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.

Run 1000 Miles Ambassador

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my goodness… so I can’t quite put into words just how excited I am about this. I’m jumping up and down squealing kind of excited and a little choked up and overwhelmed. But let’s go back a bit. In November Trail Running Magazine asked for expressions of interest for becoming an ambassador for the 2019 iteration of their Run1000Miles challenge. I paid no attention. Kath commented on the post saying she nominated me, I still paid no attention because, come on, it’s me. I’m no running ambassador. But there were lots of positive comments and ‘likes’ and encouragement so I thought what the hell and sent the email.

I didn’t expect to get picked. I am not the obvious choice when you think ‘running’ so not an obvious choice for promoting a running challenge or for encouraging others. I’m not your typical running role model or poster girl for physical activity. I thought that maybe I could be a good ambassador precisely because I’m not what you might expect in that role and it seems that some agreed. So let me tell you a bit about the challenge, a bit about me and the challenge and a bit about why being an ambassador for it means the world and confirms everything I love about the challenge and the group.

The challenge is simple. Sign up, join the facebook group, run, track your miles, post about your runs, share pictures, encourage others, be encouraged, see where you get to, done. Some will reach 1000 miles before Easter, others won’t get to 500 in the year. It doesn’t matter, it’s about the journey (sounds nauseatingly cliched, I know but it’s true). It’s about having a great running year however you define ‘great’. It’s about getting outside, enjoying being out, about encouraging and being encouraged, about learning and sharing and most of all about enjoying running.

I first joined Run1000Miles in 2017. Kath had joined and she kept saying how lovely the group was and that I should join. I just thought it wasn’t for me – it’s a 1000 mile challenge by Trail Running Magazine – not for me. 1000 miles was so far beyond my imagination and trails were and often still are scary things that cause me to fall over and/or freak out. But then curiosity got the better of me and I joined and lurked in the Facebook group for a bit and I realised that the group of people were my kind of people. I’d found my running tribe. They welcomed me, slow, ploddy, fat, scared of trails me into the group and they were (and still are!) prepared to share my little successes and wins, help me through my tricky patches when it seemed me and running were going our separate ways and share their experience and knowledge to make me a better runner. With their help and encouragement and, frankly, their belief in me I pushed myself through a tough 7 miler on News Years Eve 2017 to finish the year on exactly 500 miles. 

I was excited to sign up for 2018. I really wanted to try and run more miles. I won’t make 1000 but I’m going to get closer than I ever thought possible. 1000 miles was my wildest dreams goal, my ambitious but possibly realistic goal A was 750 miles (I had B and C goals to but they don’t matter now!). I’m less than 5 miles away from achieving the 750 now. I love the group on Facebook. There is a notable absence of arrogant, patronising, rude or all of the above twats. There is a genuine understanding and acceptance that we are all at different levels and that my lightening fast run pace might well be someone else’s slow recovery jog; that a mile can be a huge challenge and covering it a big win; that miles and pace and hours are just numbers. I am in awe of some of the runners in the group – some because they’re fast, some because they can go so far, some because they can go so high (and come back down in one piece), some because they deal with mud like it’s nothing, some because they get up every morning and despite (and sometimes because of) the demons we all have pull their trainers on and run. Most of all though I have valued the the stories, the encouragement, the support and the inspiration and I have loved being able to be a part of that. 

Having me as a 2019 ambassador confirms that I was right about the trail running community and particularly the community we have built in the Run1000Miles Facebook group – it really is for all of us. It doesn’t matter where in our running journeys we are. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we go, how much we walk, where we run, whether we can run far or not, whether we can run vertically up and back down, whether we splash through puddles or slide through mud, get stuck in boggy moors or stumble our way through woodland tree roots. What matters is that we all run and get outside and that is somehow important to us in and that we understand that and that we support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. I don’t have any sort of sporting memories that go anywhere near that so I’m making new ones and maybe as ambassador I can help others re-write their relationship with exercise and running in particular. 

Join me  – sign up here and then join the Facebook Group and see for yourself – try it, you might just surprise yourself by running a whole lot more than you thought you could. 

Splish Splash I was having a….

Run. I was having a run. No that sounds wrong. I was running. Well sort of. I was out there putting one foot in front of the other at varying paces. It looked like it was going to be another of those days where it just doesn’t happen. I have a ton of marking to do – the kind that takes forever because it’s formative so needs even more detailed feedback, we went out for lunch and that took longer than we wanted it to and the weather – urgh.

Anyway, I had ordered some new trainers ridiculously reduced – some Inov8 Roclite 305 gore-tex ones for under 50 quid. I mean it would have been rude not to. So I set myself a target of 5 more essays and then I could/had to go run. I put long pants on – yep time for big girl pants, too cold for 3/4 now I reckon – a long-sleeved top, my rain jacket and then because light was fading fast, a bright neon yellow t-shirt over the top. I looked a right plonker but I wasn’t about to be cold! Then I put the new shoes on and set off.

I can’t really do a proper review because it was only a short plod and I walked the uneven, muddy, trail-y bit because I couldn’t really see where I was putting my feet and my ankles were quite stiff and I am terrified of injuring myself. But  – why the hell did nobody tell me about gore-tex trainers before? I had so much fun not avoiding puddles and splish sploshing around that I started searching  puddles out to jump into them – and I still have dry socks. I can do puddles and have dry feet. It’s magic! I never had gore-tex trainers before. Getting some somehow always felt like a step too far – they’re for proper runners. I don’t really go anywhere where I need them, or for long enough that wet feet really matter… so the complete crap would go in my head.  I tried some once and they felt really tight and inflexible compared to the non gore-tex version so I presumed they were all like that. I was wrong. Love these. Bring on the puddles!

Happy running and splish splash splashing about!

The Goddess Verbia and Squirrels that drop out of trees

IMG_2402Ok so those two things are not actually related as far as I know but then you can never be sure with a goddess.  It has been a tough week. Monday feels like soooooo long ago. I recovered reasonably well after my 14.5 mile adventure last Sunday and Monday I was a little tired but not actually sore. Tuesday things did not go to plan. My plan was to drop Kath off at the station, leave the car at the station, run back home, get ready for work and make my way back to the station – this does make sense. No really it does. There are no car parking spaces after about 7.15am and I wanted the car to be there in the evening. Anyway, because the university has a timetabling system which isn’t supposed to be able to timetable us in two places at the same time, but apparently can do exactly that to at least one of my colleagues, I ended up teaching at 9am. It threw out the rest of the week and I have been slightly confused ever since. I know, doesn’t take much.

I didn’t get out to run until Wednesday afternoon. That didn’t go to plan either. I thought I would just try my Hokas one more time. You know just because. Well my legs don’t like them and my achilles tendon detests them. I got about a mile and three quarters in and had to walk because it was screaming at me. As soon as I took the Hokas off it was fine. I then meant to run again on Thursday but that didn’t happen mainly because I decided to rewrite my lecture for the nth time. I did make it to yoga though. Friday I taught for 6IMG_2418 hours starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm. Anyone who can give a 2 hour lecture, pull together an outline for a paper, have a chat about LLM dissertations, mark 2 LLM dissertations and then teach 2 two hour workshops and then still function on any level at all never mind run is not actually human. I nearly feel asleep in my pint!

So Saturday. It’s a wild sort of autumnal and I love it. The original plan was Cliffe Castle parkrun again but neither of us really wanted people. We went to Bolton Abbey Instead to run our little loop. Dopey Plan has 3 miles on it today. We haven’t run at Bolton Abbey for quite a while. The colours were spectacular and the Wharfe was well up. It was warm. After the usual pit stop we set off at a gentle jog up the first slope. About half way up I thought maybe  I should have gone with Kath’s suggestions of walking to the top and setting off from there. But I made it and recovered. The noise from the Wharfe encouraging me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. As a reward, just as we got to the top of the slope, a mass of leaves in all shades of yellow and orange gently floated to the ground all around us. It felt like natures very own congratulations confetti.

IMG_2414On we plodded. I could’t really decide if that cold I had is still lingering, whether I have lost most of my fitness or whether I just felt lazy today but it just seemed hard going. I focused on looking around, taking in the different colours and smells and consciously acknowledging the temperature variations with every landscape change. They were really noticeable and marked today. Descending (usually) into colder air actually felt really nice because I was far too warm in my long pants and with my rain jacket on. I took it off after about half a mile and tied it round my middle. As much as I was trying to look around and take in the wood it was the Wharfe that kept pulling my attention back to it. The sound of the water, sometimes gently encouraging but mostly urging us on with a more or less forceful roar, was always there and somehow demanding my focus.

As I walked up the hill alongside the Strid and struggled to catch my breath I tried to consciously draw strength from the power of the water surging down. I briefly closed my eyes, tripped over a stone and swore but I liked the idea of drawing on the power of the water. As we descended again I asked Kath whether she knew who the goddess of water was – not ocean but water more generally and we decided we didn’t know. Whoever she is though, I liked the fact that she was offering her strength for us to draw on so freely. All we had to do was listen. I tried to concentrate on that.

We crossed over the aqueduct and headed back towards our starting point. I’d sort of wanted to go further but the plan said 3 miles and I was finding it hard so we agreed that a positive shorter run would be better than a miserable longer one. I kept running. As we moved away and up from the Wharfe a little I missed the noise. It was like it was no longer talking to me urging me on. Running got harder. I was just beginning to fall a little behind Kath as I watched a squirrel climb up a really big tree a little ahead,  and then fall out of it. It landed really close to Kath and both of them nearly jumped out of their skin and stared at each other for a split second before carrying on along their way each as incredulous as the other. Laughing had helped me catch up.

We walked up the nemesis hill and then down the other side and the Wharfe was back. First with very gentle whispers and then with more urgency. At one point the path runs right next to the river and I imagined it pulling me along with it and I knew I’d be able to finish without walking. I powered up the last two slopes and kept going along the path taking us back to the bridge and across the Wharfe to our starting point. I’d found it hard, much harder than I probably should at this point in Dopey training, but I enjoyed every step. I also enjoyed our breakfast and watching the wind and the rain while drinking my coffee.

So when I got home I searched for information on a water or river goddess and I can do better than just some generic deity. Meet Verbia, the goddess of the River Wharfe. I know very little about her but I think I like her and I am certainly thankful for her help today. She often has a calm efficiency about her as she flows along her way but it doesn’t take much to get her going with some urgency and power that is a little bit scary. However it does take a lot to make her burst her banks (sorry Kath, I know rivers don’t burst their banks, they overtop but bursting banks sounds more dramatic and tantrum-y) and lose her shit. She’s feisty but controlled. I don’t know if she makes squirrels fall out of trees too.