start, and I was not sure. But the fog was fine, we got there in good time and parking was easy, as most people had obeyed the marathon organisers’ request to park in park and ride so there was plenty of space for early-arriving rebels.

The marathon was based at the university, and it was very well organised. Clear signposting, somewhere warm to wait – there was fog and mist and it was cold – and no queues anywhere, except at the toilets and those queues were crazy. But Jayne and Bibi had run last year and remembered which building to go into that had toilets on the first floor, and off we went, to Real, Warm Toilets  with no queue. Well done Jayne and Bibi. And no, I’m not going to tell you which building it was or you’ll all be going there next year.

Baggage dropped off, foil blankets wrapped (around Bibi and Jayne, I hadn’t thought to  bring anything beyond my throwaway charity shop sweatshirt), a last toilet visit “for the last 10 millilitres” and we headed to our start pens. Zone 2 for me, Janey and Bibi; zone 1 for David and Adam, the fourth member of Team Veggie. David was aiming for under 3:20, Adam about the same. We did a bit of the warm-up, stood around and chatted and got nervous, then lined up. A young lad next to me said, well done for running for WaterAid, and that he had interned for them for two months over the summer. A couple of days after the race – which he did in 3 hours 30 or something impressive – he wrote to say he had found my website and already ordered my book. So that’s how to sell books: run a marathon.

The start was on time despite the fog and pretty soon we were running on cobblestones into York city centre. There were shops and cobbles and people on the streets and then suddenly this:

 

_51996922_005285514-1

and it was pealing bells and well, that was enough propulsion for the next few miles. We had decided to run together, and having the company of Janey and Bibi was wonderful. We talked sometimes, and sometimes didn’t. Our conversation ran from intellectual to what pants we liked wearing. We met other runners sometimes, including a man who had come from Surrey and who ran behind us for a couple of miles before he mentioned that he was aiming for 3:45. Oh. We’re not. And off he went.

What I loved most about this marathon compared to London, was the space. London had 30,000 runners; Yorkshire had 7,000. There was space to run! Of course there was overtaking, but generally, people seemed to have been in the right pens. There wasn’t so much weaving, which is tiring. It wasn’t like Edinburgh where even at ten miles I was overtaking people who were seriously slow (and not because they were walking or tired). Edinburgh was shambolic. Yorkshire was impressively organized.

The only thing I’d have liked more of was support. London is a sensory overload, and marathon day was hot, and Mo was running, so of course there were thousands of supporters. Yorkshire was on an autumn day and there was fog. So there were miles where there was hardly anyone. That meant that when there was support, it was great but I’d just have liked more of it. Thank you though to the bagpipers, to the students – I presume – who had all passing runners shouting Oggy oggy oggy oi oi oi behind us, to the man in one of the very beautiful villages we ran through, who rang his doorbell – a real bell, not a button – constantly as we ran past. Thank you to everyone who had jelly-babies, and to all the volunteers and marshals, who were encouraging and great. Thank you to everyone who bothered to get up on a Sunday morning just to encourage perfect strangers to do something as simple as running.

The water stations were every three miles. There were gel stations too but we couldn’t remember where they were, and Janey had lost some gels on the way (a common sign on marathons is abandoned gels on the ground). Luckily we ran past a very organized runner who had brought along a map. An actual map! So we figured it out. I’d discussed race strategy with Jenny and decided to go for 10 miles without gels then to take them every three miles. I think I started at 9 then pretty much followed the strategy though at about 15 miles it’s hard to think logically about anything. Anyway I didn’t hit the wall, again, or at least not because of lack of glycogen so I must have got it right.

At one of the water stations, the first volunteer had got backed up, so that he couldn’t quite get the bottles handed out fast enough. It didn’t matter because as always there were plenty of other people handing out water ahead of him. But a man running behind me said “for fuck’s sake!” and I was furious. It’s quite hard to turn round at 9 minute mile pace and say “don’t be so bloody rude, he’s a volunteer” but I did. I apologise to all marshals and volunteers for his oafishness. What a ******.

Miles 13-18 were tough. I can’t really remember them, except for the switchback at 16-18, where you run for a long way against runners coming in the opposite direction. Janey said, “‘I didn’t like this bit last year and I don’t like it this year,” and there wasn’t much to like about it, as you’re not only looking at faster runners who are farther ahead, but you’re noting that the return on the switchback seems to be going uphill. The marathon is described as “undulating,” which can mean all sorts. But it was. There were inclines, and it certainly wasn’t as flat as London. I was busy looking for the Kirkstall Harriers supporters at mile 18. I missed them and they missed me, but it kept me occupied. And on the uphill stretch my left hip started to really hurt. That is, it was worse than discomfort. But I kept running. I didn’t want to lose my company and I knew the last 6 miles would be when I needed company most. But my hip got worse and worse. It was sore, then it was painful, then my leg started to give way. Finally it felt like I was limping while running. I had to stop, so Janey and Bibi went on and I didn’t see them until the finish line. From then on, I had to stop every half a mile or so to do a glute stretch. It was weird; I never get problems on my left side. But I was running in my Brooks Pure Connect, and though I had done lots of miles in them, I’ve never done 20, so I suppose my hip got tired and decided to make a point. I kept trying to run through it but after half a mile, it would get so painful I had to stop. At one point I stopped and leaned on a marshall to stretch out. Thank you to her.

The next thing to look forward to – and it’s important to have something to look forward to – was Osbaldwick village at mile 24, because that’s where my brother lives with his family. My mother had also mentioned that she might come up and watch, as she had wanted to come to London but hadn’t in the end. She hadn’t answered me when I asked if she was going to come, which meant, I thought, that she probably would (she has form for surprise arrivals). I couldn’t greet my cheering party while limping or they’d all worry, so as we came into Osbaldwick, I stretched again, and then managed to run past them without hobbling. A quick hug to my mother, who of course had come, my god-daughter Alice, our family friend Bill. I didn’t notice that my brother Nicholas and nephew James were taking pictures, because I didn’t dare stop. And then it was just onward, to The Hill. “You went off like a bomb,” said my mother. My subterfuge worked (I had to stop half a mile later as usual).

People had talked about this hill. It ends on a hill, they said. It’s a big hill. It’s hard and horrible. Some people have to haul themselves up it using the barriers. So I was expecting something like this:

2009219_168436which is Post Hill in Pudsey. But finally, as we got to the last mile and turned the corner, there it was. And it was fine. I belted up it, because for the last few miles various kind supporters had shouted “You’ll still make sub-4!” and I thought, perhaps I will. Up the hill, and then a sprint to the finish. It’s amazing what legs can do. I forgot to smile for the cameras, because the clock said 4 hours had just passed but by then I was on automatic. Over the line, I had to really limp, so I limped to get my goody bag, I limped into the recovery area to find Bibi and Jayne and then suddenly there was a text from the marathon organizers saying I’d done it in 3:59.04. Chip time. I’d forgotten about chip time.

I drank the horrible protein shake in the goody bag, because as usual, I had no appetite at all. I never do. No appetite then an hour later totally ravenous. We all found each other again by the cafe, and Jayne’s partner Zsolt and our friend Wendy turned up with a bottle of fizz. So, chocolate, fizz, and some happy pictures of the WaterAid ladies, as loads of supporters had called us:IMG_5427

Thank you so much to everyone who has donated. If you haven’t and you’d like to, here is our donation page for WaterAid.

IMG_5425

 

That’s that, until April. And now, up to the fells.

Unmarathon

I went to France for August. I ran a lot. I ran in the heat, on the flat, up hills in the rain. I did 16 miles along a converted rail track, la voie verte, that runs from my house to the very beautiful city of Mirepoix, which I have visited so often, usually with visitors, that I have no pictures of it. I did though take a picture of the railway track.

IMG_4973

Then I came home, and confronted a strange fact. My marathon training has somewhat gone wrong. My personal trainer Jenny is great for keeping my core strength up and my consumption of meringues with double cream down, though not entirely. When I did the London marathon this year, I followed her plan to the letter. I was at first nervous and then scared stiff of running the longest I’d ever run, and so I wanted all the help I could get. It worked. I had a great day on the marathon, and so I signed up for another one. Also, I did London in 4:07, which I was happy with (or so I tell people), but actually I was aiming for under 4. So, back to the marathon drawing board. I entered Yorkshire Marathon in October, and thought, this will be so much easier. No wet winter runs in the dark. Lots of beautiful summer training runs around Eccup and Harewood at 6am, with swallows fluttering beautifully around my head as I trip along at an 8 minute mile pace.

That was the plan. Jenny first drew up a new marathon plan about three months ago. It had several phases: anaerobic conditioning first, then aerobic conditioning to get my speed up and then the long runs and more conventional marathon training started at 16 weeks away. It was such a beautiful, carefully thought-out plan. I know how long I’m supposed to run, and when, and at what pace. Those of you who are more relaxed about marathons will be wincing at that, but I found it useful. In theory. Because it turns out I’ve been rubbish at following it. As Andrew Kirby said, it’s like when you make a cake or something: the first time you take real care, and the second time it’s more slapdash. I’ve been slapdash. And I’ve been complacent. So instead of doing the paces, I’ve done what I felt like. I haven’t got all the mileage in, leading to Jenny saying things like “you’ve missed 25 miles last week,” although I’d done 20. Jenny is not a sociable runner – or at least, sociability while running isn’t important to her – and she is very disciplined. But I think sociable running is essential, and I’ve made that clear again and again by entering race and after race, even when they don’t remotely fit with my training plan that week. I can’t resist a Yorkshire Vets or a PECO or an Otley 10, even though they don’t fit in my training plan, and I haven’t resisted them. 14 mile training run on the plan? Oh, I think I’ll do Eccup 10 instead. A hard interval session? But a Golden Acre Vets race sounds so much more fun!

So every week I have felt guilty for not following the plan, but every week I continue to do things like enter a sprint triathlon and run 5K, swim 400m and cycle 21K rather than do a 12 mile long run. Of course it doesn’t really help that I’ve been travelling so much but that’s no real excuse, particularly when it’s to places where jetlag gets me up early and you end up lying in bed wide awake at 4am counting down the time until you can go running. And I haven’t been as bad it sounds: I have been disciplined enough to keep running while travelling, so I’ve done runs around a lake in Dallas, Texas with the lovely Lake Grapevine Runners and Walkers:

10494683_10203978200316077_4289021237128437761_n

along the river around Stockholm:

1453318_10204330015751243_3145400257255893190_n

and up 16% gradient hills in Cornwall.

IMG_4908

I did actually do three weeks of the six weeks of interval speed training that I was supposed to, and I loved it, and I got faster. I did do my 16 mile runs, although as one of them was in the company of Andrew “where is it on the map” Kirby, it ended up being four hours via the very beautiful Timble fell.

IMG_5093

But now I’m nervous. Suddenly 26.2 miles seems like a very long way. So I followed the Leeds Country Way Leg 3 last week (even though it has HILLS, Marion and I came 5th out of 21 teams) with an extra 6 miles along the lovely roads of Tong. That was hard. This weekend I was supposed to do the Great North Run, and I was going to do an extra 5 miles beforehand. But instead I’ve picked up a chest infection and cough. The rule of running is that if it stays above the neck you can run. I was in Stockholm last week, and all week I had a sore throat and tickly cough and was begging it to stay above the neck. I did Roundhay Parkrun on Saturday morning to give my legs a try out and though I did it pretty fast for me, I paid for it. I immediately started with what doctors call a “productive cough,” i.e. sounding like I’m coughing up 25 years of 40-a-day cigarettes. (I’ve never smoked.) I set off for Newcastle on Saturday hoping that the drugs would work, but somewhere near York I felt horrible and turned round and came back. I’m so disappointed that I couldn’t run, but I also feel so unwell I can’t face the thought of even running a mile. I have no idea what this means for my marathon training but it can’t be good.

Tri

When I lived in London, I was a swimmer. Not a competitive one or even much good, but swimming was the exercise I took, because I lived around the corner from the London Fields Lido, renovated and re-opened in 2006. It is 50 metres long, outdoor, beautiful, and heated. I would go there to swim in summer, but also in winter, when it was so cold that you saw steam rising from the pool. It was a wonderful, wonderful place to swim.

image

When I moved home to Yorkshire in 2009, I stopped swimming. There was no outdoor heated swimming pool round the corner, I don’t like swimming in crowded leisure centres, and I just stopped. I became a runner instead, slowly, and mostly by doing half of a couch to 5K programme on my container ship in 2010. And I never really swam again, except on holidays or business trips now and then. But even then, there were lots of occasions where I could have swum and I didn’t. I lost heart and interest.

Then I did the London marathon, and signed up for another marathon, and swore to myself that I would become a fell runner. It seems to me that most people who do marathons follow five paths:

1. They never do a marathon again
2. They do LOTS of marathons
3. They do ultra-marathons
4. They become fell-runners
5. They become triathletes

I signed up for the Yorkshire marathon so I suppose I belong in number 2, but I wanted to belong to number 4 and haven’t. And I had no intentions ever of doing a triathlon. I have two bikes and love them. In France, I cycle quite often, though less now that I run so much. But I would never choose to go on a cycle ride when I could go for a run. And I still hadn’t got back into swimming.

Then Janey and Bibi of Veggie Runners told me they had signed up for a sprint triathlon in Leeds, and would I like to join them? I looked it up and said, no chance. £48 for a sprint triathlon? No. But the organisers, Xtra Mile Events, kindly let me have a place and I said I would try to write about it, so I signed up. And then decided to undergo a training programme which consisted of:

1. Hubris
2. Denial

Hubris: I used to swim. I cycle four miles to my studio and back frequently, and two of them are brutally hilly. And I know I can run. The distances weren’t daunting: 400m in the swimming pool, a 21K bike ride up Harrogate Road, and a 5K run around Leeds Grammar School, where the triathlon would be based. So I signed up, borrowed some tri kit from my lovely club-mate Marion, and then basically forgot about it, deliberately. I had travelling to do, to Dallas and Cornwall, and a marathon training plan that I still wasn’t doing properly. So I got on with that, and didn’t do any Bric (bike/run or one of the two) training. By last week in Dallas, I thought, I’d better see if I can swim, so I put on Marion’s tri gear and got in the pool. It was only about 10 metres, and not much use. I tried again in Cornwall, where I was staying at a spa with a very nice 25 metre fitness pool. I set off doing front crawl and bam.

Panic.

I suddenly remembered this from my swims in the London lido. Towards the end of my time in London, I would start panicking when I did front crawl. I would panic that I wasn’t getting enough breath, and then the panic would ensure that I didn’t get enough breath. And here it was again. I did what I did when I panicked in London Fields, and switched to breaststroke. After four lengths, I thought, this is tiring. I did another couple, but I’d intended to do the full 16 and didn’t. That was very stupid, because I spent the next three days panicking about the swim. Last night I slept horribly, partly because of the heat, partly because of my noisy neighbours in their garden, and also because I was dreaming about the triathlon. I was dreading the swim.

I got up at 5.45, with the help of my cat alarm clock. (That is a cat who licks my neck to wake me up, not an alarm clock shaped like a cat.) I ate toast. I showered. And I got more and more nervous. I’d decided to cycle up to Leeds Grammar School, because I remembered it being only a couple of miles up the road.

Up. UP the road.

I’d not really thought about that bit. So when my lactic acid started burning, and I hadn’t even got to the event, I thought, I haven’t really thought this through. This feeling continued when I realised I’d forgotten my photo ID, the first item on my checklist. I’d remembered everything else:

helmet
goggles
sunglasses
talcum powder to talc my shoes & socks, the better to get wet feet into them
gels
bananas
water bottle
puncture kit
allen key
bike lock
bike bottle cage which I still hadn’t fit on my bike
protein shake for afterwards
towel in a distinct colour so I could spot it in transition (I took the black one I was given after the ten mile Bluebell Trail)
change of clothes

I thought for a minute they were going to make me do a four mile round trip to go and fetch my ID, but they were nice and let me through. Outside, a few ectomorph men were sponging on their tattoos (nobody told me that triathlons are where all the handsome men are). They had the kit, but they said they were all novices too, and a bit nervous, and we all got on fine. I’ve never had a sponge-holder before, so thank you nameless man, who also cheered me when we passed later on Harrogate Road with, “COME ON LOVE!”

Janey and Bibi turned up soon with their partners Adam and Zsolt. Adam has done a few proper triathlons; I asked Zsolt if he was tempted and he said, “god, no.” Adam acted as our bike tech and fixed my bottle cage to my bike. Janey managed to put her tattoo on upside down.

10247290_10152560846312489_8528377756013404472_n

But eventually we were ready and walked our bikes round to transition. This is where all the bikes are racked. There are so many rules to triathlons; the instruction booklet was about 15 pages long. The ones I remembered were that you can’t get your bike on or off the rack without your helmet being in place. It wasn’t a huge transition area, only two rows, so I didn’t have to memorise where my bike was by doing some geolocation with a fixed recognisable object. There were hardly any people there because the whole tri was done in waves, and we had asked for a “mates’ wave,” where you can compete against or compete with your mates. We were in the first wave, and due to swim at 8.

Leeds Grammar School is beautiful and looks very expensive. It has a very nice swimming pool, and after we’d got our briefing – more rules – we got in the water. You can’t jump in (another rule). There was no-one to count the 16 lengths which was worrying, as I often drift off mentally when I’m swimming. There were three people per lane, but our first swimmer hadn’t turned up. I still wasn’t sure what stroke I would do; I wanted to do front crawl but hadn’t done 400m since my London fields lido swimming, and I was already feeling so nervous about the swim. I’ve never liked swimming in crowded lanes, and the rule about overtaking – you tap the person’s foot, then the slower person hangs to the side at the end of the lane so you can overtake – made me anxious.

I asked Janey if she wanted us to stick together or if we were going to compete. She looked hesitant, and then we both said, “let’s see what happens.”

Then the whistle went, and ten seconds later the second whistle went, the man in my lane set off, and then ten seconds later off I went. He was doing breaststroke, which I was delighted about. I set off front crawling, I think, but soon switched. I intended to switch back, but the breaststroke was really comfortable, even with all the tall ectomorph men around us (Janey, Bibi and I were the only women in the wave) doing Alpha Male Crawl, so I carried on with that. I’d put down an estimated time of 12 minutes, having no idea how long it would take me, and that was one of the things making me anxious. I remembered when I went running Kathmandu with X (I suddenly can’t remember her name), who told me that she had done a triathlon in Islamabad (because she is an amazing woman which makes it even worse I can’t remember her name), and she was the last person swimming in the pool. This is what I pictured. My co-swimmer finished before me, but he would: he was about 20 years younger and he had longer, stronger legs, even doing breaststroke. But I was only two lengths behind, and though for a minute or two I thought I was the only person in the pool, I then thought, I don’t care, and just carried on swimming. I was so little concerned with getting a good time that I had no idea what a good time should consist of.

I finished, I got out, I walked to the far end of the pool, then I ran on the gravel to the transition point. I didn’t even think about stopping to wait for Janey, so obviously I do have a competitive spirit hidden beneath the phlegmatism. I put on my helmet, put my feet into the talcum powdered shoes and socks, drank something, got my bike, and dawdled a bit. I just wasn’t going to be stressed out by losing time in a transition. I’ll save that for my next triathlon. And off I went. I haven’t done a bike ride longer than about 5 miles for ages. In France I sometimes do a 20K loop, but I hadn’t done that for a while either. Before race, both Janey and Bibi had said, with some horror, “have you seen the elevation of the bike route?” I hadn’t, but I could imagine it. I knew it was uphill to Harewood. I didn’t realise there was loads of uphill after that too.

One of the rules that the organisers were very firm about was no drafting. You can’t cycle in someone’s slipstream, but you have to hang back and then overtake within 15 seconds. I didn’t think that was going to apply to me. I was the first woman out of us three to leave, but I knew Bibi wasn’t far behind, and I couldn’t see anyone in front of me. But then I could, and he got closer and closer. He was slow on the hills, so that’s where I caught up with him, and that’s exactly where I didn’t want to have to overtake. So I hung back, and I hung back and then I thought, sod this, and overtook. My legs were sorely taxed, but there were enough downhills and sort-of-flat bits to recover from the hills. The man caught me on the downhill and overtook. On the way up to the roundabout a few miles north of Harewood House, the other men in the wave started coming back on the other side. That’s where I got my COME ON LOVE. So I did. I went on.

And I overtook the slow-hill-climber again, and he didn’t catch me. I saw Bibi on the other side, and she told me later she thought I wasn’t very far ahead but she couldn’t catch me. Thank goodness for my hockey/Hoy thighs. The turn-off for the school came quite quickly, and I cycled to the dismount sign, dismounted (unlike one bloke who kept cycling at top speed and then had to do a comedy brake-screeching stop, apparently).

Bike on rack. Helmet off. Frantic search for gels. Fast mouthful of a fruit bar. Drink of electrolyte drink. Off.

In my moments of tri-panic, I’d read lots of newbie tri forums. One tip was to let your legs hang straight on the final strait back if you can, so that your hamstrings get used to the different muscles that are used for running. I remembered this, but there was no time to do it, and I didn’t want to contravene some rule that said you had to have your feet on the pedals at all time, so I didn’t. But when I set off, I got the predicted jelly legs, but it was my calves. They were tight and complaining. For a while, it felt like I was running on someone else’s legs.

The course was two laps around Leeds Grammar School grounds, which are large and have nice grass paths. I didn’t see any other runners until someone passed me on his second lap. I’d left my Garmin in my bag and had no idea what pace I was doing. It felt like I was trudging, but actually I did it in 25 minutes, which, when my 5K PB is still 23 minutes, isn’t bad. I said “shut up legs” a few times, out loud. I looked at the posh housing, and the nice playing fields, and just kept going. I felt tired, and my stomach was rumbling. I should have had a gel, but I just felt hungry rather than having dead legs.

I kept going, and I got round, and I was the first woman back. I know, only out of us three in the first wave, but still. I’m pleased. And I won’t dread my next triathlon. Because there will be a next one.

Bibi wasn’t far behind me, then Janey. There was some confusion over our times, which you could print out as a receipt. How cool, I thought, until I noticed I’d done the swim in 5 minutes. I had no idea how long the swim took but 5 minutes seemed ridiculous. Finally the man in the timing tent realised that someone had written down that we’d set off swimming at 8:08 instead of 8:03. So I’d done it in ten minutes, which I was delighted with. And I did the whole thing in about 1:35. I was shocked by my bike time. I would have said I’d been on the bike for half an hour, but it was 56 minutes. That wasn’t particularly slow: a big strong man next to me had done it in 53. I supposed it just passed fast.

Afterwards we went for protein breakfast at Filmore & Union in Moortown, and the food was delicious. Then I went to bed and slept for two hours, happy.

1466025_10152161047150793_1394348956842387671_n

(Thanks, Marion, both for this picture, and for turning up to cheer and take pictures. I was pointing at my shorts and saying, “GREAT KIT” as I passed her.)

The Bridge

I love bridges. I LOVE bridges. I love to walk across them. I love to write about them. I love to watch documentary series about them (such as a trilogy on the bridges of Mostar, Brooklyn and the Millennium that I wrote about in 2001 and which I’ll post at some point). I salute engineers who build extraordinary bridges that are solid and enduring but still sinuous and beautiful.

I especially love the Humber Bridge. It’s huge; it’s magnificent, and it crosses a huge and magnificent river. Of course I love it.

11_35_2---The-Humber-Bridge_web

And of course, when I discovered that there was a 10K race that involved running across it, I signed up. The Humber Bridge 10K was one of the first races I ever did, two years ago. I drove over to Hessle on my own, in my Kirkstall Harriers vest, and got thoroughly confused by all the purple vests until I realised that City of Hull AC also run in purple. I ran a mile up to the bridge, two miles across it, two miles back, and a mile back to the rugby club. I remember a few things about the race: that I deliberately ran on the inside of the path when we were running over the bridge, because I felt a powerful temptation to jump. Not because I was suicidal, but because the water was there. That urge is apparently a recognizable psychological one. I also remember coming into the final mile and running alongside an older man, and we pushed each other on to get sub-50, and both got 48 minutes. My time was 48:07 and I’ve yet to beat it.

I think I came close in the Edinburgh half, although the official times – now publicly available on the website, after the race director wrote today that they realised they had made the wrong decision in not publishing results – gave me a 52 minute time at 10K. My Garmin splits work out at about 49-50 minutes but certainly not 52, so I’m not sure what happened there. Anyway at one point I thought I’d try and make this a proper race, though against myself. But then my brother, who has started running again after a couple of years off, said he’d like to do it; and then Janey said she’d do it too. So I decided to do a sociable run instead and sod the PB.

In the end my brother was in Birmingham the night before and quite reasonably didn’t want to drive for nearly four hours to do a one-hour race, however spectacular, so it was just Janey and I who set off to Hessle Rugby Club on Sunday morning. The race started at 11, and we had plenty of time. Except that I was sure I knew the way, and that certainty remained until it came to a turn-off and suddenly I wasn’t sure any more, and there was no time to check phones and my map was in the boot and then, oops, there we were driving onto the bridge with no escape route.

I don’t how the toll-booth operator guessed – the race numbers we were wearing, or the look of panic on my face? – but he looked at me and said, “did you mean to come onto the bridge?”

No, we didn’t.

“Not a problem.”

And he called into the radio that there was a “turnaround,” for us to check in with the other side when we got back, and waived the enormous £1.50 toll fee. What a lovely man. We drove over the bridge, then cleverly missed the next turn-off, so turned up 6 miles or so later at the toll-booth again, whereupon another lovely man also said, no problem, radioed in that “the turnaround is back safe” and off we went. This time we put the postcode for the rugby club into Google maps and got there with 30 minutes to spare. It’s a small race. My number was 800 and something, but there definitely weren’t 800 runners. I’d guess about 300. The weather was glorious for anyone who is not running: sunshine, heat, and no breeze. The lines for the portaloos weren’t too long, so we did our business, lined up outside along the road and then bang, we were off.

I like abrupt race starts. You don’t have time to get nervous. And I liked the fact that I was going to have company. I’m getting spoiled, after Mike’s pacing last week and Janey’s company this week. We’d agreed not to tank it, but still we were running nearly eight-minute miles, which to me is fast. Though when I worked it out, I must have run faster for my PB. But it was so hot. For the first mile, running up to the bridge, I thought, there’ll be wind on the bridge. There’s always wind on the bridge. And we got to the bridge and there was no wind. The bridge stood astride the Humber like a giant becalmed ship. Janey doesn’t like running in the heat, and it’s my least favourite weather too. I like running in the cold, the rain, drizzle, even some wind. But heat and sun are the most difficult. There was a water station at the far side of the bridge, and we stopped to have water. On the other side, Janey stopped to take pictures and I carried on, but slowly so she could catch up. I stopped a couple of times, but it was a while before we were together again, and she said that she’d been feeling the heat before but now that she’d stopped and started again, she felt bloody awful.

But on we went, past Scout groups dressed in pyjamas, and a man dressed as a fairy (these were walkers, not runners), and many patient walkers who moved to the side with seeming good grace. Towards the far side of the bridge, in the shadow of a pylon, an elderly man was cheering everyone on. I loved his cheer because he said, “well done! you should be proud of yourself!”

And I thought, yes, I should and then I was.

The last mile had more shade. Before that the only shade had been the shadows cast by the cables of the bridge, but they only lasted a couple of hundred metres before the shadow disappeared into the water. The final stretch is down the road to the rugby club. It’s fast and downhill so I tried to go faster. A man in front of me suddenly swayed on his feet and collapsed into the arms of a marshal, and I ran off – because he was being cared for – to the sound of another saying into his radio “there’s someone who’s not very well; send a paramedic.” I hope he’s OK.

I began to look at my watch and thought, maybe I’ll do a sub-50. But I didn’t. Then I thought, maybe sub-51. But that passed too. But I managed to get to the line as the clock was ticking towards 52 minutes and I think I got in at 51:59. That’s what my watch said. The official results though said 52:00.

I know. It’s daft to care about a second. I’d feel bad about that but as I’m only competing with myself, I don’t.

I drank about five cups of water and we lay on the grass for a while feeling exhausted. We’d run six miles in about 23 degrees C while spending most of our time training in cool and cold weather. The race required some digestion. Then we went off to the Humber Bridge country park and had a picnic. I’ve had Janey’s picnics before and they’re delicious so this time I felt some Veggie Runner pressure, and at 8:10 that morning I had decided to make a salad with whatever was in the house or in my vegetable bed. It became a spelt, spinach, feta, radish, pumpkin seed, mixed nut salad and it was delicious. Phew.

It’s a wonderful race. And if I weren’t busy on 29th June, I’d sign up for the Humber Bridge half marathon too.

(About the next photo: we’re much better at running than at taking selfies, apparently.)

IMG_4653