Skip to content

I am not an athlete

6 July 2017

ParkrunDawnGina

Going for a jog? That question used to make my blood boil. No, I am not going for a “jog”, I do not jog, I run, I would say. I am a Runner. Running was serious, dynamic, intentional, a permanent state. Jogging was something other people did. Occasionally, slowly, and wearing heavy duty cotton.

God, I was patronising. I feel differently now. I am still a runner (of course!) but now the label that irks me is at the other end of the fitness scale – “Athlete”.

Two years ago I moved to a new city. I didn’t know many people, and I had some time off work in the Spring. I decided to take up a new sport, in addition to running, and I chose Crossfit.

In Crossfit everyone is an athlete. Everyone does the same workouts and the message is that anyone – everyone – can succeed. Each year, through the Open, thousands of people submit five workout times online and can compare their performance to anyone else in the world. It’s thrilling to see the times of the elite athletes and a real model for how a mass participation sport can be driven by, and keep connected to, the success of those at its very top. How many London marathon runners know the names of the elite field? Every Crossfitter has checked out Katrin Davidsdottir’s Instagram.

But can everyone really succeed in Crossfit? It’s bloody hard. I’m fit, competitive and bloody minded and I found it almost impossible. You can scale the workouts, but you have not really made it unless you have done them “RX”. Everyone may be called an athlete, but I found the culture unforgiving of weakness.

Nobody cares, train harder.

Maintain control of your destiny without regard for the obstacles and hardships that are laid on your path.

We can’t live with self-pity. It cannot exist.

I kept up the Crossfit for about a year, until marathon training took over. After the marathon I felt guilty. I should go back to Crossfit, I thought. I have lost all my gainz. I no longer even lift. Instead, I watched a lot of lifting videos on Instagram. I gazed at six packs. I weighed up the pros and cons:

  • Pros: learning new skills; improved flexibility; handstands; my body looked good.
  • Cons: dread of each class; 2-3 days of agony after every class; inability to run fast or far any more; cost; always finishing last; growing obsession with how my body looked.

DoYouEvenLift

I didn’t renew my membership. Instead I took up a different 9am class each Saturday morning: parkrun. Peterborough parkrun is massive – regularly hosting 600 runners, and all of human life is there. Babies, children, people with disabilities, families, older people and their dogs. I had done a parkrun or two before, but never really “got” it. I don’t lack any motivation to run, and why would I need to meet in a park to run a measly 5k? Also, if I can’t get a pb time every week, why would I bother?

But then, my nephews decided they wanted to run it, so I ran it with them. And then, my sister in law decided she would give it a go, so I ran it with her. And then my sister, and then her husband, and then my dad (aged 72). Over a year I ran a couple of parkruns at my pace (and I did get a pb), but I ran 20 more that took longer than 30 minutes. I volunteered, I was tail runner, I just went along and cheered. It became part of my life, and of the life of our family.

At parkrun, you’re not even allowed to call it a race. It’s a run. We are all runners, even the walkers. Treating it like a race is not just frowned upon, it’s deeply uncool. When you come first, you get the same applause that everyone else gets. Everyone’s time is posted online, but there’s a crucial difference. The number that counts is not the time it takes you, it’s the number of parkruns you’ve done.  Every week we cheer people reaching their 50th, 100th, 250th parkruns. It really is the taking part that counts.

It’s the taking part that counts – that’s what they say when you don’t win, I used to think. But not now. Now I know, that’s how you win, and we’re all winners, especially the joggers.

Parkrun

Mmm Bop! Running London the Hansons way

25 April 2016

Gina marathon

I turned 40 last year and yesterday I ran the 2016 London Marathon in 3 hours, 18 minutes and 3 seconds! This is a 10 minute personal best.  Can you tell that I’m happy?

I never thought I would run London. The huge crowds of runners at the start have always terrified me. But I had the chance to go for a ‘Good for Age’ place (starting at the much smaller Green start), so I took the backhanded compliment and went for it.

Things I loved:

  • Tower Bridge!
  • The energy of the crowds at Greenwich, Canary Wharf and especially Lower Thames Street. It really did make me run faster and feel better.
  • The comedy signs.  “If Trump can run for president you can do this” (at least 2), “If Leicester can win the league you can do this”, “Wave if you’re not wearing underwear”, and my favourite: “Touch here for Power”. Good work.
  • The music. All the drummers! When someone played Prince! The awesome noise at Run Dem Crew! And best of all the rave tunnel just before 24 miles. Next year they need strobes.

Things I didn’t:

  • Kids wearing surgical gloves wanting high fives – parents, chill out
  • The first 4 miles

The thing I forgot about:

Marathons are hard.

The Hansons Marathon Method dictates not running more than 16 miles at a time, which meant that the long runs were some of my easiest training runs. The tempo runs, maxing out at 10 miles, were harder.

26.2 miles, at tempo running pace, was the hardest. All the training (I averaged 50 miles a week) will do a lot, but it won’t run the race for you. All the work on the day still has to be done, and done by you.

The worst bit by far was the first 4 miles. It was impossible to find my pace in the crowd, dodging other runners, traffic islands, speed bumps, kerbs, water bottles, discarded clothes. I knew I needed to slow down but I couldn’t make myself do it. The need to get to the last 10 miles, just to find out if I could cope, was overwhelming.

Once past half way I got my confidence back. My splits were even, I wasn’t going to blow up. By 19 miles the wheels were definitely staying on. It was tough – my feet hurt a LOT – but what can you do? After 21 miles I stopped thinking about finish times and just concentrated on maintaining pace for that mile. At 23 miles I knew I could do it. At 25 miles I started the push. At 800 metres to go I started sprinting for the line. At 600 metres to go I stopped sprinting because that was insane, and enjoyed my coast to the finish.

I’m so glad I did it. I’m even more glad I’ve done it. I don’t think I’ll do it again?

The thing I’m most proud of:

Check out my splits!

Marathon chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It took me two years to write this

19 April 2016

I love running blogs. Love reading them. Love that they are hanging on to life in the age of 140 characters. Love that there’s a whole industry of fitness blogging* now. Particularly love all the female bloggers inspiring others to get involved.

I love running blogs, just not my own, apparently.

I stopped writing my blog for various reasons, a few of which were reasonable. It is hard to write about your running life without mentioning your young child, who may or may not want their little face and derring do shared with the world**. It is also hard to think of new and interesting things to say that people might want to read, whilst not writing about your young child.

I did not stop running! Of course I didn’t. I did have a miniature dalliance with crossfit – which is a whole other post – but the running continued.

I moved out of London, to Peterborough, a year ago and the running there is fantastic. Flat, completely and utterly pancake flat and devoid of anything even vaguely resembling a hill, but fantastic. From my house I can run loops of 3,4, 13, even 20 miles without seeing a car. The trails are empty. The woods full of birdsong. The air crystal clear.

So what am I doing on Sunday? The thing I said I would never do, running the sodding London marathon.

I turned 40. I realised that my Milton Keynes marathon time would qualify me for a Good for Age place. So, I leapt onto the bandwagon. I ditched the crossfit, bought a copy of the Hansons Marathon Method, and did a shed load of training.

I am ready.

Wish me luck!

IMG_1868

* I don’t love photos of people hugging protein powder jars. And I really don’t love people posting pictures of their abs accompanied by claims that body image isn’t important.

** the 23 people who read this blog.

 

How to run a 10k race and actually enjoy it

7 July 2014

10k is my nemesis distance. Too long to be short, too short to be long; it’s running kryptonite.

This is one reason why I haven’t attempted a 10k race since September 2011, the others being 2) pregnancy, c) wine.

On Sunday our friend Brian was staying for the weekend and we decided to run one of the Regent’s Park Summer 10k series  – you can just turn up 15 minutes before the start, pay your £16, tie on your timing chip and off you go. Spontaneity is not usually my middle name, but in this case I think not booking in advance gave me some psychological advantages: I didn’t obsess about it beforehand, I didn’t really* train for it, and I didn’t have a pace in mind. There were no hopes to be dashed – I was just going to turn up, give it a go and see what happened.

What happened? Some flippin’ excellent things! I paced it sensibly, ran a negative split, and got a new pb of 43:04. Best of all, I didn’t even feel like death at the end so there is room for improvement.

Now that the race is over and I no longer need them, I have come up with some useful tips on how to run a 10k.

1. START SLOWLY

The Regent’s Park 10k is a 3 lap course, which I have previously found to be soul destroying, but this time I used it to my advantage. Rather than starting at maximum pace and trying in vain to get faster each lap, I started at a pace that felt way too slow and really did get faster each lap. Aiming for a 45 minute finish, I actually came in a lot quicker as I felt so good in the second and third laps.

2. STRUGGLING? SLOW DOWN

I wasn’t aiming for a pb so I tried a crazy thing: actually enjoying the race. Every time I started to feel uncomfortable in the lungs, legs or stomach, I slowed down a bit because I didn’t want to feel like that. Then, once I felt better, I found I sped back up to pace without really trying.

3. GET TACTICAL

The Regent’s Park course is billed as “flat”, but really it has a couple of slight inclines and declines which shouldn’t be ignored. If you try to run them all at the same pace, your perception of how hard you’re working gets skewed and you end up ruining yourself. Slow down a bit on every incline, and you will reap the rewards on the downhills.

4. SAVE IT FOR THE END

This is a version of 1. Pick a point at which you are willing to give it everything and save your heroics for then. I picked 8k, but it ended up being 9k, then really just the final straight. Things do even out in the end, though. I used to peg it for one lap, die in the second and end up jogging it in. How much better to end on a sprint finish in front of your husband and child?

Like any tips, these seem really obvious. But, given that I’ve managed 20 years of running without following them, I hope they’re worth sharing.

* Ok, I have done some training, but nothing specifically 10k focused other than two interval sessions during which I nearly threw up. (6 x 800m with 1.5 minute recoveries, pain fans)

photo 3

Me, daughter and 38 minute 10k-er Brian post-race. Plus plastic cup.

Underpass, Overpass: Milton Keynes Marathon 2014 Race Report

6 May 2014

Image

Behold! Warrior woman, striding it home in 3hours 41 minutes at yesterday’s Milton Keynes Marathon, with a grazed knee but a big smile. How strong I look! How fresh!

I love this picture, taken by my sister who so brilliantly came to see me at the end of the race. I love it even though it is a massive lie.

The thing about a stadium finish, I discovered, is that it forces you to (MK) don your gameface and power home like Paula. This is a good thing, but the scene in the Arena, behind the stadium, was the true face of marathon running. Everywhere runners were prostrate in exhaustion and pain. The St John’s Ambulance medics were running out of chairs. There was a distinct whiff of vomit.

My sister and her boyfriend found me on one of the chairs having a piece of metal prised out of my knee. The St John’s medic was keen to know if it hurt. “Hurt?” I said, “compared to the race, no, it does not hurt. At all.”

I fell over at some point in the last six miles of the race. Where, I could not say. It was a bit embarrassing, spinning onto my back whilst cornering one of Milton Keynes’ 96,000 roundabouts, but my main feeling was one of relief not to be running for 10 seconds. That and appreciation for the blood now dripping down my leg. A war wound!

This race is an odd one. A city marathon that starts on empty dual carriageways, as if the zombie apocalypse had left only an army of runners on the streets, it then has a long succession of cycle paths with one child and his gran waving you on, before heading towards IKEA and ending up in a proper stadium. It has many out and backs – oh, so many out and backs – where you are cruelly faced with other runners who look better and faster and, most importantly, nearer the finish than you. In a mean piece of planning, most of the out and back sections are down and up the same hill.

This section destroyed my pacing. I wasn’t wearing headphones, so couldn’t hear the Strava lady giving splits and had to rely on my poor maths to work out mile times. I thought I was doing ok on 3:35 pace (and in fact I was) until I got overtaken by the 3:45 pacer group at 7 miles. This really threw me. I put in a couple of sub-8 minute miles over an uphill section. I shook off the 3:45 pacer but sweat was now stinging my eyes – it was too warm for heroics, and I would pay for them.

I enjoyed the race after the half-marathoners disappeared at 11 miles, but I knew pain was on the way. At 19 miles everything started to hurt: stomach, knees, quads, neck (neck?!). I promised myself to slow down but never never walk. Even on sharp underpass inclines (of which there were about 937) I ran the slowest I possibly could without walking. At one point I felt like the only person who wasn’t, it was really surprising, and I think the weather and course must have been to blame. I didn’t do it to prove anything to anyone, but because once I started walking I wouldn’t be able to start running again.

So, I went from 8:15 miles to 9:30 miles, but I made it home before that bloody 8:45 pacer.

 

 

How not to train for a marathon – have a baby and then get no sleep.

30 April 2014

Dog

On this day in 2013, I had a baby. 2 hours before she was thrown onto my chest in the operating theatre, I had my first sleep for 3 days: 30 minutes of epidural-induced bliss.

Before Martha arrived, I was not a big sleeper. Never had more than 7 hours a night. Didn’t do lie-ins. Always up early. Fond of a night out.

Now? Sleep – oh, sleep, is the holy grail. The answer to any question. The solution to every problem.

At the beginning sleep is plentiful but sporadic. You all fall asleep at random times, in short bursts like Ellen Macarthur. You feel like Olympians trying to do a decathlon in the dark wearing wellies. Team spirit gets you through – “we can do this!” you croak to your partner as you pass in the hallway at 3am, handing off the baby like a baton. You watch a lot of box sets.

Slowly, progress is made. The baby sleeps for longer in one go. Unfortunately this long sleep starts at odd times, usually in the middle of dinner, and once you realise it’s happening, it’s half-way through. “Bed!” you yelp, abandoning the washing up to the cats and failing to brush your teeth for a week. The moment your head hits the pillow you are asleep.

Then, just as everything is getting better, everything goes wrong. The long sleep starts well, and sometimes lasts a bit longer, but it is fickle, oh so fickle. One night in two weeks she will sleep through the night. You, on the other hand, will still wake up every two hours. All the other nights she will wake up at the drop of a phone, or the clink of a belt buckle. “Why can’t you get changed in the bathroom?”, you will hiss at each other. The TV, like everything else, is now a distraction from feeding. Box-sets remain unwatched, possibly forever.

Slowly, real progress is made. Only now you know better than to talk about it, even to each other. Slightly more rested, you realise how tired you actually are. You go back to work and pretend to be a normal person. You drink a lot of coffee, but never after lunch, because then you lie awake after a 3am wake-up and know you are up for the day.

Running helps, up to a point. When you’re a little bit tired, exercise makes you less tired. It also helps you sleep well.

Not marathon training, though.

If I have learned one thing in the last year it is this: marathon training when you’re getting no sleep is a stupid idea.

I realise, looking back on old photos, that I was a MASSIVE SLEEPER. All I did during my previous marathon training periods, or possibly my life in general, was NAP. I loved naps. I had no idea how much I loved naps until it wasn’t possible to have any. There are so many photos of me asleep – on benches, in the garden, on the sofa – that either my husband is a somnophiliac or I took a whole lot of naps.

Sleep is important for athletes, and non-athletes who happen to be runners of marathons. It’s well known that Kenyan runners just eat, run and sleep. I have found time for the first two during this marathon training (well, mostly the first to be honest), but the third? Not so much.

On Monday I’m running the Milton Keynes marathon and I am worried. I’ve done (most of) the miles, but I really haven’t had the rest. Will I be able to run at anything like my target pace over 26.2 miles (8mins 15 secs per mile)? Will I be able to get to the start on time given that there are no direct trains from London (grr)? But mostly, will I get a full night’s sleep beforehand?

I will let you know.

On eating a whole baguette on the bus

18 February 2014

The Marathon Hunger has set in.  I remember it vaguely from last time, but between then and now my body has been hopped up on fertility drugs, confused by pregnancy and baffled by breast feeding, so it has lost all sense of what normal hunger feels like.

On Friday I left the office at 12.30pm to work from home for the afternoon. On my way to the bus stop, I picked up a sandwich and some popcorn to eat at home as a Friday treat. Eating a shop-made sandwich at home is the height of decadence for a new parent.

By the time I got home I had eaten not only the sandwich and bag of popcorn, but also an entire baguette purchased at Waitrose on the Holloway Road, a supermarket I had no intension of visiting, and which involved crossing several roads to get to, then getting a different bus home. It pulled me in with its ‘aisles of wonder’ tractor beam. I wandered around in a food-fixated haze, unsure what would satisfy the intense need to stuff my face.

I felt so hungry, that afterwards I started to worry that I might be pregnant again, even though it is a medical impossibility. After eating the baguette, I still wasn’t full. Mitigating my gluttony shame, I can at least say that I did not also eat the cinnamon bun purchased in addition to the baguette. It stayed in the bread bin as a reminder of my secret carbohydrate festival until Sunday morning when I scoffed it after my long run.

I suspect some of this carb craving could be averted by eating more protein, but protein is expensive and bread is cheap as chips. And nuts are all very well, but only when covered in chocolate and packaged by Cadbury.