How to win a rock

Yes, an actual rock, but not the sparkly kind that might come in a blue box tied with a white ribbon…

During the summer of 2015, I entered my first (and so far last) obstacle race.  Nothing as exciting as your Tough Mudder or Spartan type races though – I’m far too much of a wimp for those and hats off to those of you who have done or will do them… This race is called the Boulder Dash and is held locally to us every 2 years.  With a 4 or 8 mile option (I chose the 4 obvs!) you scamper around beautiful Buckinghamshire farmland and woodland and try and make the best job of the natural obstacles in your way.  What this actually entails is wading through thigh-high streams dodging branches, scrambling up and down piles of boulders, running up and down huge ruts in the fields, wading chest deep through ponds (oh the stench of that water), running through cornfields into the woods and then you’re faced with a tunnel where it all became a bit of a blur I’ll be honest, then there was a bit more running and finally, as the finish line appears in front of you (hurrah!) you’re directed by a very lovely marshall to a MASSIVE ROCK PILE which you had to (yep, you’ve guessed it) run up and then down to finish.

I won’t lie, I was flagging somewhat at the end which probably wasn’t helped by quite a few 8 milers speeding past me but the tunnel had been on my mind.  I knew that I’d be able to stay on my feet and crouch through it but I wasn’t prepared for quite how dark it would be in the middle, absolute pitch black.  It was lucky that the lady in front of me had a slight panic attack and was threatening to stop as I was able to gently place my hand on her back and talk her through it.  She’ll never know that she helped me as much as I hope I helped her.  I had to get her through it as if she’d stopped then I would have had to spend so much longer in the dark!

As with any event, it’s the supporters and marshalls that make all the difference.  Having to hide the doubts that might be creeping in behind a smile, wave and a cheery “thank you” is actually more useful to me than they probably realise.  Also, being a local event, having most people know you and be ready to hurl a bit of friendly abuse at you is always appreciated!  As is the official photographer howling with laughter as you heave yourself out of a cowpat filled cesspool…

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There are no actual words for the smell of that mud…no words…

Why I Do What I Do

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Why would I want to miss out on all this fun?

Why is it I run/bike/swim? Is it because I love being out of breath, is it because I really enjoy that taste of blood I sometimes get? Is it because I love the feel of lactic burn in my legs…nope, none of those, it’s basically down to FOMO…( that’s Fear Of Missing Out for those of you who have better things to do with your time than figure out what these hip and a happenin’ acronyms mean)

So, when someone said to me “Heh, do you fancy cycling from John O’Groats to Carlisle in four days, my brain was saying “Erm, no, I think I’d rather poke hot needles in my eyes thank you!”… but what actually came out of my mouth was my FOMO voice: “Oh yes please, that sounds fantastic, I’d love to chafe my way down through Scotland, now where do I sign up?” And so the training began…and boy were my bits sore (Chamoix cream by the bucket load helped), thanks a lot FOMO, where were you when the cream needed applying? But you know what, you were right FOMO, the sense of achievement stays with me now and gives me one hell of a #storytotell (and the saddle sores have almost gone…)

When on holiday with my family in Provence, quietly minding my own business, sunning myself by the pool when a friend pitched up with his family and announced “See that mountain over there, that’s Mount Ventoux, I’m going up that tomorrow on my bike”…did I say “Wow, go you, give us a wave from the top; I’ll be down here by the pool topping up this enviable tan”…nope, FOMO suddenly emerged from the pool and said “ But, how can you miss out on the horror of climbing a mountain constantly, with no let-up in the incline for over 2 hours in 90 degree heat?”…so off to the bike hire shop I went…and was it as hideous as I expected? Well, not really, it was incredibly tough; you were right again FOMO, I felt awesome at the top.

When invited to be part of a team for one of those 20 mile obstacle courses with mud, mud and water mixed with mud, did I say “You know what FOMO, hyperthermia is overrated as far as I’m concerned; I’ll stay home that weekend and poke the fire instead”? Nah, my hypothermic loving FOMO voice said “Oh, me please, I’d love to get so cold I think I’m going to pass out and for my Raynaud’s syndrome to kick in so badly I’ll lose all sensation in my arms!” Yes, I know FOMO, the feeling in my arms soon returned and I suddenly appreciated my upper limbs so much more…and I’ve been reliving my experiences ever since; it seems you were right again FOMO.

And every time my increasingly quick daughter says “Mum, will you run with me today, I would like to get a PB?”…do I say “Actually darling daughter, the thought of running 5k at your pace and wanting to vomit from the 2nd minute in is soooo last year for me; how about you ask your dad…?” You guessed it, FOMO voice says “What kind of a mother are you, that would miss an opportunity to spend such quality time with you talented daughter and assist her in achieving her aim”…Yes, I know FOMO, you’re right, to share with her on her journey has been a privilege.

So, I guess what I’ve learned is that, if channelled positively, FOMO can take you on the most incredible journeys which expose you to situations and experiences you never dreamed of while creating the most incredible #storytotell. That said, hyperthermia and saddle chafing are definitely overrated…. Good old FOMO, you know best…

How not to run your first Parkrun

I knew that when I signed up for the Couch to 5k that there would be a 5k run at the end of it, of course I did and having the focus of a local parkrun was brilliant.

So, it was the first time I’d run 5k without stopping and there was a real feeling of nervous excitement – this was our graduation after all.

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It honestly felt like we were preparing for a marathon, (I imagine anyway, having never actually prepared for a marathon!) I lay my kit out the night before, made sure my little laminated barcode was safely tucked away, had pasta for my supper and porridge for breakfast.  I made sure I had the obligatory 457 toilet stops and got there on time.  So far so good…

There were approximately 983 of us (60 I think) and we made quite an entrance.  Now all we had to do was run…  5k… Ideally without stopping.

The start was great, then my watch ran out of battery – this freaked me out a bit as how was I going to know if I was going too fast, or too slow or just the right speed for my target time?  I didn’t have the confidence to trust myself that I’d just know so, obviously, I panicked and ran too fast.  Then I panicked some more and ran too slow.  Then I ran in my comfort zone for a bit then panicked again right near the end and went to stop and walk (I know right?!)  Luckily one of the marvellous volunteers from my running club spotted me, grabbed my hand (yes really!) and quite literally dragged me to the finish line.

I then proceeded to have ALL the feelings.  I was incredibly proud of myself for doing it and also had that feeling that I could have done better, then felt that if I had been able to do it better on the day I would have done right?  Then I had a celebratory glass of fizz and some cake (elite athlete recovery fuel obvs) and we all congratulated each other again – we’d only gone and blimmin’ done it!

Now, a year on (which has been the shortest and longest year of running all at the same time), I’m helping out with the latest batch of C25K runners as they are about to embark on their graduation.  Going from no running (as in my case) to doing 5k is a massive achievement and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Bob Graham Round vs The ‘Fun’ Run

On Saturday April 23rd, Jasmin Paris ran the Bob Graham Round.  For those of you who may not be aware of the Bob Graham Round, here it is in a nutshell.  It is a fell running challenge in the Lake District, named after Bob Graham (see what they did there) who traversed 42 fells within 24 hours in the 1930’s.  Since then, nearly 2000 people have done the same, notably Billy Bland in 1982 in 13 hours 53 and Nicky Spinks in 2015 in 18 hours 6.

This year, the ladies record was set by Jasmin Paris in an incredible 15hr 24m.

Here is her account of it.

So, now it’s over to me who on the same day ran a slightly different run in around 15 hours less, but it goes to show that whether you’re out there for hours or minutes, it’s tough and enjoyable and all the emotions and that doesn’t change.

The regime is changing…

Spending quality time with one’s children is something that most parents realise the importance of but life does kind of get in the way a bit and I’m sure I’m not alone in often reflecting on the day’s events and thinking ‘bugger, another day’s gone by without quality child-time!’

So, in my attempt to address this daily berating of my parenting skills, I introduced my daughter to running; it’s fair to say she was a reluctant participant at first…but i’m a tenacious mother…and she is her mother’s daughter after all!

So, fast forward 2 years and we arrived at a local ‘Fun Run’; never ever trust a race which sells itself as a ‘fun, we’re not competitive at all’ type of event; they’re just lulling you into a false sense of security!

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Never be fooled by someone who chooses a tank top to run in – they’re often quicker than you’d think…

Anyway, I was there in my capacity of mother to a now very competitive daughter and coach to my many C2-5k protégés; it’s fair to say I was feeling the pressure. On the one hand there’s my daughter who thinks I’m just some old woman who used to be able to run a bit but clearly peaked some time ago and on the other there’s the C2-5k graduates who think I’m going to win the race because I’m somehow related to Mo Farrah (you’d think my skin tone would give the game away!)

Anyway, I set off on the ‘g’ of bang (my reaction times aren’t what they used to be!) and hurtled off with all the other ‘fun’ runners with my daughter shouting ‘you’re going way too fast for me!”…well, it clearly wasn’t all that fast for her, because she glided past me in the final 200m, shouting an encouraging ‘stick on my shoulder mum!’…and then proceeded to put 3 seconds on me, which may not sound a lot, but believe me, it looks a lot in the photos!

Of course I’m thrilled for my daughter, she’s flourishing as a runner and is a fantastic role model to her teenage friends but there is an insey-winsey (OK, quite big part of me!) that’s actually envious of where she is at on her running journey…I just wish she’d get so much better that I’ve no chance of keeping up with her so I can stop being so bloomin’ competitive!

What have I learnt from this…that I’ll introduce her to extreme crocheting next!

The art of shedding the cross-country demons

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You don’t get views like this on the A509…

If I say the words Cross Country, what does that mean to you?  Does it fill you with enthusiasm for getting outdoors and onto the trails with adventures and stories to tell or does it bring back memories that make you shudder, of freezing cold, grey afternoons at school, often dressed inappropriately in a boxy t-shirt and nylon shorts (or in my case an airtex shirt, games skirt and MASSIVE P.E knickers – just me?)

I have recently moved from the latter to the former and actually now much prefer off-road to on.  Yes, there’s all the research that shows that running on trails is better on the body but for me I think it’s better for my mind.  Given the choice of fields, hills, I mean undulations, ever-changing views and fresh country-side air over pavements, dodging pedestrians and exhaust fumes filling my lungs…Not to mention the benefits to your core and general fitness and strength in your legs, feet ankles…plus the chance to run through muddy puddles with pure childlike abandon… Can you tell which one I prefer?!

So at the end of last year, I gamely put my name forward for the 3-counties cross-country league with my running club.  I managed 4 out of the 5 races and wore shorts for 2 of them, because #shortsclub

I have since categorized them thus…

The Hilly One with the Brook

The Freezing Cold, Sideways Rain and Windy Hilly One

The One That Was Actually OK (although we nearly got caught in some clay pigeon shooting crossfire, at least that’s what I think it was, that or some major event going down)

The Muddy One, actually, make that the MUDDY one, so muddy that all other mud is compared to it – genuinely.

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This is not even close to how muddy it was…

None of them were easy but actually, that was the point.  I won’t bore you with a blow by blow account of each one – the title kinda says it how it was.  Suffice to say I was challenged in each and every one of them but the feeling of finally crossing the finish line and the slight air of smugness that you earn for the rest of the day made each and every one of them worth it.   As with any of these events, if you ask me during them if I’m doing any more then it’s a definite no, but as soon as I’m finished then you *might* get me signing up for another, and another…

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There’s a path and everything…

How a cow can help with your PB

Creating a story to tell is what every run is about for me; sometimes the stories go down in our group’s running folklore, like the time we discovered there was a new running pace, running at ‘The Pace of Cows’.

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Looking casual or maybe plotting a new strategy

It’s incredible how quick one can run when 20 cows are heading in your direction. These cows were clever though, they were ‘strategic’ cows, they had clearly been plotting for some time how their attack would play out. Not only did they very cleverly block off our only exit, but they separated the less-quick runners from the main pack…added to that, the fact they had two extra legs than us mere mortals meant they could cover a lot more ground, it appeared that we were doomed.

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Just made it…

My role that day, as is often the case, was to be the ‘adult’ and lead the group out and back safely, so, when hurtling across the field as fast as my aged legs would carry me, I turned to look behind and saw that the Strategic Cows had separated the weaker runners from the group, I had a decision to make…was it every man for himself…or should I do the right thing…argghhhh such a dilemma! Needless to say, the running club no longer has as many members…nah, not really, I stopped running and the cows only went and stopped running too; it was a miracle, hallelujah I cried (internally)…but it would appear that they were not only ‘Strategic Cows’ but they were ‘Cunning Cows’ too, as they only went and started running again. And so it carried on, they ran a bit, we stopped, I clapped my hands and they ran away a bit, then they ran a bit, we stopped….and so on and so forth, until we managed, one by one to throw ourselves into the safety of the next field, not caring that a barbed-wire fence stood in our way. So, the lessons learned that day? If you want to do a PB at your next race, take a cow with you!