Running with the mingles

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Thanks to Eileen Woodhead for the photo

It started as an itchy patch on my back, but soon turned into a painful rash. I pointed the finger of blame at my rucksack which had rubbed in all the wrong places as I tested it out on a recce for my favourite run, the Yorkshireman Half Marathon.

I couldn’t see it, so I asked Noel to carry out an inspection. ‘Eww, it’s gross,’ he announced unhelpfully as he backed away from me and headed for the spare bedroom to make up the bed, spraying disinfectant on the way.

Resorting to mirrors, spotlights and contortion, I confirmed Noel’s assessment, it was gross and probably wouldn’t respond to my usual treatment of ignoring something in the hope that it would go away. The GP confirmed what I suspected. Shingles. Shingles, I ask you, isn’t that something old folk get? Obviously not, though it’s fair to say I’m no longer in the first flush of youth. I’d read things about shingles, particularly its impact on taking exercise like, for example, an off-road half marathon that at 24km is more than a half marathon, with 650m of ascent and navigational challenges to boot.

“But I’ve a race to run in ten days, will be be able to do it?’ I asked the GP. Well, it’s important, I’d paid my entry fee and done a fair bit of (though not enough) training. Plus I’d heard that the tee-shirt this year was red. You can never have too many red garments.

There was no reason why I couldn’t run it, he said. Clearly he’s never seen me run, still, I’d take that, along with a course of anti-virals. Then the migraine came, I don’t ignore those any more either. So there I was with a migraine and shingles. Mingles. Sounds like striped potato crisps. Boy was I grumpy.

I had a choice, sit this one out, forfeit the entry fee and red tee-shirt and miss out on getting muddy in Bronte country, or give it my best shot in the certainty that I’d come in last, but hey, that’s not a first.

The picture says it all. I did it, I wasn’t daft, I’d promised Noel and friends who were touchingly concerned that I’d not do it if I felt ill. I wasn’t 100 per cent, but definitely over 50 per cent, so mingles or no mingles, I was there. It was a glorious day, I know the course so well and enjoyed the ups and downs, the mud and the peat, and the lovely people I met on the way.

Not my best result, but I did it, I loved it and amazingly, I wasn’t last, not quite. Take that, mingles.

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Mo’s help with the Yorkshireman

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What would Mo do?

“The critical bit of information that you need to know is that when Mo stands on the start line, he believes he can run faster than anyone else in that race. He believes he can run the last 400m faster than anyone in that race. He believes he could run the last kilometre faster than anyone in that race. He believes he could lift any weight in the gym that anyone wanted to – as a comparison with anyone on the start line – better, faster and heavier. He believes that if he had to fight anyone there he could kick the shit out of them. That’s what owning the start line is.” Neil Black, British Athletics’ Performance Director.

Here in the country that beat the mighty China to second place in the Olympic medal table, we’re all feeling pretty chuffed. Our girls, boys and horses did us proud, and of course they did themselves proud in Rio.

The magnificent Mo Farah took a tumble in the 10000m, but got up and went on to win, and then he took gold in the 5000m. Watching him is a real education in winning. He starts at the back, he makes his move, then regulates his pace. And as the bell for the final lap goes, so does he, his opponents don’t see him for dust. That kick, that stride, that speed, on my goodness, he’s an inspiration.

Come September 11, I’ll be lining up with 200 others at the start line, ready to run the tough and over-long half marathon that is the Yorkshireman. I won’t be owning the start line, or believing I can run it any faster than anyone else, and I’m certainly not planning on sprinting to the finish, dammit, it’s uphill! As usual, I’ll be aiming not to be last, but by gum, I’ll have such a spring in my stride as I relive those magical Mo moments in my head.

A tale of two half marathons

Before the fall. Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo.
Before the fall. Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo.

You know when you were a child, and you fell over, and you cried for your mum? She’d come pick you up, dust you down and put a magic plaster on the almost-invisible graze. What’s a grown-up to do when they go full-length in the moorland peat? Who does the picking-up then, eh?

I was seven miles in to the challenging and optimistically-named off-road Half Yorkshireman, which was less than half of the 14.8-mile course, we like to get value for money, we Yorkshire folk. The conditions were perfect, not too warm, a slight breeze, skylarks skylarking about and the heather laying down a stunning carpet of purple. As I chewed a home-made energy-giving marzipan ball, I was contemplating how lucky I was just to be alive on a day like this. The next thing I knew, I was watching a slow-motion movie about myself, amazed as I flew through the air, marvelling that my hat stayed in place and hoping that the drinking tube didn’t land in the mud (it didn’t, I did). I landed at full speed cushioned only by the elastic tension in my Factor Four sports bra, putting the ribs I broke earlier in the year in a bizarre falling-over incident in a municipal car park at risk of further damage. They held as I rolled on the ground, wondering if I would ever stop and hoping I wasn’t gong to lose the elevation I’d gained, well, this was a race after all.

The first instinct from this middle-age woman was to cry out, call for mum and sob. But there was no-one around, apart from two startled walkers who must have witnessed my undoing. Naturally, I jumped up, scraped off the dust and mud, pulled the heather from my socks and announced ‘well, that was embarrassing’ before running off, stifling a sob. They’re not easy, these fell runs, you know.

Just a week previously I was running the inaugural Vale of York half marathon, and it couldn’t have been more different. Fast and flat, the publicity said, long straight roads, I gave it a go because, well, because I thought I might like it. The sun shone, the organisers and support were fantastic, but I hated it. No hills, no rock, no mud, no puddles, just plod plod plod. Why run on a road when you can fly on the fells? Why tread the tarmac when you can pound the peat? Why be safe when you can fall over?

I have many running friends and they do fall into two camps, some wouldn’t dream of leaving the roads, others wouldn’t touch them with a trekking pole. And me? Even though my mum’s not around to pick me up when I tumble, I love the trails and fells and will never do a road half marathon ever again!

A half marathon for the gnarly

We ran up that. Eee it was steep!
We ran up that. Eee it was steep!

Just think, five years ago the furthest I had ever run was about 100 metres, and even that was a challenge. I’d never tried it, didn’t believe I could do it and thought I was just too old to take up this sort of thing when I should be taking it easy and ordering my Shackleton’s high seat chair.

Today I put on my trail shoes, as opposed to my road running shoes, runners need different shoes for different terrains, you know, jammed my running pack with liquid, jelly babies and waterproof, picked up the map and set off to recce the Half Yorkshireman. This half marathon so rugged, so gnarly, it’s nearly two miles longer that an ordinary wussy southern or Lancashire half marathon.

It’s long, it’s hilly and it’s tough, so what the HELL was I thinking of when I entered it? I could have stuck with shorter, flat runs, not that there are many of those in our part of the world. But no, once I got going with this running lark, I realised that while I’d never be hot on the heels of Mo Farrah, I rather liked taking part in races, the more difficult the better. And mud, I liked that too, though there’s been a disappointing lack of it during our long, hot summer. So when a friend said he’d like to take part in this little jaunt around Bronte country, I did my usual and said I’d do it before actually thinking about what it meant. Same old same old, eh?

Being Yorkshire, there’s none of this namby pamby signposting or cheering crowds lining the route. You’re expected to carry a map and compass and know how to use them, so a crash course on map reading was followed swiftly by Noel volunteering to do the navigation, as I wasn’t making any sense of all those squiggly lines.

With just two weeks to go, we’ve navigated most of the route now, thanks in equal parts to luck and good judgement, along with a helpful You Tube video, ah thank goodness for You Tube! It was a close call, though, when we realised we couldn’t find the starting point, but we’ll gloss over that, knowing we can just follow everyone else. Now all we need to do is make sure we can find our way to Haworth again.

The buzz of half marathon training

Less than a week to go, so it’s time to take stock of my training for Sunday’s little jaunt around the Lakeland fells. Here we go:

  • Long, longer and even longer runs. Check, though note to self, must make sure I don’t take a detour ‘because that little tarn over there looks nice’ or ‘I wonder where that goes….’ Result, a ten-miler became a 12-miler.
  • Hills, hills and more hills. Check check check
  • FartlekingCheck. Though there’s been more farting than leking, which I’m assured by Noel is the sign of a healthy constitution
  • Rest day. Check. Expert level reached on this.
  • Running around the garden at high speed, changing direction, waving arms and exclaiming ‘agh, agh, AGHHHH!!’ Check

That last element of the training is particularly good for dodging around in the Lakeland undergrowth, stretching my vocal chords in case I get lost and have to shout (highly likely) and keeping arms flexible for climbing out of ditches (50-50 chance). So I’m grateful to the wasps who set up their nest behind the shed door and scared the life out of me by buzzing in my face when I opened it. Without them, I wouldn’t have covered the entire length of the garden in one leap. I’m thinking that every training programme should have a wasps’ nest, it definitely gave me a buzz.

Additional training at the Red Welly Relay, Leeds parkrun. The wellies are the batons, it was girls against boys, 25 in each team running 200 metres each. The boys won, we woz robbed!
Additional training at the Red Welly Relay, Leeds parkrun. The wellies are the batons, it was girls against boys, 25 in each team running 200 metres each. The boys won, we woz robbed!

Jelly babies come to a sticky end

The final few metres, the finish was in sight

By the time I reached mile seven I was feeling a bit peckish. Fellow runners had warned me that the Bridlington Half Marathon threw out a sneaky hill at this point and in my head, I was ready for it. Unfortunately my stomach, which had made quick work of the breakfast porridge, wanted a little something else and the half-cup of water I’d just snatched from the drinks station and thrown over myself in the hope that some of it may hit my mouth, just wasn’t enough.

Fortunately the jelly baby stash in my back pocket was there for that emergency sugar-rush. Now no power on earth was going to make me stop running, my legs were moving like a slow motion version of the Road Runner without the ‘beep beep’, the momentum was there and the hill was looming. So in a move worthy of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, though more like Ted Striker’s spoof in Airplane, I reached round to undo the zip.

My legs somehow kept moving as my hand jiggled in my pocket, expecting to find the five jelly babies, one of each colour for maximum flavour potential, my dry mouth producing saliva in eager anticipation and even excitement, would it be a red one? A green one? I’d even be happy with a black one in such an impending emergency.

But all I felt was a sticky mass, part pocket, part zip, part fluff, part jelly baby, part parkrun bar code, washed and reconstituted into a solid white mass. It was the confectionery version of Frankenstein’s monster. Damn. And there was still the hill, and boy did I need something to keep me going. So I did what anyone would have done, scooped the whole lot out, glad that it had that runny gelatinous consistency and sucked it from my sweaty fingers, bar code and all. Sweet, chewy and with that added carbohydrate from the bar code, it was magnificent, I’ve never tasted anything better in my life.

Before I knew it, I was up that hill and on the home run, hearing the cheers of my team mates from Eccleshill Road Runners mugging for the camera Noel was pointing at me and grabbing the medal as I crossed the finish line.

I was so proud, so happy, so thrilled to have completed my first half marathon, I just wouldn’t let go of my medal. Actually, I couldn’t let go, it was stuck to the jelly baby residue on my hands, adding more fluff from the yellow ribbon. What with my depleted blood sugar and near delirium from running further than I’ve ever run in my life, I did what anyone in that position would have done and licked my hands. Fantastic flavours that defy description. I think I’m going to have to patent that recipe.

I’d hoped to do it in 2.20, and was thrilled with the time of 2.15:57. A personal best, now there’s something to beat next time!

No train, no gain

The training plan

I remember when I was at grammar school and entering the 400 metres on sports day. Yes yes, it was so long ago that we were using old money to buy two ounces of Yorkshire Mixtures from the Tuck Shop for tuppence ha’penny. I wasn’t really an athlete and to the best of my recollection I had only run 400 metres in multiples of 100 spread over days, possibly weeks. But somehow with my young, confident legs and supreme self-belief (well I was a grammar school student) led me to put my name down to bring glory to the Bronte house.

It wasn’t until the loud ‘go’ that followed the ‘ready’ and ‘set’ that I appreciated just how far 400 metres were. Helped by the slight decline of the grass track and the cheers of my Bronte house friends, I wasn’t exactly flying to begin with, but I was certainly fluttering fast. Somewhere between 200 and 300 metres those legs lost their confidence and as the others left me way behind I began to wonder where I’d gone wrong. Maybe just believing I could do it wasn’t enough. It certainly wasn’t, Bronte came bottom thanks to me. I was not popular.

I’ve certainly learned from my mistake. So much so that when, in a moment of madness, spurred on by the enthusiasm of my mates in Eccleshill Road Runners, and the promise of genuine seaside fish and chips and beer to follow, I entered the Bridlington Half Marathon and made a promise there and then to all Bronte housers that I’d rely on more than confidence.

To be honest I was scared to death at the idea of actually running just over 13 miles, I was struggling with seven miles and being an ex grammar schooler wasn’t going to help me with the headwind on Bridlington seafront come 21 October. I definitely needed a plan. Thankfully, a chance conversation with Peter May over a sports massage gave me a personalised plan and one that my inbuilt aversion to structure and rules could cope with. Five activities, most of it running, and two rest days a week, building up the miles with a long run getting longer. Five weeks in and I noticed the difference, the same hills weren’t quite as hilly and my ploddy cadence started to lose its ploddiness. I even got two personal bests in three weeks at the parkrun  and knocked four minutes off last year’s time in the Kirkstall Abbey Seven on Sunday.

Today I ran 11.5 miles. Today I knew that my hope to run the 13-and-a-bit miles would be well-placed, even if I wasn’t. Today I was glad I’d worked hard to train rather than rely on self-belief and not-so-confident legs. And there’s still three weeks to go!