Jump into Spring as a Weekend Warrior 20th February

IMG_2389February is such a time of change in the woods and on the Heath.  The ground is drying up and the first spring flowers are popping up.  The “warrior” mornings are a great way to connect with the outdoors and with yourself.  Using the outdoors there are always a wide range of exercises split between cardio and strength that allow you to challenge yourself at different levels.

If you’ve been before then you know what a great sense of achievement there is, if you are thinking of coming for the first time and have any questions just drop me a line.

Race Your Neighbour- Friendly competition

IMG_3839I recently ran in a local  “first time” 10K race which was marketed as a post code battle between N10 and N2, Called Race The Neighbour. I was encouraged to sign up by some N2 friends (I live in N10), the idea being a friendly little battle, as such. Why not? So my husband and I both decided to give it a go. It was a terrific race. The event started at the local park in East Finchley, called Cherry Tree Woods. There was a bag drop option, but really there was no need. The start time was 9:30 and with our running kit on, we had a gentle walk over there for 9am, race ready and free of any extra bits. Simple collection of the race number from the table, followed by a little loo stop and then a few strides around the park to limber up. It was all so simple and relaxed, just like local races used to be. At a few minutes to start time, we jumble around the start point and had friendly banter with the post code competition. The day was a hot one, and so the unshaded parts of the race were tough, but all in all it was a great route. It started from Cherry Tree Park and then connected with the Parkland Walk taking us to the Grove and onto to the top of Alexander Palace. I love the view from there and it was spectacular on this morning, we even had the joy of a great down hill run, the easy flat dirt road towards the Farmers Market and then the challenging sheer climb back up towards the Grove and the tree lined hill. That was a teeth grinding section, but once that was over, it was a fantastic shaded journey back along the Parkland Walk and into beautiful Highgate Woods. My body loved this bit as Highgate Woods is literally my second home. I felt strong from here on in and sailed through the rest with a strong finish back in Cherry Tree Park. Although N2 won the race overall, I finished as the first N10 female in 46 minutes and 18 seconds. The battle was over and we all remain firm friends!

Marathon – pain!

285164_194030740_XLargeLooking smooth and on your game throughout the 26.2 miles is practically impossible…because of the PAIN! This is not necessarily a bad thing, just not so great for the photo. The pain can give you an energy, an edge, which works to drive you on. My pain was really making itself known at about mile 20 and stayed with me for a good few miles. At about mile 24, you go through the Blackfriars tunnel, which is a unique experience along the route. Once you enter the tunnel, all goes dark and strangely quiet because there are no supporters (not allowed). However there are a significant amount of motivational signs/phrases lining the tunnel on either side, which work effectively to recharge your mojo. Messages such as “pain is only temporary, 26.2 is forever” or “dig deep” help you find that inner warrior and true grit so that, as you exit the tunnel, you may be feeling the pain, but with a re-newed mental charge. This increased zing really worked for me and I was able to get my pace and my determination back on track. Along the “Home Stretch” the crowds are thick and fully engaged in their role as the primary driving force to get you to the finish line with a “spring” in your step. My support team was excellently positioned around mile 25 along the Embankment and seeing them, cheering wildly with beaming smiles, gave me a huge surge of energy that enabled me to really step it up. As I turned towards Buckingham Palace, I saw out of the corner of my eye, that just behind me was the pace maker runner with the 3:30 hours sign on his back. Seeing this, really powered me forward as I was determined to run this 26.2 in under 3 hours and 30 minutes. It was a certain kick for me and one that enabled me to “dig deep” and remember that yes, the pain was going to be temporary and so I powered through to the finish line, thankfully securing a finish time of 3:28 just within my goal.

Marathon Medal

285164_194102674_XLargeWell I finished! In 3 hours and 28 minutes. It was a tough race and with a certain amount of pain, but the deed is done, the medal has been worn with pride. The day was ideal for running, overcast with a cool quiet air. I was positioned in the “Blue Zone” and in start zone 3 for runners aiming for 3:15 – 3:30. My goal was indeed to run under 3 and half hours. Starting out with this group was positive, I felt comfortable with my stride and clustered with runners of a similar pace, so it was easy to get moving at the right speed straight away. With the fantastic London crowd lining the route, this happy situation continued for several miles, until about mile 10, when I was aiming to see my cheering crew, but somehow I reached mile 10 ahead of time and so they missed me by a hair. This caused a little dip in my focus and energy, but I rallied myself and pretended that everyone that shouted my name (name on shirt really helps with attracting random support) was my “new family.” I kept myself steady with my counting mantra, counting in keeping with my stride and focusing on the aim of the day (my fundraising achievement for HD). Snaking around London, experiencing the tremendous energy of the crowd support is so overwhelming. The route is literally lined with smiling supporters from start to finish, which gives the runner a huge boost every step of the way. The party starts early for the supporters that are spilling out of the pubs from 10am. Seeing people toasting you with a pint (or a flute of champagne at certain trendy spots) is surprisingly wonderful… there you are sticky, sweaty and slogging it out amongst the pure cheer of the dedicated, generous and good humoured crowd. Music fills the air with brass bands, steel drum bands, youth choirs, radio DJ’s  and all sorts of blasting noise makers. Apart from that fact that you are running a Marathon, it really is a terrific party. Despite all this positivity, I did start to dip a little about three quarters of the way along and my support crew did me proud, by being front and centre at both mile 17 1/2 and again at mile 19 (there is a clever little cut through between these spots, that they worked out). Seeing their sign tall and clear, made them stand out and with tears of joy, I managed to little “high five” with my youngest son and that really recharged my pace. I wish I could say that the rest was smooth sailing, but the heaviness in my legs started to drag me down and from Limehouse to Whitechapel it felt like running through treacle. All I could do was keep my eyes focused straight ahead and my head clear. With this simple “strategy” my body started to co-operate and I managed to hold strong!

Sunrise Run

Bridge on BeachEarly morning runs can be a gift. The joy of feeling the day opening up before you whilst slowly and peacefully getting your engine going, is precious. Recently during my visit home, I gifted myself a few of this early morning runs along the South Carolina beach. As I was starting to reach the tapering phase of my Marathon Training, I was able to simply enjoy a calm and gentle run, without the pounding intensity of a tempo run or a hill session. So with a quiet and gleeful heart, I set off along the beach, in compete awe as the sun rose before me and the sea birds swooped playfully above the water. During these runs, I aim to get my body moving on automatic pilot so that my heart and mind can soak up the gorgeous surroundings and embed a visual memory for me to savour over and over again. The physical side of running becomes secondary to the deeply enriching mental and spiritual experience. Not all runs can take place along a gorgeous beach at sunrise, however there is a deep beauty in the “sunrise run”, regardless of the location. Connecting with the world at the first light of dawn, gives me a chance to make peace with myself and the day ahead, so that I have the best possible chance to continue with my day in a positive manner with the energy gained from my run and the calm generated in my head.

Gathering your support crew

One of the most important aspects to managing a marathon is gathering a solid support crew. This was mine…my 3 sons. Unfortunately, my partner was travelling on business, so these guys had to carry the full responsibility of darting around London to all of our planned cheering spots. I left the house pretty early on race day and left the youngest in charge of rousing his older brothers and getting everyone out of the door for the big job ahead. They hoped to catch me at 4 different locations, which is pretty ambitious given the surge of people clustering about the tubes and streets on Marathon day. The first planned spot was at mile 10 and due to my zeal, I managed to hit mile 10 ahead of predicted time and so sadly, they missed me. Apparently, at this point they did manage to access the tracking ap that shows when your runner is crossing the different mile markers. So when they worked out my pace, they were able to get on the case and get to the next point in good time. I was a little deflated not to catch them at mile 10, and I was desperately hopeful that they would be at the the next spot, 17 and a half miles. The long 7 miles to that point certainly messed with my mind, as I thought “what if they keep missing me and I never get to see them along them along the way!!!” There is a strange need to have your run “witnessesed” by your family/friends. Perhaps it is pure ego, but I suspect that it is more to do with the flood of energy that you get from seeing your special people, going nuts for you during that fleeting moment, as you  glide by, grinning like mad as soon as your eyes meet. My support crew did a fantastic job, cheering me at 3 spots: mile 17 1/2, mile 19 and mile 25. To tackle the marathon without your all important support crew, would be quite simply … unbearable. Thanks guys! 

The blustery, bold start…London 2015

London 2015 was a blustery start, but that’s fine. Training for the London Marathon usually starts in January and so the training journey features large chunks of brutal weather, so if the body is suddenly faced with a sunny, warm “race-day,” then it can be a shock. The actual strategy of getting to the start of the race can be a mini-challenge in itself. Prior to the race, my race buddy and I emailed back and forth multiple times about the best way to arrive at the Start Zone on Blackheath and finally settled on a 7 am taxi to Charing Cross Station (let’s live it up) , to catch the 7:36 train for arrival at Black heath 7:58. Once on the warm cosy train, we didn’t want to get off…could we just continue on a little day out and have a brisk country walk instead? Be brave and get to the start.  So there we are, two hours ahead of the race start and the day is a cold and drizzly one. First off, we decide to get warm and kill some time in Costa Coffee. Many others have the same idea and we are happy to stand in a good British queue for the loo, swapping stories with the other nutty runners, which is a very good use of time. Eventually we have to extract ourselves from the security of warmth, coffee and cake and brave the blustery start. This is where is gets a little sad, as my race buddy is in a different start zone (there are three start zones) and so we have to part ways and go it solo. We hug and snap my pics before I enter my Blue Start. Once in your start area, you fill your time with all manor of activities. Firstly you get a handle on where your bag drop truck is located. Then you figure out your best loo spot. The female urinals were in full swing, with much shorter wait than the portaloo. The female urinals are insane and the comments drifting out from there are priceless. You get given a little paper funnel (seriously weird) and then fumble your way through a humiliating fail, but with a gaggle of other females, so it somehow works. Not the glamorous side of the Marathon. The rest of your time is spent trying to stay warm and watching the huge screen tv as they zoom in on the celebs and elite runners, getting you pumped for the big event. Eventually you take off layers and let go of your bag at the one of the multiple bag drop trucks (the race organisation is mind boggling).  Then, left with your scruffy layers that you’ll discard at the last minute and sporting a black bin bag to stay dry, you head to your start zone. I was in zone 3, for runners predicted to run in 3:15-3:30. Here is where the energy starts to build, the nerves are raw and the runners are huddled in their zone, getting warmth and a strange calm from each other. So here we are on this blustery day, with just minutes to go. Old hoodies and fleeces start flying through the air as runners eagerly de-layer. A stillness seems to set in. The mass of 40,000 runners, each with their own hopes and dreams, are quietly reflecting on their own tremendous journey to get to this start and boldly anticipating the thrilling adventure that lay ahead.   

The waiting game

Waiting for the Marathon “to start” can be a strange time. You’ve packed your kit bag, read thorough the race magazine, checked and re-checked the train times. Then what do you do? You can start to feel a little on edge. So you can nag your kids about their exam revision…not so good for peace and harmony. You can have a moan at your partner who has a business trip and can’t be at the race…too late he’s already left. You can start carbo loading, but that may lead to tummy trouble. What can you do, when what you really want to do is go for a RUN? My solution: scramble through the various race plans and find the one that suggests for the pre-race day “an easy 15 minute run.”    Result. On with the shoes and out the door for that immediate sense of calm. The world starts to make sense again and the pre-race nerves start floating away. You feel so great that you come home and immediately sign up for a 10k race, cheered by the comfort that you’ll soon  have a new race plan to live by!

Packing for the big race


Packing for the Marathon somehow seems more challenging than getting ready for a 3 month trek. How to pack the essentials, but stay light? Here are some of my essentials : mismatched gloves, an old fleece & hat for pre race warmth, but can be tossed near the start (note that all gear is collected for charity shops ) . Bin bag to stay dry if raining ( rain is predicted ) . Water, banana, cereal bar for snacking. Shot blocks energy chews for fuel while racing. Garmin watch to manage pace (hopefully, although I rarely look at my watch when racing). Travel card and 5 pounds mad money. Race vest & number ( 21766). Tissues and sanitizer for the camping element of racing. Fresh clothes and Birkenstocks for post race comfort! Jam it all into the back pack – done. Now off for an easy dog walk to settle the nerves and give the legs an gentle outing. 

Why does Race Training sometimes zap the joy?

In WoodsHow is it that training for races can sometimes take the joy out of running?

Recently my love of running had fizzled out- why? Because I was training for the Marathon. My runs no longer felt like “my own.” I was on a schedule- a rigorous, challenging and often joyless schedule. I felt frustrated and resentful that my running, which is my lifeline, my basic mode of making sense of the world, had been temporarily taken away from me. For 14 weeks, my runs were dictated by a precise and detailed training plan. It was rather like a a recipe, but without a yummy cake to tuck into at the end. I love plans and so having the structure was welcoming, with each day given a clear and unique type of run. Some days were speed sessions at Finsbury Park Track, others were Tempo runs with  sections of the run done at maximum speed and the real challenge was the ever increasing Long Run (my longest being 24 miles). So my runs became all about building strength, speed, endurance and confidence that I could do the distance of 26.2 miles. They were not about day dreaming, meditating, rambling and exploring. I’m not complaining, because I had put myself in this situation- however it came at a price…the temporary loss of running joy.