International Women’s Day – a #womeninsport wrap up

As International Women’s Day draws to a close, I thought I would share some of the headlines specifically around women in sport that have caught my eye over the past few weeks. I had hopes of writing a clever, opinionated article, but truth be told, I was poorly prepared and ran out of time, so thought that this was a suitable alternative!

I’d love to know some of your thoughts on these articles –  I’m still not sure on my thoughts on a lot of them, particularly around gender quotas in management so apologies if my arguments aren’t always as structured as they could be…but hopefully you’ll enjoy a read! 

FA, RFU and ECB risk cuts after Women in Sport reveals lack of boardroom diversity

Ah, the quota argument. I still don’t know what I think about quotas, preferring to be there on merit rather than because of my gender ticking a box. But maybe that’s something that we have to suck up and deal with for a while to make it the new normal. We shouldn’t have to, and we shouldn’t have to use funding as a punishment – especially when those most likely to get their funding cut don’t really need the additional funding in the first place…

It also brings the question of representation matching that seen in the sport in general – should we now be getting a quota into female-dominated sports such as netball to get more men in its management? The Women In Sport board (they produced this report) is 100% female…how long until we have people clamouring that this shouldn’t be the case.

However, the more and more women we see in sport, the more we are exposed to it as the new norm – giving young girls and those early in their careers aspiration that gender shouldn’t be a barrier to getting the job they want.

#thisgirlcan? I much prefer #thiswomandoes

Continue reading

A weight off my mind

I recently (hmmm a month ago) posted something on Instagram that took a longer decision to make about posting than it should have. No, it wasn’t whether my smoothie looked too much like grey sludge (thanks chocolate almond milk) or whether someone had spotted me trying to take a surreptitious gym selfie. No, it was this.

There you go people of the world, colleagues, friends, family, strangers…HERE IS HOW MUCH I WEIGH.

Continue reading

Strength In Depth – just what is fitness racing?

At the beginning of November (yes, I know I’m late!) I was invited by European Fitness League to get an understanding of their flagship event “Strength in Depth”. I literally had ZERO idea what to expect, so I was keen to see how what I described to my mum as “competitive tyre flipping” shaped up.

I met with Harry, Managing Director, for a behind the scenes look at what was going on. This basically meant I got to understand the practicalities and logistics behind an event like this, as well as sneaking down “competitor-only” corridors, meeting some of the event and media crew and basically getting an all-access pass.

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The Format

I was there on Day 1 of the Finals weekend. Teams had been competing in qualifiers for a good few months beforehand, culminating in the end event for the top 40 over the period. As a team, you basically divide and conquer the numerous events over the weekend. There are various rules about which combination you can compete in, but basically, not everyone is good at everything, and this is the opportunity for each individual to play to their strengths. There’s a live leaderboard on display as teams go through the rounds – which means it is super easy to find out how you (and your competition!) are getting on.

The Events

At first, I couldn’t quite work out what was going on or where we were in the schedule – but was directed out to the outdoor spectator balcony where you could see people starting to get ready for event #2 – the Spartan Race. I’ve heard rumours of huffing and puffing about the amount of running that was needed for this event, but it says something when the teams start in reverse qualifying order and the first-placed still managed to take a couple of minutes off second!

The whole team has to complete the event, which led to some impressive shows of sportsmanship– carrying team members round, giving a helping hand over obstacles, leaving no man (or woman) behind. There were a couple of the expected mishaps (the usual rolled ankles on landing) but the fact that the guys got 40 teams off at 2 minute intervals timed to the second is a huge credit to the organisation skills of this event.

Next up, they moved back inside. There was a lot of waiting around as a spectator, because as you can imagine, getting 40 teams around the muddy course – and then through showers – is quite a feat. However, they were already setting up for event 3, and passed the time with a demonstration from two Rio medal winning rowers and then Crossfit Kids. This was frankly terrifying and inspiring in equal measures (mainly because they can do proper pull ups and lots of functional moves that I can’t). I was also able to peruse the stands (lots of supps, stash and foam rollers) and contemplate getting my hair braided. Oh, and watch some of the Wales Australia game on TV.

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Events 3 and 4 took place concurrently, with 3 in the main hall and 4 being a pool-based event (who knew swimming would be involved?!)

I mainly watched Event 3 – which was a mind boggling displaying of skipping skills, lifting and some VERY strong bar muscle ups…which I can only dream of. And things like 50 toes to bar…where I can do about 5 before I get tired. It worked well having a male team, a female team AND a mixed team that all had to get through it (a sub-team doesn’t start until the previous has finished their workout, which means maximum support and pressure to get it done within the rules so you can move on)

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For full details of each of the events that took place when I was there – click here

The Teams

Teams HAVE to have 7 male and 5 female, plus one from each gender has to be over 40, which means it really promotes a blend of abilities, ages and genders, which you need when you start to understand the varied activities that the teams have to participate in. People had travelled from overseas and all around the UK – which shows what a pinnacle event this has become.

The team spirit works well across a lot of the events i.e. if you need to get 15 bar muscle ups, you can work out between you who is going to deliver what rather than expecting each individual to have the same ability. Big cheering teams are very much the centrepoint of this competition, with lots of supporting children and families!

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The Venue

As a Loughborough girl, I have a slight inbuilt hatred for Bath, but you can’t deny what fabulous facilities they have! There is tons of space, both indoor and outdoor, and it is set up well for a multi-sport event, without having to make people traipse between venues all day. The warm-up area was particularly impressive, with enough space for all the competitors to have their own little corner and adequate space to warm up with a range of equipment.

Also note – the café is pretty top notch if you are looking for a decently balanced meal.

The Experience

As a first time spectator of this kind of event, I was wowed. Any sense you have of weightlifting events being individual is quickly thrown out of the window and there are some true tales of battle to get there. It’s also incredibly inspiring to see what people are able to do with their bodies…I left late afternoon and, I have to say…I actually went to the gym that evening! There’s something about watching people throwing their bodies around that makes you feel like you need to get training.

Strength in Depth ISN’T just for Crossfit fanatics – in fact, they aren’t affiliated, although a vast proportion of athletes and teams will come from a Crossfit background, because it’s the type of thing they are used to. It’s a real show of determination, team spirit and an absolute bucketload of pure physical ability which can’t help but get you thinking….could I do that?

A big thanks to European Fitness League for inviting me down and providing me with some of their fabulous imagery!

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London marathon ballot…also known as ‘why does everyone think London is the only marathon?’

Ahhh it’s that time of year again when everyone is impatiently waiting for their ballot result – whether it’s a magazine and compensation in form of a top that EVERYONE knows is because you didn’t get in…or this year it appears they are resorting to just sending emails.

I’ve run London 3 times (here and here are the most recent recaps) and I’ve got my place for 2017 sorted (except I think I’m going to defer)  And something I often hear is  “Oh you must have been really lucky to get a place in the ballot 1/2/3/4 times”.

Nope. I didn’t get into the ballot. I have NEVER got a place in the ballot. I entered the ballot once for the 2012 race. I didn’t get in. I didn’t then sit around for 10 years, entering again and again and complaining about not getting in whilst being not so secretly jealous about those who are running. When I didn’t get in, I entered another marathon (Paris), managed to run a Good for Age time and therefore could get into London automatically, avoiding the ballot. And then repeated this process.

I just DON’T understand why London seems to be the be all and end all, the defining moment, the one event that everyone seems to see (well I mean I do get this, the media hype is a big player) but people – moreso in the non running community – need to understand that any marathon is as good as any other.  “Is the Paris marathon the same distance as the London one?” Why yes, a marathon is a marathon is a marathon. YOU’RE RUNNING A FREAKING MARATHON, THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH IN ITSELF.

If you’re complaining about not making it in, ask yourself a question – what do you really want from this race? Why is London such a big deal? Is it really? There are plenty of other big city marathons with great support and a great course. They might not be as iconic, but they are still doing the job of being a marathon. There are also plenty of nice non-city marathons…

Also, while we are on it – why does the marathon seem to be the defining race length? Do it justice. A sub 20 5k is equally (if not moreso) impressive than a 4 hour marathon. Or a 3.30 marathon as I can do that but not sub 20.  Get better at running shorter, build your experience and THEN try the marathon – attempting it too early is pretty much going to fail and you’ll enjoy it a lot more as a seasoned runner.

And if you do really want to do it, put some effort in and get a place based on your ability (see above – get better at shorter distances, build your speed and stamina and then take it up a notch) I am sure MANY will disagree, but I actually don’t think running 3.45 or under is that unachievable for a lot of women in the senior age bracket. It is definitely harder for men – 3.05 takes some significant training, even with some genetic advantage (hmmm) but 3.45 is hardly the New York extremes for automatic entry. Or join a club, do your time and volunteering, then try and get a club place. Plus, you’ve then got a club full of experienced people to help you with your training…

I mean, I’m not slamming London by any means – it’s a great course, the atmosphere and supporters are amazing, there’s something spine-tingling about being on that start line, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You’re probably thinking “well why have you done London multiple times and continue to enter…?” Which is a fair question! I didn’t have much intention to do another marathon after Paris…but thought I may as well take up the opportunity to give London a go as I just had to fill in a form, have my time validated and pay some money.

However London is also VERY convenient for me. I don’t need a hotel, I don’t need to pay ridiculous travel costs, I know where I’m going, I can practice on the route, I know loads of people running and I know loads of people supporting. I’ve literally just become lazy about marathonning.

If you want to understand all the numbers, some solutions and general goings on of the ballot, take a look at this article by Dan here.

And for all of you who have been lucky to get a place – treasure it and don’t waste it. Rocking up on the start line with zero training and doing a poor job of it is unfair on those who would have embraced it, put in the hours and done a fabulous event justice. So take pride in your bib.

Thoughts? Alternative ballot ideas? Better-marathons-than-London suggestions? Better-distances-than-marathon suggestions?

#YourGoTri – The time Kate was finally convinced to try Triathlon

It’s been a super summer of sport and between the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Brownlee’s demonstration of sporting brotherly love at the Triathlon World Series in Mexico a couple of weeks ago, “triathlon” hasn’t been far from anyone’s lips.

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The Brownlee Brothers (courtesy of mirror.co.uk)

If you’ve been reading or following us for a while, you’ll know that it is Katie F, not me, who is the triathlete of the pair of us. I hate running with a burning passion, and despite being a reasonable cyclist and a not-terrible swimmer, the running alone has always been enough to put me off even considering doing a triathlon. So when British Triathlon contacted us to say that they were running a campaign called #YourGoTri to encourage new people into the sport by pointing out how easy it is to factor all three disciplines into your weekly fitness routine, Katie gave me a look that said “now you really don’t have an excuse”.

I guess now I really don’t. Continue reading

Altitude training in the Pyrenees

So I wrote last week about being stuck in a rut and how I was hoping that a little trip away with my running crew might do the trick.

We decided over a post parkrun brunch a few months ago that we should follow in the footsteps of Mo, Paula et al and give altitude training a go where the best of them train – Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees.

We flew to Toulouse, rented cars and headed up to an airbnb in Saillagouse, a few miles away from Font Romeu. By the time we arrived it was gone 2am, so we quickly shotgunned beds and headed to sleep.

The house we rented had the most AMAZING shutters on every window. Meaning that, despite the long drive, I woke at 9.30 thinking that it was still the middle of the night! We wandered down to the boulangerie to explore the village, returning with armfuls of almond pain au chocolats and begun the bread binge…(a repetitive feature of the trip) and headed down to the pool…and stayed there.


In the afternoon, we finally dragged ourselves off  the piles of outdoor cushions and drove up past Mont Louis, stopping at a parking spot just off the main road (by the déchèterie if you want the precise location) and headed out onto the trails. People aimed for a variety of distances – we had spotted an 8k loop but we never really found it, instead ending up with an out and back through forest, across fields and along track, totally about 6 miles, hitting the dizzying heights of 1800m altitude.


Bang on 6 miles with an average pace of 9.04. Wrapped it up with a few planks and stretchning, before heading back to chicken and roasted vegetables. And obviously bread.

On the subject of altitude – I don’t think it made a huge amount of difference in terms of feeling impossible. Things felt marginally harder – mainly I noticed my breathing feeling a bit more laboured, but that was only when we had got to pretty much 1800m and we were still going on a steady uphill. Fingers crossed I’ve now got 1000000 extra red blood cells without the use of EPO and I will smash a 1 minute parkrun PB at the weekend….I WISH!

By the end of the day, we were ready to crash, and again, I slept brilliantly with the help of the shutters!  We ran to Spain on Saturday morning – well, sort of Spain. Llívia is a Spanish exclave, made so by a technicality in a decree years and years ago with regards to what was handed over to the French.But did a few faster miles out and then a tiny bit of a push for 5 and 6 (made a lot harder by the fact the route there was all downhill and the route back was all uphill…)

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In the afternoon we headed up to Lac de Matemale for a mixture of activities. It’s about a 5 mile loop (10k if you ‘add a bit extra’) all the way round, but I wasn’t in the mood for a run, so walked for a bit and then decided to brave a swim across the edge.Apparently there is a supervised swimming area somewhere but I chose to take a gamble. NOTE – I’m not advising just throwing yourself in a lake. The girls were walking round the lake pretty close by and I stuck to a distance out from the shore that was safe. Advice-giving over.

I mean I basically only swam about 250m but that did the job – cleared my head, got me over my fear of weeds (aka avoided getting tangled up) and got me back in the water properly for the first time in six weeks.

On Sunday, we drove (about 5 minutes) up to Vedrignans, with the aim of doing a LOT of climbing . Unfortunately, after about 2 miles, I knew my niggly calf wasn’t going to cut i so I headed down again, varying my route to meander through a field of hay bales and through the sleepy town of Err before looping back up to the car, leaving the rest of the guys to do their thang and go up up and up! Which they did. With various experiences such as gorse bushes, cows and galloping horses. But all came back alive.


On Monday, I headed off with the rest of the group, but to be honest, I fancied a run by myself. I wasn’t sure how my calf would hold out and I was quite happy to have a bit of a potter and explore a few unknown routes with only my own thoughts for company.

And what lovely places I found! Took a guess at a route, which went up and up (as I expected), but got to a point where I thought I should probably turn round…however when I got back the others were still out, so I totally would have had the time to add on a few extra 000ms to my climb over about 2k! The trails were dead quiet which was just what I wanted. I think my quads have just about recovered from the somewhat technical descent…I don’t really think I noticed any impact of altitude on this run, despite the climb – but that’s probably because the climb was hard enough as it is so I was expecting to go slowly and have to take walking breaks!

In the afternoon we finally took a trip up to Font Romeu itself to see the hallowed training grounds of the elite. But no track session for me this time. The town was surprisingly quiet, the French children being back at school and the majority of the holidaymakers having gone home.


Unfortunately we then had to hotfoot it back to Toulouse airport where our flight was delayed….Ever been in an airport that is practically shutting down around you? And the food is awful? Yep that was us.

All in all, it was a great few days. It made me realise how much I love getting out onto the trails – and how much I needed a few days to reset my brain, recharge my batteries and get my mojo back. (I mean I haven’t been for a run since, but it’s only been a couple of days right?) We’re already planning 2017!

Ever been training at altitude or on a running holiday?

*Photo credits mainly Katie K, Ellie & Alice W

Footnote – key things I learnt from my holiday:

  • Not to feel guilty about not doing anything on holiday
  • I drink more than other runners (or at least, I want to)
  • Runners eat an insane amount of bread
  • Own brand chocolate spread is actually really good. Especially on a spoon.
  • Driving a French car is fine once you’ve stopped trying to change gear with the door handle
  • I really like bread. But mainly French bread.
  • Mountains are fun to run up. But more fun to run down
  • Having all day to run, eat, read and sleep is dreamy and I must do it more often!
  • Foam rolling is good for you (ugh)
  • I LOVE like running again

I’m stuck in a rut…

Now I know how Hannibal would feel during burpees… – Skinny Rebel review

A few months back, Kate & I received an opportunity to test out “Skinny Rebel“, a class offered by the guys at Train Dirty…which is described as “a personal training workout with a difference”…

A myriad of things (think building leaks, illness and general work/life balance being the wrong way round) set out to try and prevent it happening, but a few weeks ago I was able to try my hand at the sort of thing that typically happens when you live in say, Colombia or the Rift Valley – hypoxic training…or for those of you who don’t recall this from your sports science degree – reducing the oxygen available to the body. In this case, it’s all down to a clever little mask.  Which makes you look either like Bane or Hannibal. And sound a bit like Darth Vader.

*Disclaimer – the session was provided free of charge, however all opinions are my own*

A nice and leisurely 8am session was a great idea, meaning I didn’t have to leave my flat until 7.20 to get to the gym, WIN.The Conrad St James is super easy to find – bang opposite St James’ tube (although I walked from Victoria, which took about 10 minutes) and very close to Met Police HQ. It is, as you’d expect, a gorgeous location, with the kind of reception staff you would expect from a high standard hotel. (also meaning there are gym towels, lockers, a fridge full of still and sparkling water and the ever-present hotel gym green apple offering!)

The gym is tucked away downstairs and upon entering, my initial worry was confirmed – it was a typical hotel gym aka about 4 square foot, with a weird “this can do everything” weights bench and your usual limited cardio and weights equipment.Ugh.


However, don’t judge a book by its cover Katie.

I was welcomed in by James and we had a chat about the class, the team, the locations (think luxury hotels in St Tropez and Lisbon….much more appealing destinations than London on a dreary Wednesday morning!) and what was coming. I went along with the naive feeling that, being a fair few months into a marathon training programme, I was in pretty decent shape, but was promised that this would really help to test where I wasn’t in shape. And where I needed to focus.

Circuit 1 went something like this:

Bear crawls, ropes, more ropes, duck walks, boxing, burpees. BURPEES. I hate burpees. However I have a real respect for anyone who puts them in a circuit though as I know they do their job.

Circuit 2 was similar, a few changes in exercise, but of note was that BURPEES were in there again! At this point I was pretty glad I didn’t have the mask on yet, purely because the feeling of burpees couldn’t possibly be made any worse…

However, after this, out came the mask. And yes, I looked like Hannibal. If Hannibal had blonde hair.  I found the biggest challenge was learning not to panic when you couldn’t breathe. It’s like swimming, or anything where you need to focus on your breathing – the more you panic, the harder it is. I have a feeling if you do yoga and are good at controlling your breathing, you will do this a heck of a lot better than me…


The choice is yours whether to wear the mask or not – and I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty tough session even without the mask on! I wonder whether I would have pushed myself more not wearing it – I was struggling so much with getting used to it and worrying that I couldn’t breathe that I probably put less intensity into the exercises themselves (i.e. burpees) I think thought that after a couple of sessions you would easily crack it and begin to reap the benefits. There’s a whole host of studies about the impact of continued oxygen deficiency on the body (it boils down basically to being able to do a better job of transporting and using the oxygen you have available when you limit it) – and this is a legit way to do it rather than a) becoming a pro cyclist and going the short way round or b) spending months living up and training down mountains.

Fail #1 is misplacing my HR monitor. I have no idea where it is (probably under my bed) – and I wish I had had it for this session to see the impact that putting on the mask actually had. Claims are big – up to 1000kcal in a 45 minute session.

Fail #2 is thinking ‘I’m sure I will be fine wearing a mask’. Nope, it’s less fine than you think it will be – it took me a good circuit and a half to feel comfortable wearing it and less like I was going to have a full scale panic attack. But once it’s on and you’ve got used to it – you begin to forget it’s there. Until you realise how much harder it is making things feel!

Fail #3 is doing an arms session the day before. NO! This made my press up ability very limited – and meant my planks suffered as well. I get to the point now where I just think I am in a permanent state of DOMS.

In summary:

  • It’s new, exciting and different
  • You don’t HAVE to wear the mask – you’ll get a decent workout whatever you choose, but it’s a great little thing to try
  • You also won’t be FORCED to wear the mask – I whipped it off a couple of times mid circuit for a few quick breaths and then popped it back on again, it’s amazing what a bit of calm and reassurance can do to you
  • You can do A LOT in a hotel gym with minimal space. This I think is down to great planning and a trainer who knows what gets results – big thumbs up to this approach
  • Always trust a PT who can judge you early on – the best ones can read through the lines and push you to do what you can, rather than what you think you are a bit too tired to do

I then popped to work with a spring in my step – I showered at the office so didn’t get a chance to see if you were able to use any changing facilities – and was buzzing to tell people what it had felt like!

Skinny Rebel workouts run at Conrad London St. James for guests and your regular selves. The workout is priced at £40 for one 45 minute session, with block booking offers available. For more information and to make a reservation, email: info@traindirtylondon.com – or they’re also on Classpass.  The team also offer a range of PT options – visit the website for more information.

 

VLM 2016 – aka the one where the wheels fell off!

So, it’s that time of year again! The one day of the year where everyone gets inspired, and plans to run a marathon next year. And also the one marathon of the year that most people seem to think is the ONLY MARATHON EVER. And I always get shocked watching the highlights at the amount of people willing to talk to Denise Lewis rather than tell her to naff off because you’re trying to PB (sorry Denise!) So here is my London Marathon review.

I’ve been pretty restless the last few weeks or so – a busy month at work combined with some missed sessions, a niggly Achilles, knee and hamstring (YUP I’m getting the excuses in early here!) has meant my expectations were rapidly rapidly going downhill.But IT’S LONDON AND THEREFORE YOU HAVE TO BE EXCITED!

Anyone who has asked recently about my goal has been told “3.20 – 3.30”. Truth be told, I didn’t even back myself to get that. I’ve never really felt that I’ve ‘got’ how to run a marathon properly. I’ve had people telling me I should have been pushing more towards the 3.15 end of things, but to be quite frank, the thought terrifies me. And if the thought terrifies me, then there is very little likelihood I’m going to get anywhere near it.

My taper was a real taper – and by that I mean I hardly ran at all. Instead, I spent a lot of time acquainting myself with my foam roller, a lacrosse ball and some kinesiology tape (applying this to your own hamstring is quite hard) and hoping for the best…

I got uber excited picking up my number at the expo on Friday evening – the buzz is incredible and it’s such a special event. I think I wrote something imaginative like “I love running” on the wall.

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Managed actually not to purchase anything – wasn’t quite sold on the tshirt this year so no snazzy memorabilia.

Saturday was spent at the rugby before coming home to a pre race dinner of a jacket potato with beans and some chocolate and some ice cream. Dinner of champions!

The usual wake up, get ready activities took place. It was raining when I woke up. (Didn’t really have contingency plans for clothing)

Boyfriend taped up my Achilles and told me it was all going to be OK. I told him I did not believe him, I didn’t want to run and I was going to be rubbish. We then had a ‘fine then I won’t try and be motivational if you’re going to be like that’ type disagreement. (He is learning every time how to get better at this, basically by either ignoring me or agreeing with everything I say) I got on the tube (rain had stopped) and headed to London Bridge, no real wait for a train to Maze Hill and then the usual trudge up the hill to the Green Start whilst eating a bagel with PB.

 

This is when you start to realise exactly the scale of the operation – and green is only a handful of people compared to red and blue!  It’s incredible seeing the sheer volume of people heading in one direction.

I took a gamble that I would be OK wearing just a bin bag. Despite the fact the organisers had specifically sent an email saying it would be cold.It was cold. Ended up finding some fellow Chaser ladies huddled in the changing tents.  We had a bit of a chat around times and worked out a few pairs – Cat has a trail marathon next weekend so her and Jas were going to be hitting the 3.40ish mark, and Korkoi is “IM training but not doing as much running as she should be so not really in marathon shape” so we decided to go out together. Plan was hit a 3.25 pace and just see what happened.


Greenwich was fairly quiet as usual from a supporter side, lots of people warning you about humps in the road, and it felt fairly cluttered with runners as the first 10 miles or so always do! We eventually got caught up by ANOTHER Chaser, Leanne – we had set a fairly similar goal (to be entered into the very very accurate cheer squad spreadsheet tracker) so we decided to push on as a three – and it was great to have a little bunch together, especially all in club vests. There was lots of “Come on Chasers” support all across the course, and this was such a nice little boost. I’ve also realised I quite like not having my name on my vest – this means that anyone who shouts Katie is someone I actually know, which is quite a nice feeling.

Here are some ugly pictures of me running, courtesy of Darren Tanner.

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Knee gave a little bit of a niggle around mile 8, which wasn’t ideal…but surprisingly, my Achilles and hamstring felt GLORIOUS (well as much as they could!) At mile 9, my little support crew were ready and waiting. This time, the cow bell had been remembered (we always forget the cowbell for races…) I think I remember thinking at this point that the pace was probably quite optimistic…(we were running solid 7.30-7.40 splits)

We lost Leanne at around 11, but Korkoi & I continued on, over the amazing sight (and sound) that is Tower Bridge with thousands of people either side, before hunkering down on the Highway and spotting the leading men coming the other way (with a fair old gap between them and anyone else) The Chaser cheer brigade were in full force around mile 14, covering both sides of the road, including Ingrid the mascot (inflatable doll…don’t ask) and a few pints in hand.

The gloves were eventually thrown around mile 15, round about the same time I decided I wanted to put my headphones in – I was beginning to feel the strain. Korkoi and I kept pretty close together round the Isle of Dogs, which is always a bit of a drag for me, but spruced up by my support crew being ready and waiting around mile 18, which is roundabout where she started to pull away. Had gel #3 probably around Mile 16. Citrus flavour this time.

I hate Canary Wharf. Some people think the buzz is amazing, but for me, this is where it starts to hurt. I think it’s the slight incline up to the roundabout that does it – my legs just didn’t feel the same afterwards.

I hate Poplar High St. And the drag back to 21 (despite Run Dem Crew being brilliant – we’re taking some tips for the Chaser squad next year!)  Basically my least favourite bit of the London Marathon is mile 20-22. I say this every year. And I don’t learn.

I hate coming back along the Highway. Everything seems so much further away than it normally does. And everyone is so cheery and all I wanted to do was listen to my music and zone out but the crowd were too loud. (I think you get where I’m going with this – I had a pretty bad time over the last 10k. There was a tiny bit of walking – the ‘having a drink’ technique – but everything was starting to feel the force of the fast 20)

(I’ve been having a discussion with a guy at work about this – my love for the crowd was waning at this point. I don’t want to sound like a brat, or ungrateful, but seriously, if you’re in a bad place, the crowd are actually incredibly frustrating. I wanted to zone out and listen to my music – but I couldn’t hear it. I wanted to slow down – but they kept shouting at me. I wanted to not be experiencing some severe pain surrounded by 000s of people. I wanted to cry. Maybe in a way this is good, because it stopped a lot of these things – but at the time, all I could think was JUST GO AWAY. Especially anyone who says “you’re nearly there” at mile 20. THAT IS A LIE)

Stole Haribo from a small child (same as last year) but didn’t have another gel – and looking back, I wish I had,  because it was just sitting in my belt… Saw my friend Hannah at Old Billingsgate and then mildly perked up going into the tunnel because I knew that once I was through that and up the slight (MASSIVE) incline under Blackfriars Bridge, it was simply a case of the longest two miles in the world. Apparently I missed Colin Jackson here but ain’t nobody got time for that, I’ve got a PB to hit!

When I realised the wheels were falling off (i.e., mile 20) , I was doing lots of mental calculations. “It’s OK, I can still get under 3.30, I just have to run 5 x 9 minute miles” and so on. Switching from 9 minute miles to 5 minute km to 8.30 minute miles to 6 minute kms. Round and round and round.  I think this kept my brain busy. And everyone I notched around the 8.30 pace, the more I realised the goal was back in sight. At mile 24, the clock said bang on 3.10. That meant 2 x 10 minute miles, plus the little bit extra, minus the little bit I had in hand from getting over the start line and I WOULD BE THERE. Simply a case of gritting teeth and hanging on in there – I wasn’t having this pain for nothing.

 

My family said they knew I was struggling/had tried harder than last year because I looked a lot less happy (see above photos). I nearly missed them on Embankment, but luckily fishwife mother was on form with her shouting. My stride was off, I was just plodding. But plodding at a just about OK speed to get me there. The Houses of Parliament actually came up sooner than I was expecting them to – considering I run this route on a regular basis, I think I just switched off.

Running up Birdcage Walk, I had THE WORST wave of nausea ever. I mean I have never come that close to throwing up from running, but somehow managed to convince myself if I was going to vom, I wasn’t going to do it until I had crossed the line. I also had a really self-conscious thought of not wanting to go to the side and accidentally vom on a spectator’s foot or something. I got overtaken here by a Roman Soldier. And then by Elvis as we rounded the corner – and then suddenly the finish line was in sight! And it was saying 3.28! I had no idea about what my time over the line was, but knew I had done it as long as I could shift my backside down that last straight within a minute. And I have never felt so happy to do so.

3.27.32. A new PB, 817th female and 524th AG. 6 minutes off last year.

I didn’t really know what to do when I had finished. Whether to cry, to be happy, to stop, to walk. It’s a weird feeling, finishing a marathon – fairly overwhelming. I was also overwhelmed by the amount of support I had when I checked my phone – from people tracking, to congratulating – it really made it worthwhile.

Bit of post-race analysis..

  • My splits were horrible I mean truly, this was a beautiful example of ‘pushing hard early on and it catching up with you’. I was probably on for a low 3.20 until mile 20, and then I dropped straight from 7.38s down to 8.20s. And there was nothing I could do about it!
  • However, I am 99% sure it would have caught up with me even if I was slower – so was the banking time strategy a success? Who knows?
  • I am also very happy about how evenly I ran the first ¾ of the race. I truly wouldn’t have done this without Korkoi & Leanne to push me through it. And to be quite honest, it felt comfortable until then.
  • Here is a PERFECT example of ‘a marathon is a 20 mile run with a 10k race at the end’  done badly, or ‘here is a wall, do you want to run into it?’

Look out for a future post entitled “What I learn most years when I run a marathon and really should remember for the next training cycle rather than saying at the start I’m going to do it and then not doing it at all”

(Well done for reading this far!)

Paying for parkrun?

Unless you live under a rock, or have absolutely zero interest in running, health or fitness (in which case, I’m impressed you are reading this!), you’ll know the big ticket news item this week has been the decision of Stoke Gifford Parish Council to levy a charge for the use of the park for parkrun.

People use parkrun for different reasons. I for one have never needed parkrun as a motivator to get me out of the door and go for a run, but it has helped countless other people do just that, without having any barriers around gym fees or paying to use facilities. And surely that’s what we need to continue to do?

There was a decision recently that the NHS would be funding overweight and diabetic patients to receive PT sessions and nutritional advice free of charge – surely the need for this can only go up and up if we start to put BACK the barriers to exercise such as cost, location and the intimidation of entering an unknown world that parkrun have worked so hard to bring down.

Thing is, you take any paid for 5k race – the standard is bound to be much higher as people who are more committed to running are more willing to pay. So, if you do take that jump into a more traditional 5k race and you are that bit slower or less experienced, where does that leave you? Feeling chided for being at the back or demotivated for being slow? The beauty of parkrun is that it’s open to everyone – the annoying people like me who are there mainly so that can keep banging on the door of 20 minutes, right the way through to someone who is walking it with their friends because it gives them an organised time and place that they can’t back out of. If you are lacking confidence or need that regular weekly slot to get you motivated to get out the door, how likely are you to search out a 5k race, pay a fee and turn up – especially if you aren’t even sure if running is for you! Entering a ‘race’ sounds intimidating – whereas a run is much more open.

But when you can get to something free and local, come rain or shine, where you have an incredibly friendly reception (I mean come on, when was the last time you were clapped and heartily welcomed for it being your first time going to the gym, or visiting a pool that wasn’t your local), plenty of knowledgable people on hand for any questions AND an incredibly straightforward way of being able to see your improvement – why would you want anything else?

Counter argument state that sports clubs and personal trainers have to pay for use of the park, so why shouldn’t parkrun for runners? Where does the line stop where I have to start paying every time I dare to run around Clapham Common, let alone when we have it on our regular running club routes? I recently posted about the true cost of running, and one of the best things is that it can be done anytime, anywhere, without having to pay entrance fees. Yes, organisations like BMF are levied with hefty charges for park usage, but have you seen the prices of their classes? Same with football clubs – yes there are some membership fees, but there are goalposts to maintain and white lines to paint. I pay to be a member of a running club, but so many people would never consider themselves able to join a running club. parkrun means they don’t have to.

Parkrun was set up as a not for profit organisation designed to help reverse the current trend of inactivity that is sweeping our country. It’s spiralling and growing in so many countries around the world – my uncle was delighted when the first Parisian parkrun was launched earlier this year, having attended several events whenever he is in the UK. There are countless people taking to social media to talk about how parkrun was the trigger to change their inactivity and improve their health. Yes, parkrun has some paid employees and yes, they do attract sponsors, but that is all funneled back into running the events we know and love.

The decision is that parkrun should have to contribute to funding (rather than the initial £1 per runner), however, if other councils started to take this on board, there would be no other choice than to start charging runners to participate, because how else would they be able to raise sufficient money to fund over 850 events? The beauty of parkrun is its diversity and accessibility. Without it, there would be hundreds of people whose usual activity on a Saturday morning is lying in bed…and so far, there are over two million registered runners who have started to buck the trend.

Apparently it’s unfair for non-running residents to have to pay to cover upkeep of the paths. If you continued in that matter with regards to any sort of tax or public funding, it’s ridiculous. Do we then stop any ‘non-runner’ from using the path because it was funded by runners? Do parks then stop becoming public? I haven’t been to the doctors this year but I’m still paying for it because it’s there when I need it (lighting the touchpaper here!)

Obviously yes, some areas will take more wear and tear (e.g. anything run on grass in the mud can get a bit battered), but there was probably a more strategic way to go about asking for support. If the other councils can cope, why is this one so different? At Tring, there was support from the local council to get things set up, and the Woodland Trust contributed to kilometre markers- and both organisations continue to do so. The council decided it was a worthy cause for a grant – so why don’t others think the same?

You take away parkrun and you take away support for the local community – local cafes get an influx of people at 10am on a Saturday morning, and plenty of councils gain a little bit extra from parking charges.  It’s great to see support from some high profile athletes and government support – but it’s a story I will be keeping a close eye on.

So, tomorrow’s Little Stoke parkrun has been cancelled, however I have a feeling it won’t stop people rallying for support. So I urge you to get down to your local run tomorrow and just appreciate what it is there for – even if you’ve never run before. It takes 5 minutes to register and print out a barcode. Take some time to appreciate what the volunteers do week in week out. Take some time about the benefit it brings to the community and all those whose journey to health started with parkrun.