Monthly Archives: April 2014

An Ugly, Lovely Town and a New Half Marathon.

“an ugly lovely town….crawling, sprawling…….by the side of a long and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world” 

The above if you didn’t know is an abridged version of a Dylan Thomas quote about the Welsh city of Swansea. This year it is the centenary of the birth of the great Welsh poet and I have been reading some of his work, scolding myself that I have never read it before. I fully intend to get myself to a book shop this week and immerse myself in his poems.

So I’ve failed to be able to commemorate the birth of Dylan Thomas through knowledge of his work. How else can a runner commemorate this Welsh literary great? By running a half marathon through the coastal city of Swansea that’s how! This year will see the first Swansea Half Marathon being held on the 20th July and I have just entered.

I had planned to enter at some point, I am never in a rush about these things, but today I heard that the limited entries for this year’s inaugural race are 80% full already. So I dashed online and entered before I missed a chance to be able to run along the coastline to the Mumbles. It is the first half marathon that has been held in the city and the organisers say it will make history. So far the route hasn’t been been made official but I am really looking forward to see where it takes us through Dylan’s ugly, lovely town.

And just for my husband I have found a video of a Welsh male voice choir singing one of his favourite Dylan Thomas poems, the Rev. Eli Jenkin’s prayer from Under Milk Wood. Check out the scenery of the Gower Peninsula in the background. Stunning!

For more information about the inaugural Swansea Half Marathon go to www.swanseahalfmarathon.co.uk

 

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Cheaters

When I was a teenager I was beaten to a schools cross country title by a girl from another school who cut the course short. I saw her turn off the wrong way and was perplexed to find she had finished a good 5 minutes before me. I complained to my P.E. teacher and got told off for making a fuss and so that was the end of it. The title got handed to the other girl. I think from then on I had a little bit of a deep loathing for people who cheat and feel entitled to get away with it.

Why am I blethering on about something that happened eons ago when scrunchies were still in fashion? Well with a few popular marathons having taken place in the last few weeks it turns out some adult runners aren’t frightened or even ashamed of going down the cheating line. I’m not talking elite dopers here who put careers on the line for titles and glory. No I’m talking about amateurs who think it’s ok to cheat their fellow runners.

The first story emerged following the London Marathon when it was revealed that a runner had run a 2.07 first half and a 61 minute second half. Running forum’s were up in arms as people decried this as impossible. This guy was on Mo Farah half marathon pace and could have been up with the big guns in an elite field. It was suspected that the ‘runner’ involved jumped a barrier somewhere along the course to drastically shorten the route. Despite the ridiculousness of his claims to be elite half marathon fit the gentleman has not given a statement and has declined invitations to perform another half marathon in return for a £5000 donation to his charity. He might need some Sudocreme for that butt of his because the running world was crying ‘liar liar pants on fire’.

The story above is almost funny because of the stupidity of the runner to believe his own lies. This second cheating story is one that has made a lot of people mad because of the utter gall and sense of entitlement that the people involved have demonstrated.

Dennis Crowley, owner of Foursquare (I still don’t know what this is but it apparently makes him really rich) and his wife Chelsa were caught out after the Boston Marathon after she wore a fake bib to enable her to run. You can read the story here and here. When the couple realised the level of reaction to what they had done Dennis Crowley posted what he deemed was a form of apology. His wife has been completely silent on the matter despite her being the one wearing the fake bib and she has posted various pictures of herself online wearing the Boston medal.

As it goes people are pretty unimpressed with their actions and the subsequent ‘apology’, is if you read it is anything but. There is a lot of vitriol being spouted and nastiness in their direction which is not to be condoned but I think this couple have completely misjudged the strength of feeling that runners have about these events, how much work it takes to get in or to raise the money to be able to be at the start line. Compounded with the fact it is one year on from the tragic events of last year’s Boston Marathon I think feelings are still pretty raw and people in the running community would have liked for this marathon to be without any form of incident. They used the bib for their own selfish gain without a thought for the runner with the legit number. They didn’t take into consideration the resources or the security involved. They also don’t feel that they have done anything wrong which is the thing that is probably the most frustrating:

‘Our intent was never to ‘steal’ anything from anyone’.

But this commenter on the Valley Wag article summed it up for me in reply to this statement:

‘Our intent was merely to appropriate something that had been paid for by someone else, and then use it to sneak into an event for which we weren’t registered and to which we had made no financial remuneration for any of the services and infrastructure we were going to take advantage of.

But stealing?? Stealing is what poor people do.'(via Gabrielle Cynique).

This sense of entitlement is something that will grind with a lot of runners, especially those who have earned their places through fund raising or through getting out and putting in the hard miles like so many other runners. I was thrilled to be in this year’s London race because I had worked hard and gained a Good For Age status, it would never cross my mind to just rock up and wear a fake bib. I’d be cheating myself and everyone around me. But that’s why I am a Runner and these people are nothing but cheats.

But instead of dwelling on these no good cheats lets celebrate awesome runners. I have just started following a runner called Susie on Twitter and she ran the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon this year. Read her blog about her Boston experience here.

 

A Post Marathon Easter Break in West Wales

I have done bugger all running since the marathon. Actually that is a bit of a fib, I did do a teeny weeny 20 minute jog just to get rid of a few cobwebs but that is literally it. As I was in post marathon recovery and the boys were on holiday for Easter it was the perfect time for complete rest, both mentally and physically.

The first stage involved some Easter baking using my new food mixer and a Paul Hollywood recipe. I have developed a love for baking over the last few years and it gives me a sense of satisfaction to go through the method and obviously taste the results at the end. I had never proved anything before so I was a bit nervous as to how they would turn out but they were bloomin’ lovely.

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The next stage of recovery involved a wee get-a-way for the family. We found a place to stay in the little village of Tresaith on the Pembrokeshire coast. I love being near the sea. I find it really soothing and I adore the unspoilt beaches you find along this part of the Welsh coast. The ruggedness of the terrain contrasted with the purity of the soft white sand reminds me very much of the beaches of the Western Isles in Scotland where I spent holidays as a child. The scenery is truly breathtaking.

Tresaith

Tresaith

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Llangrannog

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Tresaith

Mind, body and soul really needed this little break and I forgot all about running, training and marathons for a while. Although I did let my mind drift over to running when I wondered to myself whether it would be possible to run the entire length of the Wales Coast Path. But having discovered that the distance the paths cover amount to well over 800 miles I doubt I will ever get round to doing that. However I fully intend on going back with my running kit and having a go at running at least some of this stunning, dramatic coastline.

All too soon it was time to come home but I really recuperated during this holiday. I have slept well and other than a panic about leaving the boys’ school work to the last minute I haven’t worried about anything. It has been blissful. And of course I couldn’t leave it to the boys to have all the fun in the sea. I jumped in and had a dip in the icy Irish Sea too. The Victorians believed that sea air could cure all sorts of ailments so my afternoon in the surf at Llangrannog was the perfect post marathon cure for any left over aches and pains. I think the next challenge for this family in the next year will be surfing lessons.

Body boarding at Llangrannog

Body boarding at Llangrannog

We Are Amazing

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I took the above picture in the Science Museum. I think it’s a great reminder to us that human beings are really quite phenomenal. The human body and mind never fails to amaze me and our capacity to learn, achieve and heal is something that has always fascinated me and which probably lead me to the profession I am in.

Almost a week on from the London Marathon and I am feeling a lot more like myself. The delayed onset muscle soreness has eased and my foot and ankle are feeling a great deal better. Right now I actually feel like running and I think I easily could. This got my brain ticking in the way it does about how incredible the human body is. After flogging my body for 26.2 miles, the amazing self repair system that I have in this small frame has got to work to return my muscles to their usual state. Any inflammation has been dealt with and any tissue damage is being quietly rectified. Our bodies are meant to move because there are systems in place to help us recover and rejuvenate. It truly is amazing.

A few weeks ago I read an article on the ‘I Fucking Love Science’ site. The story reported how scientists have discovered a system within our bodies which repairs damaged peripheral nerves. We have known for some time that the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) can regenerate but not the Central Nervous System (CNS) and scientists had been unable to work our why. It turns out that the reason could be down to something new to me called ‘epigenetics’ and scientists hope that this new finding, about something that our body is already capable of, could be harnessed and give hope in the future to those suffering from CNS injuries, such as those with spinal cord injuries. How amazing is that?

The secrets that our bodies hold continue to be uncovered by scientists and researchers and extraordinary people continue to show us the limits to which we can take our bodies: ultra runners, Polar explorers, free divers and Felix Baumgarter who broke all records with his free fall from space. We really are amazing and even though I doubt I will do anything very extraordinary by running what I realised from what I put my body through on Sunday is that my body really is amazing and all of our bodies are designed to be just that: We are all amazing.

 

Girl Time

One of my most favourite Twitter friends Simon has a brilliant Tumblr blog called Six Seconds High. If you love all things athletics and running then you really must check it out. It is an absolute treasure trove for athletics/running fanatics like me. The name of Simon’s blog is genius and has a fantastic link to running itself. You should go to Twitter and ask him.

Anyway today Simon posted a Tumblr to some brilliant British Pathe footage from the twenties and thirties. He sent me a link to You Tube with loads more great videos and I was immediately transfixed, watching this grainy, wobbly black and white footage of people running. The majority of the videos are of men running and competing. But then I found this little gem of an athletics match between women from Japan and France.

It started to remind me of my old athletics club days with the girls. My friends from school would be at the cinema and shopping on the weekend. But I spent my weekends for many years with my other set of girl friends, sitting on a coach giggling, taking cover from the rain in the stands gossiping, sunbathing at the side of the track if it was nice and cheering on our fellow team mates.

I loved this old video because it looked like those women and girls were having a great time with their team mates while competing, you can see that in the end of the video. So funny how even though it was probably 60 or 70 years onwards, my friends and I weren’t that different, enjoying the same sport as those women from Japan and France did. I think this is probably down to the beautiful simplicity of the sport of athletics. My time competing with the athletics club were some of the happiest in my youth and I made some great friends, some of whom are still very much in my life today.

 

 

 

 

Human Kind

The effect that running has on people, the running of a marathon especially, never fails to amaze me. And not just on the people doing the running but the supporters and occasionally people who usually show no interest in running whatsoever. Sunday was no exception.

When I entered the Green Start area on Sunday I noticed that everyone, EVERYONE, was happy. Nerves abounded I’m sure but there were smiles everywhere and people were bubbly and chatty. I had a lovely conversation with a lady in the enormous toilet queue and she became excited for me doing London for the first time. There were nothing but good wishes being shared everywhere. At the start there was more chat and I was given advice from runners who were running their 3rd, 4th and 5th London Marathon, telling me where the tough bits were and where the crowds were the best and loudest.

As with my first marathon experience in Edinburgh the crowds did not fail to disappoint. Spectators handing out all kinds of sweets to help give us runners a much needed sugar rush and shouting all kinds of motivational phrases to help us on our way to the finish. People had given up their sunny Sunday to watch this spectacle and they were just as much part of the occasion as the runners.

At mile 5 when I twisted my ankle another runner turned round to make sure I was ok. Similarly when other runners had a stumble or tripped, other runners slowed down to make sure their fellow marathon comrade was ok and that they could carry on. Towards the finish line, one runner started wobbling and weaving, looking to be on the verge of collapse. Instead of carrying on regardless some runners moved him to the side and alerted the medics to his condition. I was continually moved by the compassion of my fellow runners.

At mile 14 on our way to Canary Wharf I spotted some of the Elite Men coming back towards us. My heart sank a bit but then it started to soar again as I realised that the runners ahead of me were cheering for the marathon legend that is Richard Whitehead. Seeing him stride past us on the other side gave many of us a lift I’m sure as we continued to run out towards the imposing forest of skyscrapers in the Wharf. I was so impressed that my fellow runners took the time to cheer for another runner despite us all probably feeling fatigued, clapping and cheering being the last thing on our minds.

When I finished I had to make my way down Horse Guards Parade to find my husband. As I limped along I phoned my parents and spoke to my eldest son. He made me laugh and then I started to cry as the emotion of the whole experience overcame me. A woman from the Children’s Trust approached me and asked if I was ok. She hugged me, wrapped me in my foil blanket and made me drink the Lucozade drink in my bag. And then she walked with me, holding my arm as I tried to find my husband (having a surname beginning with W is never ideal in these situations). I thanked her and she wished me all the best and then she was gone.

The marathon is a huge event but these little demonstrations of human kindness and the determination of the human spirit really made it for me on Sunday. I didn’t have a great race for many reasons but I felt to not finish would have been utterly absurd considering the amazing people I was running alongside, many who were running in memory of loved ones they had lost.

When I logged back on to social media and onto my messages I was astounded by the number of people who had sent me good wishes. I had uploaded the London Marathon Adidas tracker to Facebook to let people know when I had started. Friends from all parts of my life, some I haven’t spoken to in years were leaving messages of good luck and support. When the tracker showed that I had crossed the finish line the well done messages continued to come in for the rest of the night. I was totally overwhelmed by the love and support that I had been shown by so many people and it made me realise that despite the media myth that the general public never like anyone to do well, we are actually quite a nice bunch.

I keep telling myself that Sunday wasn’t a good day for me but when I think about the things that I saw and heard it was actually a spectacular 4 hours. Sport itself is a brilliant thing but on Sunday London showed me that the marathon can really bring out the best in human kind.

 

Virgin London Marathon 2014: This Is Not A Race Report

Yesterday I completed my second marathon on the streets of our capital. With very little consistent training in the bank I really had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that I needed to be realistic about how I would perform. It meant that I would probably be no where near my 3.39 PB from Edinburgh and was more likely to be near the 4-4.30 mark. That is why this is not any kind of ‘race report’ but a reflection on my experience of the London Marathon.

I think I stood on the start line a little dumbstruck. I have never taken part in a race on this scale so the sheer volume of people was just unbelievable to me. That this many people actually wanted to run 26.2 miles just amazed me and every one of them looked excited. And I *know* I was excited too but I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I was trying to remember to keep things conservative in the first half and see if I could build on that. All good intentions but I think I got a bit carried away. My Nike GPS had just decided it would start working again and to see 8.23 average pace on my watch got me all a bit excited because that was the pace at which I achieved my time in Edinburgh. Could I maintain it after only 10 weeks haphazard training? Well the short answer is NO.

I really don’t know what I was thinking trying to do something like that after being injured for such a long time. Maybe it’s because I know I am capable of a decent pace that ego and excitement got the better of me. So starting off way too fast was the first thing. And then it went all a bit to shit.

At mile 5 I twisted my ankle. Not just a little stumble and righting myself again. No a proper, foot all the way underneath me. All the expletives under the sun came out of my mouth and I pronounced that the other runners around me were utter c***s. Why? Because the thing that had caused me to twist my ankle was a discarded Buxton water bottle. It turns out that other runners are at times quite selfish and even though you are advised to try and toss your bottle to the side, a lot of runners will just drop them for the runner behind to step on. So whoever dropped the bottle I tripped on? You Sir/Madam are a bit of a knob.

After that I hobbled for the next mile until adrenaline kicked in. At 10k I felt a bit heavy legged. At 10 miles I felt dreadful and then for the next 9 miles I considered calling it a day. When I put my foot in a hole in the road and wrenched my right hip I really did think I would be hanging my trainers up. My hip spasmed and every incline, decline and bump in the road became painful. I became conscious that I was no longer hot but shivering and my heart felt like it was much louder than it should have been. I decided that as I had come thing far I just had to keep going but I was also worried that I would become one of the many people I had seen on the side of the road, legs above heads and barely conscious. I became a little bit afraid and that has never been anything I’ve felt before while running. And the fact I was afraid made me even more afraid!

At mile 20 I decided all I had to do was count down the miles and tick them off. All aims of going just under 4 were off and the main aim was to finish as per my original goals. Going past Big Ben as it chimed 2pm was surreal. Watching the river skyline helped from mile 23 to 24. Telling myself over and over that I would soon be with my husband for a cuddle made me feel happier inside. And then I turned the corner into the Mall and for the first time in a torturous 26 miles I finally believed I was about to finish.

So that was how my London Marathon went. It wasn’t my most favourite race. I prefer Edinburgh for so many other reasons, not just the fact I got an amazing time there. London was crowded and it was loud. At times I felt the cheering of the crowds a little intimidating and I just wanted everyone to give me some quiet time.

What I am most proud of is that I didn’t stop once. Even though for nearly all 26 miles I was having an internal battle I never once stopped dead. So mentally I am much tougher than I thought and really pretty dead chuffed that for this marathon, even though it is no where near my best, I achieved my realistic goals. Realistic is the key here because even though I have given myself a little bit of a hard time on my performance I quite simply didn’t have the training volume to back up what I am capable of. I think the marathon and I definitely have unfinished business.

Favourite Costume: Sonic the Hedgehog

WTF? Moment: 2 people carrying vacuum cleaners over their heads while running.

Funniest thing I heard a child say: ‘You do know we could save a life by handing out these jelly beans today?’

A time I laughed out loud: When I saw a poor chap walking who happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a slogan about action for lungs. I chuckled at the irony, sorry.

My favourite t-shirt: A man was wearing a Blerch t-shirt as featured on the Oatmeal blog.

Favourite band of the marathon: All the Scottish pipe bands.

Least favourite moment: Tower Bridge, it all seemed to go a bit wonky for me from that point on.

Favourite moment: Cheering on the unbelievable Richard Whitehead as he headed on from mile 22 as I was running to mile 14.

Celebs I passed: Tony from Hollyoaks. For a while I wondered why people were shouting ‘Hollyoaks’ and then the penny dropped.

Celebs that passed me: Katherine Grainger, but she can have this one, she is Olympic champion.

Daftest sweet to give to runners who are sweating: Malteasers. When I realised what I had grabbed I was like ‘ewwww’ and then had to wipe my chocolately hand over my sweaty vest.

C*** of the race: Whoever dropped the bottle that I subsequently sprained my ankle on.

Today my left foot and ankle are throbbing and I am having difficulty walking on it. I think my efforts from yesterday require a couple of weeks off. Some rest and rehabilitation are more than needed. I know injury free there is better running in me. To be continued.

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