VLM Got This Very Wrong

So it seems the marathon broke me a little bit. I managed to get myself though work on Tuesday feeling really tired and sore. Once I got home I started feeling progressively worse and about 7.30pm went to bed feeling shivery, sick and feverish. I had an unsettled night with a high temperature and a very uncomfortable tummy and lower back. Yesterday was pretty miserable, slipping in and out of fitful sleep and with a funny sort of tummy ache and migraine-y type headache leaving me not quite knowing what to do with myself.

I feel a little better today after a better night. I’ve even had a bit of food and am now actually sitting up on the sofa (watching the Lion King). I have been scrolling through social media and news posts from the marathon and catching up with people I know who ran it. Most of them thankfully had amazing experiences. I know people who went sub three hours and I know people who were slower than I was and lots and lots in-between. I am really excited to hear that they had the great race and the fantastic experience the London Marathon promises.

However, I am also hearing and reading about a very different experience. One that I find really upsetting and one which makes me really really angry. You can get a snapshot of that by reading the BBC online article ‘London marathon runners ‘called fat and slow’ by contractors‘. It is quite clear that slower runners did not have the same support or experience that everyone else had or which all runners should be able to expect. I have to be honest, when I saw 6.15, 6.30 and 7 hours pacers (I didn’t see the 7.30 pacers at the start) I was excited! It is actually rare for there to be pacers at any event that mean anything to me. Even at parkrun the pacers are often out of reach! So to see pacers at the back end made me feel welcome, made me feel part of it. I was excited.

The experience of those at the back seems horrendous! Imagine being laughed at, told to hurry up and generally mocked – and that by people who are supposed to be supporting you. Then imagine being sprayed by clean up fluid and possibly getting chemical burns. And all of this while running in an event you have trained hard for, that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and for which you have raised 1000s of pounds for charity. Just imagine that for a second.

The experience of the back of the pack runners here was not only disappointing it was also dangerous. Water stations being dismantled not only sends a real message of ‘this race is not really for you’ but can also have serious consequences. Yes, even slower runners might have a hydration and fuelling strategy that is based on the advertised water and Lucozade stations. When those stations do not exist the consequences could be pretty serious. Even as I was coming through water stations in the latter half of the run I could see that they were packing up. I don’t think I need to really spell out the dangers of making runners weave through traffic or even just pedestrians.

So what’s the answer here? It re-opens the debate about cut off times for some. But the thing is, the Marathon is supposed to have an 8 hour cut off time. The instructions clearly say that if you fall below a certain pace you might have to move to the pavement but if you finish within 8 hours you get an official time and medal etc. So while that is not ideal, I also get the need to re-open roads etc. However, if you have an 8 hour cut off time then you need to guarantee that everyone within that pace can finish and finish safely. To me that means ensuring that all runners are properly supported, that the marshals are still on course, that the drinks stations are there, the mile markers still up and that those who have had to move to the pavement are supported by having a path cleared. If you can’t do that, then change the cut off time.

Yes that’s right. If you cannot support all runners on the current cut off time then reduce the time allowed to a point where you can. I know that might be a controversial point but honestly, as a slow runner I would rather look at a race and decide not to enter because the cut off time is too tight for me than run it thinking the cut off is ok just to find that they didn’t mean it. Don’t ever give a token nod to inclusivity – that’s worse than not being inclusive at all. Of course, given London Marathon’s status as one of the biggest charity fundraising events and the huge number of first time marathoners taking part, it would be nice if it was genuinely inclusive.

So I can’t help but compare this marathon to the Dopey one in January. There was no hint of packing up anywhere along the course. Yes there is a cut off time – one that is advertised everywhere and people do get swept but the 16 minute mile pace from when the last person starts is advertised and that’s the one that is enforced. It is clear what is expected and what happens when you fall behind pace. We weren’t right at the back for that one either but as we left the race retreat we saw people coming through the finish and the support for those runners was phenomenal. The course was very much still open.

It’s not like I would want to run London again anyway but having heard and read about some of these awful experience I certainly wouldn’t want to. VLM got this wrong and apparently that’s not something that just happened this year. So I am adding my voice to the call for a genuinely inclusive London Marathon, for an apology to those runners at the back of the pack, for a re-think of how the race should be managed so that everyone can have a positive experience, whether they run sub-three or just sneak in within the official cut-off time. Just get is sorted.

Regents Canal conference running

IMG_2249[2]I am on my way home from a 4 day conference  – I’m tired but in a good way. I took my running stuff because I wanted to keep my legs ticking over prior to the Great North Run on Sunday. I arrived on Tuesday and settled into the conference thing. I have blogged about the conference itself in daily posts which you can read on my other blog if you’re interested. On Wednesday morning I headed out. The running here was just for fun, no pressure, no drills, no specific focus and I also left my run/walk intervals set. I headed out along Regent’s Canal towards Victoria park which I then when into at the top (?) end after about a mile and a bit along the canal. I did a loop in the park and then headed back along the canal for a 2.6 ish mile total. It was enjoyable. I said hello to the first couple of runners and got no response. Then I remembered that this is normal for London but somehow I couldn’t stop greeting my fellow human beings. I passed a total of 17 runners and said hello or hi to all of them and not a single one even acknowledged my existence, no smile, no nod never mind actual words. Wow!

Thursday I was going to run but then couldn’t be bothered in the morning. I just didn’t feel like going. I thought I might go in the long gap I had in the programme around lunch but then I got talking and forgot all about that. The same happened at the end of the day.  This morning I woke up really early and felt creaky. I did a bit of yoga in my room and then headed out again. This time I entered the park earlier – at about three quarters of a mile, looped round there a bit and then headed back for a total of roughly 2 miles. I could tell I was tired and that my brain wanted to get back to the work I was presenting this IMG_2250[1]morning but it was also good to get out and move and I felt much better when I got back.

So, last couple of runs before the big one at the weekend. I’m not really sure I’m really ready but all I can do now is trust the training I have done, believe I can do the distance based on some pretty convincing evidence that I can do the distance and then go and enjoy it. Let’s hope I do a better job of putting my socks on though.

See you on the other side!

300 Miles of Happy Running (mostly)

Well it’s been a little while. Usually that means I haven’t been running but this time I’ve just been busy. My last blog post was a couple fo days after the half marathon and recovery went pretty well. Following the run on Toronto Island, I then had a treadmill run in the hotel gym – in spite of rather spectacular views from there, I managed only 2.5 miles and a stupidly slow pace. Slower than the half marathon average pace in fact.

The day after getting home I had a lovely run through the wood with bluebells and wild garlic. It was the first run in really warm weather though and it felt tough. Then I didn’t run for a few days – busy, couldn’t be bothered, usual excuses. Then I got my act together and went for a sheep loop trot out. Last Sunday I thought I best get training for multiple loops so in the morning we went up. 3 miles of up (ok 2 miles of real up). It was sooooo 33834416_989649484548533_537151107076456448_nhard, I’m really not hill fit at all but once up on the moor it was gorgeous. It was a perfect day for being up there and we’d gone early so we were on our way back down when the first set of hikers were making their way up. We saw some lapwings and heard curlews. The grouse were chattering away in their grumpy way and up on the moor I felt like I was running free and easy. It felt perfect. Those moments you just need to hang onto and file in the memory bank so you have something to draw on when the dark closes in.

In the afternoon we went out for round 2. A gentle estate, road, canal jog with lots of little excuses to stop and watch wildlife. I think it was on this loop I saw the deer vanish into the wood in front of me and stopping to watch ducklings always makes me smile. It was good to get out twice and not feel too knackered or broken.

Last Tuesday we added some hill sprints to our sheep loop backwards route. Instead of walking up the golf course we made our way up it in 10 -15 second sprints with 90 seconds (ish) recovery in-between. That took us to 4 out of the 5 sprints so we walked back down the last bit and did it again. So hill sprints – by how my legs felt afterwards I’m guessing they’re quite effective!

IMG_9614Then I went to London. The less said about my first day there, the better! I did blog about it here if anyone is interested in my thoughts on legal education but in short – I was exhausted and wired at the same time and thought running would help with the wired part so that I could actually sleep. I’d got to the hotel about 5.30pm though, it was busy. I felt a bit self-conscious. I got my gear on anyway and set off. I had no idea about where I wanted to go – I was roughly a mile away from the river and roughly a mile away from Regent’s Park and I didn’t want to go far so in the end I just decided to randomly loop round the streets for a bit. I did a little circuit round the British Museum dodging tourists and commuter cyclists and weaved in and out of side streets, eventually ending up at a Pret where I bought a salad box and little dark chocolate bar for my tea. Then I walked back to the IMG_9607hotel. I managed to somehow not turn on my watch when I started off and then turn it on when I thought I was turning it off at Pret and then realise and turn it off at the hotel. I tried to retrace my steps on google maps and I think I did roughly 2 miles. I was out for just over half an hour including buying food so that sounds about right.IMG_9591

The next morning I woke up early, got up and headed out again. I still wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to go or how far really – I thought the river might be nice. I set off. I don’t understand how London hangs together. Don’t laugh – I spent years only being able to navigateit by tube and really have only recently started exploring on foot – mostly through running – but it means I have a warped sense of direction and distances. So I headed pretty much in a straight line through bits of theatre land I don’t usually see and eventually to Trafalgar square where I tried to take a selfie with a Lion and couldn’t get

IMG_9590the angle so took a selfie and then a picture of the lion – grumpily. Then I headed straight towards Buckingham Palace (this wasn’t the plan, it’s just what happened) and when I got there turned off into St James’ Park. I ran a gauntlet of ducks and geese and continued until I came out at Horse Guards Road.  I saw a mouse (or very small rat, who knows) run into the FCO and chuckled. I made my way to the river, across the river and ran past the London Eye and all the way along to Millennium Bridge. I stopped to take a few pictures and walk across it talking to Kath hoping that Lord Voldemort wouldn’t choose this moment to play with the bridge. London had woken up and was now much busier with runners and people
IMG_9597walking to work or going about their business than it had been when I left the hotel. I turned left past St Paul’s and stopped to look at google maps – Oh look Fleet Street – who knew! I ran down Fleet Street, took a picture of the Royal Courts of Justice sign, carried on and saw a coffee shop out of the corner of my eye. Mmmmmm cofffeeeeeeeeee! I decided I wanted coffee. It was just before 7am. The coffee shop was still closed but the one next to it wasn’t. I got coffee and walked back to the hotel. A great 6 and a bit mile London loop.

I didn’t run Friday and Saturday dragged by butt out for 3.25 miles after our gym induction at the Leisure Centre (more on that another time). I wanted to go out again really but I was absolutely shattered. No double running for me, I fell asleep instead.

So today. I knew I was going on my own because Kath has a little foot niggle that she’s been looking after. So the original 12 mile plan needed revising. I’m not sure 12 miles on 34036580_989647691215379_7069943930778812416_nmy own is really necessary. I looked at my chart and a plan formed. I walked down Ilkley Road with Kath who was off to pick some wild garlic for our risotto tonight and then I set off. I headed towards Morton and kept running apart from a few steps along the path to avoid breaking my ankle through the narrow uneven bits. I ran the first 5km relatively quickly for me – just over 37 minutes, comfortable. Then I walked for a couple of minutes to have a drink. Then I ran to 5 miles and it was now getting tougher and towards the end I realised that I was developing a blister on the arch of my left foot. I’ll spare you the picture but it’s a bitch. I wanted to get under an hour for the 5 miles but I’d walked for too long to make it – just over. Still happy with that though. I walked and watched a kestrel zig zag across the canal accompanied by a cacophony of smaller birds’ warning cries, then I tried to plod on. I was hot. I pushed to 6 miles. I could really feel my blister and my legs were getting tired. I walked up the golf course hill. I ran down the other side and past our old sheep fields. My legs were now protesting. Hot.

I walked quite a lot from here to home but recovered well with a jog downhill.  I felt pretty good when I got to the bottom of Ilkley Road and thought I would try run up it, I stepped off the curb to go round a dog walker and whimpered at the pain of the blister and the shooting pain the move had sent up my leg. I was obviously not running properly in order to avoid the blister pain. I walked the rest.

IMG_9543So, including the walk with Kath that was about 8 miles but if I count the 7.75 recorded by my watch then the Year to Date Total now stands at 300.18 miles. 300.18. I’m thrilled with that! It took me well into August to get to that amount last year and I don’t feel like I’m really pushing the miles or working at an unsustainable level. I feel like I’m running strong and that I have a pretty good balance between running for fun and pushing myself. As part of the #Run1000Miles Challenge I’ve said that really I just want to do more than last year (500 miles) but that 750 would be awesome. I’m now wondering whether 800 might be on the cards. Let’s see.

Happy Running!

Re-assessing “Unfuckwithable”

Quite a long time ago a friend shared the following on Facebook.


I love it. I think we should all be unfuckwithable because if we are, if we can achieve that  then the world would be a better place because we could brush of the idiocies of life, we’d be less defensive, more collegiate and more supportive of each other, we’d be more here and now (ok so maybe the therapist is working here – she’s not keen on the past or the future, she’s all about the now). Running helps me get there. A good run can make me completely unfuckwithable because the warm post run glow, the slight smug post run IMG_8580ache, the calm post run tiredness, the heightened awareness of my own body and the mental clarity that follows a good hard run all tell me that I am me and that me is all I need to be. I’m not better than anyone else, I’m no worse, I’m me and if that’s not good enough for you then, frankly, that’s your problem and not mine. You can’t fuck with me because in that moment I am completely and totally in control of who I am, what I am and how I am and who does and doesn’t matter to my world.

IMG_8586Unfortunately though that unfuckwithable state is fleeting and fragile. Or at least that’s how I’ve thought about it until now. Today though I wondered whether the bar really has to be set that high, whether it really has to be something that is so hard to achieve and impossible to hang on to. Maybe there is more than one way to be unfuckwithable. On the one hand there is this almost mythical thing but then there are other things that achieve the same thing but perhaps in a more context specific way. Let me try and explain. I woke up this morning around 6.15, 15 minutes before my alarm, with a very slight hangover, slight regrets about food choices and not really feeling up to going for a run. But then what else was I going to do? I was awake and my hotel room was so tiny that staying in wasn’t really an option. So off I went. It was raining, I was a little grumpy, I wanted to run for 30 minutes without walking. After 3 minutes I was huffing and puffing like a steam train. I kept going, then I hit the busy busy busy just fucking busy Great Portland Street tube station with people everywhere and traffic just coming from all directions (not actually true at all – it’s a fairly orderly junction actually but it felt like it) and I was proper grumpy and even more grumpy that stopping for the lights meant I wasn’t running my continuous 30 minutes. I crossed the road and got into Regent’s Park feeling like all the energy had been sucked out of me by the traffic and the busyness of a Thursday morning on the streets of London. I’d done half a mile. I was seriously tempted to just turn round and go back to the hotel but the quiet of the park felt like bliss so I IMG_8584made a decision. I wanted to have fun – so I ran from point to point taking pictures (some of which are dotted through this post). I didn’t run/walk, I ran/stopped – sometimes to take a photo, sometimes to talk to the ducks or geese, sometimes to look at something. It may have been the slowest 5k in history but I had a blast and it was my run with my rules. I passed other runners (said hello to all of them, mostly they seemed incredibly disturbed by that) and not once did I feel self-conscious or concerned about my pace or odd about stopping. I’d decided that this is what I was doing and somehow achieved a level of unfuckwithableness related to the run. I just decided.

Later this morning I was sitting in a cafe listening to the wonderful Liza Vallance (Artistic Director/CEO of Studio 3 Arts) talk about her work and her running and the importance of helping people share and showcase their experiences and stories and I realised that up until this point whenever I have met my heroes I have been disappointed.  Not this time. We’re part of the same running club online so I guess we’ve ‘known’ each other since I joined the Clubhouse in December 2015. I have looked to Liza as a role model for running and for life more generally. She’s creative, strong and real and today I got to meet her. Conversation came easy and time flew by and I met my hero and she was just normal – basically everything I thought she would be and more. Listening to her I realised that collectively, when people come together to do something that is meaningful, we become unfuckwithable. It’s that being united in a mission, the instinctively knowing and agreeing that something is important and knowing that the people around you have your back… IMG_8576

Then I checked my Twitter on the train home and I had a message from a student I taught in his first year. He’s now coming to the end of his degree. He said:

“You taught me how to think. That’s the most important skill. Cannot thank you enough Jess.”

It’s hard to explain what that means in the current HE climate and this blog isn’t about that so suffice it to say that it validates everything I believe in and do and it makes me – if not unfuckwithable – then lessfuckwithable in relation to how I do what I do. And I don’t mean that I am not open to criticism and debate, just that I’m right to challenge and right to ask my questions and right to keep pushing and that I can’t just be put back in my box.

So maybe it’s time to reassess unfuckwithable. Maybe it is something that is more about being more settled and confident, less concerned about what other people think and more interested in doing what instinctively feels right. The hard run as described at the start maybe makes it easier to remember that but actually thinking about it slightly differently might allow me to get there more often for longer. I’d always assumed I could get there only through running hard and long but maybe I simply have to decide and remember what’s important.

On a slightly different note – we’re starting a 15 week marathon training programme – possible with a couple of adaptations for me – mostly during the week where the runs go to 7 miles and I might do them by time rather than distance. More on that another time. For now have an unfuckwithable evening and rest of the week

I do like pretty coffee