Today was my first ever event outside of the running world – an open water sea swim! I entered this particular one without much forethought all because a group chat saw me getting carried away… 2km sea swim on bank holiday Monday, how hard could it be?! Turns out, quite tricky!
We were aware that the weather forecast wasn’t super promising but figured we were getting wet anyway so that didn’t matter too much but what one doesn’t want when swimming is choppy water… Arriving in plenty of time to register we watched as those doing the 3km distance started and it became apparent that there was certainly going to be a preferred direction to swim in. Unfortunately, it was a yin/yang situation where both sides had to be experienced. Great. Chris and I then headed inside for coffee and plotting of future challenges (dangerous) and finally, it was our time to start…
Race briefing explained that we were to keep the massive course markers to our right and do two laps with a “run” in and out. Luckily for me I never enter these things to “race” and favour the “just finish” school of thought but I was soon aware that even finishing was going to be a massive challenge. The swim out to the first marker was tough as we were battling against the incoming tide and I floundered to get any form of technique on the go. Turns out, that was a sign of things to come for the entire time we were in the water. The distance between the buoys seemed to go on forever and given how pants my sighting is, I am sure I was adding to the mileage with every stroke! At the turnaround point and the moment I was hoping for with regard to some light relief I found I was moving quicker but struggling to stay in line with buoys! This was really hard going. The other thing I was struck by was just how lonely swimming is. If I struggle on a run I usually end up finding someone to chat with to spur me on or there’s a little cheer from a marshal to give you that much needed boost but when you are in the water and trying to get in to a rhythm you are aware of the safety crew but there’s no cheering and no one to exchange some pleasantries with; it’s you and the water and in the words of Dory you just have to ‘keep swimming’. So that is what I did!
Getting back to the beach was so welcome and I staggered up to the finish line just behind Chris. I honestly think that is the toughest event I have ever done especially from a psychological perspective!
Reflecting on the event whilst writing this I am still not overly sure I enjoyed it… There were moments I was acutely aware of just how powerful the sea is and I was in real danger of giving in to the panic I had initially felt but I did survive and have the bling and a new swimming cap to prove it! Feeling a bit apprehensive about the weekend’s lake swim event but surely if I can survive this, I can survive anything?!
Back in February, I came clean and announced to the world that I had been really struggling with some horrible gremlins that were essentially putting me off my stride. I was really touched with the amount of support I received and made it my mission since then to run for enjoyment’s sake and remember what it is I love about this hobby. I have had some really lovely runs and have completely embraced life without a training plan – something I never thought I would be motivated to do. My passion and enjoyment well and truly rediscovered I started to turn my thoughts to entering events (I never call them races as the only person I am ever good enough to race is myself!) and hit upon another stumbling block… One which saw myself getting into a right tizzy about what my next event should be.
I have no idea why we (I) do this ourselves. We are going along quite nicely, enjoying things, staying fit and active and then from some unknown location a sudden feeling of pressure descends and it’s like a reset button has been pressed. Firstly, why did I feel I needed to find an event to enter when I clearly was happy doing what I was doing? Secondly, why was I getting in such a state about not finding one I wanted to do?
To this day, I still do not have the answer to the first question and really, the answer doesn’t matter because the itch was there and needed scratching. As for question two, the simple answer is because I am mental. Though delving a little deeper, I think I can probably figure out what was happening…
October was the last time I had entered an event and it was the biggest challenge I have ever completed. I finished that marathon whilst in a lot of pain and discomfort and consequently had to have a month off all training that would affect my knee. That sent me bonkers. I was having a tough time in work and I had no outlet and I ended up having a bit of a breakdown about it all – lots of tears, panicked moments and struggles to get out of bed. After rest, a readdress of my training programme and some support in work I was firmly on the recovery road and I think the fear of committing to a training programme took hold. I desperately do not want to put myself in a situation where I can’t do these things that I have come to love. So there in was the underlying concern about entering an event.
I decided to try and overcome this by doing something I knew was not an excessive distance and had a lovely atmosphere and entered the 6th Trail that takes place in Portmeirion. The entry was eased by the fact that two friends were also due to take part and we could probably stick together; however, the weather gods had other plans in mind and the race was postponed on safety grounds – thanks for that, Storm Freya! So I was back at the drawing board. In the meantime, I had been to two of the Run Coed y Brenin trail sessions that Jude leads for women who want to get in to trail running and those Sundays have been really lovely. A safe, non-competitive plod around the beautiful landscape at Coed y Brenin that I have shared with two of my lovely running friends, Jayne and Fiona. Whilst on the second session the Goldrush event was mentioned and the seed was planted. One thing to note about running in Coed y Brenin is the fact that it’s hard! There’s a combination of forest roads, off-piste trail and lots of hills. I went home to check out the route on Strava and started to think things through. I knew that I could get myself round the 8.5 mile course, I knew there would be no pressure time wise and I knew that I had already covered sections of the route in our Sunday sessions so what was stopping me? Nothing, I put my entry in before I could start doubting myself. And then I did something I have never done before… I told no one! I decided that I needed to do this little thing for me, not go doing my usual thing of broadcasting it to the world but go, get my head down and complete this route. I also wanted to have an escape route should I suddenly feel like I couldn’t go through with it and the fewer people who knew the less pressure I had on myself. I even wasn’t going to have my usual support crew as Owen was away with work so this was going to be a really new experience!
The morning of the event (still refusing to acknowledge race status) came and with an afternoon start time I found myself wide awake with nothing to distract me. I decided to have a go at baking flapjacks, as you do, as I figured they would be useful fuel and also enjoyed a hearty breakfast (starting a run at lunchtime makes for tricky fuel planning).
The Goldrush was going to be my fourth event at Coed y Brenin having done the Trail 10K and the Buff Winter Trail Half (one year as a runner and this year as a volunteer) and these events never disappoint. The location really is stunning but on race day we were also blessed with glorious sunshine though a slightly chilly temperature. It had also not rained for days so the conditions were actually ideal! I then tried to figure out what would be a nice time to finish in – I’m not overly bothered with things like this and my mantra is finish line not time but it’s good to have a little goal in mind. 8.5 miles is a funny distance really so I figured, given the nature of the course, that I could aim for 2 hours but finishing in an hour and fifty would be ace. Off we set and the running felt good, I was so glad I had ditched my long sleeve top and opted to run in my vest as I quickly warmed up and I was just really loving being in the woods – trail is such fun! I had a chat with a few folk along the way and kept in mind to leave something in the tank for the final climb at the end. It was on this final climb towards the finish that I caught sight of the clock – 1:49:49 – on my God, I was so close to my ideal target that I put a final burst of speed in to make sure I crossed that line in time – gun 01:49:59; chip 01:49:32 – I bloody did it!
Run Coed y Brenin events are always so well organised and come with a very welcoming and special atmosphere that the journey is always worth making. I’m really chuffed with this as the first event of the year! I’m not sure I am quite over the entering event apprehension I seem to have developed but at least I know I still have it in me to turn up to a start line and have a good go!
It’s been three weeks since I admitted to the world that my running confidence was at an all time low and I am still overwhelmed at the lovely comments I received following this admission. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I have made it my mission to not let the nagging gremlin in my head get the better of me…
Having admitted the issue I was a bit stuck as to what to do for the best to try and move on. That weekend we had a visit to stay in a cabin in the woods to finish off birthday celebrations for O. I packed my kit. I knew a couple of the others at the cabin were also potentially interested in running but the anxiety of having to try and keep up with them was stressing me out before we had even arrived so I bit the bullet and explained that my run in the morning needed to be a solo mission. I had a vague plan in mind that would avoid me getting lost but also meant I could explore some new parts of the forest and the only other goal was to just enjoy being out. I walked stretches, I stopped to take pictures and I didn’t get lost – victory!
The next week I didn’t manage to do a lot of running (club session had been cancelled because of the icy weather) so I decided to brave going to Penrhyn Parkrun for the first time in 2019. The apprehension at the thought of going was palpable, especially because it had been over-analysing Parkrun stats which had set me on the downward spiral in the first place. I had to agree to pick Jayne up or I knew I would find an excuse and bail in the morning. We made a deal to stick together and off we went. As part of my gremlin busting mission I have made myself set mini goals each time I set out on a run; the goal is absolutely nothing to do with speed or timing and everything to do with enjoying myself. I have also been trying to stop looking at my watch during a run so I don’t start obsessing over numbers. The goal for today was to try and run the whole thing without a walking break and keep the watch hidden. Sticking with Jayne proved handy for this as there were a few moments where, had I been on my own, I would have given in to the gremlin but I wanted to save face so I kept going and to my utter disbelief bagged a Penrhyn PB – 33:09! This was a much needed boost and though it wasn’t a magic wand to the confidence crisis it certainly helped.
The last two weeks have seen me try to get back to some sort of running routine: Wednesday Rebel Runaways followed by hill reps and a weekend run. I have also been trying to keep the physio’s advice of building back up slowly in mind so haven’t gone too crazy on distance. 4.7 miles had been the longest since the big M so I was buzzing to manage 5.1 on Wednesday having done a rebels run with Claire and Jayne and then the hill reps session. I even added an extra 0.2 at the end of hills keeping Fiona company whilst she rounded her mileage up (I hadn’t set my watch for that so actually Wednesday’s total was 5.3! And it turns out lamppost 8 is way further away than we thought, who knew?!)! That night I actually felt strong, the hills were my friend and once again, my mini goals had been reached (get to lamppost one on the return from Menai, complete the full hill session – tick)!
This weekend Claire and I headed to Derby for a long overdue visit and catch up to see Han and Jack. Running kit was obviously going to be needed and the itinerary was sent to us in the week: Saturday – run to Parkrun, do Markeaton Parkrun, walk/jog home, have a walk and cake somewhere that afternoon; Sunday – go for a 4 mile run, have a nice breakfast out. Saturday was a roaring success! The run to Parkrun was mostly downhill (added bonus) and a nice way to explore the local area: 2 miles in the bag. We all agreed to run our own race at Parkrun and meet back at the finish line; I was delighted by this as I knew I could relax and enjoy the route and not feel any pressure about it. That said, when you’re in a pack of 657 (!) Parkrunners you can easily get a bit carried away. I set out to just keep running but made the mistake of glancing at my watch therefore realising that despite the fact I was going a smidge faster than usual I was actually feeling okay and that maybe it would be okay to keep pushing and see what happened. I crossed the line in 480th place with a time 32:48 – my fastest ever Parkrun time! Two Parkruns and two consecutive PBs! We decided that it was probably best to walk rather than run back to the house as I was already at the 5 mile point for the day. Sunday morning (today) was a slightly different story… A 4 mile loop was proposed with the promise of breakfast at the end. I knew this might be a tough one given how much slower I am compared with Han and Claire but I desperately wanted to give it a shot. Two mistakes made this morning… 1) I didn’t set myself a sensible goal; 2) I looked at my watch and clocked that the pace we were doing was too fast. I knew it was too fast, I could feel it in my legs but for some reason I didn’t mention it and I also didn’t do anything about it until Han asked if I was okay. Instead, I let the numbers get in my head and got myself worked up about how I couldn’t manage it and how the girls should go on without me. That is not how my friends roll. I was not going to be left to do a walk out and back whilst they carried on so we persevered with a walk/run arrangement and tweaked to do an out and back 3 miler. My first reaction was to be really disappointed, especially as I felt like I had let Han and Claire down and spoilt their morning but on our return to the car I did a little review of everything… I had managed to do 5 miles on two separate occasions this week; I had also added an extra 3 miles this morning – even if there was a lot of walking involved. My total running mileage for this week was the equivalent of a half marathon an 86% increase on the week before – oops – no wonder my poor legs were tired! Now being hard on myself is something I have done for years and is something I consider to be a real flaw in my personality. I know it drives people around me bonkers and I cannot help it (believe me, I would love to stop) but today I had a small victory… I was initially gutted but I took a step back, I re-evaluated and I realised that I didn’t need to write Sunday morning off as a failure and forget about all the positives that had occurred this week; just remind me in future to make sure I set a realistic target before I set off – take that, gremlin!
When I was studying for my A Levels I completely lost my ability to play in front of people. I used to dread doing practical lessons in school because I was suddenly hyper aware of not being as good as other people in my class (it didn’t help that my class teacher was also a flautist, and amazing, and even though she had a lot more experience than I, I kept comparing my standard to hers). In all this I never stopped playing but I did have to hide when practising which became a bit of an issue when it came to checking my progress. It took a long time for me to regain my confidence and some very patient handling from some very special staff to help me over come this but over come it I did and I will always be grateful for the help I received as it enabled me to go on and fulfil my career ambition.
Fast forward to the present day and it is like I am reliving that same experience but this time from a running perspective…
At the beginning of the year I blogged about being a bit too hard on myself after a Parkrun and how I had set targets for the year to ensure I enjoyed this fitness journey rather than putting too much pressure on myself and yet now I feel that no amount of positive thinking is helping me over come this crisis of confidence.
I enjoyed a lovely little plod with some of the purple family last night; it was a 2 mile loop around Bangor designed to get us warmed up if we were staying for hills or just have company if we were not. I chatted the whole way round and didn’t stop for any walking breaks therefore proving that I can keep a consistent pace when I put my mind to it. However, at the end of the first loop I didn’t want to carry on. We had twenty minutes, I knew I was physically capable of doing another loop but there was something in me that would not continue. I was sitting waiting for the others and could not help but think how much better off they are not needing to slow down for me. When they returned I could not face sticking around and asked Jayne to take me home. Essentially, I ran away. It’s so sad when you come to the realisation that your confidence has gone on vacation. The most frustrating aspect about this is not knowing why….
I love running. It is the best thing I have ever applied myself to. I don’t intend to give up because I have reached a little hurdle but I suspect this might be something that takes a little time to mend. I really don’t want to end up sounding like a broken record and boring people with my woes so I will try to plod and get myself back on track. I’m hoping that the blog will help to remind me how things have improved!
2019 is upon us and having spent New Year’s Eve enjoying some chilled time at home (with a brief but entertaining visit to a rope swing) I was all set and ready to start the year as I mean to go on – running with friends. We had a fab time at the affectionately nick-named Knoborough Parkrun (see picture below for explanation) with an excellent turn out from the purple family. The route is lovely and a good challenge so I will definitely return to give this run another go and a massive thanks must go to all those involved in organising the New Year’s Day Parkrun events – what a fantastic way to start the year!
On returning home, I did the inevitable look through the results table and started to get a bit down about my time and how it never seems to get any quicker. Now the logical side of my brain reminds me that I have been injured and I have only been back running for 4 weeks and that has been pretty infrequent thanks to the gadding about of the Christmas season but still I found myself a little blue. Then my thoughts turned to the first race I have booked for the year (Anglesey Half Marathon) and a wonder of whether I should aim to work towards a PB. When you start to question things like this I find the best course of action is to consult the Coach and see what wise words she has to offer. As always, Chris’ advice is golden and she soon put me back to an eased state of mind reminding me that speed work is never my favourite thing to do (accurate) which completely defeats the object of running (it needs to be something I enjoy) and actually I may just be suited to long slow runs! I mean it would be nice to go a bit quicker so I don’t feel like I am holding everyone else back but someone is always going to be at the back of the pack and if people don’t like the speed I am going then they simply don’t have to stay with me! I also got sent an article by Claire as she knew I was having a wobble and there’s lots in there to take on board; the first two resolutions listed are particularly noteworthy for me so if you find, like me, you’ve been a bit hard on yourself lately I would definitely recommend a quick read of this…
So, what goals might I like to achieve in 2019? Well all sorts of things started to go through my mind including trying to go one better than the previous year – who else is guilty for doing this? Last year was such a major accomplishment, why do I need to almost forget it and move on to something bigger and better?! I decided to have a little word with myself and really think about what is important to me and my running/fitness journey and it came down to these things:
Continue to maintain/develop my running buddy friendships by taking as many opportunities to run with folk as possible and explore new routes with them;
Enjoy the exhilaration that is outdoor swimming and try to get as much experience of this as possible;
Get to the start line of the Eryri marathon injury free!
I like that these goals are pretty vague (well, apart from the last) because it gives me room to play around and take opportunities as and when they come to me. I signed up for the gym in December purely to help reach goal 3 and have already started to try out some of the different classes that may be able to help improve my strength, I also have a PT session next week which should be able to provide me with exercises to do on the gym equipment so I can kick this IT band issue in to touch! Goal 2 is linked to the Bala Big Swim which is booked for June (4.5km swim in Llyn Tegid) so I know that I need to continue my swimming training to help build up to this but the rest of the year is pretty much a blank canvas (after Anglesey Half)! There is talk of doing things like running the Anglesey coast path with Jayne or trying to get in the sea once a week with Chris but it is all open for negotiation and that is super exciting! What I can say for sure though is 2019 is going to be a good one!
A friend mentioned that they were passing on my blog info to a friend of hers and I realised that, owing to the epic rest I had been forced to do, I hadn’t updated for a long old time (mostly because there hasn’t been much to report given the recovery process I needed to go through). What I also hadn’t realised was the fact I never got round to doing a full blog post about actually completing the marathon and instead settled for a Facebook update. I’m actually quite cross with myself about this given how much completing the marathon meant and how much I had documented along the way!
So, given the time of year, and the fact that many of us look back over the year that has been and start planning what is still to come, I thought I would finally get around to my marathon entry…
Friday 26th October – the end of my first half term in a new job role and the night before the race. Claire and I arranged to go and pick up our race numbers together which was very much needed or I might have jibbed at this hurdle! We wandered through Llanberis to the event village and it was great to see the atmosphere building already but the reality well and truly hit, as did the nerves – was I really going to run a marathon?! I felt very sick!
Race number, t-shirt and hoodie collected (along with a quick hug and some final words of encouragement from Jayne) and I headed for home where Owen had made a massive spag bol and I could focus on trying to get some rest.
Saturday 27th – OMGEEEEEEEEEE! Race day! I can’t actually remember how well I slept the night before but I woke up absolutely buzzing! I always get super nervous before I do an event and today was no exception but in addition to the nerves was this absolute determination that this finish line was going to be all mine! I sorted myself out with banana and porridge and O. and I went to pick Kate up from Tregarth before heading back to Llanberis to meet Claire and Han. The weather was cold but sunny and there was even snow on the mountain tops; stunning! We joined the crowds heading towards the start line with O. in tow and the excitement was now overtaking the nerves. I had been overwhelmed by the messages of support I had been receiving all morning but the time to switch my phone off had come and I needed to get in the zone. I was surrounded by hundreds of people with the same goal in mind; 26.2 miles, bring it on!
I knew I was never going to manage to keep up with the girls so we had big hugs and a promise to see each other on the other side and then the race began. It is so easy to get caught in the flow of runners and start off too fast so when I caught site of fellow Runaways Sarah and Kath I made a beeline for them as I knew from Beaumaris Half that they would keep me going at a suitable pace. Running through Nant Peris towards the climb of Pen y Pass and I was completely overcome with something I can’t put in to words but I was in a very happy place. I had endless support and encouragement from so, so many people but the only person I could rely on now was myself so whatever happened it was down to me. I soon parted ways with Sarah and Kath but I was completely okay with being on my own.
Pen y Pass was indeed a tough climb and I took a few walk breaks to get up it whilst chatting with people along the way. I made a point of looking behind me a few times on that climb just to put in perspective the height gained. That valley is stunning anyway so well worth checking out!
It’s awesome being towards the back of the pack because people like to chat! Everyone runs these events for different reasons but us folk towards the end like to meet and greet new folk and are more than happy to share stories. I chatted with lots of people on my way around which all contributed to my enjoyment of the whole experience. It was on the descent from Pen y Pass that it dawned on me that now I was on the course there was no way in hell I was coming off it until I crossed that finish line! This was a slight issue for me because I had made a promise to my physio, coach Chris and O. that if my knee started to cause me any problems I would pull out but at that particular moment in time I felt good and the only direction I was going in was forward.
At Llyn Gwynant I reached the point where I had recced the course in training so every step was now slightly more familiar and I could start to get my head around inclines and the route a bit better but at mile 10 I hit an issue; my bloody knee. As I said earlier, I had promised everyone that if I encountered serious pain I would pull out and this initial issue wasn’t so much pain but a definite awareness that things were not feeling right. I was not far from Beddgelert (the half way point) so I eased off and started a walk/run with the intention of seeing how it went over these next three miles. It wasn’t ideal to have had to resort to this so early but I so didn’t want to give up.
Well Beddgelert came and went and it turns out that when I put my mind to it I can actually walk at a decent pace! I knew that if I could keep the walks around the 15 minute mile mark and put a burst of speed in every so often I could still get this race done and more importantly to me, get in before dark! By the time I got to Rhyd Ddu (where I knew Karl and Keira were going to be cheering) I knew I wasn’t going anywhere! Every step now was a step closer to home and I was still enjoying ticking off the markers as I went along.
At Waunfawr (around mile 20) I had the most amazing surprise as O. and Alison had turned up to cheer! I hadn’t expected to see them until the finish line and I burst in to tears with gratitude. This point is the start of the final and the most brutal climb of the course so I went for a big hug before carrying on my way. I also caught up with Sarah and we stuck together to get over this last hurdle before we went to claim our coasters! Part way up the climb we found Jack on timer duty who supplied us with some much needed sustenance in the form of salt and vinegar kettle chips and a big high-five and then we carried on up the hill…
At mile 24 you reach the final feed station and they serve tea, that’s right, TEA! It was like liquid gold and the biscuit went down a treat too and then all that is left to do is get down the hill and across the finish. At this point I told Sarah to go on ahead mainly because I knew my knee was not going to enjoy this descent one bit but also because I needed to finish this one on my own. I was right regarding the knee, that descent was absolute agony and I did start to worry that I might have done some serious damage but there was no chance I wasn’t going to finish now and I just kept going, one foot in front of the other. By this point in the course the view across Llanberis is awesome but you can also hear the noise from the finish line which is enough to keep you going. I reached the village and started to pick up the pace to ensure a decent finish and when you turn the corner to the finish straight and hear everyone cheering for you, it was only right to finish properly (luckily I had conserved enough energy through the jalking to be able to run at this point). I could feel the tears starting again as I made out the cheers from O. and the purple fam but when I finally saw that finish line I couldn’t help but punch the air with victory.
Ten months in the making, hours of training, the laughs, the tears and the new friendships and I had actually done it! 6 hours and 17 minutes later and that finish line was in the bag – I was absolutely buzzing!
When I got home I put a post on Facebook thanking all the amazing people who had helped me along the way and did my best to thank all the people who had sent me messages that day too – my thanks to everyone still stands. Doing this marathon has changed so much for me: obviously it made me fitter and showed just what the body can do when you give it a chance; it has shown me how strong my mind can be – if you want it in your head, your body will follow; it has given me new levels of discipline with regards to training but, most importantly to me, it has given me friendships that I know will last a lifetime.
It took me a long time to physically recover from the after affects of that day (which is why my blog has been quiet) but the running has started again, steadily and the plans for next year are beginning to get formed; so excited about these. In the meantime though, I did actually get a small marathon tribute tat and will forever cling on to the title bestowed on me by Gez… I am so proud to be a marathon wanker!
I cannot quite believe I am writing this but we are now 6 DAYS away from the big M; how the flip did this happen?!
I had hoped at this stage to be quietly smug with my training progress. I had been doing well at following the plan and was actually enjoying reaching new milestones and exploring new routes with some of my lovely Runaway friends. Then three weeks ago, on my planned 18 miler, I got struck down with a case of runner’s knee which brought an abrupt end to my biggest run to date at a mere 6 miles. I was absolutely devastated and could not stop the tears from falling as the realisation that I might have done something stupid took hold. Luckily, I choose my running buddies wisely and I was very well looked after by Fiona as we called for a lift and I was sent home with armfuls of things to help ease the pain.
Since then I have had various appointments and an eventual diagnosis that I have a tight IT band which has pulled my patella alignment out and this is causing the pain when I run. I have been for a sports massage and a physio session and have discovered that with tape on, the discomfort stays away so providing the magic tape is applied I am game on for Saturday! I will work in fixing everything to get properly run fit after the big day.
The last three weeks have been driving me crazy. I know I need to not stress about the injury and deal with it but as a newbie marathon runner I really wanted to get to the start line with a completed training plan under my belt and this injury has knocked my confidence, big time. How can I possibly complete 26.2 miles when I have barely run in three weeks?! People keep assuring me it will be okay but it is something that keeps niggling at me. That said, I have no intention of pulling out now. If I don’t try to get round the course I will be eaten up with what ifs. So on Saturday I will don my purple vest and set my head to the finish line and keep everything crossed that my feet follow suit. I happen to be very lucky that I have the support of some amazing people who have helped me through every step of this training process and it is those people I intend to keep with me with every step of the way; this one is for you, my lovelies!