Eden Project 2018 (first) Half Marathon Race

So after 20+ weeks of training, having come from pretty much nothing; today I completed my first Half.

It has proved to me that working slowly towards a big goal makes something which initially seemed unachievable, perfectly possible.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not been straightforward getting to this point, and my posts so far on this blog spend time reflecting on some of the challenges along the way.

The shoe saga, for example, eventually culminated in these beauties, after I found a local running shop that does gait analysis and got my shit sorted – like running on cushions, lovely!

I’ve nothing to compare it with, but today seemed really well organised. The instructions and rules were clear, registration packs and comms went out pre-race. The course was well signed and marshalled by St Austell Running Club and the water and aid stations well placed. It was lovely to be encouraged along by smiley faces and the station with the Croc and the mannikin definitely won the character award!

It was strange to run with other people – all my training has been alone – and with that number of people running I shouldn’t have been surprised that bottlenecks occurred on the trail sections, slowing us all to a frustrated walk as we ducked a tree across the path, or negotiated a narrow muddy corner!

In addition to ducking trees, storm Callum had left us another particularly lovely present – two sections of totally flooded road. I’d got somewhat muddy on the trail but was smugly thinking that I’d at least kept my feet dry. Not to be!

I did end up walking some hills which I had planned to avoid doing, but it seemed to make sense as power walking up the hill wasn’t really much slower than my keep running pace, and it certainly used less energy.

At mile 12 I was confident it was downhill all the way, and started to accelerate, finding to my dismay, that there were still uppy sections left to run! Once they were conquered we joined the downhill zigzag to the finish and I hammered in to find a line time of 2hr 25.05, a fantastic experience to cross the finish line with people cheering!

I earned that medal I reckon – and managed to drop my new white t-shirt on the floor within 5 minutes – but all’s well when a pasty and a pint of Tribune are waiting at the end.

We heard at the awards that an operational hitch (ahem) had affected the leaders and caused some head scratching for the organisers but it was sorted by the time us slower folk arrived……

It’s time to think about the next one – I’ve worked too hard and learned too much about myself to want to let it all go now.

The question now is – longer or faster?

What do we do this for?

Running hurts.

Sometimes it’s disappointment, disillusion and depression when things go badly. You’re thoroughly put off from even lacing up and getting out of the door next time. It was crap from beginning to end.

Like my long run two weeks back (#6 of my 20 week plan) where I was a couple of days late getting it in. I’d wanted to avoid the heat, and also felt guilty and needed to spend time with my family over the weekend – and it all started to slip….

Anyway, on that Tuesday I’d gone straight from work, probably not well hydrated and feeling drained. It was hot and muggy; as I slogged it round tiny bugs flew in my mouth and eyes (eyes are the worst).

I knew I had under 1km to go and had already done 10k (a flat circuit); I looked up as I reached what I thought was the final bend with a short straight to finish and saw the road disappearing into the distance. I stopped dead. My feet wouldn’t move. I did start up again but it was a struggle. The psychological effects are huge.

When I got back to the car, warmed down and uploaded the run while blasting air con and chugging (warm – eww) water, I found that had I kept up the pace a little I’d have achieved bests in 5k and 10k. It wasn’t that bad though – at least I’d managed to get out there, and it was done.

Sometimes it feels like I really only keep doing it because I’ve signed up for a race, I have decided to stick to a training plan and I’ve told people I’m doing it. Those are positive, but they have a cruel downside too.

It’s my insurance against laziness and inertia. Using the fear of failure, shame and embarrassment. It has to be said, these are not the ideal ways to motivate oneself and I really don’t recommend them as the only ways!

Perhaps they have a minor place in a bigger picture?

Maybe more of a positive motivation could involve

  • The idea of the experience (not necessarily the actual experience at the time)
  • Somewhere, somehow, there will be evidence of change, whether it’s your time/hr stats, size, weight, endurance: whatever measure does it for you, even in a few weeks of trying for consistency you’ll find something has changed.
  • Keep a record, whether in a diary or as an electronic log, then you can see your progress
  • Be kind to yourself. Push when you want to, don’t punish yourself if it doesn’t go right that day.
  • Remember why you started all this, your goal in the long term (usually referred to in the now/ in yoga classes as ‘setting your intention‘)

It’s a sensory experience.

I’m making a bit of an effort to keep it interesting and to vary my routes where it fits with other commitments, so I’m getting to some lovely places I wouldn’t otherwise go, and being rewarded with beautiful views. There’s precious time to think – moving through the air, creating your own breeze. The smells; a honeysuckle that tells me I’ve reached the top of my hill, the lilies flowering at the moment in the cottage garden in the lane opposite the church. The approaching sounds of bellringing practice as I crest the hill in the woods and head for the hill through the village. No shield between you and everything outside. Being in the moment under your own steam.

Some of this starts to sound a bit mindful doesn’t it!

Sunday last week I did my long run, completing week 7 of my 20 week programme, so again it was 11km, and very different, far more enjoyable! See Getting Better.

It went well – and made a welcome counterbalance to my experiences of the previous week.

There’s a feeling afterwards, when the redness and breathlessness recedes. Accomplishment. Wellbeing. Peace. A sense you could do it all again (and the absolute certainty that you don’t have to – at least until next time….)

Sans Plan

It’s funny how things develop. I’m writing this blog mainly for myself, so expect a bit of navel gazing.

Trying to order my thoughts to write posts has led inevitably to thinking about how far back I should go, or whether any of this is really relevant….

After much pondering I now recall some parts of why I decided to put a bit more effort into getting fit – the point is that it wasn’t initially for any of the reasons I now want to maintain and develop fitness, and a recognition that these motivations change over time.

I was planning a skiing trip with family who were a great deal fitter and more active than me. There’s a strong drive in me to not stand out for being the worst – being the best is wonderful, but takes alot of effort and of course the only way is down 😆 (and as far as alpine skiing goes – that’s often the only way, and terrifyingly so)

It does require stamina to stay out all day everyday and I intended to do just that!

I absolutely love skiing – it creates the same sense of freedom and well being in me that coastal and offshore sailing does – there’s something about being disconnected from everyday stressors, being in a very different and beautiful natural environment. I find it uplifting. The inherent risks these activities involve and the need for skill and concentration create a sense of self reliance and a recognition of the impact of our actions on survival.

I started on the treadmill to get my aerobic fitness and strength up, determined not to let low endurance hold my skiing back.

The new found fitness began to pay off earlier than anticipated. At the airport I got hauled for a search and we had to run for the closing gate.

The last gate in a huge long line of gates.

I was simultaneously grateful for being able to (mostly) keep up a brisk trot with a rucksack on, and regretful that I was wearing hiking boots and a ski jacket for the duration of the run. Pity my fellow passengers when I made it to the plane 😉.

So anyway – a fabulous week of skiing later, I lapsed in my levels of activity a bit.

⏩several months to a shoulder injury. It cut right down on my usual strength-based (with a cardio warm up and warm down) return-to-fitness gym programme which I’ve always found highly effective when deployed at key moments (like post baby); so I hopped back on the treadmill instead.

While having a general grumble to the fittest family member about the all pervading feeling of futility generated by running on a moving band of rubber in still air, listening to music while watching TV (an early circle of hell), and the possible comparisons with small furry animals (actually that might qualify me as an RUS – rodent of unusual size?), he says brightly, ‘Parkrun then, next Saturday, see you there at oh-eight-forty’.

Backed myself into a corner, hadn’t I. Damn. Parkrun it was. The beginning of getting out there. Outside. Doing It Properly.

Next thing I know, while I’m still crushed and sore from running further than I ever had, in a race (with sodding hills) he’s announced that I need a goal. That’s when I signed up for the Eden Half.

It looks alot like I’m not taking responsibility there doesn’t it? I am really. I am allowing myself to be moved into situations I wouldn’t have actively sought but actually would love to go.

I have noticed a pattern with these things – each one seems like a bloody stupid idea until I actually achieve it, which, since I haven’t done it yet for the Half, is currently the case. Part of training is to develop the belief that you can go the distance (or provide some evidence to counter the disbelief at least).

I think that’s partly the point – we don’t really know if we can achieve something until it’s done.

In reckless moments I think I might be able to, and end up signing up. It’s a good thing, really!

On looking back, events that have developed as twists and turns, based on impromptu decisions and grabbed opportunities, tradeoffs and negotiations, start, in hindsight, to look like it makes sense.

Of course that wasn’t the case, at all. I’m interested to hear how others got started doing something new – was it as haphazard as mine?

Dream v Reality

I had great expectations – visualising crossing the finish line of the London Marathon (now I know I should’ve fantasised about Boston, but you live and learn), probably slightly out of breath but otherwise graceful and composed.

Yeah right!

I don’t know about you, but 10 minutes into any aerobic exercise, I turn an unflattering shade of glowing tomato red, and all users sharing the immediate environment also get to enjoy hearing the puffing noises my efforts produce.

Am I painting a picture here?

No need to go on.

I also spent time imagining the beauty and romance of running around the Cornish coast path, carefree and fleet of foot, looking out across the Atlantic and dreaming of records to come.

Maybe that needed thinking through too 😂

Take the coast path, for instance, a fabulous path around the coast 😉, gorgeous views, cafes and toilets (I’m learning). It’s lovely. It’s got beaches, cliffs, and everything in between.

It’s those bits in between I’d not really factored in. The bits between the beach and the cliff inevitably involve an awful lot of up, or a great deal of down. That was a surprise.

It’s also gets pretty busy heading into summer, and anyone who negotiates narrow(ish) cliff edge paths while trying to go faster then every single other person (or in my case, most other people) using that path, will appreciate how mentally tiring that gets. So the coast path will have to be saved for winter days, where I shall endeavour not to get blown or washed off!

So having debunked the fantasy, but benefitted from its effects in setting me up with a goal of sorts, I’m finding that lacing up and getting out there involves getting over a few things – the first one was getting outside in the first place and starting to run.

The whole puffing tomato thing is not new, and neither is a general desire not to be looked at while in that state.

Past 3000m the treadmill is intolerable – I get bored; it takes ages (because I am slow) and, since my gym has no climate control, there’s a sense of being slowly parboiled.

Not a motivating combination. It was either stop running or take it outside.

But….

I worried about being seen and judged by people I did and didn’t know, not knowing how far and how hard I was pushing myself, wanting to stay safe and crucially, how to fit it in.

I’m guessing I am not alone in this?

Running Outdoors – Breaking down Barriers

Feeling selfconscious

Self consciousness can be a tough one to get over for many women in starting to exercise; it was a real barrier for me.

The combination of how we feel about ourselves and the concern about how others may see us create some powerful effects – like not getting out there and doing it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I’ve found a few helpful strategies to feel less self conscious when exercising, although now I have moved from super-self-conscious to really-don’t-care, and hope shortly to arrive at don’t-give-a-flying-****! 😂

I started by staying off road, that way no drivers I knew would recognise me and I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.

You could go running with a friend or in a group to build confidence and feel less exposed.

Wearing sunglasses and full length/ capri leggings, with a long, loose, sleeveless running top that reaches down to cover my backside with a band at the hem to stop it riding up was helpful too (LA Gear and Mountain Warehouse have both been known to produce such a top).

How far and how fast?

There are apps you can run from a phone to give information, but I found that my phone has some GPS quirks and makes a number of strange assumptions at times!

I wanted to know exactly where I’d been, plan where to go, and have an idea of progress and of my heart rate and possibly even pace. I found that the addition of a fitness watch with inbuilt GPS and associated apps made a great difference to my motivation. Using a watch lets you keep a record of what you’re doing, and an at-a-glance on totals, patterns etc depending on the features of your watch and app.

It also made a difference to me getting out onto footpaths and trails I never knew existed, as I can plan a route beforehand to work out distance and how much up it involves!

Staying safe

Another barrier particularly for women getting out there and enjoying the scenery.

Being aware of who is around is important, and for that reason I tend not to use headphones while running, particularly on trails and paths.

Carrying a charged phone and letting someone know where you’re going is also a sensible precaution. I use a money belt to keep my phone, some tissue and a glucose tablet in. That way it doesn’t bounce around (I find putting the phone on my arm interferes with balance), so the phone stays out of the way. The phone is handy when I get lost as well.

I don’t mind running in public now, that self consciousness has worn off a bit and I can concentrate on getting each foot on the ground in turn. I’ve found that other people don’t seem that interested, which is ideal!

Being out there, whether on city streets, country lanes or on trails, certainly beats the mirror and the gym TVs……did I mention that you create your own cooling breeze as you run?

#womensrunning

#thisgirlcan

First Off – or not

I did some running in school, athletics, cross country, probably the same as lots of us did, and haven’t really run since, but as I head for 40 it feels like I’m arriving at some kind of a beginning.

I’ve been reading and re-reading Mike Stroud’s excellent ‘Survival of the Fittest’; he notes that 40 does tend to be a point of re- evaluation, how lots of people face their future in the knowledge that they’ve burned up their 20’s and slobbed out their 30’s, and a developing sense that something needs to change to make life a healthier place to be. That’s not why the book is insirational BTW – but I’d certainly recommend it if you haven’t already – it’s as good for armchair athletes as for seasoned adventurers.

Now perhaps I’ll not admit to either burning or slobbing (!), but in going public with this blog and setting a goal I selfishly hope I can support myself to keep up health and fitness in the longer term.

This is for me and for those of you who may be on a similar path, looking for better health and fitness and perhaps, like me, wondering at times how to fit it all in with already full lives.

That path will play out in my local area, on the footpaths and roads around Cornwall, with some thoughts and reflections on the challenges and hopefully the good times, because it’s not for punishment, or pain, amazingly this running lark is about having fun and enjoying life …. it is …. (sometimes I think that only after I finish the run, it has to be said)!

The real beginning is surprisingly hard to identify – looking back into the dim and distant past (could be somwhere in early 2017) to try and see what led to signing up for a half marathon in October 2018 I struggle to put a date on it or think of any one event that made me think I could even contemplate 13.1 miles at more than a walk. One for another post.