Category Archives: running

racing back to races

2 races in 2 weeks and I’m blogging. Did I wake up back in 2015?

My post-partum running hasn’t been very consistent. I still love it and want it in my life, but just can’t place the priority on it I once did. If I’m ill I’m not going to go out for a few miles ‘and see how I feel’. Or if we have plans on a weekend I’m probably not going to wake up a few hours early to squeeze a run in. That’s the reality right now and I’m very ok with it.

Back in Novemer I set a running goal, wrote a plan and then got sick. You can see from my training log above there were a lot of skipped runs. My friend Laura always says she doesn’t like to write 3 runs a week training plans because if one doesn’t happen it’s a big knock to the total miles of the plan. Looking at my weekly mileages I can see that now. If I want to get faster or run further I will need to comit to another run each week.

Anyway, back to the races. Two weekends ago I ran the Cancer Research Winter 10k (#ad) with Alex. We were both given free bibs in exchange for writing a blog and posting on social media about it. We were a bit late to the start thanks to our new reality of having to arrange childcare the morning of a race (post-bagel, pre-coffee drop off if you’re wondering the timeline) and then got stuck in a log jam at baggage drop. It meant we were a wave back from where we wanted to run but with so many start waves it worked out fine.

The weather played along and it felt like a real winter run the whole race, but the sun was out so warmed us up where it was able to peak through the buildings. I loved the closed road route through central London as it kept to big enough roads to handle the numbers but also took some interesting routes to keep it all interesting. I had never run this race before and was sceptical about the polar bears and husky dogs but they were pretty fun to have along the route (spare a thought for the volunteers who had to listen to hours of whoooooo let the dogs out who who who who who though 😬). Alex and I ran at my conversation pace and our chip time was just over 1 hour. It felt good to push the pace a bit at the end, especially during the downhill 200m stretch before the with tons of people lining the route. It all felt very London Marathon-y.

My second race in as many weeks was on Sunday at the East London Half (or Queen Elizabeth Park Half? I saw both names being used). This was the big goal race being the furthest I’ve ran since the Oxford Half in 2016. I signed up for a few reasons:

  • It’s local, that makes a big difference now that I have to parent before and after races.
  • The route looked great for spectating. I was hoping my daughter could come and see me a few times and find a playground to keep her happy the rest of the morning.
  • Run Through put on great races and always have free race photos (it matters!)
  • My friends were running it
  • Tap East is close to the finish, perfect place for a post-race beer

With all the ups and downs of training I was never quite sure I’d make it to the start, and even the night before with a feverish child and a tickle in my throat I made transport plans with my friend Laura still not convinced I’d be able to run. But, like everything these days I was flexible with the plan and it turns out I felt fine in the morning but it probably wasn’t a good idea to drag a feverish baby to spectate in the cold wind and rain.

Laura and I got to the race, discussed goals, shed some layers and then split up into our start pens. I wanted to run the whole race with no walk breaks at 10:00min/miles so lined up with the 2:10 pace flag. The first mile was a bit crazy, I’m not sure if people don’t understand pace or were just late, but if you are wearing a bib for the 2+ hour estimated finish don’t start at 7:00 min/miles pushing past people literally running the goal pace. 🤷‍♀️.

I loved the route. It felt less windy than the map looked and gave lots of chances to see other runners without it feeling too out-and-brackish. There was one point near the velodrome when you could see over 5 lines of runners on the horizon at different levels of the park. It was super cool. My own running felt strong and consistent. The first 4 miles ticked by and soon I found myself at mile 6 which felt further than halfway since I knew i would finish the race from here. The marshals through the whole course were great cheering us on and hopefully keeping warm!

I ran into another friend around mile 10 and our chat helped distract me from the still-a-parkrun-to-go dread. As Emma put it “didn’t we used to think at 10 miles the race was almost done?” The last 2 miles was a bit of a slog but nice to run past the event village for some extra cheers to get to the finish.

I finished with a time of 2:06 which I was happy with. So much of my post-partum running is all about running to my strength in that moment, and during the race I felt like I was running strong the whole time. Sometimes it is hard to look back at the times and distances I used to run, but to be honest being pregnant, the exhaustion of labour and recovering from it all while raising a baby is still fresh in my mind and I’m impressed I’m running at all.

The finish funnel of the race and bag pick up was so efficient Laura and I had enough time to grab a celebratory drink at Tap East before heading back home (another big plus for races at Stratford! Good beers!). In all honesty I had the best day. I had just enough pre-race nerves to make it exciting, an easy commute to the race, an excellent course and good running weather, and enough friends around to make the post-race celebrations even more fun.

In conclusion, I totally recommend the Run Through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park East London Half Marathon (All. The. Names) for your first half, your pb half, or even a fun half. I also recommend setting a goal you are 7/10 scared by if you are getting back into running. It’s nice to have it there to work towards and a bit of those nerves can work to your advantage. But also don’t take it too seriously, life is a balance and sometimes running isn’t the priority.

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Feet & Toes 👣

As a running coach I’m always hearing from my runners that they want to do more technique drills to improve their running. I’m all for this, especially when it’s a 30*C night on the track.

Last night I made our Serpentine runners take off their shoes and pay attention to what their feet and toes are doing. All too often as runners we stuff our feet into socks and shoes and forget about them as we run. Give those feet the attention they deserve! Your lower legs will thank you.

I’ve compiled some of my favourite drills & stretches below if you want to have a go at them. They’re great to add to your running sessions, or do on the kitchen floor while waiting for the pizza to bake.

Start with bare feet on a solid surface (preferably not soft carpet)

  1. Stand straight with feet hips distance apart
  2. Lift all your toes and place them down one-by-one starting with the outside (pinky!) toes first spreading them out nice and wide.
  3. Lean from the ankles forward/backwards and side to side a few times eventually finding what feels like a comfortable centre.
  4. Big toe presses: Press ONLY your big toe down for 5 seconds x 5
  5. Bit toe lifts: Lift only your big toe x10. Do this 3 times
  6. Alphabet foot: Lift one leg in front of you and write the alphabet with your toe (like a paintbrush!) Repeat with the other foot.
  7. Walk forward on your toes 30 steps
  8. Walk backwards on your toes 30 steps
  9. Walk forward on your heels 30 steps
  10. Walk backwards on your heels 30 steps
  11. With flat feet walk forward with your toes facing out (duck walk) 30 steps *do not lock your knees*
  12. With flat feet walk backward with your toes facing in (pigeon walk) 30 steps *do not lock your knees*
  13. Curl all your toes under your feet and walk forward 15 steps
  14. Point all your toes in the air and walk forward 15 steps
  15. Toe & plantar stretch. Sit down and grab your foot with the opposite hand and try to get each finger in between your toes with the aim to get your knuckles right up touching the toes. Feel the stretch already and then move your hand and toes around in circles (each way) stretching those toes and feeling the movement on the top and bottom of your feet.

Of course, my favourite Jasyoga has a lower leg reset video which is the best out there and great if you want something to follow along to!

cheering not running

I’ve been cheering at a lot of races lately, and I love it. There’s always a little twinge of “oh I wish I was running” but I’ve found if you really commit to cheering on your friends and other runners you will enjoy the day as much as someone who ran!

Here are the top tips I’ve figured out to make for a great day out.

Plan ahead and make a sign

If the race is abroad I grab some flipchart paper that can fold up in my suitcase, if it’s closer to home it’s better to make a sturdy one that you can holds up better against the elements.

Plan your route

I have found it’s better to skip the start and pick 2/3 places to catch your friends along the route. The starts are often “runners only pens” and always crowded so you’re not going to get much value for your company. I’ll usually walk close to the start with my friends and then wish them luck as I go get a coffee on my way to the first cheer point.

I also take a photo of the route map on my phone so it’s easy to access (don’t count on having internet at busy races).

Share your plan

Runners have their own plan for the race but I like to let my friends know approximately where I’ll be along the route so they can look out if they need it.

Enjoy your day

Get a coffee, pack some snacks, get your own run in between cheer points, get your bike out, whatever you want to do for the day with a bit of planning you can have as much fun as the runners.

Camera ready

Everyone loves photos of themselves running. Even when they’re complaining about the “bad” ones, trust me. I always try to take a few photos of my friends running buy on my phone’s camera burst mode so I can send them the good ones. My friend Laura boasts that hers are always better than marathonphotos 😀

Be a minimalist

This tip is from my friend Katie. After a few great races cheering friends on we kept adding more things to bring. Props, signs, cameras, food, balloons, and cowbells, forgetting we still only had 2 arms to hold all these with. Now, if I’m bringing I sign I usually leave the cowbell at home, but it all depends on the event. At the London Marathon I was in the second row of spectators on a packed Embankment route. At Hackney Half I was the only person around for miles so had some room to spread out and be heard.

Well done!

Please. Cheer. Everyone. On. (this is where a cowbell comes in handy if your voice is tired) If you’re waiting for friends you can still send some smiles and well done, great running, keep it up, looking strong-s out to the runners passing you. It helps so much and selfishly you might get some thank-yous back, but it’s the ones who don’t react that sometimes need them the most and take it all in.

Clean up

At the London Marathon and Hackney Half I walked past the organised cheer stations of Run Dem Crew/London Brunch Club long after the race finished and there was confetti, posters, food packaging, etc. all over the streets. If you have time to organise a cheer station then you have time to organise a clean up after. Bring some bin bags and take 5 minutes to pick up a few things each. Litter is litter even if it made for a good instagram photo. If you are cheering yourself, bin your rubbish or pack it out.

I gotta pee

Pee before (while getting your coffee is a good time) and pee far away from the race. Please don’t use the portaloos on the race route. Obviously things come up (being pregnant I am much more sympathetic of this than before) but do your best to leave the toilets for the runners who, trust me, need them more than you.

The end

Like the start of the race, I tend to stay away from the finish lines. They’re always too busy and I like to think the runners enjoy my cheers a bit before the finish when there isn’t all the cheering and official race stuff to get them over the line.  Plan a place to meet after the race, if it’s a big race sometimes it’s just easier to meet at a local pub, or if it’s smaller you can probably find your runner lying on the grass metres from the bag tent.

After cheering the Hackney Half on Sunday I had to have my own jasyoga reset session & epsom salt recovery bath. I had a great day out, got my own exercise in and totally enjoyed being a part of all these runner’s great day.

English Cross Country Nationals 2017

This year I competed in the English National Cross Country Championships. It was the perfect race to end a great xc season on, and included a mini road trip to Nottingham with friends to add a bit more fun to the mud.

I caught the bus with my Serpentine team members from London and one service station stop and a few hours later we arrived at Wollaton Park which has a great history of hosting the Nationals.

I met up with Laura & Katie and we wandered around the park to find the excellent cotton race shirts (£12 or *top tip* 2/£12 if you waited until after the race!)  and our team tents.

The spikes for sale indicated the level of mud on the course, clearly it was going to be a minimum 12mm to get any sort of traction through the boggy bits.

As a club we made our way to the start tent and huddled together to keep warm in our vests while the Junior Boys race finished up their laps. The start was classic cross country. A wide start at the bottom of a hill with hundreds of women lined up in colourful vests ready to run full steam ahead.

After the big hill at the start there was a downhill and some flat track before the bogs started. We were warned of water features on the course, but I didn’t realise they’d be so deep and big. It was so fun charging through them and trusting (hopefully) your legs to land on something solid and keep you upright.

After the first bogs it was up a sharp hill to Wollaton Hall and a hairpin turn back down the hill. From here the course was mostly solid and flat so it was a good time to catch my breath and settle into a pace. I ran most of the behind a blind runner and her guide and it was so interesting to hear him describe the terrain the first lap and then how well she remembered it the second lap.

We went through a few more much stickier bogs near the end of the lap before starting up the start hill for another go. There was a lot of support all around the course which was great and you couldn’t help but smile for the cameras as you made your way through the mud.

The finish was up one of the hardest hills I’ve ever run up with large mole hills, tufts of earth and sludgy streams making it almost impossible to find any rhythym let alone solid places for each foot to land. Once up though it was all downhill to the finish and no matter what the race plan was at the beginning a cross country finish straight begs to be sprinted.

I found my friend Katie waiting at the finish and we cheered a few of her club members in before finding our way back to tents, warm jackets, and cake.

For the record I finished in 48:15 good enough for 673rd in the country.

Once the results came out for the English National Cross Country Championships no one did the math and figured out I was 3 months pregnant at the time of running it. In fact no one in the media has reported that I was pregnant for 8 out of the 9 cross country races I ran this season.

At the pub after the race I actually sat on this chair without looking behind me.

That’s because it’s often quite normal and OK for pregnant women to keep doing what they were doing before they got pregnant.

Don’t believe me? The Cut has some anecdotal research on it. Every GP, midwife, osteopath, medical professional I spoke to in my early days of pregnancy said to keep doing what I was comfortable doing in terms of exercise if anything changed come back to reassess. I’ve learned that every single day of pregnancy is different and the only mistake you can make is to plan ahead! By taking everything one day at a time and consulting with my PTs, coaches, and teachers I’ve been quite happy with (what seems to be a shocking revelation to most of the media thanks to Serena Williams) living my normal life while pregnant.

Berlin half marathon

Last weekend I went to Berlin for a reason, to cheer on my friends running the Berlin Half and drink all the free Erdinger Weisbier Alkoholfrie I could get my hands on.

A few of us signed up for the race weekend away last fall but since then and now I’ve been running less and getting pregnant more so racing a half marathon came off my weekend to-do list.  Still, there is nothing better than a weekend in Berlin and cheering on friends in a great race so off to Berlin we all went.

Right before the trip Karkoa luggage sent me an email to see if I wanted one of their runners travel bags to try out in exchange for a review of it. I have a tried and tested pully bag that I can pack for a race weekend in my sleep and still have room for duty free chocolates at the end, so I checked if Alex wanted to test it out and he was keen. We got the Sport Bag 40 which was the perfect size for our 4 day trip.

Arriving in Berlin we saw the familiar green lines on the race route and started our trip with a sandwich from an all vegan food truck outside our hotel. We didn’t realise it was all vegan until we got to the front of the line but it was so good. I’ll happily be tricked out of meat anytime.

Then we made our way to the expo to pick up race packs and some beers.

My top tip would be to read every single instruction on every email the race sends you. They were pretty serious about everyone having their race pass and photo ID, even not letting one of our friends in until he could locate some ID. After our race bracelets were attached we were given our numbers, luggage bags, a gel , some shower soap, deodorant, and some waterproof kit wash and sent out to the expo for all our sample and neon euro kit needs.

Alex and I found our old friend Fraudolin Fink and then set up at the inexpo beer garden to wait for the others.

We discussed race/spectating strategies and bartered goodybag items (“I’ll trade you a gel and the deodorant for your protein infused post-run shower soap?”) After half the group went to watch the football and the rest of us to eat all the brauhaus specialities.

   

The next day we did some sightseeing around central Berlin. This was our third trip we knew what we wanted to see and since it was such a hot and sunny day we took advantage of all the open patios for much needed sitting and drinking.

More food and drinks as we met up for a great dinner at the amazing Meisterstueck.

Race morning we were up and out of the hotel and walking the racers to the start before finding our first cheer point at the Brandenburg Gate. Laura and I planned our own 3 mile spectating run to try to catch our friends at a few places before the finish line. The Berlin Half marathon is huge with 30,000ish runners and we did our best to cheer most of them on, especially the ones in British running club vests.

After Brandenburg Gate we headed to Potsdamer Platz to see our friend Katie flying past at the 17km mark and then hopped on the u-bahn to the finish near Alexanderplatz.

There were a lot of smiles at the finish line and with the weather still warm we rounded up a big group and headed to a beer garden for a recover metre of fresh beer.

Alex and I capped off the day with dinner at our favourite restaurant in Europe Henne. That potato salad is so so so good!

The next day we took it easy at the hotel and walked around to find one more great Berlin meal at BurgerAMT. Trust them and try the peanut sauce.

Fed and recovered it was a great weekend in Berlin with some running, all our friends, and as always the most food and drink possible.

(Photos: Thanks to Laura & Katie for their excellent selfie taking abilities)

it’s cross country season!

I just realised I’ve run 3 cross country races this year and haven’t posted about them yet! Cross country is my favourite running season and one of the main reasons I love Serpentine Run Club, aka the best club in London.

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The first race of the season is always the opening race of the Met League. Out at Claybury the end of the Central Line, it’s usually warm, dry and sunny which is a nice way to ease into the wet, muddy, and cold reality of cross country in England.

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No matter what the weather though it’s always hard. There’s a whole different energy system needed for cross country running. It’s hard to explain but you have to run fast, steady, pick your feet up, turn your legs over, power up hills, fly downhills, and somehow balance the few times your feet touch the always uneven ground.

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At Claybury the women’s race ran a 1 small loop and then 2 big loops of the course and I did the classic “run faster than your mile PB” start around the small loop realising that I had to keep that up along the narrow trails or get trampled. At the start of the big loop the trail opened up so I could move to the side and slow down *a bit* (xc rule #3401 you can slow down but don’t stop) Not an ideal race strategy I tried to hold on for the next 5k. I felt like almost everyone passed me, especially on the sharp/steep hill in the forest, but did pass one woman on the last downhill and managed to hang on in front of her all the way to the uphill finish chute.

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There is no better drug than the feeling you get walking through that cross country finishing chute. It’s pure elation at being finished and exhausted.

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The next weekend was the North of the Thames /Liddiard Championship, so it was another suburban tube stop and trying to figure out who the other runners were and hope they were walking the right way to the field. A smaller race than the Met League, the Women’s race sped off at such a pace I again had about 10 steps before I realised I needed to be smarter about racing and let the field run on while I kept it steady.

There was a massive hill and an amazing single track section on the course so I just hung on trying not to look at my pace and picking up women in front of me to try to pass. I caught up to one woman eventually on a big hill and just ran beside her for a bit, she looked over and I had to say “sorry I’d go ahead but my legs wont go any faster.”

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Running past the start area to the cheers from the rest of the Serpie team (again, best club in London hands down) and into the finishing chute. They were giving out tshirts at this race, which is unheard of in cross country. There are no finishers medals or even timing slips. In fact you’re usually asked to leave the mud on the course and not even take that home.  They were your standard one-size-mens-cut shirt but a nice touch nonetheless. Since the women race before the men it turned out that they ran out of shirts to give to the last half of the men’s race. The irony of giving all their mens-one-size-fits-all finishers shirts to the women is not lost on me.

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Last Saturday was Met League race #2 in Stevenage. Stevenage has a reputation for bad weather, and this weekend wasn’t going to be any different. Wet, wet, and more wet made even the well drained Stevenage course pretty soggy.

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In my usual daze of not knowing where to go off the train, I luckily ran into my friend Claire running her first cross country race for her new club. We chanced the local busses and safely made it to the field with only a small detour around the local neighbourhoods. Our club was wearing black ribbons in memory of the Lucy & Stacey Aldershot, Farnham & District AC women who were killed by a drunk driver while out running last week.

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The course at Stevenage is pretty flat with a few sharp up & downhills so after a conservative start on the small lap I pushed the pace for the rest. The downhills were the best as it wasn’t too muddy so my spikes could do most of the work of keeping me upright. I passed 3-4 women each downhill only holding back on the one that went directly into a sharp left turn, not sure barrelling into the spectators would have been the right end to my race.

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A few women in front of me misjudged the finish line and slowed down with 300m to go, gaining a few more spots I took the last downhill at speed and ran right into the finishing chutes feeling super chuffed. I wasn’t so exhausted I couldn’t move another step, but was proud of how strong I ran the whole race.

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Post race we all layered back up before watching the men’s race, my legs weren’t as muddy as I would have liked but we’re getting there. Parliament Hill next week for the London Championships should be a nice mud introduction for the season.

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running in Kraków

Continuing my theme of running a bit while on holiday (but mostly eating) I was in Kraków for the weekend and packed my running kit in case I could find an hour or so between vodka drinking and vodka hangovers for a little run.

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Again, the google machine didn’t have much on suggestions for routes, but there is a river and a lovely park surrounding the old town and with some creative google street viewing I figured I could do a 5ish km jog one morning.

Poland: All kielbasa all the time

Poland: All kielbasa all the time

Then, out of google magic I found out there was not only a parkrun in Kraków , but it was 1km from our airbnb! I packed my barcode and figured if the vodka gods were good to me, I’d try to make it to the Saturday 9am start.

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I don’t parkrun enough, this is only my 7th (+4 volunteering) even though there are two within one mile of my house. But, when I do get out of bed on a Saturday I love the parkrun community (and the running isn’t usually so bad either).

6 shots of vodka, 5km to run, 4 hours of sleeeeeeeeeep

6 shots of vodka, 5km to run, 4 hours of sleeeeeeeeeep

Saturday morning saw the sun shining and a minimal vodka still in my system so I grabbed my kit, apartment keys, some zloty, my phone and my barcode and headed out the door for the quick jog to the start. Nearing the park I saw the familiar neon look of Decathlon-clad European runners (you know what I mean if you’ve ran any race in Europe before) and a couple high vis parkrun volunteer vests.

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It was a pretty cold morning so I brought a sweater and a bin bag to put it in to hopefully stash behind a tree since I wasn’t too sure about the bag situation. A few people were leaving their kit on a bench, so I added mine and watched as a woman came by with some Ikea blue bags and loaded it all up. I was pretty sure she was taking it to some safe keeping place for the end but the fun of running in a new country is… WHO KNOWS?

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There was a short introduction in Polish and then we were off. The park was a 2 mile triangle with big wide paths so the hundred or so of us had lots of room. About a mile in there was a photographer (!!) and then we passed the finish chute so at least I knew where to run back to.

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The mist off the park and the cathedral in the distance were beautiful and I smiled at everyone I passed. It was just so nice! The photographer was there again at the finish and lots of other runners gathered around the chute. I grabbed my token and while catching my breath joined the queue for some hot tea provided by one of the local running clubs.

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Barcode and token scanned and I cheered in a few more runners before jogging the 2km back to the apartment with an all important stop to pick up some obwarzanek krakowski (don’t call them a bagel!) for breakfast. By the time I got back to the apartment the other girls were just getting up and it was perfect time for breakfast.

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Thanks parkrun Kraków for a great run, I loved getting my results all in Polish!

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Turns out the vodka gods were not so kind on Sunday morning so I didn’t get out for that river route run, but I’m pretty sure dancing until 4am was enough cardio.