Harewood House Half Marathon

So remember last year, my DNF at the Harewood House Half Marathon? I said I’d be back and today I was. I have been looking forward to it and I wasn’t really nervous until this morning when I suddenly started feeling really anxious about the whole thing. The course is tough, I’m not.

Anyway I had been thinking about the race and in particular how I would manage to stick to #MyRunMyRules. I knew from last year that my pace would put me at the back of the pack even on a good day. I therefore spent some time really thinking about how I would feel if I was last and how I would feel running last for a considerable chunk of the race. How would I keep myself motivated and moving forward with the tail marker right behind me and the feeling of people waiting for me. I don’t like to keep people waiting.

Honestly I am absolutely fine with actually coming last, what I think I’d find more difficult is having to run last for most of the race, particularly if I lost touch with the pack or runners in front and there was an obvious big gap that would mean I was holding people up. Maybe that’s where some of the anxiety came from this morning. But anyway, we had our porridge, got sorted and set off. We parked, went to the loo, picked up our t-shirts, went to the loo, met one of our fellow #Run1000Mile challengers, went to the loo (nothing like nervous peeing!) and then we were ready to start.

We set off. For the first few hundred metres all I really had was people streaming past me. I smiled. It is quite hard to keep smiling as everyone keeps over taking you. I tried not to mind and I tried not to speed up. Very soon I was last. I could hear the back marker on his bike behind me and I could hear the marshals’ radio conversations which were quite entertaining. Ok, I thought, well, I’ll be doing all of this right from the back. I felt surprisingly ok about that and settled in.

I hadn’t really looked at pace since an early glance which told me that at 11.20 minutes per mile I was going way way way too fast. I thought I’d slowed a fair bit but at the 1 mile beep I was at 12.08. Too fast. I tried to consciously slow down but already being last made that quite hard somehow. I was gaining on a woman in front of me who had been pulling away but by 1.5 miles she looked like she was struggling and I went past her. I hope she kept going – she must have done for quite a while at least because the back marker didn’t catch up to me and I didn’t see him again.

I was still trying to slow down as I saw deer on my left and red kites in the sky. I couldn’t help but smile. I actually saw loads of deer, loads of kites and tons of smaller birds and an odd squirrel or two. I am utterly rubbish at remembering the route or what was where on it so this may be in the wrong order, possibly totally jumbled. Anyway, I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. I could see a woman in front of me running a stunningly smooth even pace and I tried to keep with her. I was fine on the flat but she had far more power up the hills. Eventually I stopped focusing on the pink of her jacket, did the sensible thing and let her go. She stayed in view for a long time but eventually she was gone. I was alone. It was bliss.

Coming up to 3 and a half miles I had the first walk as I made my way along the edge of a grassy field heading towards the first steep downhill. I sipped some Tailwind and I tried to keep marching and saw two women ahead of me. I was easily catching up with them. We had a quick chat just before the downhill and then I kept going carefully jogging down the uneven and quite steep track. The marshal sent me diagonally down the hill and that seemed like the route most people took judging by the muddy path. However, the actual route seemed to go straight down to hit the 4 miles marker and then turn left. This is probably the main reason the course measured short.

I think we next turned up into the woods and I walked the hills. I was feeling the too fast start and very briefly it crossed my mind that maybe I was totally screwed but that thought went as fast as it came. I saw some more deer and then at some point I saw some lovely looking Jacob sheep – they looked familiar and then I remembered that the flock we got ours from also had some going to the Harewood estate so it could well be the same blood line. That made me smile and reminisce for a while.

I enjoyed the course and I enjoyed being on my own for so much of it. Around mile 6 I realised I was falling in with the pace of two blokes in front. They were running slightly faster but walking more slowly. I caught up with them for a chat just after the mile 8 water station. We marched up the hill together and then met Susan who was struggling a little. Me and her walked and jogged together for a mile ish leaving the two blokes behind us but then I was walking faster again so I powered up the hill and jogged down the other side to the Mile 10 marker.

I felt ok. I slowly jogged along the track trying to stay out of the way of dog walkers. I was gaining on the aid station where I had called it a day last time and was smiling because I knew I was going beyond. I heard a runner coming at some considerable pace behind me. I wondered whether Susan had maybe found her running legs again but it wasn’t her. It was someone just out running I think and she was fast! As she came past me she touched my shoulder and told me I was amazing. It nearly made me cry but it also gave me a boost and I jogged on and turned left back into the woods. Less than 3 miles left. I slowly jogged most of those last miles with just a few little walks thrown in to reassure myself that I had enough left in the tank. As I plodded past the 11 mile marker I had the rest of my Tailwind feeling pretty happy about my fuelling. Although later on I wished I’d saved just a little bit for the last push.

I’m fairly sure the mile markers were out by quite a bit. Mile 13 was, if I got my numbers right, nearly 1.25 miles long and the Mile 13 sign was definitely more than .1 of a mile away from the finish. The last bit is brutal. It’s not a steep climb but it’s one hell of a pull. I walked up the track, passed another woman and tried to encourage her on, then I turned left into the field. I could see the finish now and willed my legs to start running again. They did, slowly and now feeling really heavy but run they did. I saw Kath coming towards me and she jogged a bit at the side of me when I got to her. She had finished in 2 hours 19 minutes and had nearly been taken out by some deer which had decided to split the runners and cross their path. She said she felt them come past behind her. Wowsers.

The nice thing about coming in at the end and in space is that the announcers at the finish have time to tell the world you’ve done it. Of course most of the world has already gone home but it was still nice to hear my name and a well done and a comment on my ‘big smile’ which was actually more a sort of Cheshire Cat grimace. I got my medal and bottle of water and a hug from Kath. We headed to the car and I stripped down to my bra to change out of my sweaty top and into something warm and dry. I felt awesome. Tired. But awesome. I sipped my tailwind recovery drink and nibbled a cheese sarnie in the car. My time: 3 hours and 58 seconds. So those 58 seconds are annoying. I’m going to have to go back and try again to conquer these rather ridiculous looking squiggles on a map!

Stunning Running

Last weekend we went to a lodge on the edge if Kielder Water. It was our little anniversary get away. It was lush. We planned on a walk somewhere on the way on Friday, and runs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

We set off Friday morning and drove north to the National Trust property Wallington. We had some lunch and then walked a little loop through the estate and woodland along the river. Then we had cake. This was a good start to the weekend! We visited the Kielder observatory in the evening but it was ridiculously windy and cloudy so we didn’t see anything much. The talks were interesting though

On Saturday morning we set off on a 7 mile loop around the Bull Crag Peninsula. The running was both harder and better than I imagined it would be. It was surprisingly hilly and it didn’t occur to me until about 4 miles in that one of the reasons the running was tough was because I wasn’t walking the hills. I was just running, looking at the amazing landscape and every now and again stopping for a photo. At the end my legs were tired and I was grateful to walk the last bit and look for red squirrels and very excited when we saw one!

The rest of Saturday was lazy and taken up with reading a whole stack of magazines which I’d left to pile up for ages and ages.

Sunday was long run day and I was anxious about this for some reason. We had decided to run out to Kielder dam and back – a total of about 13 miles. I prepped our tailwind for fuel, made sure watch and phone were charged and off we went. The first part of the route was the same as the day before but soon we were in new territory with Kielder Water on our left coming in and out of view as we zig zagged our way through the woods on the ‘waterside’ path.

I walked a few more of the hills on Sunday. I nearly had a meltdown in mile 2 because I seemed to be really feeling the uphill pull on that section. I got over myself and actually ran almost all of the first 5 miles which took us to the Tower Knowe visitor centre which was closed but did have some toilets that were open. From there it was another mile and a half to the other side of the dam so we jogged across, had a little break as we marvelled at the views and then set off back.

We took more pictures and walk breaks on the way back. By mile 8 though I was wondering if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew with this pretty undulating 13 miler. For the next 3 miles or so I had a battle in my head to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then we were nearly there anyway and we walked a bit through a section of wood just before the Waterside Park our lodge was part of, the bit where we’d seen the squirrel.

The rest of Sunday involved more reading, the hot tub and a bottle of prosecco. I felt properly happily tired. We did go for a little walk once it got dark to look at stars. Wow, even with the lights of the cabins, reception and pub/restaurant, we could see so much more than we can ever see at home. I couldn’t work out the camera settings though to get enough exposure to take pictures so gave up and just looked at the night sky for a while.

Monday we were going to have a little sunrise run. I was tired and my legs were heavy. It was also very slippery with frost on the tarmac bits and I was not at all impressed with that. We went the other way along the water this time and after not quite a mile and a half came to a road/tarmac bit which was frosty and we couldn’t really see how long the tarmac stretch was so we called that it, turned round and then stopped about half way back to watch the sunrise.

We had breakfast, got packed and headed towards home. It was a 23 mile weekend and while I was definitely tired I was not broken. I am getting fitter but actually the most important thing about the running over that weekend is that we were just running for fun, doing our thing and that on all of the outings bits of it were effortless, bits of it were really challenging and I loved every minute, even the hard and bloody awful ones.

Hanging On

So here’s a thing: I am running phenomenally well. Yep, I am. I am running with ease, I am running without walk breaks for far longer distances than ever before (including a 10 miler last weekend which was grumpy but easy) and I feel fitter and stronger than ever. I ran over 100 miles in January and I enjoyed most of them.

Here’s another thing: I am hanging on and only just about keeping my shit together. I don’t know why. There was no obvious trigger. I got pummelled by jet lag when we arrived back from Florida two weeks ago. It took me the week to feel vaguely normal again. I slept lots. I went to London for work last Saturday and that was the first day I felt like the jet lag might be lifting. But maybe it wasn’t all jet lag. This last week wasn’t better. I stopped being hungry at random times and was just always hungry and I stopped being tired at random times and was instead just a general, heavy and dark sort of tired. I liked the sofa, I spent a lot of time on it. Too much time. I struggled to work to anything like capacity. I spent a week maybe doing 2 easy days of work. I got annoyed with myself.

So as I do battle with my black puppy I can’t really be bothered to do anything much and I can’t think. I’ve had lots of stuff to do that is either already late or with very imminent deadlines. I’ve been a grumpy sort of indifferent about all of this. Irritated by the existence of obligations, deadlines and things to do. When I’m busy or have to do things, I want to run, when I have the time to run, I can’t be bothered. But yet I have. In the same way that you might not really want to take a tablet but you just do, I have just run. I have clung to the marathon training plan like it is the one thing that might just pull me out of the darkness and help me regain my ability to think. And maybe it will.

I ran today. I didn’t want to really. I’m scared of slippery surfaces but driven on by something, by wanting to feel better and not foggy, by wanting my little grey cells to whirr round and have ideas and make connections which I can express in gorgeously crafted sentences which make sense… anyway, driven by something…. As I plodded along trying to stick to the least compacted snow I tried to encourage my mind to heal and just go where it wanted to. This is where it went. There was a definite shift around a mile in.

  1. You’re a bit crap at this
  2. You’ve got too much to do, just give up now
  3. oooh you’re super slow today
  4. Your work stuff isn’t going well is it
  5. What’s the point of your sabbatical – you’re just going to mess it up anyway
  6. Careful, icy
  7. Bloody hell sooo slow
  8. What, what was that – 1 mile beep? Hm
  9. Breathing a bit heavy there? Oh no actually you’re not
  10. Still got 5 miles to go – can you do that?
  11. Careful, icy
  12. So that work stuff? What do you mean not now?
  13. What do you mean it’s pretty
  14. What? You’re running and taking a picture? – You’ll fall
  15. Oh you didn’t fall
  16. 2 miles. What. Oh.
  17. You finished that article
  18. Still slow – oh yes, it’s meant to be slow. Plan says slow
  19. In fact you could slow down
  20. 3 miles. Wow. Nice running
  21. Look how lovely it is
  22. *No idea where it went for a while then
  23. Hill. Oh goodness, hill
  24. Yay, top of hill. Not far now
  25. Done

So where does that leave things? No idea. The fog lifts a little when I run. I can appreciate the beauty of the snowy hills. It also lifts as I sit and watch the birds coming to our bird feeders. The long tailed tits are my current favourites. It also lifts a little as I sit on the bed and fuss the cats and feel more than hear their purr. But mostly it lifts when I run. When I run I feel like thoughts process normally. So stick with me while this works itself out, keep encouraging me to run, be patient if there are no posts for a while. I’ll get there, little step by little step.

Dopey 2019 Reflections: The Celebrations

Our celebrations started with a long sleep like most good celebrations do. Then we went for a lovely dinner at the California Grill which is located at the top of our hotel. It was a lovely celebration meal with gorgeous food, a blissful glass of wine and gallons and gallons of water. We watched the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the viewing area at the top of the hotel, had chocolate cake and went to bed. After that Dopey joined in.

Coming with us to all the parks

Drinking ALL our booze

Then he got a bit silly including behaving inappropriately in the toilets (probably Stitch’s influence)

So we limited him to beer and made him drink lots of water and coffee and put him on a time out

Once he’d calmed down a bit we let him come with us and play in the parks until he got a bit tired

So we thought we better feed him

He likes cake!

Dopey 2019 Reflections: Rest and Recovery

Just over a week ago I finished the Dopey Challenge with a personal best marathon time in spite of really struggling with the heat and humidity. You can read about that here. For those of you who thought I was done with Dopey posts – nope. I’m going to milk it a little longer. I want to tell you about the rest and recovery that got us through the challenge in this post and then the celebrations and the medals in the next.

So the first thing to think about it how much sleep you’re going to need. Dopey is tiring and I think we managed to make the challenge enjoyable in part because we slept loads. We had an afternoon nap every day during the race weekend. It meant not playing in the parks but it was the right thing to do! Work, Christmas, travel and all of that meant we were tired anyway, add early starts and running increasing distances for 4 days in a row. You need to sleep – at least you do when you’re me!

So afternoon naps and early bed helped massively and that pattern didn’t stop – we slept after the marathon. On the Monday after we played in the parks with lots of sit downs and stops and we came away quite early. On Tuesday we went to the parks early but then came back and slept before heading back out, same on Wednesday. Thursday we managed a full day in the parks without a nap and were sooooo proud of ourselves, Friday we were back to resting if not napping!

The only thing that really got me was chafing. I shall spare you the details but trust me when I say you should never be that conscious or that worried about exactly where your underwear sits. It all happened during the half marathon when we had a pee stop. Sweaty lycra pants are tricky to get back up properly and they never sat right again. The full just aggravated the already raw areas. As much as it freaks me out, this was a job for vaseline. I hate vaseline, the texture, the smell, everything… but vaseline it had to be.

I am sure that being relatively active helped recovery. We walked a fair bit and kept those legs moving. I also spent quite a while lying down with my legs up in the air and overall I think I did pretty well. After the half marathon I was fine. After the full I was tight and my feet were a bit tender. However nothing really hurt. My lower back on the right side and into my right hip were niggly on and off but nothing too bad. I suspect that could have been avoided completely if I had stretched more. In fact this is the one thing we really neglected. We’re idiots! We hardly stretched at all which is just daft because that actually makes a massive difference and I think would have avoided the soreness that we did experience. Live and (probably not) learn.

The other thing that probably wasn’t ideal is food. We fuelled relatively well during the challenge having chosen our restaurants carefully but even then the portions were too big and we probably had too much. The days after we could probably have made better choices to help with our recovery. We didn’t go crazy and kept the booze within relatively sensible limits but Disney portions and menus that kept enticing us to have three courses meant that we had far too much and too much of the wrong stuff. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find some actual green vegetables! The food was amazing and part of our celebrations but it was really not a healthy week!

I was worried about how I would mentally deal with finishing Dopey, recovering and then starting running again. I mostly did quite well. I was overwhelmed and had little cries every now and again but I recovered well mostly. I had one major wobble. It didn’t come until Tuesday when we were queuing to get into Hollywood Studios. There were a few Dopey runners and marathon runners around and many of them looked very sore. I was feeling ok. I suddenly thought, wow I clearly didn’t work hard enough, I’m not sore, I should have done so much more… and I started thinking about points where I could have pushed harder. I soon snapped out of it but every now and again my mind goes back to that. I also forget or fail to recognise that Dopey is a pretty big deal. It can’t really be because I did it. And I don’t do things that are such a big deal.

I was also worried about getting back into running after Dopey. I struggled with that last time and London Marathon prep suffered as a result. I was concerned that I won’t recover enough to train properly. The first test came on the Thursday after Dopey. We decided to try a little run on the Contemporary running track. I didn’t have any preconceived ideas about how far I would go or how fast. I just wanted to see if I could still put one foot in front of the other. I could. I was incredibly tired and my legs felt pretty heavy. I trotted round a mile and a bit, took some pictures. Right at the end I felt my hip niggle a bit so I stopped. Overall, it was a good first trot out.