Getting faster, really!

Oh hello! Yes, I’m still here and definitely still running…maybe it’s all the running that’s kept me from my blog. Remember around this time last year and I had the chance to go along to the running club once a week, but I found the challenge of always being at the back too much to bear? Well, I’ve gone back for more of the same (though with a much better frame of mind this time). Edward has stopped his Tuesday night football thing, so I have jumped at the chance and find myself in the floodlit joy of going round and round and round with other sweaty chaps. I’ve been going for a while now, when I can, and I have really noticed something happening, something speedy.



A couple of weeks ago I donned my knitted moustache and headed over to Greenwich Park for the Mo Run 10k. I was rather honoured to be allowed to wear the Run Dem Crew T-shirt for the day, as I was part of a group of 100 Run Dem runners taking part en masse…it was high-fives all round and the most enthusiastic cheerers at the top of one of the tough hills. In preparation for the run, one of my fellow Hilly Fields Parkrunners, Glenn had been organising training runs over at the park on Sunday mornings. It was great to meet up with other runners of different abilities and speeds and have a chat whilst working out how to pace this run and how to tackle the hills. When race day came, I was all set and the preparation really put me in good stead to break away and spend the first half of the race overtaking…overtaking! As the 5k marker approached, I looked down to see that I had run it in just over 26 minutes, now could I keep that up for the second half? Somehow I kept up my push and crossed the line in 53.14! My best ever 10k time (I think) is 52 minutes and that was years ago, when I was leaner, younger and fitter, so not bad for a challenging 10k 🙂 (Edward said I can call it my ‘Post-40 PB’. I’ll have that).

On Saturday I will run our Parkrun and see how that translates to a much-loved, much-run course. In the meantime, a friend over on Twitter alerted me to this lovely little film…enjoy.


Run like the wind!

Or rather, put your head down and run really hard into the wind. It’s picking up again out there.

On Monday I will be tackling the BUPA London 10k along with a few running friends, some of whom participated in Janathon and entered in a flurry of excitement following the post-Janathon get-together. After my last 10k race on Peckham Rye, I decided to knuckle down and train hard so I could try to beat my time in that race. Of course, I have been snowed under by a pile of administration around the Big Lunch I am organising on my street, playing with Hector, keeping on top of my vegetable garden and life in general and haven’t managed half the runs I had planned. Oh well, I will just go for it and have some fun, the scenery should be good and I think the crowds will be too.

On Saturday (yes, I know, I’m a bit slow in sharing this with you), I headed over to Greenwich while Edward and Hector went swimming, and decided to run three miles then turn and head for home. I was sent some energy drinks the other week and hadn’t yet given them a try, so decided today was the day to see if the Voltz Energy Shots could give me what they promise. When my package arrived, I was surprised to see two big boxes of these little bottles, and thought: ‘Great, I will be fuelled for the rest of the summer!’ I then had a good look at the ingredients and was disappointed to see that they contain caffeine, enough ‘to give you energy for five hours’. I know for lots of people this would be a great news, but I don’t really get on so well with caffeine, and can only manage one cup of coffee before my stomach starts to churn and I feel spaced out and dizzy. My main worry was that I would end up running with a dodgy tummy, but thought I should give it a try out of interest anyway. I do prefer a less synthetic flavour, so scrunched my face up as I downed the sickly-tasting concoction, feeling relieved that it is such a tiny bottle.

And off I went. I had been for a four-miler on Friday and had felt a bit heavy-legged, but I felt good on this run. Another one of those runs where you feel as if you are going really fast, but the stats point to something a bit more average. It was pretty hot out there, so I sought shade as I weaved in and out of the Greenwich tourists. It was nice to go this way and not have to run eighteen miles, so I embraced the views, absorbed the sights and paused by the Thames to watch a group of people on an archeological dig. As I ran, I paid close attention to my energy levels and my internal rumblings and was pleased to find that I did have more energy, my stomach felt absolutely fine and I had a spring in my step. Of course, this is one of those things where energy could be down to the sunshine, the environment or the dinner I ate the night before, but I do think I could attribute some of it to the Voltz Shot. I am not sure if this is something I would consider normally, in fact I know it isn’t – I turn away when I pass someone drinking Red Bull, the smell is revolting, and I tend more towards a more natural approach, though the Voltz seem to fit in with this ethos when you consider that they are: ‘Carefully blended from a cocktail of vitamins and anti-oxidants’. I can see, however, how these drinks could give me a good boost for a track session or some testing pyramid runs and, now I know it doesn’t cause me to feel spacey, I will give it a go and report back later. As for the ‘five hours of energy’, I felt quite bouncy for the rest of the day and that has to be a good thing.

Time: 59 minutes 39 seconds

Distance: 6.02 miles

Average Pace: 9.55

Best Pace: 7.14

Calories: 604

London to Paris

Not me, well, not by bike anyway. Edward and our friend Steven are off to Paris tomorrow, a bike ride that will take three days and started in Greenwich with a dipping of the wheels in the Thames:

I was really feeling for Edward this week as he went through a sort of taper madness, and I witnessed, as an onlooker, the fear you have when you sense a sore throat coming on and you have a big event ahead of you (it wasn’t just a sore throat, he’s had everything ranging from a headache to ‘knees’). Now the day is here, they are all pasta’d up and we are surrounded by bike stuff, giant sandwiches are being made and my Bara Brith is being packed. Tomorrow morning they will rise at the crack of dawn and head down the National Cycle Network Route 21 (ie our road) towards Eastbourne where they will spend the night at a youth hostel after a ride of about eighty miles. On Monday morning they will cycle the ten miles or so to Newhaven and catch the ferry to Dieppe. They will then head through France to Dampierre and stay at the La Brayonne B&B. Tuesday is the big day when they will cycle all the way to Paris where Hector and I will cheer them in at the Seine and watch as they dip their wheels once more.

You can follow Steven on Endomondo and they will both be Tweeting about their progress: @abighill and @stevieflow. I will write another blog on our return. Good luck lads!

Taper time!

On Friday and Saturday I managed to cram in two runs, one with the lovely Helsbels, and one flying solo. On Friday morning I dropped Hector off at nursery and, not knowing what time it was, legged it up our road to meet Helen by the station for nine o’clock. I did a bit of stretching whilst she got caught at the dreaded crossing ‘system’ and we then headed out along the Waterlink Way. It was a gorgeous morning, but we did both share our concerns about it being hot when we run the Brighton Marathon in two weeks’ time (eek!), after my experience at the London Marathon in 2009, where I caved in under the strain of cramp (though I might add I did finish!), I would prefer a fresh sort of day, where I don’t feel the need to drink every drop of water that comes my way. Another challenge brought on by the heat is the clouds of gnats along the route, but this did give us the opportunity to engage in a new form of cross-training, ‘Gnat Boxercise’ (thanks Helen for the nifty title). I did catch a few in my throat and hadn’t put my sunglasses on, so managed to allow some to hitch a ride in my eyelashes. Yuk! We managed a brisker-than-planned six miles and went our seperate ways to rid ourselves of the pesky bugs.

Time: 1 hour 4 minutes

Distance: 6.11 miles

Average Pace: 10.29

Best Pace: 5.35

Calories: 634

On my return, the postlady rang our bell to give me my Guide Dogs vest for Brighton and a lovely long-sleeve top to test and write about. The top is made from bamboo, which is known for its wicking properties and is eco-friendly, and the material is so soft, I wanted to just stroke it! I decided to wear the top for my long run on Saturday, the last longer run before I go into the taper. You can buy a BAM – Bamboo Clothing Zip Neck Baselayer like mine here, but here is a picture of me sporting mine before the run:

The main thing that delighted me when I put it on was how long it is, so many running tops are cut too short and I find it hard not to get distracted by clothing gathering around my middle and the constant need to keep pulling it down and not expose my midriff; I was interested to see how long this top stayed in place. I hadn’t realised that the top also has lovely little thumb holes, and actually whooped at this discovery (I lead a simple life).

It was another warm day, but slightly fresh at the start of the run, so I kept the little thumb holes hooked in place and off I went. I have decided that I much prefer to head east along the Thames than west: I get most of it all to myself, don’t have to dodge tourists and can immerse myself in scenes of grime and industrial splendour. It being a Saturday, the diggers and stone crushers were hard at work again and the path was populated mainly by other runners, mostly in pairs and mostly ignoring me, and I had thought this route was a friendly one too! Every so often, I caught sight of my hands and felt all sporty, there’s nothing like a new top with cute thumb hole things to make you feel all Paula Radcliffe. Ahem. At this stage, the top was staying firmly in place, no movement whatsoever, and I felt warm, but not too hot even though the sweat was dripping down my face.

When you are training for a marathon, you are told to practice your routine before the big day, making sure you have tried out all the gear you are wearing to make sure it doesn’t rub (or work out where it rubs so you can take precautions), test the various fuels and gels and eat the food you plan to eat prior to the race. Well, after this run, I can definitely say I will not be eating a curry and drinking a beer the night before. If it wasn’t for the agonising stomach cramps and two unscheduled toilet-finding missions in a state of sheer panic, I would say this was the best run of my training so far! I was feeling good, my mind was positive, I was running fairly fast for a long slow run and I looked good in my new gear with a sunny smile on my face. So it’s pasta for me on April 9th.

As I said, this run was good, I was simply ticking off those miles and picking my knees up as I reached the Thames Barrier, enjoyed the view, then turned for home. I had carried my iPod Shuffle with me again, but decided I should have a ‘treat’ for the last two miles after reaching Greenwich, so kicked my heels to Morrissey until I rolled up at home, happy, cool yet warm and ready to enjoy the rest of the weekend. The bamboo had held out, not moving an inch but looking slightly soggy on my return. I normally go for a more shiny fabric because of this, but the benefits outweighed the view I offered my fellow pavement users, maybe it’s ok for a top to show up your sweat, but pants would be anther matter! I think I might consider getting a short-sleeve version of the top, maybe to go under my Guide Dogs vest for the marathon, I’m a convert!

Time: 2 hours 20 minutes 25 seconds

Distance: 14.04 miles

Average Pace: 10.00

Best Pace: 7.18

Calories: 1563

It’s a funny old world…

…beyond the Thames Barrier. This weekend I decided my long run should be on Saturday, get it out of the way, look forward to relaxing for the rest of the weekend, spend Sunday enjoying family time and drinking coffee. A few weeks ago I ran over to Greenwich then eastwards along the Thames, reaching the Thames Barrier then turning for home. This weekend’s run required a bit more, so I was all set to run ten  miles and then turn for home. It was a gorgeous day, really bright and spring-like so deciding what to wear was a bit of a challenge, I ended up going out in capri leggings (my favourites, which now seem to be developing a hole in the nether regions, boo), a long-sleeve top, a t-shirt over this, gloves, sun cream and my fantastic Poloroid Polarized Sunglasses. Now, I was sent these months and months ago and have been waiting for the right kind of weather to give them a good test, so what better than a sunny spring morning over a twenty mile run?

I do wear sunglasses to run, but my usual pair were bought for less than twenty pounds from Boots, so I was interested to see how they compare with a much more expensive and more whizzy sort of spec. As a glasses wearer, I am quite particular about what goes on my face, and I find many glasses really uncomfortable, mainly because I have such wonky ears. With the Poloroid glasses this is not a problem, as they have a neat little adjustable rubber stopper on the arm, so you can wiggle this about until you get everything just right. At first I hadn’t wiggled one side enough and the glasses kept touching my eyelashes, which was driving me nuts, so I made some more adjustments and was well on my way.

I was very daunted by the idea of running twenty miles after my poor show the other week, so was determined to shoo away any negative thoughts and simply break the run up into little bite-size chunks. I got to Greenwich, which was ridiculously busy, then enjoyed the grimy industrial bit that comes next. When I did this run last time it was a Sunday, so felt like a desolate waste land, but this run was alive with the sound of diggers, rock-crushers, telescopic handlers and all manner of other machinery even I don’t know the name of. So much to see (yes, I know most people would run the other way, but I happen to enjoy looking at muddy JCBs). By now, the sun was proving pretty hot, and I had to remember to stop at a shop I had spotted last time to buy some energy drink (I have run out of Orbana), quick stop, gulp, gulp, and on my way. Next stop, the barrier, which looked lovely in the sunshine, and now into unknown territory. It looked like I could go through the visitors centre and pick up the Thames Path again, but I soon found myself looking at a brick wall with two unfortunate men who thought I knew where I was going: ‘Don’t follow me!’ I said ‘I haven’t a clue!’. I asked a security man, who was also clueless, so found myself on a busy road in Woolwich, hoping to find my way back to some delightful scenery. I recognised a roundabout from the London Marathon, wended my way through an estate and joined the river again.

I was getting a bit hot and sticky now, so gloves off to wipe my brow. The sunglasses were staying firmly in place, in fact I had forgotten I was wearing them. My next entertainment spot was at the Woolwich Ferry, a little car ferry and subway, which was ever so busy. Of course, I got myself lost again and was directed by a nice man who seemed to know what he was talking about, and there I was, standing amongst lots of little Anthony Gormleys at the Woolwich Arsenal. So much contrast in one small stretch of water! Things were beginning to feel a bit achey and tired now, not least my mind. I really think I have lost my running nerve in the past few months, I don’t know why, but I just don’t have the same confidence as I used to have. Anyway, I kept going, up and down little paths that were blocked and diverted here and there, hit ten miles with relief, took a gulp of fuel and turned towards home.

This was where the major self-doubt set in and I had to really grit my teeth and get on with it. I did carry my iPod with me, but didn’t listen to it once, I am always a bit concerned it might spoil my thought processes on a really long run, feeling that I will only gain true mental grit by going it alone, no music. Maybe I should really have just put on some music and chilled out a bit! On my return leg through Greenwich I noticed how high the water was – people were leaping away from the edge of the Thames so as not to get splashed. I wanted to be splashed because the heat was beginning to get to me a bit by this point. I paused again to buy more water then took on the two or so miles towards home. This was hard. I even allowed myself to walk some of it, walk, run, walk, run, just get there. I was having my long-run/hot-day craving that I normally only have during the last few miles of a marathon: coke and then another. I was determined to make my run finish outside the shop so I could buy a bottle of coke (I NEVER normally drink coke) and, as I did so, I bumped into Edward and Hector, who had been for a lovely visit to the Horniman Museum and happily cheered me across my imaginary finish-line. Phew.

I popped my sunglasses on my head (I’d say leave them in place because they just got a bit tangled in my hair!), got my coke and strolled home happily to enjoy a lunch of bacon and egg sandwiches on the lawn.

Time: 3 hours 37 minutes 19 seconds

Distance: 20 miles

Average Pace: 10.52

Best Pace: 7.45

Calories: 2393

As for the Poloroid sunglasses, they really did the job, no constant readjustment needed, very light, and they even come with interchangeable lenses, so you can use them in different lights. I think I might let Edward use them for his London-Paris bike ride in April, as I think they would be great for cycling. I might try and persuade him to write a guest blog to let you know all about his upcoming adventure 🙂

And this is what we had for dinner on Saturday night:

A get-together, a long run and an unidentified celebrity runner

Yes, I know, I’m a bit slow with this one. On Saturday I was too busy getting-together, yesterday I was too busy running and today my internet connection was up the spout.

On Saturday, I ventured north of the river with the boys to meet this lot:

I think the correct term for a slightly anonymous group of running bloggers might be ‘a huddle’. So here they are, huddling. I had intending running, but it all seemed a bit of a mad rush in reality and we got there just as the runners headed off into the park, so we chatted, got to know new folk and waited for the fashionably late Cathy and Shaun. It was mild, and Hector was suitably entertained by Audiofuel Sean:

Once the running runners had returned and caught their collective breath, the now present Cathy awarded Gary with his prize for being the winner of Janathon 2011. This man ran 450 miles in one month. I thought we ought to donate our pizzas and pasta to him, he needed it more than us.

And what a pizza! I am not known for being a slow eater, it’s just not in my nature to take my time when there’s food in front of me, but I was well and truly defeated by this gargantuan feast. I tried, I really did. Maybe it was because I was still a bit moved by Cathy’s response to our thank you presents, I hadn’t expected real tears! The response to Travelling Hopefully’s call out for donations to a virtual yet real whip-round was tremendous, which just goes to show how much people enjoyed the experience and felt a sense of respect and gratefulness to a the lady who kept all the plates spinning.

I had imagined that a pizza of such enormity could keep me running for a week, but it wasn’t to be. My schedule said I should stretch my legs with a sixteen miler, so off I headed on Sunday morning with the intention of running to Greenwich, through the foot-tunnel and along the Thames on the Isle of Dogs. As I neared the foot-tunnel, I thought: ‘What if it’s shut?’ and, of course, it was. I just headed east and followed the river. Into the wind. I do feel a real thrill running along the Thames, and now it’s just a couple of miles away, but this run had its ups and downs, both in terms of my energy levels and the views on offer.

Quite quickly I was venturing out of tourist Greenwich and caught sight of my young student self through the window of the Cutty Sark Tavern, knocking back a few beers on a Friday night and eating a gigantic bag of chips on the night bus home. I was then quickly sent on a detour away from the river, due to yet more building work. Why build more apartments when nobody is living in the existing ones? Now the path took a rather grim turn, with high fences topped with barbed wire and gritty industrial scenes with rock-crushers and telescopic handlers (I so wish I could carry my camera on these runs, I know a small boy who would love to see this). I had decided to run with music, which is unusual on such a long run, but I wanted to see if it gave me a different/better experience. I did feel slightly vulnerable on these bleaker paths, but was lifted as the path opened up to the water and ‘Valerie’ came on: ‘Well Sometimes I Go Out, By Myself, And I Look Across The Water’ – just perfect! I was leaping along, yachts from the Greenwich Yacht Club sailing alongside me, and I smiled a huge smile.

I continued the meander northwards and around the Dome, passing lots of runners along the way, the majority of them smiling and saying hello – for a change – and passed one runner amongst a group that I recognised, but can’t place him. I think he is maybe an actor, or maybe an MP, or maybe an actor who plays an MP, I don’t know. And, to my left, was the biggest shopping trolley graveyard I have ever seen, all the more reason to carry my camera sometime. I soon realised that my run would take me along to the Thames Barrier, which excited me, it always looks so splendid in films and on TV, with a speed boat crashing across the water, with some dramatic chase taking place. Erm, I will say it was mildly exciting as I approached with my head ducked to avoid getting my eyes whipped by my hair and the heavy grey sky hanging above. I will return on a brighter day. Here, I turned for home.

Looking back on this run I can see what went wrong: I left the house without water because I couldn’t find anything suitable to put it in (I didn’t think Hector’s frog bottle with straw was a good idea at the time) and didn’t drink anything until I returned through Greenwich and stopped to buy some water at Boots, wasting five minutes waiting in a queue. I didn’t have any gels with me, and after this stop, I felt really, really tired. I knew already that I wouldn’t make it to the full sixteen miles, but decided this was ok and I should just learn from the experience for next weekend. I don’t think my legs have ever felt so heavy on a training run, but I simply couldn’t do a loop of the park to make it up, so hauled myself up and over the footbridge and landed on the doorstep in a little heap.

Time: 2 hours 37 minutes 54 seconds

Distance: 14.70 miles

Average Pace: 10.44

Best Pace: 6.34

Calories: 1701

Janathon Day 30: What a view!

But I didn’t have my camera with me to capture it. Oh well. I was inspired by own photo the other day, and decided to take my long run to Greenwich. It wasn’t a great start, with my run getting pushed back to about 11am because Edward had to complete the dreaded tax return. A bit too much of a gap between breakfast and a long run for my liking. I was also really feeling yesterday’s run and walk in my lower legs, and began to wonder if I could even do three miles let alone 14! Anyway, I headed towards Greenwich and gently eased my mind and body into it. Ah, Greenwich. I was ever so tempted to stop and peruse the antique stalls, drink coffee and eat cake, but I stuck at it and entered the park along with all the tourists and other Sunday runners. Anyone who has ever walked up to the Observatory will know how steep it is, and up I went, tip-toeing past walkers and gasping for air at the top, but my goodness, it’s worth the effort for the view! It was such a bright and clear day as well, just perfect.

So, I did a circuit of the park, pausing to see if I could see the deer. I did (HighwayKind will be impressed 😉 ). As I had gone up, I got to go down but, with a load more miles to do, I had to go up again. Damn it. This time I decided to head out of the park at the top and onto Blackheath. It’s just a load of really busy roads with green bits in between, but so many impressive houses to nose at as you go. I did as wide a loop as I could, checking out the grand abodes and avoiding being squashed by speeding vehicles, then ran back into the park for another downhill bit. When I got into Greenwich again, I ducked in and out of meandering tourists and ran towards the Cutty Sark – hidden behind an ugly enclosure – and down towards the Thames. I had the idea of running along the Thames path, but was sent towards the road due to yet more apartments being built. Here I plodded towards Deptford, down the High Street and to St John’s. By now my stomach was beginning to rumble and I felt slightly sick with hunger, I’m not sure the gel I sucked at the crossing in Lewisham helped, but I thought it might get me through the next few miles.

It did, and so did my determination to do the fourteen miles I had said I would do. It did get a bit boring in places, just looping around to make up the miles, I think I prefer an out-and-back sort of run, where you don’t have to think too much about where you will end up. I might try that next weekend. On my return, the boys had been getting busy in the front garden again, using a pickaxe to get up some concrete and, after some much-needed lunch, we planted our native hedge.

I am impressed with the people we ordered the plants from. I placed the order last Sunday evening and they arrived on Tuesday! It felt great to be planting a hedge, like looking to the future and looking forward to seeing who comes to explore the berries and flowers as they grow.

Janathon day 30:

Time: 2 hours 32 minutes 50 seconds

Distance: 14.07 miles

Average Pace: 10.52

Best Pace: 7.09

Calories: 1688