WHETHER I am running or studying or writing, I always try to give my best. I work as hard as I possibly can so that I can hopefully achieve my goals, or if I don’t achieve them I can at least say I’ve tried my best.
I am definitely a Trier.
I am trying to get back into shape after a few months off. I am trying to break the 40-minute 10k barrier. I am trying to finish writing my running book. I am trying to break the 90-minute half marathon barrier. I am trying to finish my MA in writing. I am trying my best at everything I do. At work, my colleagues laugh at me because whenever I’m working on a project, I always say, ‘It’s got to be right’. And it has. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.
But sometimes, striving for perfection and trying to be the best you can be is hard work. There are always Continue reading →
We’ve just returned from a holiday in Northumberland. We stay in the village of Craster, which overlooks Dunstanburgh castle. The scenery is spectacular. It really is a fantastic place to unwind.
One of the best things about the holiday is running along the coastal path to the castle. We go early. I always enjoy the peace that running in the morning brings. There’s always a calmness to the world. In Craster, running in the morning is even better. With the castle in the distance, the sea to the right, and countryside to the left, it really is the most beautiful place.
I love listening to the waves crashing onto the shore. I love the refreshing breeze. It’s one of my favourite places to run. And after a holiday in Craster I always feel energised.
With my teammates celebrating my win of three Chocolate Oranges and a box of biscuits
After taking part in a race I always allow myself a chocolate treat. It’s something I really look forward to, so much so, that I thought I would put together a list of my top ten post-race chocolate bars. The list is not based on any scientific evidence or analysis of the nutritional content. It is, however, based on my experience of what tastes the best when you’ve just pushed your body to the limit.
I also think that chocolate helps with recovery.
‘Chocolate can help with recovery?’ I hear you cry.
People may disagree. There’s a lot of advice about the types of foods you should eat to help the recovery process. Chocolate isn’t usually on the list, but for me it does help. If I have a chocolate bar soon after running, the next time I run it is easier.
Never underestimate the power of chocolate.
Miniature Heroes at the Broomhead Chase
There are times in a race when the thought of a chocolate reward keeps me going. When I’m gasping for breath and my legs are wobbling, I think of the Mars Bar or the Snickers waiting for me at the end and I push on.
When I’m battling against someone and I’m tired and it’s hard work, I always gain strength knowing that if I work hard I might win a prize and prizes usually mean chocolate. I know that if it comes down to a sprint finish against another lady, I will give it everything because no-one wants to win a box of Miniature Heroes more than I do. No-one possibly could.
Miniature Heroes at the New York Canal Race, Rotherham
‘It’d be easier to buy a box of chocolates,’ my dad always says.
It probably would. But I wouldn’t have that feeling of satisfaction you get after a run, knowing that you can treat yourself because you’ve already burned the calories. It’s a reward for a job well done.
I did share them 🙂
So without further rambling here are my top ten post-race chocolate bars.
10. Crunchie – always better on a Friday
9. Finger of Fudge – light and chocolaty
8. Lion Bar – wafer, caramel, peanut butter and chocolate
7. Twirl – two twirly milk chocolate fingers covered in smooth Cadbury milk chocolate
6. Twix – this bar was a favourite during my teenage years
5. Drifter – this was always a favourite of mine at school.
4. Bounty – coconut and chocolate
3. Dairy Milk – I love Dairy Milk. This wins for my favourite bar of chocolate whether I’ve run or not.
2. Mars Bar – a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. I wouldn’t eat one every day, just on the odd occasion after a half marathon. It’s a long distance bar. I’d never have it after a 5k.
1. My number one chocolate bar is Snickers. Nougat topped with caramel and peanuts, and it’s kind of running related because it used to be called Marathon.
There you are. My top ten chocolate bars. Please note that I also like Ripple, Wispa, Flake ( too flakey for after a race), and Maltesers. I also enjoy Thorntons Continentals and Green & Blacks dark chocolate.
Please never give me a Wagon Wheel or Turkish Delight. I once took part in a half marathon and was handed a goody bag with nothing in it except a melted Wagon Wheel and a flyer. I was not happy! I made the decision never to do that particular race again. I have also been in a half marathon where the Mars Bar had melted by the time I’d crossed the line. I would say to race organisers across the country, ‘A melted Mars Bar is better than no Mars Bar at all!’
After all this talk of chocolate I’m starting to feel a little hungry, but before I go a word of warning – everything in moderation. Only one bar at a time!
On Saturday I started my training to become a coach in running fitness. I headed to Hillsborough College in Sheffield for two-days of running related activities.
It was a fantastic weekend – very intense but fun. It’s given me a lot to think about both for my own training and, ultimately, for coaching others. As well as looking at the physical side of running we looked at the science behind the sport. This absolutely fascinates me. In two days we covered a lot, but it’s just the start. There is still so much to learn.
I have six weeks of independent work before the next training day. This is followed by a few more months of study before taking the exam in October. The course, which is organised by England Athletics, involves a practical and theory exam. I’m really looking forward to the course, but also a little daunted by the idea of the exams. Everyone on the course felt the same and the team from England Athletics was very supportive.
Jayne Rodgers (right) with her daughter Bibi www.veggierunners.com
As well as starting my coach training, which I’ve wanted to do for a while, it was nice to meet people who are so passionate about running. One of the ladies, Jayne, is also a running blogger. Her blog www.veggierunners.com has just been shortlisted for best blog in the Running Awards. You can vote for it here.
For a while I’ve been struggling with iron deficiency and have been looking at ways to include iron in my diet without eating meat. Veggie Runners provides recipes for runners whatever distance they are training for. It was lovely to meet Jayne and great to find a blog that will help improve my nutrition. I will definitely be voting for it.
When my friend texted me on Friday morning to see if I wanted to join him for a Saturday park run I didn’t think I’d have the energy to take part.
‘Not sure,’ I replied. ‘Will let you know.’
At the Nostell Priory Parkrun on Valentine’s Day. Guess which runner couldn’t find her red running vest the morning of the race?
After a busy week at work (not that I’m complaining), 5am starts for the horses and lots of speed and hill training, it’s fair to say I was feeling a little tired. Actually exhausted might be a better word.
I thought Friday night’s training session of three 1.5 mile reps might finish me off. But rather than tire me out completely, my run seemed to give me a boost. On the first rep I smashed my personal best by 20 seconds. The second and third reps were also good – all well below seven minute mile pace. I couldn’t believe it.
I texted my friend: ‘See you in the morning!’
My plan was to blast round as quickly as I could in preparation for my main race next weekend. I thought I might feel heavy-legged and tired. I didn’t. In fact I felt strong, the strongest I’ve felt all year. I managed a personal best by two seconds finishing the tough course in 21.12.
It’s always good to get a PB.
After the death of my grandad in December and the injury to my intercostal muscles also in December, I’ve been struggling for fitness. I’ve got back into regular training but I was beginning to think that my fitness would never return. Getting that two second PB made my day. It was a turning point. It has given me hope that maybe 2015 can be just as good running-wise as it was in 2014, where I seemed to get PB after PB.
I was pleased I’d taken part in the run. There’s always a great sense of achievement after a race. The endorphins are flowing, and no matter how tough the race, I always feel fantastic. At Nostell Priory Parkrun there’s a lovely café so we always have a tea or hot chocolate afterwards. In terms of atmosphere it’s difficult to find anywhere better than Nostell. After the race on Saturday the organisers handed out doughnuts as a little treat for Mother’s Day. They were delicious – a perfect way to celebrate a good run and get my energy back for the next race.
Out of all the runs I do every week it’s the long run that I struggle with the most. In fact, there are times when I dread it for days.
Even though my long run is at a much slower pace than most of my other runs, I find it incredibly tiring. To keep going mile after mile at a consistent pace and to fight the urge to stop when your body is hurting requires both physical and mental strength. I like the challenge, but the feeling of exhaustion can be overwhelming, so overwhelming that it often wipes me out for the rest of the day.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the feeling of accomplishment you always get when you’ve finished a long run. And if I didn’t have a million and one energy-zapping things to do after the run, like mucking-out the horses or walking the dogs, I’m sure I would enjoy them a lot more.
Chris at the 2014 Dam Flask relay
Chris is well aware of how much I dread my long run. I’ve told him often enough. Unlike me, Chris loves to get out for his long run and is quite happy to run for mile after mile on his own in all weathers. That’s why he’s tackled the marathon distance and why he’s taking on his first ultra this year.
‘It’s about the challenge,’ he says. ‘Pushing yourself to run for longer distances. It’s the one thing where you can really test your strength and speed. It’s the run where all your other training comes into play, and you can see improvement. And because we race long distances they’re really important.’
He’s right. Most of our races for the next few months are ten miles and half marathon distance. I have to do a long run. I won’t miss one, but I will complain about it. My complaining over the past few weeks has been getting out of hand. I’ve complained to Chris. I’ve complained to my friends in my training group. I’ve complained to my non-running family who say – shock horror – ‘well don’t do it then.’
Running on my own at last year’s North Lincolnshire Half Marathon
Not doing a weekly long run is not an option, so I decided that instead of channelling all my energy into hating and complaining and grumbling about my run, I would learn to love it.
I’ve been introducing ways to make it more fun. I’ve included tempo miles, fartlek, off-road runs, and hills in my long run. The good thing is that my strategies are starting to work. My mind-set, albeit slowly, is beginning to change. I decided that it’s all about being positive, setting challenges and rewarding yourself.
Last weekend I set the challenge of running a half marathon in training. It wasn’t an unrealistic challenge as I’ve slowly been increasing the length of my runs. Sunday is usually the day for my long run, but I knew I’d spend all weekend thinking about it. Instead I ran first thing Saturday morning.
The sun was shining. Chris was running with me. We’d planned the route. We’d got gels and water. We were ready.
I was determined to enjoy it.
‘I’m definitely going to enjoy this,’ I told Chris. ‘I’m learning to love my long run.’
With Chris at the Norton 9 2015
The route was a combination of road, trail and woodland in some lovely Yorkshire countryside. It was a fairly flat route which started along the canal taking us from Old Royston to the West Yorkshire village of Walton. We then headed into Sandal and Newmillerdam Country Park where we did a lap of the dam. A steep climb followed until we reached the Trans Pennine Trail for the last three miles.
We ran 13.5 miles going through a half marathon in 1 hour 54. Although the pace was steady, it was consistent and I felt strong. It was only in the last mile that I felt tired and started to complain.
‘I’m tired,’ I said to Chris ‘I’m struggling.’
‘Nearly there,’ he said and he seemed to speed up as though he wanted the run and the complaining to end.
‘Will you slow down?’ I said.
It’s rare I do my long run with Chris. It’s not because I hate spending time with him or anything like that. It’s because if I’m with Chris I’m more likely to complain. I’m more likely to stop.
If I’m on my own or with friends I never complain. Instead I dig in and push myself, often encouraging others. But with Chris it’s different. I think it’s because he’s a faster runner than me, so my eyeballs-out pace is Chris’ jog. And he’ll usually say something annoying like, ‘Push on,’ when in actual fact I am PUSHING all I can and couldn’t possibly PUSH any more. But I do enjoy running and spending time with Chris, which is why I asked him if he’d come with me on my Saturday half-marathon challenge.
It was actually a lovely run and my complaining was limited to the last mile. I was pleased we did it. Afterwards we had a relaxing afternoon watching the tennis and eating chocolate, probably a bit too much chocolate (minstrels and maltesers). But it’s all about rewarding yourself for achieving something. Having run 13.5 miles I decided I had a lot to feel pleased about.
It’s been quiet on the blog for a while. My last post was in November. Since then it’s been a very difficult few months, which I hope explains my blogging absence.
In December my grandad died. He was 91-years-old. He was loved and adored. In July Grandad was diagnosed with angiosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the blood vessels. It started in February as a little red patch on his skin. We thought it was a rash. When it was finally diagnosed as cancer, the doctors told us it would spread very quickly. We were amazed at just how quickly.
I knew how ill my grandad was but I couldn’t bear to think of a time when he wouldn’t be here. I loved him so much. Grandad was very interested in my running. He followed athletics in the local paper and always looked for me and my club. I’ve written about him in my running blog before.
I was very close to Grandad but after his diagnosis I made sure I spent every spare minute with him. We liked to play dominoes. The last game we played he annihilated me eleven games to one, so even when he was ill, his mind was as sharp as ever.
Wearing a flat cap in true Yorkshire style. He bought it to hide his sarcoma.
At the beginning of December Grandad became very poorly. He was struggling to breathe. We suspected the cancer had spread to his lungs, but we weren’t sure. It was a difficult time, but he never complained. I don’t think he was honest about the pain or how difficult he was finding it. ‘I want to try something else,’ he said when the doctor visited on Monday 22nd December. He went into hospital that evening.
My mum and auntie went in the ambulance with him. It broke my heart to watch the ambulance leave when I knew he would never come home. I stood in the cold and the dark with my cousins watching the ambulance as it went up the hill and turned onto the main road.
Hospital was the best place for Grandad. He was much more comfortable. He was always surrounded by his family – daughters, granddaughters, great grandchildren. We had a final Christmas with him. Throughout his illness Grandad never lost his sense of humour. The Saturday before he died, he was laughing and joking. We had a lovely day with him. It was a good day.
The next day (Sunday) he took a turn for the worst. He died on Monday 29th December at 5.32am. It was very peaceful. I held his hand and told him I loved him.
After he died I felt numb. While he’d been ill I’d coped by running, which probably explains why I did so well last year. I’d even run when I injured my ribs, which wasn’t really sensible but it was my way of coping. When he’d gone I felt empty. There were days when I didn’t feel like running at all. I love racing but I didn’t feel like taking part. I took some time off.
With Nan and Grandad in the summer after winning a Yorkshire Vets medal
Every day without my grandad is hard and it gets harder because I just want to see him and hear his voice. ‘Hello girlie,’ he’d say. ‘Have you been running?’
In December, Chris and I won our club championship. I put the trophies into a bag and took them straight to show my grandad. He was delighted. When I’d won a Yorkshire veterans’ championship medal I’d done the same. ‘Can you believe I won a medal?’ I said.
‘The first of many,’ he replied and I’d laughed because it was a miracle I’d won one.
Over the past few weeks my love of running has returned. I need to get back into things. I’m not very fit. I’m definitely not as fit as last year, but I’ve entered a race. And I don’t care who’s behind me, or who’s in front, or even if I finish last. I’m just going to run and enjoy it and every step of the way I will think of my grandad and remember all the happy times. The race is on Sunday and I can’t wait.
This feature was published in Singapore last week. The editor asked for a light-hearted guide to preparing for your first race. Hopefully, it will also be a useful reminder for more experienced runners.
Writing the feature made me think back to my first race. A new blog post will be following shortly.
Taking part in your first race, whatever the distance, is really exciting. Whether you are racing for charity, fun or fitness, there is no better feeling than crossing the finish line and feeling pleased with yourself at a job well done.
After putting in the training miles, a race is a great chance to get out there and show what you can do. Whatever distance you run, be it a 5k, 10k or half marathon, it’s important that you prepare for race day. Here are our top tips for before, during and after the race.
BEFORE THE EVENT
Control the nerves
Everyone gets nervous before a race. It’s perfectly normal. You’ve been preparing for something for so long, so you’re bound to feel a little anxious. Try to relax and control your nerves. Think about crossing the finish line and how good you will feel. I always worry about coming last. I’ve been overtaken by people dressed as rhinos, superheroes and bears. I was even overtaken by a pot noodle when I did my sprint finish at the London Marathon, but I haven’t been last yet. The chances are you won’t be last either, and even if you were bringing up the rear, you’ll definitely get the biggest cheer.
Prepare your race kit
Get everything ready the night before you race. This includes trainers and kit, race number, food and drinks. This will prevent any last minute panic when you can’t find your running socks or sports bra – I’m talking from experience here. Pin your race number to your vest before you put it on. It’s easier to get the number straight and prevents any nasty pin injuries.
Eat foods that work for you
When it comes to food everyone is different and has their opinion on the best way to fuel for a race. Make sure that the foods you eat leading up to the race, and on race morning, are foods that you normally eat. Don’t try anything new and risk upsetting your stomach. I once read that the British athlete Jo Pavey eats tuna sandwiches before her races. That wouldn’t work for me. Instead I have porridge, sometimes followed by wholemeal toast and jam, depending on the race distance. The night before a race, I have pasta and vegetables with a chocolate pot for pudding. That seems to work for me, but everyone is different. I have a friend who won’t eat anything other than chicken jalfrezi the evening before a race and she’s an international runner.
Don’t do anything new
The week before the race it’s important not to change anything. Run in the same shoes and kit, and stick to your same routine. I once ran a marathon in a new pair of shorts. I’d never run in them before. After three miles when I realised they didn’t fit, I seriously regretted it. I spent the rest of the race trying to get comfortable.
Taking water before the race is important. However, thirty minutes before you race, don’t drink too much otherwise there’s a chance you’ll need the toilet when the race is about to start. Instead try to stay hydrated throughout the day.
It seems obvious, but all of my training group have been late or missed a race at some point. It happened to me a few weeks ago when I got stuck in traffic and was twenty minutes late for a half marathon. Give yourself time to warm up and prepare. As I discovered, a two mile sprint to the start of the race is not the best preparation.
Don’t set off too fast
There’s a real risk of getting caught up in the moment, setting off at World record pace and then quickly realising that you can’t keep it up. It’s much better to set off slower, get into your stride and then finish feeling strong.
When it gets tough, pick out your soundtrack or remember your reason for running
If you’re struggling during the race, it sometimes helps to think of a song. I don’t mean break out into song mid-way through the race, but if you think of an upbeat tune this can help you pick up the pace. Sometimes I have a song, other times I think of the reason I’m running – for a medal, in memory of someone, or for a charity.
AFTER THE RACE
Walking and stretching can help the recovery process. It will bring your heart rate back to normal and help reduce any muscle stiffness.
Eating and drinking after a race is an important part of the recovery process. I never really want to eat but try to have a protein recovery drink and a sandwich, biscuit or chocolate. You’ll still be burning calories for a long time after the race, so it’s a good time to allow yourself a treat. Well, that’s what I do.
As soon as you stop running, your body temperate drops. This is particularly bad for me in the UK weather, but even in hot weather I always make sure I have dry clothes to change into.
THE FOLLOWING DAY
You may not feel like it but doing some exercise the next day really helps your muscles to recover. Going for a recovery jog helps to reduce the stiffness.
My race day tips are all things that I’ve picked up over the years, usually learning lessons the hard way. It’s fair to say there have been times when things have not quite gone to plan, but it is all part of the excitement. The best advice is to enjoy the day and have fun. Good luck.
The Robin Hood Half Marathon in Nottingham is known for being one of the fastest and most popular autumn races in the country. If you’re looking for a personal best then this course almost guarantees it.
After setting PBs at two half marathons in the spring, I’d got closer to breaking the one hour 40 minutes barrier but hadn’t quite managed it. With a full summer of training I felt sure I would be able to smash it. Even if I ran one hour 39 that would suffice. I just wanted thirty-something.
So my summer training began. The long runs, short runs, hills runs, tempo runs and speed sessions were all done with Nottingham in mind.
Everything was going well. I felt strong. I was quietly confident. A few weeks before the race I smashed my 10k PB. I was delighted. I couldn’t wait to get on the start line at Nottingham. This had to be the right time to break the barrier.
Unfortunately, the autumn germs began circulating and I became ill with a chest infection. Then my iron deficiency started causing problems. I soldiered on. I took antibiotics and ate spinach and broccoli in abundance. To make matters worse, Chris was struck down with man flu. We wondered if we’d even be able to make the start. Should we still race? Should we pick another half marathon? One minute we were going to run the next we weren’t running. Then at the last minute we decided to do it.
As always, the doubt was my downfall. I’d lost my focus. I didn’t prepare as I normally would. In fact, our preparations were something of a shambles.
‘We’ll have to set off early,’ Chris said the night before.
‘Why?’ I asked tucking into my chocolate pot (dark chocolate for iron of course).
‘It starts at 9:30am.’
The drive to Nottingham takes an hour and half. We needed to be in the race village at 8:30am and it was a 25 minute walk from the car park to the start. We needed to set off at 6.45am at the latest, which meant getting up before we’d gone to bed. All this would have been fine had we not had various pets to contend with on race morning. I dashed off to feed the horses while Chris walked and fed the dogs. Things took longer than planned. We were 30 minutes late setting off.
‘We’re cutting it a bit fine,’ Chris said as we sped out of the village.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘The car park and roads don’t close until 8.50am so we’ll be fine.’
Chris didn’t look so sure.
‘Don’t panic,’ I said. ‘I know a shortcut.’
Having lived and worked in Nottingham I thought I knew the area quite well, but as it turns out, I don’t. Things started to go wrong when I couldn’t remember if it was junction 26 or 25 that we needed to take. We took 25.
‘I don’t recognise any of these roads,’ I said. ‘It must have been the 26 turnoff!’
We had a tense few minutes until we realised that the road we were travelling on was going to Nottingham. We’d get there. It would be fine. It was 8.40am and just as we were signalling to take a road leading to the car park an official jumped out in front of us brandishing traffic cones.
‘The road’s closing,’ he said.
I was slightly annoyed that the race organisers were closing things ahead of schedule.
‘It’s only a few minutes,’ Chris said. But actually those precious minutes would have made all the difference.
The official told us we needed to go back to the roundabout, which involved more queuing, and head three miles the other way following a diversion.
If only I hadn’t got my junction numbers muddled we would have got there a few minutes earlier, parked and walked to the start in good time. Instead it was 8.50am and we were still crawling along.
As we came into Nottingham I became nostalgic at seeing the Queen’s Medical Centre where I used to work. In my excitement I seemed to lose all sense of direction and we ended up in a church car park. I jumped out and asked a policeman for directions. It was 9am.
‘Can we run to the start?’ I asked.
‘Too far,’ he said.
‘How far is far?’
I really didn’t want to run three miles and then take part in a half marathon, so we went back the way we’d come. When we spotted a sign for the car park, I cheered. We could see where we needed to be, but the traffic just wasn’t moving. At 9.14am Chris confirmed my suspicions.
‘We’re going to miss the race!’
After all my training and hard work, months of putting myself through pain just to break one hour 40, I wasn’t even going to start.
Surprisingly, I felt calm. There was absolutely nothing I could do and it wasn’t like it was the Olympic final.
We parked the car at 9.35am, five minutes late, and began a mad sprint to the start. That first mile and half were the quickest of the day. A few people clapped us as we came down what would be the last mile of the race.
‘Are you the winners?’ someone shouted.
We arrived at the start gasping, tired and hot. In retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal warm up for a half marathon event. What we should have done is got back in the car and gone for a big breakfast, but when you’re in race mode it’s hard to see sense.
With around 17,000 runners taking part in the half marathon and marathon not everyone had crossed the start line. We joined Fred Flintstone and Robin Hood at the back of the field and off we went.
With thousands of runners to pass I was never going to get the time I wanted. But I was going to try. It was stop and start all the way. I weaved in and out of the crowd, jumped on and off pavements, but to no avail.
Despite my disappointment at not breaking the barrier, I was delighted when I crossed the line in 1.41.56, a PB by three seconds which meant 10 points for my club championship.
‘You cut that a bit fine,’ Chris said. ‘But at least it’s not a wasted day.’
It wasn’t. There’s always a sense of achievement after finishing a half marathon. It was just a very strange day and there’s still the problem of breaking that one hour 40 barrier.