I can call myself a runner

Having completed a race now I felt I could consider myself a runner. Not that a race defines you as one. It’s like saying I can only be a writer if I publish a book. Different things define what we are. I think the journey to the Big Half in London, 2018 helped me define who I am and what sort of runner I am currently. It also got me reflecting on what I was in June 2017 before I started.

I think runners and cars are very similar, no not because they both move and a form of transport though!

There are many cars, different shapes, sizes, specifications, speeds, styles etc. It’s a long list. I think runners come in a similar variety …

There’s quick, fast, elegant, gangly, gentle joggers, competitive types, lone runners, social runners, those living for running, those squeezing it around commitments elsewhere. The list, again, goes on. I think we could list many more and we would find something in the list we associate to.

Like cars we might aspire to being the fast, sleek sporty model but we might just have to settle for the out of date and slightly bashed people carrier – because right now that’s practical for our needs. The important thing is it is still a car, no matter what. And therefore you are still a runner, no matter what! We all find different solutions for different times in life and we work with that. Things change sometimes good and sometimes not, and again we work with that. It’s a journey.

I think learning this is something we all do in our own way. My first blog post said about how nervous and lacking in confidence I was when I started and that’s true. It’s still the case now, I’m not suddenly some confident loon, but I’ve learnt to be comfortable in the form I’m in and the things I do relating to running. Sure I know there are just as many out there that would find my pace and achievements insignificant as there are that would find what I’ve done amazing but that’s true no matter what you do. Even if you are the worlds best at something it’s a 1 in 7 billion chance and even that normally only lasts for a while!

What I have also learnt is that there is an opportunity to change your form and become a new model, like a revised car model, sometimes you might even change the actual make but it takes immense work to take a standard family car and make it a formula 1 car. If you have all that time to do it then a lot of you probably can make that difference but for many that’s a step that can’t be made. I think I could achieve more if I didn’t work and didn’t have family and was simply my own person. But what cost? Yes I might be a good runner – but I also have a great family and reward job so life has dealt me good achievements already, running is just another thing I can enjoy.

So what next?

Lots of people speak about keeping their Mojo and maintaining the enthusiasm. This is something that depends on motivation and goals and what you enjoy generally. It’s not uncommon to get bored with repetition and lack enthusiasm for thing ha you don’t enjoy. That’s human nature. The same goes for running – run the same thing repeatedly is likely to bore you, do it for reasons you haven’t identified is likely to lead to a lack of enthusiasm.

I find it helpful to mix my running. Run the local streets if time is short, stretch out to the edge of town if I have a longer run or head into the country (even take a 20 minute drive to get there) if I am able to find a few hours. This adds variety and interest. I love country running because of the sites and sounds. The added bonus is that it’s good for you too. Often a bit hillier and undulating and this strengthens you building resilience.

The other thing is I track my running. If I track it I can see progress, and improvement. I need positive reinforcement of what I do and that needs data. If I can see things are getting better I feel happy – just don’t expect improvement on every run – sometimes improvement is slow and steady!

Final thing is I have a purpose. My family had a few health scares in the past few years including bowel cancer which is heavily diet driven. These made me evaluate my own healthiness to which point I thought I could do better. For that reason I found some shoes and started running. That motivates me every day – sometimes not enough on its own! But it’s always there as a reason to run!

So in answer to the question – Yes. I think I can call myself a runner – and to that matter so can you!

South West Coastal Path – 7th June

PORTHCURNO to PORTHGUANON

 

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This was run 2 whilst in Cornwall for holiday.  On this run I headed east from our base in Porthcurno.

Distance 10.6 Km

Time 1hour 13minutes

Ascent 411m

The run started near the Minack theatre and ventured down to the beach car park where the cables forming the first overseas telephone communications lines come up from the beach and are exposed.  There is a telegraph museum slightly further back up from the beach, but I was in run mode and besides is suspect at 7am the museum was closed!

The initial part of the trail heading out of Purthcurno is pretty steep and overgrown, a lot of ducking and keeping your arms in here.  Pleasant enough with a couple of little streams as well which is nice, but in June there was a lot of vegetation.  Long socks advised or trousers as stinging nettles are very happily growing along there.  I know to my cost!!! Ouch!

At the top of the first climb there is a detour you can make to a cliff top feature which from a distance looks like a white Yurt or tent on the cliff.

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It turns out that it is actually the point where the original telegraph cable was initially terminated, the white ‘pyramid’ was built to preserve the sites historical relevance.  This wiki page is useful for information.

Going from there the path gets less overgrown – eventually and there are some nice wild horses around which is always good to see, though how friendly they are who knows.  I wasn’t going to wait to find out!

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From there you can carry on the trail past the Logan Rock outcrop

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which is a cool rocky site and on to Penberth cove which is a pretty little fishing cove.

Beautiful!  it has an old capston wheel that used to be sued to haul boats up the slope from the sea.  I loved this place so picturesque and so quiet.

After this point on the run out it all got a bit wrong.  basically there is a right turn you need to make off a vehicle path to continue the coastal path nearest the sea.  I missed this and the Strava trail clearly shows the significant inland diversion I took.  still nice but not quite what I planned when i stepped out the holiday appartment!

I ended up running along the B3315 for a while before heading back.  on the way back I found  Treverven camp site which advertised a direct link to the Coastal path! Excellent I thought, so I ran through the campsite, and hoped to find the path.

As luck would have it I did find the path and again the Strava trail shows i found my return much closer to the cliff and the sea than the outward journey.  This was also a bit overgrown in places, but the views were spectacular.

On the return leg what you also get, obviously, is the view of your starting point that you otherwise miss, and I must admit, Porthcurno itself is a beautiful place and running into the beach area from the cliff tops is such a beautiful site.  the gallery at the top of this blog post contains some pictures form the journey which i thoroughly enjoyed.

I hope to get back to the South West Coastal Path as soon as I can and experience even more of its beauty.

STRAVA:

 

Me and Mo Farah

… in for a pound!

So. I don’t know if you’re anything like me but the worst part of anything that has the potential to cause you total embarrassment isn’t the actual event. It’s the anticipation, that period before anything happens when you are pretty much committed without chance of return, yet can’t get stuck in. That Saturday night before the Big Half 2018 (or as I will now describe it ‘The Race’) can only be described as like being in the queue outside the school hall at age 15/16 waiting for your exams to begin. You are committed but you equally can’t start.

For me the exams analogy stretches further too as this was my first race, so I had no idea what to expect, no benchmark, no yardstick to compare to. Of course I had read online blogs, people’s racediaries just to see what people said and I felt positive about those. But that’s just words. What if this race – which was a new race and never run before !! – was a nightmare, it could be too hard and challenging, I might be surrounded by more elite runners than I expect, I might get lost as I’m on my own ( lost yeah I know. How the he’ll I thought I might get lost is a bit beyond me. Especially as I work in London!)

The night before I panic I’ve eaten all the wrong things for the last week and start thinking I’ll pass out before the end.

The night before I panic I’m not prepared with the right running kit, and will overdress and sweat myself to an early exit.

The night before I worry I won’t wear enough and freeze to a standstill before Tower Bridge.

The night before I panic I haven’t gone to the loo enough and will need to stop on the route and find toilets which would just be embarrassing to me.

That night I wasn’t exactly calm and placid and ready, that’s without wvenkpanicking that I would get caught in traffic and be late or simple get lost and not find the start!

sometime you can be your own worst enemy …

I finally got my gear ready. I had planned to drive to work (West London) and then get the tube. Work has a shower so I was taking stuff to change into after the race.

I gathered my running stuff – shorts, Hilly socks, Nike compression top, top layer and trainers (Brooks Ghost 10) and then my tracksuit bottoms and stuff to shower and change into when I get back to work after the race. I then pack about a similar volume of things I panic into thinking I might need but ultimately don’t. I’ve packed enough stuff for a family weekend away!

I eat a decent meal that evening, nothin excessive but plenty of carbs.

I don’t sleep much that night – I’m planning the race through my head withbaround 12 different scenarios. Most I fail embarrassingly to finish or survive! In one I beat Mo Farah to the finish line -#gotohaveadream!!

Early start the next day, and the butterflies have certainly come home. My guts feel like that are having a party and I’m not invited. I gather some snacks and drink (enough for a trek through sun-Saharan Africa! And head out in the car.

It’s ahout 5am on a Sunday morning. I’m panicking I’ll be late. But, there’s almost no other cars on the road and I arrive very early !  I jump on the tube – really nervous by this point and still thinking that I might not find the start and am immediately calmed. Almost everyone is carrying the same ‘kit bag’ from The Race over their shoulder with a Lucozade bottle and a Snickers bar in it. I’ve not seen so much Lycra, old running shoes and people of all shapes and sizes are coming together for a coming purpose. I’m amongst like minded people. Admittedly most of them look nervous like me, but at least we are nervous together. I’m feeling a bit better.

We get to London Bridge tube station and the crowd grows. The fear of not knowing wherento go subsides as there are hundreds of people all heading in the right direction. I follow the crowd and head towards the start.

So for those that haven’t done this sort of thing before there are some very organised steps pre-race to follow, however in a mass event like this it simply becomes chaos and a mass of bodies. It helped I had really read the instructions before the race.

I find my baggage drop point, swap my shoes, take off my jacket – it’s still very cold- and hand in my bag – will I ever see it again? – oh for gods sake shut up!!!!

I’m in wave C.  Again this isn’t a normal thing to me but with the number of people running they stagger starts  so although the race starts at 9am I’m not likely to start until 9:15 ish.  That’s fine but there goes my dream of beating Mo 😂

So I’m in line, it’s 8:15 and it’s damn cold.  I opted for shorts thinking I’ll warm up but know I’m shivering and it’s too late to change my mind.  There is music and commentary and interviews with famous runners – I listen to Sophie Raworth talking ultra marathons – and it helps pass the time.  However, the period of calm has passed, I’m more nervous than ever, my legs and arms are frozen and everyone around me sounds and looks like a seasoned Marathon runner – I’m in the wrong place – surely.

I’m in the right place, Wave C and everyone here has the same Bib label.  I am OK, but not sure my guts will last the race.  “Time to move towards the start line” I hear and the Wave C mass starts moving forward.  A few moments later I see the Start line and the heart beat countdown starts.  I think my heart is about to burst out my chest, this is madness!

”GO”

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It’s 9:15 on 4 March 2018 and I’m taking my first steps in a half marathon in one of the greatest cities in the world watched by thousands, surrounded by about 12000 other runners, and unsure of what to expect.  My legs carry me forward as the crowds cheer.

up to this point I had read a lot about people saying how much the crowd helps you through  I could see how this might be the case but didn’t know what they meant.  It only took a few minutes to realise the affect this had.  The start and end are well supported but in between there are periods with very few spectators.  Every cluster of supporters cheered the runners through and every time it gave you that great sensation of achievement.  Every cheer felt like a finish line, it made my tingle, it made my legs lighten, my breathing ease and my feet move quicker.  Every time.  The feeling is hard to describe but it’s real.  The crowd are more than just a support and an encouragement, it’s like having an extra motor that when a crowd appears gets kicked in to action, driving you that bit quicker.  Sure between this it’s hard and there are times that the effort is high, but the crowds are through and you are never far from a cluster of people with their magical motivational powers!  It’s was AMAZING!  I loved it.  Every bit-ish.

The race itself is fairly straightforward, quite flat with the exception of the limehouse link tunnel, and well signed.  The fear I would get lost was so unrealistic it was silly!!

As with the full London marathon thee are cobbles and running on these are nasty. Not my favourite bit. But the. You jump into the footpath and miss them ou, no big deal.

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Up until now 18Km was my longest run so I was entering realms unseen before for me.  I got to half way OK, no big drama.  But it was getting tough.  My decision to wear shorts worked out as it was soon pretty warm, I’m a hot runner so I was glad I had been brave💪!

The second half was hard.  I found just mentally ticking off the mile markers really helped, but the crowd carried me through.

i was running for charity and had a vest that I had put my name on.  This turned out to be the best thing ever.  Cheek g crowds are great, they really boost you, but hearing people shout your name, giving you- yes you- encouragement, willing you be name has no comparison.  It’s like having your own coaching team there with you.  I would go as far as to say I actually felt great at those points, I was knackered but on top of the world!

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Around 11 miles I was reaching my max distance preciously run and I had heavy legs.  I was thinking about a brief walk to give me a last push over the line.  But I then decided that I would just carry on, my legs were heavy, my body felt tired, but it was still moving, I didn’t feel as though I had to stop, my mind was just throwing ideas out there.  One of the things I have found in running is that your body does get tired when you run, you do get heavy legs and you are knackered st some point, but it can be easy to pause and walk, lose momentum and not always get it back.  I found there’s a difference in what my body is saying between “good effort I’m working hard for you” and “please stop I’m spent”.  Often I would stop on the first queue, but then realised , training is meant to be tough, it’s meant to be hard work.  I then just tried to see what happens if I search for the second message from my brain.  When I did this I found I could run further, 2Km training quickly become 4 or 5Km and then 5Km quickly became 7Km.  Of course you need to be careful and your body is a very important thing to listen to, but sometimes the feedback is just a note to self that you are working hard and not always a prompt to stop.

I was in the last 2 miles and the legs were spent, I carried on but they felt like I had toddlers hanging off my legs dragging me back (that’s what normally happens at home!)  But I ploughed on with the amazing crowd support now building and the end really closing – I simply had to do this.  With 500m let’s he crowd was great a light shower started – refreshing 😀 – and the end was there.  I had always thought I’ll really chuck all the logs on the fire for the finish, really throw it over the line.  I dug deep and searched, but nope, nothing else there.  How professionals do it is without question amazing.  The likes of Mo Farah who on the same stretch less than an hour earlier had sprinted to finish are machines!  I was certainly out of logs!!

But the line arrived, I punched the air – really not usually my kind of thing!! – and I had done it.  I couldn’t have been happier.  I had done a half marathon with a body that had an allergy to running only 9 months prior.

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My time was 1 hr 40 min 6 secs

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I had finished in the top 2000 which never sounds great but I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

I had overcome all the doubt, challenges, training, the Beast from the East and completed the race.

Now the question was what had I learnt and what did this mean?

Part – 1 The best version of me

Part – 2 Learning to Walk

Part -3 Evolution not Revolution

Part – 4 First Run

SouthWest Coastal Path – 5th June 2018

Porthcurno to Pendower Coves

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I took this run on the 5th June 2018 whilst on holiday in Cornwall.  We were staying in Porthcurno, about 5 minutes from the Minack Theatre, where the South West Coastal path can be directly accessed.

I was there with Family, but having been into running for about a year, I was keen to try more trail running having started the Ridgeway path recently.

This first run was 11.71 Km and took 1Hr 20.

Total Elevation gain was 476m and there were a lot of hills.

The photos slides above were taken on the run.  Below is the Strava profile and map.

In brief this is a great mixed route. It starts at the Minack theatre car park. The Minack is itself a fabulous must visit place so we took some time out whilst there to go around. There’s nothing I’ve seen quite like this cliff side theatre.

from there it’s initially very overgrown, lots of nettles and very narrow but soon you are out of this and heading towards PorthChapel which has a lovely sandy beach. Along the route you can also see what is called St Levans Holy Well. Modest stone feature with a sign but easily missed. I don’t actually notice it until my third ru. Which I’ll write up later!

From here continue through some pretty easy If undulating trail (very light trail of in good weather) to Porthgwarra. Here there is a cafe on the path which if open, is lovely. Great place to pause. There’s a very small beach but a couple of pretty cottages. You can also rent some right in the cove!

On the west side of Porthgwarra is an RSPB reserve and it was packed full of Chough’s. I’ve seen them before but never so many!!

Moving westwards you eventually reach the Coastguard hut. Just before you get there the path has a few options and if you steer closest to the cliff edge (it’s really quite safe) you can see a great hole in the ground where the roof of a sea cave has collapsed. Have to admit I didn’t hang around but it felt pretty sound to me!!

From there I ran pretty much to Nanjizal beach before turning and heading back.

This was my first South West Coastal Path run and I was already smitten. It was hard work with every bay being steep down and back up. It was a mixed surface route with some pretty rocky points and grassland, gravel and compacted mud. But the scenery is without doubt some of the most amazing you could ever wish to have alongside any run.

Take the opportunity to try it if you can!! Though I recommend long socks if going through Porthcurno as the stinging nettles were brutal!!

First Race

I guess when I started to run there was always a part of me that thought

“I’m sure it can’t be that hard to get to the point that you can run a marathon!”

On reflection now I think I was probably mad to think that it was easy. Actually I know I was mad. The thing that I need to explain is that I’m painfully and personally annoyingly competitive. If I decide I’m going to do something I have to feel that I’m going to be alright at it. This is a trait that really annoys me. It’s a trait that means I often choose to hold back from doing things that I could have done. Physically or socially. It goes back to school and the feeling that it’s best to avoid attention and lurk in the back of the class.

Writing this blog has given me opportunity to think about myself and look at the journey I’ve gone through in life as well as running. Thinking about the impact of my competitive nature it’s clear to me the reason for feeling I will only take part in things I am confident in doing well at is fear of embarrassment.

“How could I cope with being last over the line. Everyone would know and I would be a laughing stock!!” ☹️

Writing that actually embarrasses me a bit as it’s stupid and doesn’t really reflect the level of effort and commitment that even reaching the start line, let alone finish line, of the race takes.

Trying to reach the point of feeling I could call myself a runner made me realise that taking part in a marathon or half marathon or even a 10 or 5K IS an achievement, it really is a big deal and it really is something to be proud of.

So I got to November 2017 and decided I would jump in and commit to doing a race. Of course there are loads to choose from and many of them local runs that nobody would know about that I could just turn up and see how I get on.

That might be true, but I decided to sign up to the inaugural London Big Half in March 2018. Deep end springs to mind but I thought it’s fine. A while to train and I’ll be fine when it comes round. That was sort of true.

TRAINING

So money paid, confirmation email in my inbox. 4 months to race day. ARRRRGGGGGGH what have I done????? There was a moment of “gulp and breath” and for a while I thought. Well it’s not that expensive if I don’t do it it’ll be fine! Another thing I look back on and think – really!

Anyway I had to train to feel confident. Type “half marathon training plan” into Google and I assure you that you’ll get enough different training plans to make you dizzy. There are loads, literally tonnes and how on earth are you meant to choose the best. And most importantly one that works for you, your fitness, lifestyle, available time and ability to commit. I don’t know the answer to that, sorry!

What I do know is that the best plan is the one that fits with you and not necessarily the next person or the last person. I also think a few points are worth stating that I found as being useful:

  1. Don’t target running fast
  2. Do vary runs to not just be the same route
  3. Include hills – no matter how minor
  4. Run varying speeds either short burst at a faster rate (Fartlek or intervals) or extended periods of a faster rate (tempo runs)
  5. Run most of your runs to be no more that half the time/distance off the race you are training for
  6. Add 1 long run which targets running up to the distance of your run, no need to go longer

These principles are what I based my training on. Others might be more analytical in their approach but I think this is a good way, especially for newbies who want to put some training on.

so I spent the rest of the autumn following this plan and generally felt good about the training.  I was covering good distances and times were OK.  I run on my own so it’s hard to know for sure but I was happy with it.

Then the winter came and caused problems. Rain, wind and ultimately snow. All of which seem daft to lace up and run in. What sort of lunatic does that. Well I had read a few posts about motivation for new runners and had repeatedly seen that people say you have to stick to a plan. As soon as you let things slip for modest reasons you will start losing the mojo. I can see that. I can relate too as that’s normally the approach I would take. Not this time though, oh no!  This time I’m going to try and stick with it. And this was the thing that made all the difference in two ways. Firstly I really did stick to it. Come rain, wind, shine or snow if I had planned to run I did. My wife thinking I was slowly losing my remaining marbles. Secondly I spent half my time looking for all types of running gear. Stuff to stay warm in, stuff to stay dry in. Breathable but waterproof etc etc. This is a mine field and so many option you have to stop listening eventually!!

Antway, training going well and race day about a month away the wobble set in!  There was no trigger I was doing fine but I suddenly hit massive doubts time. This was my lack of confidence waking up, the bit that normally would have stopped me before this point. It had been dormant like a mythical dragon and now it awakened (ok, enough of the dragon thing). I had a couple of days of really thinking maybe it was best to drop the silly idea of a public run. Yes I could run but Noemi was going to do it in front of people that had chosen to come and watch runners – they weren’t surely going to be interested in watching me!

I had loads of reason to pull out:

  • I would be last
  • I would probably hurt myself
  • I was going to look stupid
  • I would be too slow and they might ask me to stop

In fact anything that might be bad was going to happen to me. I had to drop out.

Whilst all those things could happen. There was no reason to feel they were likely and one other thought was in a contest with those.  I had told a lot of people what I was doing. Almost everyone that I know. It was likely going to be very embarrassing explaining to them why I had pulled out. I would have to come up with a good reason – none of the above are good enough. Probably an injury. That’s easy and nobody would argue it.

Thats the kind of thinking that goes on in my head. Find ways of backing out when you get scared. Even if a like is the only option.

I hard a long chat with the doubters in my head and convinced myself I had to go on. I then had the Beast of the East to beat!

with race day approaching weather had been bad. A lot of snow for February and this Beast from the East was a Godzilla like weather front coming to end the world – must rush out and huy unnecessary amounts of bread and milk and some tinned soup – which I never eat – got to love a quick dose of panic buying in supermarkets.

Now the snow was causing events to be cancelled. Mine was playing it’s cards close to its chest not wanting to cancel too soon. It had some big names running and presumably there was pressure to run as long as it was safe.

The snow gave another opportunity to bail out though. It had been harder to run and if the race was in doubt maybe I should just commit to staying at home hugging a radiator. I decided to leave it to the organisers.

2 days before race day they had still yet to commit. An email came out stating final decision by 2 pm Saturday. That’s only 19 hours before the start!  Not everyone was too happy. Lots of people finding travel hard and for some distances being travelled meant that was too late to decide. But the organisers had called it

I had travel challenges too. No trains to get me there on time. Not a fan of driving in to London and having to be there for 8am on a Sunday is a bit awkward – especially having kids who like to keep you up at night!

2pm on a Saturday approached and the final word can out from the organisers. The race was on. The snow had mostly gone (on the course) and it was safe.

Now, that’s great. But it was also too late to back out now. I was going to have to go through with this.  Ah well, in for a penny …

Part – 1 The best version of me

Part – 2 Learning to Walk

Part -3 Evolution not Revolution

Part 4: First Run

Part – 5 Me and Mo Farah