Monday, 18 June 2012

The Hairy Helmet, a Lung Bursting Hill and a Thunderstorm

So Friday saw me running the much awaited Hairy Helmet Relay - teams of 4 each running 3.58 km round a local park with free beer and a barbecue thrown in. What better way to spend a Friday evening in June?
I'll be honest, I chose this for my first race purely because of the name. It had nothing to do with the free beer but that did make it easier to recruit three other people into my team. I also felt that I could run 2 (and a bit) miles without walking  even with the formidable hill at the start, and that was good enough for me for a first outing.  I had looked up last year's results and saw there were around five teams slower than we would be so I was quite happy with that.
It had rained all day so we knew it was going to be a soggy affair and we were right! At least we would be running on paved paths, I thought, but no! In their wisdom, the organisers had decided the paths might be too slippery so they had re-routed most of the course onto the grass. They had also thoughtfully erected a gazebo under which runners could shelter from the elements. A good plan but with one small flaw - there were 380 runners and the gazebo was only 10 x 30ft in size. We got rather up close and personal I can tell you. In that time, between registration and the start of the race, there was something niggling me but I couldn't quite work out what. Five minutes before the race started, there was a fanfare of thunder and the heavens opened. My husband, Ian, and two of my daughters, Zoe and Freya, were huddled together clutching soggy burgers and trying to look enthusiastic from outside the shelter. I felt so guilty.
 The first leg runners gathered at the start, the klaxon sounded and they were off along with Linda, the first of my team mates. And then I realised what had been niggling me - 94 people all dressed in club vests sprinted past us followed some 20m behind by a rather sheepish looking Linda jogging along and waving to the cheering crowd. Where were the other fun runners? Where were the other joggers who would be slower than us?! There were none!! Of course there weren't - only real runners and complete lunatics go out running in the pouring rain on a Friday night! Last year it had been a lovely sunny evening. Oh dear, this was going to be embarrassing.
In around 15 minutes the first of the runners returned to tag their next team-mate. By 20 minutes the rest were all back. Linda appeared 4 minutes later to hand over to Chris who then shot off like a hare, not wanting to look like a jogger before she turned the corner out of sight. Inevitably, she had to walk some of the course and was overtaken by a mass of testosterone sprinting past on their third leg. I waited patiently. and with a knot in my stomach. At least I didn't have to go last. Chris returned and made a dash for the beer tent to recover as I set off.
I had resolved to be true to myself and I jogged at a steady pace from the start. I got into a rhythm of sorts and felt ok.  Most leg 4 runners soon burned past me and I was left in peace to face the hill alone. My lungs were burning and my poor heart banged hard against my ribs but I made it up without walking. I was really pleased with myself but I wasn't prepared for the next bit at all. 378 runners had scaled this hill before me and at the top I found myself on a wide sea of mud stretching ahead back down the hill. I must have looked a sight, all legs and arms, like Bambi desperately trying to stay upright as I skated down the slope.
The marshal was trying hard not to laugh and I was trying harder not to fall. At the bottom of the hill there was 1km to go and I was feeling very sorry for myself. I was very close to walking back when I saw my children shouting and cheering me on. Freya was comically waving a fish slice shouting, "Go on, Dennis!" ( from the film Run Fat Boy Run). They were soaked through and I though how very lucky am I to have such a wonderful family who are always there to support me. I kicked a little harder and somehow got round to the finish line in 26 mins without walking. I was very generously cheered in and Helen, the last of my team-mates set off on her lap. Two of the club runners started to run with her and kept her company all the way round the course, which was lovely of them. We were very definitely last by some 17 minutes. 
Ian had contented himself drinking the free beer even though it was somewhat watered down and, in the end, the atmosphere was fun and I think everyone had quite enjoyed the evening.
What I have learnt is:

  •  I have a very long way to go before I can call myself a runner
  • My family are fantastic and the most precious thing in my life
  • I'm scared of running downhill in the mud
  • It hasn't put me off
Finally, sorry I haven't blogged for a while but watch this space.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Walking the Sandstone Trail

This is me tackling what must have
 been my 50th stile that day. 
Totally knackered after reaching the highest  point on the
trail. Ok, so it's only 750m but it felt like Everest to me!
This Easter, in my efforts to get fitter, I decided it would be a good idea to have a three day break doing something active. Our daughters were going to be busy writing up projects and revising for exams so Ian and I invited two good friends of ours to walk the Sandstone Trail in Cheshire.
I love walking! Doesn't everyone? How else would you get to the fridge or the biscuit cupboard?
Anyway, I researched this walk very carefully since I had never walked more than six miles in one go before. I thought 34 miles over three days would be ok, as long as there were some good pub lunches to be had, and I was particularly attracted by the rather long section of canal towpath on the last day.
The weather the previous week had been glorious so I advised our friends to remember to pack sun cream. As if! What was I thinking? The day arrived and we woke up to snowflakes the size of saucers passing our bedroom window. Two inches of snow carpeted the ground and trees were bending in the gale. We phoned our friends to ask what the weather was like with them and were told that they had snow but they were willing to give it a go so we put on our ski gear and set off. Fortunately, there was no snow in Cheshire. It was bitter cold and windy but the sun came out just enough to prevent frost bite. The 14 miles we walked on the first day was a real shock to the system. We started out chatting enthusiastically but by the end of it we had our heads down just putting one foot in front of the other. At the end of the day the farmhouse B&B was a welcome sight for this couch potato I can tell you.
We slept well but next morning I could not walk much less get down the stairs for breakfast. How on earth was I going to walk another 11 miles? It is a fact that the smell of bacon has magical powers and somehow I found myself staggering down the trail again. I wish I had a video of the four of us forty-somethings looking more like eighty-somethings for the first half hour of that day. We did loosen up eventually and I might say, with the sun out, we really enjoyed day 2 - until we got to the hilly part, that is, when I felt as though I had axes through both knees.
The second night we stayed in a pub before our final day's walking. This time we all had to apply numerous blister plasters and I abandoned my hiking boots in favour of soft comfy trainers for the last stretch. Tired and a little grumpy, we trudged through the rest of the hilly section and eventually reached the canal path for which we were all truly thankful. Four miles later we proudly reached the end of the trail and agreed that our next trip would be the ascent of Ben Nevis. We must be completely mad!
It took my poor knees three days to recover from this ordeal and my toes may never be the same again. I considered taking a photo of my three black toenails and various blisters but thought that might be a little gross for a blog. The biggest disappointment for me was the discovery that after such an epic trip I had in fact gained three pounds in weight. I can only put it down to muscle gain. I am sure it had nothing to do with the cooked breakfasts and pub meals we had along the way.
Has all this put me off walking? No, it was fantastic and I can't wait to do it again (when I have acquired a better pair of hiking boots that is).


Friday, 13 April 2012

Gerard Varin's Epic Run

Gerard Varin on his epic 740 mile
 run from Derbyshire to Switzerland
Today I just had to tell you all about Gerard Varin. He is a super-fit man who lives here in Duffield and, as I type this, is completing day 13 of a 740 mile run from Derbyshire to Switzerland to raise money for Breast Cancer. To do this he will need to average 27 miles a day for a month! That's just mind blowing isn't it?
Gerard is an inspiration to me because he is testament to what the human body is capable of. I have no aspirations to do anything on this scale but I tell my reluctant carcass every day that a 30 minute jog or a 60 minute swim is really not that big an ask.
 There was a time when you could run a single marathon and raise lots of money for you chosen charity. Now it seems that people have to go to ever more extreme lengths and really suffer to have an impact. I'm thinking of David Walliams swimming the Thames and John Bishop's Paris to France trip to name but two. Anyway, take a look at Gerard's webpage to follow his progress and support him if you can.
As for me, being a mere mortal I have to be content with doing my bit for Sport Relief by swimming the Big Splash Mile (64 lengths) on Friday 27th April. That's a big enough challenge for me at the moment!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Thoughts On My Journey to Fitness

Ok, so I set up this blog after having a particularly disappointing morning. Today's visit to the world of fitness was meant to be Couch to 5k week 5 run 2 but I couldn't complete it and came home feeling very sorry for myself. I sought solace in the C25k community and indeed received much support from them - enough to keep me from reaching for a bar of chocolate anyway - and my three daughters were amazing but it still hurt.
I realise you don't know much about me yet so I will drip feed information as I post more updates (don't want to frighten you off before I've even got started do I?) I am 48 and somehow found myself 5 stone overweight with painful joints and no energy. My eldest daughter, Eve, turned 21 in February and this June I will have been married to Ian for 25 years. Suffice it to say I started to feel my age and something just snapped. ENOUGH! I said to myself, and so it began - my journey to fitness.
I went for brisk walks to begin with and that was challenging enough but I wanted more. I took up swimming and signed up for the Big Splash Sport Relief Mile Swim which was crazy since I have bad ears and haven't swum in 30 years. Undeterred, I got ear moulds made at the audiology clinic and jumped in. I watched videos to relearn how to swim breast stroke and followed the training plan. It  is going really well and I have already reached my target of 64 lengths so I will swim on 27th April with every confidence of completing the challenge.
Onward and upward then, I joined a gym and went to my first pilates class. I am as stiff as a board and have no balance whatsoever so I thought it would help. It does too, although I have had a few embarrassing moments falling over because I can't stand on one leg. I tried a yoga class but the least said about that the better! I will have to revisit that when I can bend my knees a little more than 90 degrees.
And so to running, well jogging. I came across the NHS Couch to 5k programme which promises to get anybody from walking to running 30 minutes in just nine weeks. I thought this was unachievable for me (what with my dodgy knees and all) but hey ho I decided to give it a go. Why not - everything else has been going well? I downloaded the free podcasts from iTunes and bought some new running shoes.
I wasn't silly enough to sign up for a 5k race, but I set about the programme with confidence and up to today I have managed every run. So it was a big shock to the system that I couldn't complete my run today. I did have a cold but I felt ok I was supposed to run for 2x8 mins with a 5 minute recovery walk in the middle. I got half way through the second run when I just stopped and couldn't continue. It was my first hiccup on my journey and it has knocked my confidence.
What have I learnt today? I will have ups and downs on my journey but I must lift myself up and carry on. Nothing worth achieving comes easily and I will get there. I have big plans - climbing Ben Nevis, doing a 5k parkrun, doing a novice triathlon (when I start cycling), white water rafting, karate ...
Watch this space!