London Calling – Vitality London 10,000

Oh hi there readers, long time no see. The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed there have been very few (read, zero) posts for a while now. I haven’t been running and I also haven’t been feeling too anxious, so there’s not been much to write about. Never fear, that’s all about to change.

Remember that time I was really sick at Bath Half? My running never really recovered from it. It turned into a couple of months  of misery, feeling breathless, sick, faint, and slow every time I ran and after several doctor’s appointments was diagnosed as an arrhythmia. So that explains a lot. This had not been the case when I signed up for a bank holiday weekend of racing, and convinced several friends they really wanted to do that too, and so I turned up to run a 10k, having not covered the distance in weeks on end and having lost a lot of (read, nearly all) aerobic fitness.

I was supposed to run the Westminster Mile on the Sunday but ended up staying out on the Saturday night so promptly wrote that off. I still love wine more than running. At 7am on a bank holiday Monday – an hour earlier than I get up for work – I was struggling to eat some toast and commiserating with friends via text about being awake. Thankfully, nobody seemed to quite remember at this point that it was entirely my fault we were doing this.

I met TeamPaella (or, friends I’m running in Valencia with this winter, to the uninitiated) in Green Park and was immediately a bit surprised by the scale of the operation.

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TeamPaella

I live in London but hadn’t appreciated what a large event the Vitality London 10,000 is. As a side note, just how many races do Vitality want to sponsor? It feels like a lot of my year was supposed to be sponsored by Vitality until I had to miss a couple of races. It was a surprisingly chilly day (although I still nearly boiled while running, as is my way, despite shorts) and so we delayed heading to bag drop and having to cast off layers for as long as possible. And that’s how we ended up with a lot of pre-race selfies.

I actually found it to be a relatively bland route. It’s essentially a narrow loop from Pall Mall to the City and back, and aside from running through Trafalgar Square close to the beginning, and the last km starting with the Houses of Parliament and finishing with Buckingham Palace, I don’t find it very inspiring. I suspect some of the London magic is lost on me considering the City end of the loop is really just my lunchtime wanderings (we in fact were within <100m of my office at one point). I can’t fault the support and entertainment all the way along the route however, I don’t think there was a quiet point on the course.

I crossed the finish line in 1:04:30, which is a good 8 minutes away from my PB. A lot of me is sad and frustrated. A smaller part of me recognises that this really is fairly reasonable, given how much time I’ve had off. I was purposefully very cautious during the race both in terms of my pacing and building in a lot of walking because I was concerned about actually finishing, so I’m hoping13315358_10154282147228307_934729089664403536_n now that I’ve broken through the psychological barrier of completing the distance again, I can start picking up some speed. I was rewarded for my efforts with some fairly excellent supersize bling, a finisher’s shirt that I actually like and might use (rarity!) and a goodie bag which included food and suncream (those who follow me on Twitter will know I’m militant about the sun). I sped through the most efficient bag collection I’ve known, and returned to Green Park to meet everyone who helpfully loitered despite all finishing about 15 minutes before me. It’s okay, they passed the time taking photos with their medals, they were happily occupied. Didn’t even notice I was gone.

We eventually met some of the others of the ukrunchat crowd (after much milling around letter B of the charity stands desperately trying to spot people in the crowd) and headed to the pub; a happy end a delightful bank holiday weekend.

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It is the hollow month of March now sweeping in

March is sweeping out, actually. But I don’t write the lyrics, I just pilfer them for blog titles. When I wrote my round up of February, I ended by saying it would be a big month. It was, but in ways I never expected.

I started the month by turning 27 on the 2nd. Birthdays are ace; I don’t usually like mine much but this year I was truly happy and calm on it for the first time in a few years. The problem with birthdays is that there’s a lot of eat/drink/be merry which doesn’t leave much time for running. Ho hum, I don’t pretend to be a paragon of virtue, running or otherwise. The night before my birthday, I went out for (many) drinks and some dinner with a friend. Wine, whisky and I think 12798908_10154028832863307_1160822745085107067_n.jpgthere was a meat board at some point. The next day was my birthday and so I went out and did it all again, having dim sum and large amounts of prosecco with some of my nearest and dearest in London and a super time was had by all. London gets so lonely at times and it really helps to have memories like this, knowing that people are around. I’ve been more cautious about drinking the past few months; I’m aware of the effect that both being drunk, and being hungover has on my anxiety levels so I’m really glad that I had a few days of having fun and not worrying about repercussions, and there being no repercussions.

That week was a write off for running for obvious reasons. On the Saturday I was back at home for birthday CcxmmPxWwAApKhkcelebrations with the parents, and dragged myself down to Lee-on-the-Solent parkrun. Yay! Parkrun! Yay! The seaside! I wasn’t trying to push it too hard with only a week left until the Bath Half but ended up with a time of 28:04 which while not a PB isn’t too shabby a time for me. I also pleasingly managed almost perfect splits. As pacing has been a bugbear for me, this was huge for me and I was on a real high, feeling like my running was finally progressing. My heart rate had been reasonably good, the whole run hadn’t felt too bad until I started my sprint finish too early; I think if I hadn’t mistimed that it would have easily been in the 27:5xs. Everything was good.

Then everything went wrong. So wrong.

On the Monday, I lost my job. I won’t rehash it all here but it was unexpected and dramatic. I phoned my mama and asked her to come to London, I phoned recruiters en route to the train station, I phoned a couple of friends to try and stay level while I awaited my mama’s arrival. Packed some bags. Came home to the coast for sea air and home cooking and awaited my inevitable meltdown. Except it never happened. Tears and panic attacks have come so easily, over the tiniest inconsequential things but in a real crisis, it seems I cope. I was stressed and sad but I coped. That’s worth knowing. If I can get through this, then that strength is also there to be utilised in my sillier moments.

I had grand plans for rest and running. This was going to be my highest mileage month ever! (Un)fortunately, the phone started ringing very quickly and my first two weeks at home were actually spent on trains to/from London, attending interviews. Thankfully, I received an offer a mere nine working days after losing my job.

The Bath Half came at the end of my first week of unemployment. 10169185_10154070677308307_5339933511251828_nIn hindsight, I suspect the stress I was under probably played its part in it being a bad race for me. I thought I was just thrown off track by the unexpectedly nice conditions but looking back at the data from my Garmin, it seems to have been the start of some heart rate issues that I’ve been having ever since. I had no motivation to run after Bath; disheartened by a truly miserable race and a lack of routine without work meant a lot of napping and Netflix. When I did get back out there after 10 days or so without a proper run, my heart and lungs felt like they would explode. I chalked it up as a bad run and tried again a few days later but to no avail. My heart rate was way up near its max despite running significantly slower than my usual 5k pace. I rested some more, kept an eye on my resting heart rate and stared mournfully at the data. Following those bad runs my resting heart rate was high 70s/low 80s for a couple of days before returning to its normal level of high 50s/low 60s. I’ll see how things are when I get back to work and having routine and a normal life – impossible to know if this problem is physical or mental as the two are so closely linked for me.

The other run of note this month was at Southwark Parkrun. I know, those babes again. If you’re ever in south London, Southwark is a particularly wonderful parkrun and I can’t recommend it enough. This month, they very graciously agreed for a team from Mind to come and film me (tail)running as part of an upcoming campaign about exercise and mental health. Expect a more detailed post when the campaign launches. I had a delightful morning leisurely running at the back of the pack while a cameraman on inline skates whizzed past me before I stood in the park repeatedly waiting for helicopters to pass over and spoke about why parkrun is a great way to get into sport and its many benefits. I also got to meet the very lovely Louise and her boyfriend Ryan who experienced my near-evangelical ranting about why parkrun is the best but hey, we follow each other on Twitter now so I can’t have seemed too mad. Or maybe they enjoy madness. Thank you so much to the ever-wonderful team at Southwark for agreeing to the filming, and especially their event director Mike who was instrumental in making it happen. You are all stars. Finished product coming soon; expect repeated wails of “am I really that ginger?” (yes), “am  I really that pale?” (also yes), and “do I really make those faces when I run/speak?” (another yes).

April. The return to the London. A new job, again. Cheering as part of Team Mind at the London Marathon. (N.B. If you’re running the London Marathon, I’ll be the ginger one wearing a VERY fetching Mind t-shirt at Mile 25 at Embankment, send me your race number, I’ll track you and then high 5 you because you’ll be so close to finishing). Lighter evenings. Putting my life back together again.

 

Feet don’t fail me now, take me to the finish line

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On Sunday morning, following not quite 5 hours of sleep, I woke up and headed to Bath for the Bath Half Marathon. I was incredibly nervous. This was my first ever half marathon and I hadn’t quite hit the distance in training. This was also the biggest race I’ve ever been part of. Sticking to 5ks, 5-milers and 10ks means I’ve never been part of a pack of 15,000 and I’m somewhat claustrophobic. Getting there early meant I was at the front of the final starting pen and had some breathing space for the hour pre-race. The only time the crowds really affected me was on the occasions where I looked back and saw the tide of people behind me, and then feeding back through into the runner’s village to collect medals at the very end. It’s safe to say that I prefer smaller races for my comfort levels but I’m also absolutely sure I wouldn’t have made it to the end had it not been for the crowd support.

12814144_10154063272878307_2090980128523154213_nIt was about 10 degrees and bright sunshine for the duration of the whole race. This isn’t hot weather by any means – it’s actually probably as close to my favoured running conditions as it’s possible to be, but it was decidedly more pleasant than I had been counting on in mid-March. My chest, upper arms and forehead are all showing a touch of sunburn (the perils of being ghostly pale) and plenty of people around the course were commiserating about being warmer than expected. The ultimate way to send my mind spinning off into meltdown? Diverge from my best laid plans.

During last summer’s heatwave in London, I ran 5km on the hottest day of the year when the temperatures hit 36C. I’m not averse to heat. But I wasn’t planning on it, and I’ve just trained through a long rainy winter. I drink a lot of water anyway – a lifetime of migraines has made me live in fear of dehydration – and I don’t even think about water for anything less than a 10km. Even for longer runs, I pop my credit card in my shorts pocket and get a drink if and when I feel I need it. On Sunday, I was unreasonably panicked by how hot I felt after only 3km, a mix of nerves and the glorious weather and at the first water station I practically inhaled a bottle of water I didn’t really need. Rookie error. I knew that. Shortly after the 6km mark, I was sick. Having never had much grace or dignity to start with, my main concern was that if I was seen, someone would tell me I had to stop running.

I picked myself up, cut my pace right down and trudged on. Around the 8km mark, my left hip flexor started to niggle. It’s been playing up a little bit on my longer runs recently but I’ve never known it to hurt so early on before, definitely something I need to address sooner rather than later. I suspect post-sickness my form was really suffering which probably didn’t help matters. By the end of race, picking my left leg up was agony and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I suddenly discovered I could barely walk. Funny what the body forces itself through when it knows it “has” to. It did make 2/3 of the race extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t really need any extra misery!

My 10km time was 1:15:03. I knew then just what dire straits I was in. Even on my long slow runs, I hit 10km at just under the hour mark. Not even halfway through and mentally I was just beaten. From there on, it was only about the very possibility of finishing. Any plans for a time were long destroyed and there was no hope of recovering. I really started to worry that I wouldn’t make it through the race.

At 12km, not long after starting the second loop of Bath, I spotted my friends in the crowd. Slightly over halfway through the worst run of my life, there’s a tiny blip in my Garmin data, where my pace suddenly and briefly hits 4:13/km as I sprinted across the course to high-five them both. The second loop was hard, I ran/walked the entire way. At 18km, I was sick again, I think probably just from exhaustion at that point. At 19km, I sat down at the side of the road and cried for a bit. At that moment, with only 2km left to run, it seemed so impossible that I would actually finish. I dragged my feet, alternating running and walking in about 300m bursts, I didn’t have enough left to manage anything more. As I rounded the corner on to Great Pulteney Street and saw the finish line, my pace climbed and climbed again. I saw my parents in the crowd, I spotted my friends slightly further along the straight and I ran.

After collecting my medal and finisher’s shirt, I phoned my parents and genuinely cried down the phone like a lost child as I tried to find my way back to the Abbey to meet them. I was really truly broken. Yet more proof that I can’t cope with exhaustion.

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Sprinting for the finish (out of sheer relief)

My chip time ended up being 2:38:34, a good 30 minutes slower than I had expected/hoped for. A lot of weaving about meant that I covered more additional distance than I usually manage over the course of a race and the Garmin clocked me hitting half marathon distance at 2:36:18. Either way, the whole thing was a hard knock. As I joked (not at all joking) to several friends yesterday, why be proud of what you’ve achieved when there’s the opportunity to relentlessly punish yourself for not being better? I’ve written before that this is a constant issue in my running (and life), and the worse the day, the harsher I am.

Cdc51bmWoAQkPYOThe key here is that I still ran it. Whilst it wasn’t a good time, it’s a bloody good time considering that it involves stopping to be sick twice, sitting down to cry, and running 15km of it on empty – no fuel, minimal hydration. If I can manage that, I should have no problems running the distance on a better day.

So. Bath was a bad race. They happen; the fact that it was my first half is sad, but they happen. I have 8 weeks until Run Hackney (with a 10km between now and then). Training for a half, from a half, should (theoretically) be reasonably straightforward. I know I can cover that distance now, even when I feel awful. I’ll be factoring in some glute strengthening to try and sort out this hip issue. Lighter, warmer evenings should result in a more positive attitude to training. At Hackney, I’ll be crossing the line in the time I know I’m capable of.

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Medal #2 of 2016

The floors are falling out from everybody I know

This morning, I was sat at my desk when the phone rang from a meeting room downstairs. It was the head of our HR team, asking me to pop down. When I got there, I was quickly dismissed. I was still in my probationary period and it has been decided that the role and I are a bad fit. The wording in my explanatory letter is that I don’t exhibit “essential qualities for the role to the extent required”. Or something equally woolly sounding. The most blindsided I have ever felt. At my one month review, everything seemed fine and targets were set for me to work towards by the end of my 6 months probation. Certainly, at no point was I warned that I needed to be doing things so differently that my job was in danger.

4 weeks pay in lieu of notice. HR collected my bag and coat. I was walked out the office without saying goodbye to anyone. That’s that.

I don’t really object to the reasoning. Some matches are wrong. Employee and employer don’t always fit together in terms of culture and this was a total 180 from my previous firms. I do object to the lack of warning. Nothing mentioned was so significant that it couldn’t easily have been remedied if I had actually been made aware of a problem. But oh well, worse things happen at sea. So I’m told.

So what now? I’ve decamped to my parents’ house, for a few days at least. I’ve been in touch with recruiters straight away and the market for what I do seems buoyant. I now have the chance to reassess what I truly want out of my life. It was only very recently that I was wondering if any of this was right for me. The last few days before the Bath Half are now full of rest, of my mother’s cooking, of short runs in the sunshine. I’m reading Rod Junkins’ The Art of Creative Thinking and finally planning some time to invest in personal projects I’ve been talking about for years.

Out of all this, there has been serious positivity. In the most dire of circumstances, there was no panic attack. I sat through the meeting without breaking down. I scratched my arms in a desperate attempt to keep control while waiting for my possessions to be brought down, but recovered and a few hours later there’s no damage to be seen. I left the office, called my parents and walked back to Waterloo. I text and called various friends to try and keep calm; thank you to everyone who rallied in the middle of their working days. Throughout it, I stayed reasonably calm. The panic and the tears were there, looming, but for once they were shut behind a door. The best text in response, “to be honest, you should have quit last week the second you didn’t get the bacon roll you were promised”. I laughed.

It’s February again, we must get older

It’s time for the month in review! What’s been going on inside my head and where have my feet been taking me this month?

The month began on a serious high with my Time To Talk post going the smalltime blogger version of viral. I was asked in advance by the event director at Southwark parkrun if I had anything suitable for them to share as part of the day. I didn’t, but they’re good people so I wrote a piece on how parkrun has been more than just running to me. It ended up being retweeted a ridiculous number of times and being shared by so many parkruns, by parkrunners and by the founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt. A bizarre day of people sending screenshots of my face as it popped up in their Facebook feeds via parkruns across the country.

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Sporting my parkrun performance shirt. A ginger in apricot. Bold.

That post has now been viewed well over 5000 times, in over 40 countries. Thank you to all who supported, shared and talked about mental health on that day. You know how much the cause means to me and to have had even the tiniest impact was fantastic. The blog will probably never reach such lofty heights again!

Running has been a mixed bag. Again, the month started well. I managed a couple of post-work 5 milers, as opposed to my usual 5km. I’m slowly trying to up my overall mileage and it’s reassuring to have broken the mental block I had of doing more than 5km on a school night. This will seem such a tiny breakthrough to so many of you but my running is plagued with arbitrary and nonsensical negative mental blocks of my own forming and it’s taking a lot of resolve to dismantle them.

The first weekend in February I once again smashed my longest run, taking the distance to 17.1km/10.6 miles. With 5 weeks to go until Bath Half, this was hugely reassuring. Thank you to everyone at #ukrunchat that evening who confirmed that yes, that was indeed completely on track when I was having a wobble! The other bonus of that run was my pacing was almost spot on; a little slower than usual but that led to consistency with a couple of (actually very small) blips that I think correlate to where I paused to stretch my niggling calves.

But then came the dreaded lurgy. Classic February cold/flu/misery had been doing the rounds at the office and I finally succumbed in the second week of February. Coincidentally, also set up to be the toughest week I’ve had at this job yet. Life, oh life.  A week of feeling terrible both physically and mentally and not being able to run at all, so once again a month where my mileage is nowhere near as high as I had hoped. I’ve actually only run about 50km all month which is appalling. I’m frustrated but I know how dangerous for my emotional resilience it is to push myself too hard. A lot of rest, a lot of cups of tea and watching Netflix in leggings and ratty old jumpers, a lot of envying everyone talking about their running. I attempted a long slow run exactly one week after having run 17km. I made it through 3km with legs and a stomach feeling like lead, went home and was promptly sick. Another attempt at 5km in the week was cut short at around the 3km mark again with burning lungs. Super disheartening.

The following weekend I made it out for my long run with minimal confidence after almost 2 weeks off. I put myself through 16km, although with a few short walks thrown in there (at 3km, 10km, 14km). I’ve already written about how negative I felt after that run. I’m trying to be objective about it and be a lot kinder to myself. I was on course to be only about 2-3 minutes slower than my 17km run 2 weeks earlier. Considering that there was a good 5+ minutes of walking involved, I was just coming back from illness, I’d had some time off and it was horrendously windy out there, that’s not at all bad going. Pain and Panic are whispering that I’m making excuses but they can hush. I ran 16km when I wasn’t at my best, having expected to struggle to hit 10km, and I didn’t run them that badly. I didn’t run them anywhere near as well as I would have liked but you can’t always get what you want.

Given the setback of illness, I now won’t run the full half marathon distance until race day but I’ve now comfortably hit 15km+ on several occasions in the past 6 weeks without any real ill effect and I think I could probably have kept going. I think the adrenaline and atmosphere on the day will carry me through without too much fuss. It’s “less than a parkrun” (a well-established unit of distance!) to be added on my longest run and that’s not too terrifying. I’ve just hit the initial fundraising target I set when I signed up for Bath but as I’ve now planned an entire year of running for Mind, I’m hoping to absolutely smash that amount. Anyone feeling kind and inclined to donate, you can do so here and it means the world to me.

I went back to work and had a panicked couple of days trying to progress various matters before putting the out of office on and heading to Iceland.

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Iceland was like Narnia

This actually prompted the biggest meltdown of the month, a severe 2 hour panic attack the night before my holiday and the first serious one I’ve had in a while. I can’t explain the terror that I experience knowing that emails are flooding into my inbox and not being able to deal with them. Holidays are more stress than they’re worth really. Anyway, Iceland. The highlight of my month and you can read about it in a lot more detail here. After recently wondering where I’m going in life, I’ve realised that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be right now, booking holidays on a near-whim with one of my best friends. Now we are home and I am planning our trip to Japan next year.

This morning I turned my work phone back on to be greeted with over 300 emails. I was only out the office for 3 days…A moment of inner panic, a couple of whiny messages to people, a tube journey spent sifting through the noise. By the time I stepped into the office, I knew where I stood, a huge number of emails had been deleted, more had been filed and I could start prioritising the relatively few that required any level of attention. That’s real progress. Once that scenario would have resulted in so much panic that I wouldn’t have made it to the office.

I’d hoped to pick the running back up tonight but leaving at gone 7pm and having to be back in for 7.30am is making that seem unlikely. Law is all kinds of fun.

That’s February done. On we march to March. In 2 days, I will be 27. In 13 days, I will be running my first half marathon for Mind. Work is set to be very busy (when is it not?). I have two incredibly exciting projects relating to this blog that I’m hoping to announce soon, I’m just waiting for confirmation on some details. It’s going to be a big month.