run a mile in my shoes

“OK Listen up, Women come over here, let’s say sub-6 to the left. Come on, you’re going to race tonight so get moving a bit quicker”

80 or so Serpies gathered around our trusty Athletics committee member waiting to be sorted into groups of 12 or so to run a mile in the annual Club Championships. (There’s a sorting hat reference in here somewhere but, confession, I still haven’t read any HP books). Apparently there is a correlation between the faster men in the club and their ability to arrive to a race on time, so room was left in the A race for the tardy runners.

The track was closed to the public and set up to race. Volunteer officials and timekeepers out with their clipboards, the track lap counter & bell placed just so, and finish line marked (as if we’d miss it). Even though I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands, of laps around this track it felt like these 4 and a bit laps would special.

As the first few junior & men’s races started the rest of us were milling around the infield doing half-hearted warmups and snapchats (just me?). There’s something about racing a mile that fills everyone with dread and brings out the best in excuses. I personally had a stressful and busy week at work, was on my period with a surprising migraine, and was dealing with a bum/knee niggle picked up from cycling with my seat too high. Armed with all these excuses I still found myself stood around in my shorts and vest waiting for our race.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

The women’s B race was called to the start and the nerves peaked. As I lined up with 10 other friendly faces, some from our Monday night track sessions, we smiled as we fiddled with our watches and kept an eye on the start gun.

*bang*

I love starting a track race. The first few strides feel absolutely effortless like you are running on clouds. This took me to the front of the race for the first 100m which, wasn’t exactly my plan, but I quickly tucked in behind the second woman on the backstraight and focused on running strong.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

Around the last bend of the first lap my breathing started to catch up to me and the heavyness of running a mile set in to my whole body. I heard the first lap split and was right on pace for my planned PB and felt good.

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Photo © Anne Bennet

The goal of the second lap was to hang on. Not let the 2 women in front of me get too far ahead. They both looked strong so I wrapped that imaginary rope around them and held on for dear life. Each time we passed the start/finish everyone was cheering for us and it was great to have that support to push you into that next lap. The third lap was a predictable blur. Part pain part looking forward to just hearing the last lap bell. I snuck a quick look at my watch and wasn’t too happy with the time so knew I had to keep pushing right to the finish.

*ding ding ding ding*

The last lap bell is a godsend in a mile race, 400m to go. In a road mile this is where I pick up to my semi-sprint finish but 1 lap seems so much further on a track. I kept running pushing though and ran as strong as I could pushing the track away with each step.

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Rounding the last bend with 100m to go the sprint was well and truly on. It’s not a coincidence that on Monday nights we practice our strides along this exact stretch, it felt natural to run strong through the finish and double over to catch my breath.

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As I stopped my watch I caught a look at the numbers and they weren’t the PB I was hoping for but I also wasn’t wrecked. I had run about the same pace for 6 x 400 repeats the week before and could barely breathe after each one. This was an improvement and a confidence boost to run “comfortably uncomfortable” 6:52 mile.

All the runners in our race congratulated each other and after a few seconds everyone was smiling. The dreaded mile race over for another year, but actually, it wasn’t that bad….

homeward round VII

Friends, hills, vistas, sheep, seaside, chips, and ice cream. Count me in.

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Rich kindly invited us all down to his place last weekend for a run to the seaside, Homeward Round VII as it’s called these days, was planned to take a scenic (read: hilly) route from Hassocks to Hove with the usual amounts of new friends, old friends, and haribo.

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As were waiting for our GPS signals it started to pour rain, even though we all had rain kit, we all chose to wait out the shower in the garage like sensible people.

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After winding up and around the town we hit the trails and open skies.

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I’m not going to lie, even at the social pace I wasn’t telling many long winded stories as we jogged up the hills (which is probably a good thing for everyone else) and used the trick “So, what was your last race like?” to keep the other people talking more than me. (seriously, runners love to talk about their past races and they wont notice you’re barely keeping up!) But overall it was a great run with lots of stops for stiles and bramble avoidance.

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At the top of the first hill we took a few photos and then everyone absolutely bombed it down the hill. I mean, I thought I’d have a hard time keeping up on the uphills but wow, these were the real mountain goat deals I was running with. We all let loose and just flew down the path thinking for 0.00000001 second where to put your foot before trusting it and moving on to the next. It. Was. Awesome.

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After some mud (it wouldn’t be the South Downs if there wasn’t) and a climb up Devil’s Dyke we could see the sea and headed straight for it.

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Rich is not only a wonderful route planner, but also gives every passing runner and cyclist a hello and thumbs up, which just melts my crusty London heart.

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A quick pitstop to say hello to Twitter friend Kurt at the Run Store, we spilled into Ramsbottoms making it just in time for the weekend happy hour fish special. Our table was quickly filled with fish, chips, mushy peas, buttered bread, tea, and fantas and we finally stopped talking for 30 seconds to take it all in.

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The perfect meal

The perfect meal

Part to help the massive meal settle, and part because it was such a nice day, we all walked down to the seaside for one more indulgence at Marrocco’s.

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With 3 scoops for £4.50 it wasn’t much of a question how much, just what 3 of the amazing flavours to have.

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Peanut Butter Banana and Chocolate was my personal winner and would 10/10 get it again.  Proof is in the blurry selfies I tried to take but couldn’t be bothered to wait long enough for it to focus since it was melting before I could eat it!

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Summer running for the win!

setting my standard

I have a few running PBs that I’m pretty proud of and can list off when required (not in my twitter bio thank you) but also started to wonder where I’m at right now with my running.

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I ran the Assembly League Battersea a few weeks ago to see what my 5k time was on a flat, fast and accurately measured course. It helped that it was a free race with my club and chock-a-block with speedy runners to pull me along. 23:51 later I was gasping for air in the finishers chute the 281st out of 307 finishers. Run with fast people and you will get faster.

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June 2016 5k: 23:51

Keen to set some more standards I went to my first T&F practice, also at Battersea, and got to try out some events and receive coaching on technique.

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First up was Steeplechase, my dream sport, and after a few climbs up and over the barriers, we were set off to practice hurdling them and techniques for the water pit. From there we went to the high jump and after a few jumps without the bar, cleared the bar at 105cm, which would at least get me a scorer point at our competitions. Our hammer and javelin practice had to be postponed due to thunder and lightning, but that just meant more jumping and steeplechase practice.

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June 2016 High Jump: 105cm

On Sunday I ran the London City Mile, always a favourite race since I always see a lot of running friends and non-running friends who want to “give a mile a go” with a medal at the end.

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I’ve been doing a bit of training specifically for the mile, and hope to set a PB at the Serpentine 1 mile championships later this summer. I didn’t do a long run on this weekend and decided to push hard at this road mile to see how close I was to my goal time.

Trying to avoid the guy who thought it was a good idea to wear a speaker backpack at the race (it’s never a good idea) I started near the back but weaved my way through the speedy starters who inevitably slowed down as we turned around the Bank roundabout. Hearing a few cheers for Canada (Thanks Mike!) kept me going and when the finish looked close but the sign said 400m, I knew I just had to keep pushing. Miles are hard yo. Finishing in 6:47 with a new PB and close enough to my goal that I think I’ll be able to hit it on the track later this summer.

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June 2016 Mile: 6:47

So, it’s been a fun June trying new things, setting some current standards, and getting a PB along the way. Most importantly, it’s been fun.

Jubilee River Swim

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In the summer there is nothing better than being outside all day. Being near a refreshing body of water on the first forecasted hot weekend of the year doesn’t hurt either.

My friends Josie, Helen, and I signed up for the Jubilee River Swim a few months ago with the intention of helping our long(er) distance swim training and getting to be a part of a very cool event even if we weren’t quite ready to swim the entire 10k ourselves yet. After a quick call-out on Twitter for a 4th team member, we were joined by Krista who passed our rigours application process of owning a wetsuit and promising to bring something delicious for the post-swim picnic.

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We made our way to Slough via Paddington from all corners of London early on Sunday morning and quickly registered at the race HQ. With our swim caps in hand we then realised we hadn’t quite figured out the logistics of a 10k point-to-point relay race and who had to carry what to get us, our kit, and our stuff to the finish. Luckily a guy beside us noticed our confusion and was on a team last year who said it’s best if we all went to the start and walked the route as each person was swimming.

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Teamwork makes the dream work

After a quick bus ride to the start near the world’s biggest car boot sale (an endurance event in itself I guess) we made it to the riverside start just as the sun peaked through. Off went all our layers, except for Helen’s  who was putting on more ready for the first leg of the swim.

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A quick briefing by the race organiser (head down stream, get out at the weirs, and use hand sanitizer if grabbing some haribo) the Wave 2 swimmers were in at 10:30 and bobbing around trying to keep warm. Although scorching on the banks, the water was still a bracing 14.3*C. Helen kept a brave face on during the count down and then they were off.

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We followed the swimmers along the bank, with Josie running ahead to get to the next change in time to change.

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After probably the most epic transition in swim history, we dropped Josie into the river and collected Helen to continue on our walk to the next weir.

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Each relay swimmer got their medal after their leg, which was awesome, except they were HUGE and it was very sunny. Helen’s tan lines from the day are great, and I think her neck is a little more sore than usual.

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3.6km later Josie was picked up out of the water with a huge smile on her face. “IT WAS FUN, IT WAS FAST! I LOVE RIVERS!” Krista was up next and after a quick squeeze into her wetsuit she was off past the weir and into the river. I rushed ahead at this point, knowing she was a speedy swimmer and wanting to find a loo stop before the next weir!

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The lovely people at the Jubilee River Riverside Centre let us use their facilities at the last transition and as soon as I had my wetsuit on, Krista came out of the water ready to pass the baton to me for the final leg.

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I felt like a little bit of a fraud getting into the water with the 10k swimmers and “only” 1.5k left. Most of them were so happy to be so close to the finish and one guy even gave me a huge smile as we eased in and said, “We’re so close, let’s smash it!” Even after walking 8.5km along the river and desperate for a cooling swim, the water was chilly. I started quite fast just to warm up my hands and toes.  As we swam under the first bridge of this leg I noticed how fast we were going every time I looked to the side to breath. Current assisted swims FTW!  Out from under the bridge and we just had to swim straight, I didn’t do great with sighting as I kept veering to the right of the course and then getting worried I’d wash up in the reeds. Sighting a river swim was also a new experience as the turns were harder to judge and pick a point to keep on a straight line. It was still fun and since I was swimming the last 1.5k of the race there were loads of people lining the banks cheering for their friends who were almost done.

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We swam under one last wooden foot bridge (so cool) and the end was in sight, we paddled to the right bank and were pulled out of the water by two very strong men and set up the steepest hill to our medals and snacks on the top of bank.

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Joining in with the rest of my team filling up with flat coke and flapjacks we plodded back to the race HQ to spread out on the most comfortable grass (thank you Eton) in the sun.

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Drying our wetsuits and digging into our post-swim feast we shared stories with our other friends who swam the 10k solo event.

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I had such a great time swimming in this relay event with the best possible team and friends in the race. It was great to be able to walk along the river as our team was swimming and see everyone at every transition. Sometimes relay events can be a bit lonely but this one gets full social marks.  The only time I was walking by myself I was actually walking at the same pace as this woman in skins was swimming and she had the most beautiful smooth swim stroke and it was just so nice to watch her gliding along the river. On the bank of each weir there were dozens of supporters for the swimmers and it made for a great atmosphere (and lots of people to help you zip up your wetsuit!) over the whole day.

Medals & snack holders

Medals & snack holders

I can’t recommend the Jubilee River Swim Relay enough for people who want to try an open water swimming event but aren’t quite up to the 10k distance yet. Yay for a summer of cozzie tans and goggle marks!

no one is a beginner forever

I’ve been running for 5 years now, enjoyed participating in beginner running groups, women’s only running groups, training sessions put on by brands and companies, having a coach, and coaching myself. You name it I’ve probably done it. But now, as a 32 year old woman who doesn’t need encouragement to ‘just run’, is comfortable running lots of distances, and isn’t aiming to be an elite athlete on her way to Rio, where do I go? How do I keep improving?

This question has been at the front of my mind this year since I started my Coaching in Running Fitness qualification with England Athletics. Currently there is a lot of emphasis on getting people active and rightly so. Sport England, London Sport, Women in Sport and England Athletics are just a few of the organisations who have put this at the front of their strategic goals for the next few years. This is great, but it’s not a magic pill that will turn a sedentary population into an active one, especially in the case of the female population. I argue that there is too much attention and funding going into the “beginner” end of sport for women that we are creating a situation that is bound to fail and be back at square one in a few years.

Why?

Beginners aren’t beginners forever. They grow with the sport and develop with the people and friends they meet along the way. They might improve their times, stretch their distances, even set some big goals. There needs to be a development pathway to support them or else they’ll get bored, drop out and be back at that why bother stage.

I’m not saying everyone is going from beginner to high performance athlete at all. In fact, this is my major critique of organisations like Reach Coaches, who seem only to speak about supporting beginner coaches (or, sorry, fun activators, as they want to be called) or elite athlete coaches. NO! There is a middle ground. A BIG ONE. My first problem comes with the traditional pyramid idea. Beginners at the big bottom up to elites at the tiny top. Fine, it’s simple to understand and broadly illustrates the athlete population. What about people who aren’t aiming to be elite athletes? What if my goal is to run a sub-4 hour marathon? To be able to run 1:35 half marathons consistently and enjoyably? To qualify for my run club’s 4×400 competition team? These are all very middle-of-the-pack goals and nowhere near elite athlete performance, but they are the goals of many former-beginners who were brought into the sport thanks to the funding and promotion of the above groups. I mentioned on twitter I’d like to see an athlete tree with beginners as the trunk of the tree growing up and into many different branches eventually leading to their goals, the many leafs on a tree.  Right now, the picture looks like a massive stump with one or two leaves at the top on their way to Rio.

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Thanks to google images for this cute tree that looks like our current athlete development pathway.

An athlete development tree (blowing in the wind?)

An future athlete development tree (blowing in the wind?)

I am lucky enough to know a lot of talented female runners, a lot of them set ambitious goals and then work hard to reach them, some with coaches, some without. I wish there were more resources accessible for these athletes to help them with their goals.  This brings me back to the point of funding. There is a lot of funding out there for beginners, but not much incentive for those who want to coach and work with athletes progressing on from their beginner groups but not towards an elite level. I think that running clubs (like my own Serpentine Running Club) are doing some of the work but still not enough either. I was involved in a meeting where we discussed increasing the amount of competitive females developing through the club and what needs to be done to ensure consistent performance at all levels. No one is benefiting from the dichotomization of coaching and action needs to be taken to ensure it doesn’t continue.

Of course there are a lot of other issues that need to be considered when it comes to women in sport. Are the facilities being designed to the needs of an increasingly active female population? Are programs being offered at flexible times for women with non-traditional schedules? I could go on and on. This also doesn’t negate the work being done with beginners and the many many success stories of these groups getting more people active. I’m just worried we are putting all our eggs in one active basket.

If you got here in my rant then please take the time to order and read Sarah Shephard’s amazing book Kicking off: How Women in Sport are Changing the Game. It’s a great read on the current picture of women in all levels of all sports and has the evidence (that this rant doesn’t) to make you realise what we are up against, but also what potential there is.

weekend laps

Laps get a bad rap. Everyone complains about races with laps, and no one thinks, “Wow I’m so excited to do 50+ laps of this 30yrd pool”

But my weekend was filled with laps and it was awesome.

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On Friday I did 1 lap of the Kings Cross Pond with Manda & Team Mermaids celebrating her last day of work before maternity leave!

On Saturday I stood in Lane 3 and watched Britain’s best 10,000m runners do 25 laps each in a few races culminating in the men & women’s Olympic Trials race. The men’s race was first and pretty exciting once the pacers dropped back, but none of them finished under the standard.

The main event of the night was the Women’s race with Jo Pavey wearing #1 and trying to qualify for her 5th (!!!) Olympics. As one tweeter put it, she was wearing her Exeter Harriers club vest that was probably older than some of her competitors! The race was full on from the beginning with an early breakaway group and then a few amazing moves in the last 1k by Jess Andrews. She looked SO strong through the finish it was such a great race to be right up there with my cowbell cheering them all on.

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Waking up with the sun on Sunday I jumped on my bike and glided the 8 minutes downhill to the West Reservoir for the first Splash race of the year. It’s my third year taking part in a Capital Tri race and I love them so much. They’re so well organised they seem effortless, but you know a lot of work has gone into them.

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Josie, Helen and I were signed up to the 1.5k Splash and suitably full of nerves and listing off a few excuses as we zipped up each other’s wetsuits we made our way to the dock and into the fresh 16*C water. Letting the cold water in through the neck really was the worst part as we quickly warmed up and after a quick wave we were off.

I then had the best start to a swim race I’ve ever had (including the pool trialthon last week!) Everything felt great and my breathing was spot on right from the start. I was even sighting well for the first few buoys! Within the first 100m I decided to do the full 2 laps of the 1.5k course (until then was still wavering on dropping down to 1 750m lap) and just kept riding the awesome swim rhythm I had going.

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The heats are well spaced out and not too busy (at least where I end up swimming) but I still got a few knocks and taps while people passed me, which was actually encouraging as it meant I was at least swimming on the race line! Halfway around the second lap I started to get tired and knew I should probably have trained a bit more for this one, but still finished in a good-for-me time of 41 minutes. WITH NO PANIC BREAKS!

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We hung around on the sunny patio for a few rounds of tea and to watch Alex off on his later 750m race. Seems the word is out and all the fast swimmers came out so he didn’t win this year, but we still got some extra snickers bars , therefore winners all around.

With all the cowbell ringing and swimming my arms are in pain writing this blog post, but am already looking forward to some more laps tonight at the Serpentine track session I help coach tonight.

 

running more of less

I love the big running races. Big expos, big events, the whole city out cheering you on… it’s my kind of fun.But this summer I’m changing gears a bit. I just did a triathlon, I’ve got a few open water swimming events planned, and I’m going to be running shorter distances in smaller races.

It’s something that just feels right to do right now. On my run commute in this morning I listened to the latest episode of the excellent Ask Lauren Fleshman series on Running On Om and in among some other amazing ideas that hit me like a ton of bricks, Lauren talked about the importance of pursuing ideas at the right time. Taking this into my own life, it’s not the right time to be pushing towards a big huge new running goal (like running an ultra last summer) and I don’t want to force it.

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The club 1 mile race last summer

Luckily, as a member of Serpentine Running Club, I have access to some great races and events over the summer. Our club membership fees to towards a lot of member benefits that include world class coaching, athlete development, social trips and entry into club leagues like the Assembly League. Fully run by volunteers from all the clubs involved the Assembly League (and the cross country leagues in the winter) is a great show of what races are without all the excessive sponsorship and mid race polar bear hugs.

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Along with the competitive 5km (ish) Assembly League each month I’m going to run some track races. !!! As a part of our club grand prix championship (to crown the club’s fastest runner at almost every distance for the year, age graded) there are 3000m and 1 mile races at our track in July and even if you aren’t competing for the win, there are heats for everyone to get their best time for the year. If I could get every runner to do one thing it would be to do a race on the track, so much fun and a whole new experience.

It feels like the right time for me (and my bank balance) to take a little step back from signing up for every event I see and like. Lauren Fleshman also mentions it’s OK to have great ideas and put them on the backburner for later when the time is right. I waited a couple of years to run what ended up being one of the best half marathons I’ve ever run, the Giulietta & Romeo Half Marathon. They’re not going anywhere and having a list of great events as my to do list isn’t the worst thing to look at!