Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Bipolar running disorder?

Every runner goes through the same cycles of alternately loving and hating running. One moment you can be on top of the world and fired up full of enthusiasm, and yet the very next day, you can wonder why on earth you bother and whether you should just quit.
It's all very well to "know" that everyone (well almost everyone) goes through the same pendulum of emotions, but at the time you think that you must be the only person struggling with your thoughts.

It often happens to me after a big race, often one, such as the 100k, when you completely exceeded your expectations going into it. You want to keep riding that wave of success and, if anything, building on it, but the body just doesn't want to play ball.

I had a couple of runs lined up to give myself a slight focus.....initially the Yorkshire marathon to check how well I was recovering from the 100k (when the organisers originally asked me to participate  I had warned them that I wouldn't be in form able to run particularly fast due to the timing of it) and then, a few weeks later, a new event - a 50K trail race in the Gobi Desert.

Trail running in the Lakes

To prepare myself (slightly) for the Gobi, I did a couple of trail runs in the Lake District, which were about 10 miles long. Realising that I needed to try running slightly further if I had any chance of making it round the York course in one piece, I set off on a Sunday with that aim in mind. Unfortunately, my body didn't agree with me, and I just felt tired and out of sorts so me cut it short and nipped into a shop for a refuel instead!

Having then found out (at short notice) that the Gobi race was being postponed for a couple of weeks (and hence I could no longer participate as I could not arrange the time away from work) I didn't know what to think about the marathon. I hate to pull out of anything that I've agreed to do, unless I have very good reasons to do so, but I couldn't summon up any enthusiasm for it.

Whilst remaining undecided, I went to a low key parkrun near to my parents' house on the Saturday morning. The first mile felt so horrendous that I almost decided to stop there and then, but when I looked down at my watch, I realised that it was because I was running at a much faster pace than usual, and actually recorded one of my faster parkruns of the year.

I made up my mind to head down to York, and at least start the race at a good steady pace, so that even if I didn't complete the whole run, then hopefully I could have helped some of the other ladies in the field to run a good first half and then possibly new PBs.

Several of the ladies had PBs within seconds of each other around the 2:50 mark. Jamil, the coach/manager of one the top Kenyan runners had offered to pace the ladies' race to approx halfway, and so I suggested a pace of 6:20s. This was about 2:46 pace, so I thought that even if they faded a bit when the pacer stopped, then they would run some new quick times. Just prior to the start this was talked down to 6:30 pace, and so although I started behind them (my usual slow start), I found myself leading the field after a mile of so as I was clipping along at about 6:25s.

I thought this man had the largest
number of supporters ever, but it
turned out that he just had his name
on his vest!
I felt pretty comfortable at this pace, and several men latched on to me, but I wasn't sure how long I would be able to maintain it for. Still, I was enjoying the run as the conditions were night and day as compared to the previous year (this year was warm and sunny, last year was cold and foggy) so it was actually nice to see some of the countryside we were running through, and it was nice to be able to keep some others onto a pace they wanted.

I had a bit of banter with a cameraman on the back of a motorbike, suggesting that he should really be filming someone with a better running style than myself, as I know I take really short steps. I asked him where the other ladies were....and got the surprising reply "5000m behind you". Somehow I really didn't believe that one, as we'd  only been running for 6 miles! Two miles later (when I nearly ran into the motorbike as the driver had slowed down rather too much for a close-up shot) I was told that they were 2/10 of a mile behind. 

Trying to work out what that meant certainly took my mind off the fact that I was starting to feel a bit tired. I reckoned that the original gap must've been about 500m, whereas 2/10 of a mile was nearer 300m, so I just be fading by about 100m/mile. At that rate, I'd be passed and could legitimately stop with the pacer at the halfway point, as I knew that he was getting picked up there. 

My face when I saw the clock!!
There was a clock at the side of the road as we crossed the half-marathon point (strangely enough I hadn't yet been passed), which was a great idea for runners to be able to check their pacing. Well, it would have been a great idea if it had shown the correct time for us, but unfortunately it had been started when the 4 wheelchair athletes set off. I knew that I wasn't running very fast, but I was rather startled to see it showing 1:26+! Luckily the guys around we were just as surprised, and so we all looked at our watches and agreed that it was about 3 minutes out. 
Soon afterwards, we reached a switchback section, and it gave me an idea of what was happening behind me. I could see where the next couple of ladies (still with Jamil) were and they looked to be running strongly and comfortably. Still, the gap hadn't really shortened so I carried on with my own run. 

It definitely became a more
lonely run!!

The next part of the course was rather tough for me, as I was now out on my own and certainly starting to feel the 100k still in my legs. It was a case of giving myself small targets, such as getting to the 16 mile marker without being overtaken, and then to the 18 mile marker. A couple of friends from Durham were out on the course cheering (as their husbands were also running), so it was lovely to get a personal shout out, though I believe I did complain to them in no uncertain terms, that I was rather tired and not "loving it" (sorry ladies!!!).

Another long switchback and the gap hadn't decreased too much, though I felt that everyone else looked a lot better than I was feeling, so I started taking it a mile at a time. I remembered feeling strong towards the end of the race last year, and so employed the same tactics this year, trying to reel in a couple of guys before reaching every mile marker.

It must've been the pre-race nutrition!!

There was a new event this year - a 10 mile race with the same start and finish as the marathon, but which started 45 minutes afterwards. It meant that there were more runners around in the latter stages of the race, as I caught a few of them up (the lead men in the marathon must've been surrounded). It was really nice to recognise the Run Director from my previous day's parkrun and so exchange some encouragement as I passed her.

By the time I was in to the last mile, I knew that I would be really disappointed if I lost the lead, so I checked with the cameraman again, to see if I still had a decent gap or if I was going to be passed in a final flourish by one of the others with a strong finish. He told me to relax and that I was fine, but then the motorbike driver told me that I really needed to keep pushing to stay ahead. I remember running up the final steep hill last year with an empty road in front of me, and then wishing that I'd pushed it when I almost caught the second placed lady in the finish funnel. I didn't want to be the one that was caught this year so I kept driving up the slope (well, I tried to as much as my protesting glutes would let me). 

The finish is rather deceptive, as I crested the hill thinking I was just about there, but then spied the 500m to go sign. A final effort was required.....
Finally finished....

I heard an announcement "Here comes the First Lady" but it was quickly followed with "That doesn't look much like a lady" which rather surprised me (hopefully nobody to a picture just at that point). Carrying on towards the finish, I realised that it wasn't really the announcer insulting me, as I managed to overtake another man before the finish. 

Arty winning photo ;-)
It was amazing to see the tape being stretched out for me to break.......I'm not sure I've ever had that before! I did feel a rather bittersweet rush of emotion though, as I looked up at the clock and it was showing 2:51. I've actually never run a marathon before with a finish time in the 2:50s, but as it turned out, all's well that ends well, as that clock was also started with the wheelchairs so my actual time was 2:48!!

Guess which prize I was really
running for.....

The ladies' podium!
Having seen the other ladies before the start, I had thought that if I managed to make it round the whole way, I might sneak the "first old lady" prize, but I'd never expected to be the first lady overall (and earn my promised "Fat Rascal" for a podium finish from my mate Adam who lives in Harrogate - home of Betty's Tearoom). To cap off a good day, I was then in a great position at the finish to cheer in the 2nd and 3rd ladies who'd both had fantastic runs!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Braving the NE mud...

Last weekend I went over to Durham to visit my parents. Never being one to turn down a challenge to get out of my comfort zone, I decided to make a "guest" appearance at the first race of the North East Harriers Cross Country League. I fully admit that XC is not "my thing" - firstly it's rather short, secondly it's rather fast, and thirdly you have to be able to pick your feet up! Still, I hope that trying something like this can only benefit me in terms of strength and speed.

With some of the DCH ladies pre-race

I went along to Tanfield with friends from Durham City Harriers, who kindly let me use their tents for kit storage/changing....and let me eat their cakes afterwards! It was interesting to see how many people I actually knew from various NE clubs from various trips home and races.
The first thing that struck me was how well attended the event was - with the U11s being the first race off, right up through the age groups to the senior and vet men (of whom there were a record number of participants - over 600). This mean that there was a great friendly supportive atmosphere, as everyone tried to encourage their friends, colleagues, clubmates and even rivals whether there were recovering from their own run, warming up pre-race or just there to spectate. The army of club tents in the field brought to mind a Harry Potter-esque quidditch tournament.
The different age groups had different courses marked out on the farmland normally used for equestrian events, but each were a "true cross country" courses involving muddy climbs, uneven descents, half-buried logs, some straw underfoot, deer running out of the trees across the course, twists and turns and even a "water jump". The senior and vet ladies' race consisted of 2 long laps (making up 4.2miles in total), each of which contained this ankle-deep 10m long stretch of water (with a photographer conveniently positioned at the far side).

Starting lap 2

To divide up the field, and make the race more interesting, runners are seeded based on their performance in the previous year's league, with the "slower" pack starting 2 minutes ahead of the "medium" pack, who are in turn chased down by the "fast" pack 2 minutes later. As a new participant, I had to start with the slow group and so my objective was to see how far I could make it before my friend Rosie caught up with me (I know I had a 4 minute start on her, but then again, she is an international XC runner).
I started over to the side of the course as there was the usual pack sprint start, that I cannot even dream of taking part in, but by the time we reached the first hill, I found myself leading the charge to pick the best line (or rather the "line of most grip" in the mud). There was another lady who looked to be a fast runner also making her first appearance (and hence in the same start group), so I thought that she was right behind me (it was only when I watched the video of the water jump  later that I realised I'd opened up a considerable gap). As I splashed into the water (with a new type of "girlie arms"), I could see Rosie leading the fast ladies to the base of  the first hill, so it was game on.
It could have become a bit of a lonely run after that, but there was plenty of support out on the course (from spectators, marshals and men out warming up), and as I approached the end opf the first lap, there were some of the U20 women to chase down as they finished their race. At the time I wondered if I should be offended that one of the men out for a warmup asked a marshal if I was last but, as a friend pointed out to me later, it was actually flattering that he thought I was in the U20/U17 race (it must be that face cream I don't use!!). Oh, how I wished that I could enter the finish funnel at the end of that lap with the younger ladies, but instead I was waved on for another go round the course.
What is likely to be my only XC Gold medal!
That lap was more of an effort, as I could definitely feel my legs protesting that they still had 100K in them. I secretly wished that Rosie would come flying past so that I could then walk up the hills (clearly just those hills out of sight in the woods) without losing face, but the 4 minute buffer was good enough that even though she skipped through the whole field (ie she passed almost 400 ladies), I was able to cheer her in from the safe position of beyond the finish line! It shows that I run more marathons than XC races as I thought that the medals we were handed were for finishing, rather than gold and silver for our positions!!
I wouldn't say that I was a XC convert, but I did enjoy the friendliness and camaraderie of the day....and the cake that was in plentiful supply afterwards!!