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This race is listed in the top 10 most beautiful marathons in the world. And rightly so. This isn’t your big city marathon; there are no crowds, no push from runners needing to pass you, no need to weave and constantly go up and down the kerbs to find a way through.
Like all races in France it is beautifully understated. It seemed more simple than races in the UK, though that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly well organised. It’s relaxed and with about 5,000 people there’s enough runners around you that you never come adrift, plus you still get the buzz and atmosphere of a big event.
Many runners choose the option of getting a shuttle from the finish to the start, as this is a point to point marathon. With the last bus leaving at about 6.45am, this means an early start on race day. It’s an easy option and the coach will take you to Cancale, where the start is located. On several parts of your journey you can glance across to the ocean and see Mont St Michel. It gradually gets further and further away so that when you arrive at the start it’s just a dot on the horizon. The further we got from it the more daunted I felt – which I hadn’t expected. I’d had a busy few weeks leading up to the race, I rolled on my ankle the week before at parkrun, then only managed a whole two hours sleep on race night. I felt liked I’d run a marathon before I took the first step of the race!
As you work your way back along the coast during the race MSM comes in and out of view, slowly getting bigger as you get closer to the finish.
The start was buzzing, there were plenty of loos and baggage drop was seamless. Cancale is a beautiful town and the small harbour is idyllic. The sun was just breaking through the clouds at 8.30am, which I was hoping it wouldn’t as temperatures in the high 20s were predicted. There was no breeze, either, brilliant for those aiming for a fast run, but it meant we were in for some hot running. At least our tans would benefit!
The first mile or so is uphill, but it’s gentle, and with the rest of the course being almost flat this is a great PB course.
It was exciting to get underway, knowing that every mile travelled would bring MSM closer in to view.
Just having this island commune (a world heritage site) as a backdrop earns this race it’s place in the top 10 most beautiful marathons in the world. But the beauty doesn’t just lie in the spectacle of the finish. Soon you are running through quiet countryside (the whole race is closed roads) and you get an overwhelming sense of peacefulness. The fields surrounding us were already bursting with crops, and periodically we wound our way back to the coast to see how much we had progressed.
There were plenty of aid stations and nearly all runners made use of the sponges as well as grabbing water and nutrition, and of course all along the course locals come out, shouting ‘Allez Allez, bravo!’ You work your way through a few small villages where the support along the road side increased, encouraging those who had stopped to walk to keep going.
I noticed people walking quite early for a marathon – by about 10 miles runners were already having to pace themselves, and I knew before race day there was no way I’d be able to keep running the whole way in the heat. My phone said it was 28 degrees, but when you’re running and your body is working it always feels so much hotter. Like your head is going to explode. I had halfway as my target to keep running up to. I’ve done some really hot half marathons before, but never a full as I know how hard they are when it’s both hot and humid. By 10 miles I wasn’t exactly skipping along.
As I got further into the race I promised myself I would do proper walks – and the views were stunning, so I wasn’t frustrated or upset; it felt like a long walk in the countryside. By about 17 miles I started to do blocks of about five minutes walking, then running the rest of the mile I was in, but even that felt hard. I was already too hot and even though I took on water at every aid station, and threw it over myself, I was feeling sick and felt crampy all over. Every time I started to jog I felt really sick again, so I didn’t overdo it. With the gentle sound of runners overtaking me I felt peaceful and happy. Well as happy as you during a marathon when you have miles to walk/jog.
From about mile 20 the Mont reappears, is much closer and you know you are almost home. Lots of runners were walking in, all chatting to each other, encouraging one another. It was quite hard to run past my hotel to do the last mile to the finish!
And what a spectacular finish this race gives you. It’s just haunting looking out to the Abbey. The French are incredibly proud of their heritage and were marvelling in awe at the Mont as much as us foreigners. If you’re a local runner what an incredible race to look forward to every year! This race is almost the serene, older cousin to Paris Marathon. Fanfare, crowds, noise… it needs none of these; the simple route that weaves it’s way towards the finish is a completely different experience yet incredibly unique. It has a beguiling magic, more of an ancient heart that welcomes you, takes you on a mysterious journey and then leaves you wondering just exactly what has happened.
The difference in the feel of this race must come from the people. Whether it’s one of the biggest marathons in the world running through the streets of Paris, or a much smaller affair, winding through the French countryside, you don’t find anyone telling you what you can’t do; where you can’t go, which barriers you can’t go past, which line you have to be in. It’s so relaxed it reminds me of similar races in the Caribbean, known for their easy-going attitude. However, you have a massive organisation behind the event, ensuring that your needs are considered, met and – importantly for brining you back every year – even being anticipated before you have them.
What will i remember about this race? I was really struck as I ran through the fields at the frequent borders of poppies. Since my school day history lessons I’ve associated Normandy and the D-Day landings with the huge loss of life that occurred in the Second World War. On your way into Mont St Michel you pass signposts to war cemeteries. Throughout the race the poppies made me think of the huge loss of life that happened in the World Wars and the deep connection we, as a nation, have with France, and how few from those times now survive.
How that connection could be easily lost. That we should never forget. Running in the week of the Manchester bombing, in our era when warfare has such a different profile using such contrasting weapons, I felt really emotional. And just sad. People at home in the UK were running on behalf of the families and victims of the Manchester bombings in the Great Manchester Run. Every footfall made me feel thankful.
There are so many incredible marathons all round the world, each one a unique experience. But I think this is one all of us should put on our bucket list. Not just because it’s a beautiful route – the whole 26.2 – and has an unrivalled backdrop for a finish that will stay with you forever. I think the simplicity of the terrain gives you 26.2miles, or probably about four hours, to really appreciate the planet, life, to be present with your thoughts and just feel the beauty of the open road.
I felt like I was travelling back in time for just a short part of one day of my life, but it’s long enough to profoundly affect you and realise however far, fast or slow, each race you do is another opportunity to connect with new people, new places, new adventures, as well as yourself. It was incredibly hot but yesterday, as I travelled home after the race, I felt refreshed – even ready to go for a run. This is the biggest positive of the Marathon Mont St Michel.
It’s taken me weeks to want to write up this race. Even now I’m reluctant to put fingertips to keyboard and ‘get it out’. I needed to think about it. Please visit other runner’s blogs if you want the statistics of this race – how hot it was, how many ran, what the medal’s like.
This space is dedicated to getting to the heart of this race. I think it’s quite a beautiful one.
Why should you invest about 100 precious Euros in this marathon? What do we all expect for this? A PB? New friends? A grand experience? A lot of your race day experience is going to be dictated by preparation.
I wasn’t raring to go at Paris, but I was really ready to give 100%. By this, I mean my target was to run the whole 26.2miles without walking in (I’ve got history of doing this. Quite a few times. The last being London last year). Of course every one of us would love a PB at each marathon we run. I injured the long extensor tendon that stretches from my right big toe to my calf, so for the last four weeks before Paris I barely ran. Yes for my taper I was a faker.
But… my body was definitely rested, as three of the last four weeks before race day I didn’t run. There’s always a positive.
The mental stress of not being able to taper was horrific. Never get carried away with the positives.
What did this race mean to me?
Let’s not get ahead, I haven’t told you about how challenging prep was. After leading a group of my Friday runners in a lovely session on the trails I came home and felt a dull ache in the zone from the inside of my ankle up towards the bottom of my calf. That was the beginning of three weeks of no running RIGHT BEFORE race day. There’s no point saying the work’s been done, it’s in the hands of Gods or anything else to soothe a runner who can’t run in the last month of marathon training. Be honest – how would you feel… yep, like a juggernaut of running misery is hurtling right at you.
Watching other runners run when you can’t hurts you deeply. We are talking pain here. They’re feeling the air in their lungs, their hearts are pumping life through their muscles, the ground is giddily slapping against their feet, they’re feeling the adrenalin push of an interval just started, the weird crazy runner’s euphoria that even a 5K can give you. And you’re not. There it is. Nasty runvy. Nasty, nasty, nasty. That dark place in your nuclei, your muscle cells, your engine, your spongy brain cells.
Jealousy of another not for who they are, what they have, what you think they have, what they may think they have even though you know they don’t really have it, what they are, what they’ve done, what they’re about to do. Envy of their run. No one would kill someone from runvy. But you want to walk alongside them, accidentally push into them or stick one foot out and trip them up and say ‘Oh, I’m so, so sorry, did I stop you running? Here, let me help you up. You’ve twisted your ankle? Oh no! You won’t be able to run. SHAME.’
The human body is such a complicated organism. I was asking such a simple thing – perform under a huge amount of pressure on one day despite me and my broken foot being completely not happy or in a good place for at least three whole weeks. 21 days. 504 hours. 30240 minutes.
After those long winter runs, especially that awful one with hail and hills and the longest portaloo queue beforehand ever known to running woman, I was going to be climbing out of the washing machine of life as an injured runner and jumping straight into 26.2.
Yet after less than an hour’s flight from where I live I found myself in one of the world’s most beautiful, beguiling cities. As the Eiffel Tower came into focus from my plane I felt I knew it would all be alright, whatever happened.
If you’re planning on going to next year’s event you have to enjoy every moment. For just a handful of Euros you can sign up to the Breakfast Run the day before the race. A 5K in the heart of Paris with a finish line at the foot of the Eiffel Tower…it would have been foolish to pass this one by and it’s such a great way to spend your hard-earned Euros. And you get breakfast (a croissant) when you cross the line. Which is cake. Almost.
Don’t miss the 5K. Thousands of runners from all over the world snake their way past such iconic landmarks as the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, the Avenue Foch, the Trocadéro, to the finish where a traditional Parisian breakfast awaits. The runners waved their home flags and chanted for the whole route, as well as stopping frequently to snap some sensational selfies. Everyone was there to have fun and the atmosphere was both relaxed and electric. Being highly excitable it was a great start to the weekend, as I felt like I was running with thousands of other highly excitable people.
There were no barriers on the streets. I think I saw one marshal the whole way. We all just started, the streets were closed, then we got to the end, with a lot of noise in between.
By the time I got back to the hotel, after visiting the expo my injury was throbbing badly. I grabbed a bag of ice from the bar and spent the whole evening with the foot iced and elevated. If I was a religious girl I would have said a prayer to get me round.
My nerves started to buzz as soon as I woke up at 6am on marathon day to have my porridge pot. I would be running 26.2 miles from the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the Louvre, round the Place de la Bastille, along the Seine, through Bois de Boulogne to emerge at the finish. There are even views of Notre Dame.
Somehow I missed these though. Damn, I’ll have to go back next year and look harder.
Preparation is essential and I asked my Angel Cards for guidance – why not? This is what they sent me…
With such a magnificent backdrop and so many historical landmarks the miles flew past. The aid stations were aplenty and the marshals all shouted: ‘Allez, allez!’ Even before the start at 8:30am it was warm. I know you’ve probably forgotten what that feels like but I mean as warm as a normal summer’s day in England. Being hosed with fountains of water by local fire fighters was a lifesaver for many. Temperatures reached 25 degrees Celsius – challenging for any runner, however experienced. Despite the ample water stations, sponges and hoses I saw more people collapsed on the side of the road then in any other marathon.
There’s a short stretch of cobbles at the beginning and though not long, they were enough to irritate my foot. From the end of mile 1 I knew I was going to have to focus right until that final step over the finish. I concentrated on keeping my head up, feeding off the crowds, the music and other runners. I didn’t weave or go up and down curbs, rather I slowed when it became extra crowded (this happened the most at the half way stage for me) and tried to move with the flow of runners rather than against it. Waves of jazz drifted over the course (there were over 100 bands along the route). I felt really moved at one stage as I listened to the music. I think this was as I was moving into the delirious stage towards the end, emerging from the parklands into the last stretch in the sun.
Looking up and around and taking in the changing route helped the miles slip away. I avoided constantly checking my watch. You hear about bottles under your feet at Paris, but the organisers have worked hard to educate runners to bin their bottles at targets staggered after each aid station. Yes I did feel I was ice-skating on a banana skin at one stage and a big hefty man clipped one of my ankles as I came into the second to last water station, thrusting me up against the drinks table! Both times I skilfully managed to keep on my feet. All that strength and conditioning work really paid off. All in all, sharing the route with 50,000 others felt very civilised. Most importantly, this is a flat and fast course, with no hidden hills in the last six miles. Thank you Paris for this alone. Expect your race to be very busy though, with little room to manoeuvre at certain parts. The half way is a big pinch point, and in the latter parts the crowds are in the roads cheering you on (think Tour de France), which again makes for a narrow route. By that stage you don’t really care.
Paris Marathon is not only incredibly well organised, with a heart that beats in the most romantic city on this earth, it has a soul. The race organisers have a vision of offering more than just a ‘good’ race; they want you to have an ultimate experience. Recycling, a carbon neutral footprint, inclusivity…Paris is leading the way on all of these crucial factors that will ensure the survival and evolution of all the big city races.
I had an animal in my head the last six miles. I normally try to encourage other runners walking or struggling but I ignored them all and my mantra was ‘Just keep going’. I felt awful but I had to focus on just not stopping. And I didn’t.
For all these words I really could have used just one: Paris Marathon felt stylish. Compared to London it’s much more visually stunning. Obviously the weather was amazing. The expo is, I think, better than London.
Running a marathon has got to be the best way to discover a city. The wide boulevards of Paris, the imposing 18th and 19th architecture, the ghosts of Renoir, Picasso, Manet, Cézanne looking down from Montmartre at the strange sight of so many people thrumming their own beat with hundreds of thousands of feet. It’s a race you’ll never forget. I find I have very much fallen in love with the Marathon de Paris.
Next year’s race date: April 8th 2018 Enter here
I know I said I wasn’t going to give you statistics. I was lying
42,500 finishers in 2017
250,000 spectators along the route
37% running their first marathon
25% women (come on ladies!)
1,759,869km: total kilometres run by participants in 2016 (that’s to the moon and back, twice!)
3,000 runners in the Paris Breakfast Run
After Paris I was left with thoughts that had nothing to do with running. It was five years since I ‘ran’ a marathon and four years since I determined to try one, after my dad’s death. I didn’t even realise this. I literally hadn’t thought ‘how long since’… It was quite a shock to realise five years of life had gone by.
It was such a hot day – so hot that I stayed in an ice bath for ten minutes once I got back to my hotel. And so hot that I was taken back to the day of my dad’s funeral. The memory of dipping my fingers deep into the urn that held my dad’s ashes, taking a full handful and holding him within one hand, before I lay the ashes into a river. How can your parent become a handful of ashes? There was a tiny bit of metal within my hand, must have been from his coffin. It took so long from that day to achieve the marathon again in some senses I felt flat and very inconsequential post race. Time has moved on. If it takes that long for the next one I’ll be a Vet50!
Spring marathons – the ones that got away
I’m not the only runner who didn’t have a great lead up, or race day experience, in their spring marathon. So how do you deal with this?
When I got to stage of almost crying in my taper (I said * almost *) I did one thing that changed my whole perspective instantly. I entered another marathon. After two weeks of fretting about how I wouldn’t make it to the start line, how I wouldn’t be able to ‘race’, how little marathon pace I’d done, I could start focusing on something else. You can do this too if you’re marathon journey has been scuppered, or if race day goes haywire and you’ve been left on the marathon finishers rubbish heap. Do it now, it makes a massive difference to that negative voice in your head.
P.S. Can I just ask – does anyone actually ever do really good training, really good races and manage to dodge these life issues that seem to magnetise towards me like an alien to Area 51 ?
The sun is shining, finally, which means it’s the best time of year to think about new fitness challenges! Whether you’re stepping up in distance or putting your trainers on for the first time, here are my five easy steps to completing your first 10K
Have you recently completed a Race for Life 5K or parkrun? Or are you new to running and looking for your first challenge? The natural progression is to train for a 10K.
With 28.5 per cent of women taking part in sport two or three times a week, and 4.8 per cent of women trying either jogging, cross-country or running, more and more 10K races are springing up in a town near you. If training, and completing a 6.25-mile race appeals, here’s how you can ensure success.
It’s all about the training
If you’ve recently completed a 5K, well done! Even if you’re new to running, it’s worth knowing that moving up to your first 10K isn’t about speed, it’s about completing a new distance. Get ready to add time on your feet. ‘The more you extend the time on your feet, the closer you will get to your 10K goal,’ says running coach and Olympian Liz Yelling, who regularly trains new runners in her hometown of Poole, Dorset.
Training for a 10K is similar to a 5K, however the distance of your long run will double. ‘Slowly building your long run will help your endurance or ability to keep going when your body starts to tire,’ says Liz. A common misconception is that you need to have run the distance in training before race day: you don’t. If you’ve run five miles, the occasion will pull you through the last mile.
Don’t think you need to be running every day either. It’s better to train smart, than train too much. There are three key sessions you should aim to include every week – a long run, a 30-minute steady run and an interval session. Interval running is about running faster over a short distance, then recovering before you repeat the effort. This helps your body get used to the feeling of running fast, and helps your heart and lungs adapt to let you do this.
‘One of my most popular sessions with runners aiming for their first 10K is running fast for 60 seconds, then walking for two minutes to recover, before repeating between six and eight times,’ says Liz.
When it comes to race day make sure you give yourself enough time to warm up. ‘Don’t waste energy on a really energetic warm-up,’ advises Liz, ‘at this stage, a brisk 10-minute walk will loosen your muscles.’
Pacing is key
When you first start to run, you can quickly become out of breath, which can feel scary if you haven’t done this since school. But it is normal. Training allows you to understand how to make your body run faster, and you shouldn’t be afraid to push yourself gradually, at small intervals.
The biggest pacing mistake for new runners is going off too fast in a race. How do you know you have done this? Think of the perceived effort you are running at, on a scale of 1-10. One is walking, 10 is running as fast as you can. If you are at 8-10 it’s too fast! You should be aiming for 6-7 to be able to finish comfortably.
Recognise that if you can’t keep running you have probably started too fast, and don’t be afraid to walk. Break the remaining distance down into periods of running, then walking for two minutes to recover, before trying to run again for two minutes.
Nail your pacing on race day by monitoring your breathing, and ability to talk while moving. For a first 10K, it’s unlikely that you are chasing a time, so you won’t be running flat out. Aim to be able to speak 8-10 words with the person next to you before you have to take a breath, and before you know it that finish line will appear.
Balance your diet
Can what you eat really affect your race? ‘Yes!’ says nutritionist and endurance runner Emma Patel. ‘Your daily training diet should be a consistent balance of natural unprocessed whole foods. Fill your body with processed junk and it will feel like you’re running on junk!’
A body loaded with junk is too busy detoxifying to thrive, leading to fatigue and low energy levels, and faster burnout when it comes to race day.
Try cooking with grains that have a low glycaemic index and aren’t processed, such as amaranth and quinoa. Both offer a vast quantity of carbohydrate, proteins and micronutrients. Processed, refined sugary foods such as white bread and pasta don’t offer much nutritionally other than carbohydrate and “empty calories”.
‘You also need healthy fats (free-range eggs and organic avocados), quality proteins such as sustainable organically farmed chicken and fish like salmon, plus an array of seasonal fruits, vegetables and spices,’ adds Emma. These are anti-inflammatory and are rich in antioxidants, aiding the recovery process after vigorous training.
Iron-rich foods are also important, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan, as they can boost performance. ‘This group of powerhouses includes dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and dark coloured berries,’ says Emma.
Eat your pre-race breakfast two to three hours before your run to allow the food to be digested. ‘I recommend a go-faster breakfast of brown rice, blueberries, a dash of maple syrup and some healthy nut butter on race day,’ says Emma.
It’s also important to refuel and rehydrate as quickly as possible after to reduce muscle soreness and boost energy levels. Even though you may not feel like it, eating within the first 15 minutes of finishing will kick-start your recovery.
Avoid recovery drinks with large quantities of sugar, sweeteners and additives; a homemade smoothie will be more nourishing and cheaper. Try making your own with banana, almond, coconut milk and strawberries.
Finally, if it’s going to be hot, you sweat a lot and your race will take more than 60 minutes, sip on an electrolyte drink on your way round to remain hydrated.
Sort out your kit bag
With the right gear you can avoid injury, which could halt your training. Buying untested shoes online could mean running in the wrong type of trainers. You need to get both your feet and your gait analysed in a specialist running shop, to get the right shoe for your running style.
Videos on the Internet may help you work out whether you have high arches or over-pronate (think of your knees rolling inwards), but it’s difficult to assess your own running style.
Any specialist should match your running needs with your budget, and give you plenty of options; your first trainers don’t have to be expensive.
The majority of runners over-pronate and need a little support in their shoes, but as the overall trend is towards natural shoes, even if you need support you can expect your trainers to be lightweight.
If you don’t wear a properly fitted, supportive sports bra when you run you could suffer permanent breast damage – even if your breasts are very small.
Also, when you’re buying gear to run in, your best option is modern polyester fabric, rather than cotton, as it’s breathable and wicks away sweat. This fabric doesn’t get heavier as you sweat and the more expensive items will have an odour control element, worth investing in!
You CAN do this
The surest way to ensure you achieve this goal is to work out why you are running. You need to find out the core “why” or motivation for running: the bottom-line reason behind your effort. For example, if you are running with a friend, ask yourself why? If it’s to support her as she’s raising money for charity, why do you want to help?
If the charity is linked to a specific cause, why is this relevant to you? Keep going until there are no more questions – this is your core motivation. ‘The more you can drill down to the core “why” behind your challenge, and get to the bottom of why you took it on, the easier it will be to keep going when it gets tough,’ says emotional wellness coach Janet Smith.
If you are running to raise £1,000 for a breast cancer charity as you lost your mum to the disease, this is your core motivation. As you run you can then build on this motivation to keep going. ‘Each 1K you complete can become £100 raised towards your target, or a chunk of whatever goal you have set yourself,’ says Janet.
‘Keep thinking big: if you raise your target what will the charity do with this money? How many lives will be saved by this charity? This becomes your biggest goal: to help save peoples’ lives.’ If it helps, contact your charity to ask what your fundraising target will achieve.
When last minute nerves kick in, don’t let them stop you achieving success. ‘Either connect with others, via blogs or Facebook, to get external energy to boost your confidence, or journey inwards to do this. Renew your energy by spending time with yourself, whether you enjoy swimming, walking, meditation or art,’ says Janet.
Emma Patel’s ideal breakfast, lunch and tea:
Breakfast: Amaranth porridge with fresh mango and chia seeds. Start the day with hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.
Lunch: Mackerel and brown rice with an avocado, spinach and watercress salad, and a tahini dressing (rich in calcium).
Dinner: Roasted turkey breast with roasted veggies, celeriac, butternut squash, aubergine and peppers. Add melted feta cheese to the veggies.
Don’t forget to drink filtered water throughout the day (aim for six glasses).
Let me know how you get on with your first 10K!
20 miles – I don’t think I’ve actually ran past this distance since completing the Rome Marathon back in 2012. Edinburgh Marathon I started walking about Mile 19, London Marathon last year everything started to go pants at Mile 20.
I’m a paradox, a marathon runner who hasn’t been able to run a marathon for several years. If anyone asked me what type of runner I am I would say long-distance. Then I feel like I’m cheating as I’ve not been able to do this recently. Who the hell am I?
All of us, every single last one, juggle many things and struggle in our marathon journeys with different issues… nutrition, cramps (anywhere, stomach, legs, back – brain!) time to train, weather, the ‘I’ word (I’m not saying it), new and unexpected niggles, rising physio costs. It’s not one thing that can go wrong; it is, of course, many. But, sometimes everything can go right, and if this doesn’t happen so be it. You have to come back another day to fight again. And try not to cry about it at the time. Cake and wine are good at soothing a disappointed marathon soul.
Doing a hilly 20-miler has got to be one of the best long runs you can plan into your marathon schedule. Why?
Let’s talk about hills…
There is no better way to build your leg strength than running hills – it’s that simple.
Doing a long tempo run, or race, on rolling hills, will increase strength AND running efficiency. The ultimate aim, whether it’s a 5, 10 or 20 mile outing, is to finish faster than your average pace. You don’t want to start these runs fast, then slow down. Your aim is to start steady and slowly build the pace.
This gives you plenty of chances during a training cycle to work on pace awareness. Being able to run the second part of your run/race faster than the first (a negative split) teaches you to start steady and finish strong. You’ll reap massive improvements in fitness, and also feel mentally strong if you can run long this way. Your heart will also become more efficient as it increases the amount of blood it can pump with each stroke (especially during short hill repeats).
You think hill running is all about going up? Nope. If you focus on correct form on the downhills, you can prevent muscle damage and also make up valuable time (think relaxed form, slightly forward lean). Your quadriceps will become stronger and you’ll achieve better knee lift.
If your next marathon includes rolling hills, training on rolling hills will mimic the race, and allow you to practise improving your form over long distances as well as maintaining pace up and over the hills. The best way to approach a hill in a race is to maintain the same effort as you go up and down. Get this right in training and you’ll save yourself wasting energy come race day.
At the weekend I was booked into a hilly 20-miler, and expected to not make the distance, thinking that either my hip would make me shuffle in, or a foot injury from my last marathon cycle would get me. And for the last 3 miles of my 19-mile run a couple of weeks before I was moaning like a lonely elephant seal looking for its mate.
I kept telling my running buddies Mel and Paula that I would be shuffling in the last few miles, would never be able to keep up on the last few hills and they were to power on (there’s some hills in their legs and no one is stopping them on their road to Brighton Marathon).
A three lap course can be so demoralizing but I really enjoyed it, well, I say that, I didn’t actually *like* the hills third time round but I found the laps and miles, and hours, passed quickly. Really friendly and supportive marshals helped, as well as running in a team. It brings you outside of yourself and I’ve got into a really bad habit of running inside my limits, fearful of body breakdown if I don’t. I turned into a running wuss a while back.
What is it about female runners and self-doubt? You think you’ll never make it round while at the same time telling everyone else they are going to be awesome! Having someone beside you lovingly say ‘Shut up and get on with it’ is a great motivator.
There I was, beaming at the end thinking: what’s going on with my body? I felt OK during. I felt OK after. I went to my friend Sarah’s Back on Track group the day after. My legs felt OK. No aches, no limp, no dread, no resignation (though my stomach is feeling a bit sensitive). What’s happening? This isn’t the body I’ve been struggling with for years. A big part is a very good physio, so skilled at his trade that I always want to vomit when I see him. Yes Andy, that’s you. I’m also convinced that just by luck I’ve come across some incredible trainers that feel like they were made for me.
My adidas Ultra Boost X have been amazing to run in these last few weeks, especially for the ends of my toes that normally are rubbed raw from pushing up against my shoes during longer runs. The tight knit of the upper means my whole foot can move forward each time I strike the ground but without pushing against a dense surface. After 20 miles I had no issues with my feet. This is unheard of!
I’m still in shock I ran the whole 20, I was so mentally prepared not to and how that would be completely fine. Although, after some hills yesterday I have a niggle in my right ankle. Bum. I’m trying to ignore it while I ice it. Being a bit of a psycho-competitive-with-myself type I’m now hyper about how far I may be able to go without stopping, and will I be able to actually run a whole marathon again? This is exciting beyond belief. I even want to go out and try one this weekend, just to see. (No, I’m not going to…)
* If you’re hill training make sure you allow your muscles to recover adequately after your session or race; just as hills force our muscles to work harder, they will then need an increase in recovery time. Be kind to yourself.
QUESTION: Do you LOVE hills as much as me? Maybe we could start our own Let’s Love Hills group?
Running is just as intellectual as it is physical. How can you keep your motivation up if you’re doing the same old warm-ups, sessions and races? It’s very hard. Adding variety into your training is essential – to push your body and your mind. It will keep you tuned up and ‘fresh’.
I asked some coaches for their favourite sessions, and have added in one of my own. Hopefully trying out something new, and different (and hard!) will see your spring running soar!
TRY ME: Acceleration run
“This is one of my all time favourite sessions,” says Andy Blow, international level triathlete and founder of Precision Hydration (precisionhydration.com). “Basically you start at a jogging pace to warm up and either each mile or each kilometre you lift the pace in a linear way to a degree that means by the end of the session the final mile or kilometre is run at a hard effort (usually between 5K or 10K race pace).
“You need either a measured loop, or a GPS watch, to give you real time access to your splits to make it measurable and repeatable. The session can be anywhere from three to six/seven miles long, depending on your fitness level and training goal. I used to start at three miles in the late winter and build up to six over a period of about two months to allow for some progression in the level of endurance required. The differential in pace from mile (or KM) to mile depends on how long or short the run is and it really does require (and therefore train) good pace judgement to get it right.
Why do it?
“It also teaches you the value of starting relatively conservatively in races and picking up the pace as you go, as this is opposite to what seems to come naturally to most people. It’s a tough session but also very rewarding when you get it right and manage to hit your splits as intended and see each one being ticked off faster than the last.”
TRY ME: Short sets of speed
“Planning to do a parkrun? Have a 5K coming up? This is a tried and tested session that I think will be great for you,” says James Thie, performance director of athletics at Cardiff Metropolitan University (@TeamThie). “Aim to do the session on the Tuesday before a Saturday event (or equivalent number of days before). You can use a road or a good trail surface, a measured loop or go out and back.
“The breakdown is 5 to 6 x 1km with a light recovery jog between. Recovery will range on ability (e.g. 2min rest for 15min goal time, 2.5min/17:30, 3min/20min, 4min/25min). The recovery should be slightly shorter than the time you run, which is based on your current and goal pace.”
When you are more confident, you can increase your speed, says James, with something around five seconds per kilometre faster than goal pace being optimum. “The key is to think about the rhythm, feel and pace,” he adds. “Keep your full exertion for the coming weekend effort. It should be comfortably hard…but don’t leave all your best running out there in training! Then, run easier into the weekend; your legs, mind and body will be ready to roll at the event. Remember, be realistic with your current fitness. Training should be specific to what you are trying to achieve.”
TRY ME: Fartlek fun
“Fartlek in a local woodland park, which has a hilly loop of about 1350m, is at the top of my list,” says Olympian and Level 3 performance coach Penny Forse. “There is a 200m gradual hill, a 100m steep hill and a flat path for sprinting. After the warm up I ask my group to do four, five or six continuous loops followed by a cool down.
“The warm up includes the loop and I explain the paces at various points plus some technical aspects of hill running. One loop is roughly 200m steady, 200m fast uphill, 150 steady down, 100m sprint, 100m steady, 100m fast uphill, 150m recovery jog and 350m steady slightly downhill.
“I stress the change of pace they should run, otherwise the session can become just another steady run. If fatigue sets in slow the ‘steady’ efforts in order to maintain quality. The venue is popular with us all as it is attractive, the terrain is varied, it is away from traffic and the paths are a mixture of earth and gravel, so it’s low impact on the joints. This session works on endurance, strength and speed and is ideal preparation for cross-country races.”
TRY ME: Teamwork
“Work in teams of three, A, B and C,” says Steve Nolan, a coach leader at Fitmums & Friends (fitmums.org.uk) and international tutor for UK Athletics. “A runs round an oval of about 400m. When A gets back to the start B runs with them and ‘pushes’ A to run harder. When they get back again, A drops out and C ‘pushes’ B. Next round A ‘pushes’ C and so on. The number of reps depends on the fitness of the participants and the focus is on running faster than ‘normal’, not a steady jog.
“The frequency and intensity can be varied by changing the size of the oval, or by including more in the team. It’s important that the runners are of similar ability otherwise this session won’t work. When the runner is doing the ‘pushing’ they should not run away from the other runner.
Why do it?
It’s fun to run in teams as so much running is done on our own. It encourages runners to go out of their comfort zone and really push themselves. The focus of ‘just’ running around the oval is taken away as you are listening to someone else.”
Try me: It’s a hill, get over it!
Sarah Gardiner is the resident coach at Back on Track Runners, based at Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth. “I love leading my group in a hill session. The hill we use has three distinct parts to it, with linking roads and different gradients. After a dynamic warm up we do an easy run to the hill (1K) and then some drills on the slight incline focusing on triple extensions, ‘bouncy’ drive with knee lifts, foot flexion and arm drive.
“I follow this with a time trial hill climb (1K from bottom to top), times are recorded to monitor progress and then we do an easy jog back to the second section of the hill. We then do 2-3 hill repeats, with a climb of 300m, followed by a slow jog back to recover. You can add team efforts as a relay on this section, or run the hill in reverse (using the linking roads) or do another 1-2 intervals on an easier gradient.
“Finally we take a slow run back. The session is 7K and takes an hour. Options are always available to do different reps, change directions, focus on key technique points, do shorter efforts and work on anaerobic fitness. Hills are great training for all abilities, they develop strength in key muscles such as glutes, quadriceps and calves. Very few people enjoy them but the payoff soon shows!”
TRY ME: Tough it out on the track
“My absolute favourite session is a tough track 300m repeat session, done in pairs,” says Peg Wiseman, co-organiser of the Women Can Marathon (womencan.co.uk). “I match my athletes for ability. Both start on the start line, one running anti clockwise at a good pace (mile pace) whilst the other jogs 100m clockwise slowly in the outside lane aiming to arrive at the top of the home straight at exactly the same time as their partner. Runner two now turns and runs at mile pace for 300m whilst runner one recovers by jogging back 100m.
“They continue until they are no longer able to hit their first 300m time, when they then take a full lap recovery before setting off again. The full session would be 12 repetitions. The key is to get the right pace and recovery, so the time stays consistent.
The recovery starts off feeling easy but the pressure soon mounts and a quality lactic/aerobic session also aids pace judgement.
The pairs element adds fun and focus. It’s suitable for all abilities and if you have an odd number just partner up two number ones.”
TRY ME: Shingle and steps
Obviously not everyone lives by the beach – maybe you can find a local track or trail. Ideally you want some steps or a hill – it doesn’t matter how small the incline is, even a tiny hill, run in fast repeats, counts. On my Friday morning we start a figure of eight loop – along the shingle (great for core and proprioception, tough on your legs though) then up some local steps, recover on the road at the top, head back down to the beach for another shingle stint that leads back to the steps, then up again to recover on the road in the opposite direction at the top. This is not an easy session but it works your whole body. Find a similar path or track with an incline in the middle then loop round it – try to push up the steps/hill to the top, recovering once you’ve made it. Don’t give up and aim to do a 20-25minute block of effort in your loops around your steps/hill/incline.
Me running backwards down Butser. Why? I have no idea
QUESTION: What your fav session?
I am so grateful for going for a run today. It wasn’t spectacular, nothing happened, I didn’t see anyone, run fast. Or slow. Two weeks ago I ran a sub-seven-minute mile in the first mile of a cross-country race – today, at one stage, I was doing 13-minute miling along the shingle. Since the cross-country I’ve not really run and everything. Has. Nose-dived.
I’m feeling broken. After every race. Which is worrying as 1. I’m not ready to give up on my goals, and 2. I’m only 45…I figure many issues are only going to get worse. My body no longer behaves like a 23-year-old’s body. My mind and it are starting to become strangers. Most of the time I hope everything will go OK at races, rather than knowing the training is in the bag.
I think I am going on to the next phase. I never knew there was one, as the first one was being young and not giving a f*ck about any phases as everything could be conquered, visited, finished, done. The second one started when I had children – life became about them, not me.
In this new one, there’s a new me (not that I asked for one) and a whole lot of issues that I would never have thought would have been part of my life 20 years ago. I’m living in someone else’s body. Don’t really know if I like her.
Then there’s the germ merry-go-round in our house. Is it the germs that have slowed me down? Something else?
I’ve been getting more and more frantic and stressed, and more and more burnt-out. Being pulled in so many different directions. Perspective. Lost. Awful aches across my back, so tired, really stressed and in the background consumed by a kaleidoscope of worries. Being the provider for my three children. My accountant keeps asking me to do my accounts. Every time he does I start crying!
There’s no point worrying about everything but you do anyway. Worry has become alive, inside my head. Laying down to do 30 minutes’ mediation doesn’t take it away. A glass of wine – doesn’t work. Going for a run…I have no energy for it.
I put on my running bra when I got dressed knowing it was a little movement in the right direction. I was determined to get out today even though I felt terrible. My body language must have looked strange as I hit the track around the field behind my house. Even the air, as I squelched around the field, felt heavy – almost menacing. Do I have to battle against even the air? I kept my head down. Just go slow. The field became a road. A footpath. Legs were heavy, shoulders hunched, I shouldn’t have worn my Garmin – was I really going twice as slow as two weeks ago? Stop looking at the Garmin, stop torturing yourself. I knew I didn’t have a long run in me, I just wanted to get to the beach and the shingle. It’s so hard to get there.
Closer. It’s crunching under my feet and I feel OK, calmer. I’m going to do two miles along the shingle. What? the voice in my head said. Sshh. I’m going to do two miles slow. I have to. Bloody minded stubborn head. 13-min miling, even on the shingle. Slow. This is my place. I run along that bit of beach and feel so lifted. First mile out and the little wading birds were jumping along the water line. The tide is really high which makes the ridge where I run harder. There’s a tree in the way; when the tide is high you have to get your feet wet. The water sloshes in my trainers, I don’t mind. My toes feel alive. The end of a mile and I turn back and it’s starting to happen. The voice inside my head that goes over and over the stresses, the worries, is starting to quieten. I’m going to pound it out. I’m dragging myself along but knowing I have to do this, to let go. Look down…the stones slip away. My worries slip away too. The massive tension, the 20 bricks I am carrying, in my shoulders, is melting away and even though I feel so tired I feel amazing too. My dad is running beside me. Thinking about him makes my throat feel weak. For a while he’s there saying… shoulders back and down, chin in, just relax. RELAX. OK, I WILL! Why haven’t I done this for so long? Why have I let the worries and stresses take over and become me, inside my head?
Two miles and I jump back onto the coast road and it’s like it’s made of thick, syrupy pancakes. Twitchers are listing today’s birds. The swans in the small harbour aren’t interested, I haven’t got any food today. So hot; the sweat soaks through the layers until I am squelching in my own clothes.
The last mile back, I make contact with a seven-minute mile. It’s temporary. Everything you fear is lost isn’t really, it just isn’t there right now.
The huge weight isn’t off your shoulders; there are more worries to face, but that place I go to changes me every time I run there. It takes so much from me, the worries melt through me into the stones, and it gives far too much back. For this I pay no price. I will need to go back; my head will take back control. I will need to march myself along the shore-line to banish the demons. Hopefully not too soon. Hopefully a tr-million heartbeats before I have to melt into the shingle.
Every minute that takes me further away from my run I’m feeling more positive. The endorphins are doing their job; my mind is a symphony of neural transmitters creating their own masterpiece. An invisible chemical filter that makes the worries unimportant.
I am so grateful for going for a run today.
1. Just in case you’re running a marathon and you get overtaken by some gorgeous celebrity like James Cracknell and as you look at him as he speeds past you can flutter your eyelashes (pretending you always run this fast and have LOADS of breath to shout ‘Go James!’) cos now you’re BEST friends (well, if you run in the same race as a celebrity you’re nearly BFFs aren’t you?).
2. So that when you pull that face during a race that you’re finding really hard, the one where you’re trying to make it look like you’re just out for a jog and are finding the pace really easy – well at least you’ve got some definition around the eyes for the pics you’ll put up later on social media.
3. That point in the race. You know it – when you’re cruising and starting to think I can do this, I can, I can, well, now I’m not so sure, in fact now I’m really struggling with every fricking step, and a man in his 60s-70s pulls up alongside you and takes pity as he can see you’re struggling and that you’re the one who thought you could run faster than you actually can. When he starts chatting you up as he’s cruising and has nothing better to do than have a full blown conversation all the way round a really long race as he’s so ridiculously race fit even though he’s twice your age, and even though you haven’t got the breath to reply you can at least smile desperately through your beautifully made up eyes your thank you for his support (cos you know he’ll stick with you till the bitter end – he’s a pro, you’re the amateur).
4. We live in England. Half the year it’s dark. We all take on a pasty vampire look. If swooshing a bit of glamour glow lifts your spirits before a race, and makes you look more alive then dead, do it.
5. Because when you go out to get a PB you just gotta look your best, you put on that makeup girl, you’re going to look fantastic in that pic as you look up at the camera with your arms raised at you cross the line… oh no, the race hasn’t gone to plan and you went off WAY too fast, AGAIN, even though you PROMISED yourself you would never, ever make that mistake, and now here’s the line, I’m a state, my body isn’t doing what I want and those stomach cramps are getting really bad, nooooo, I’m going to throw up and cry at the same time – yes it’s a *cr-vomit* – oh God I forgot about the camera, damn, it got me, snot, tears and vomit – but did my mascara run? No? Really? Ah well, it was all worth it…
6. Cos when you were younger, hell, you didn’t need one drop of make-up you were just so gorgeous, and you knew it, then you’re training away and 15 – yes 15 years have just disappeared and now when you catch the first glimpse of yourself in the mirror you’re initial reaction is, who the hell is that really tired old looking woman, then you realize it’s you and while for years you thought if you just got more sleep you’d stop looking so tired, now you are reconciled to the fact that you don’t look tired, you look OLDER. Which is truly horrifying. How can this have happened to me? So you go out and spend £200 on products that you think will undo this damage (even though they can’t) and you put on the concealer for the under-eye wrinkles AND dark circles, and do not one, but two applications of mascara in the hope that no one will say… ‘You’re looking really tired today.’ Again. And you go out with this temporary mask on and in your head you feel just like you did when you were 20 and had energy and got lie-ins and more than two minutes to get your kit and bag ready for a race – and you go out and you believe in yourself for the duration of your race. And no one can take that feeling away from you, but some really rather expensive fluids that work out at about £5,000 per gram, if cleverly applied THEY can give you it. For 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon… And that feeling, it helps you to step back into your life, when you get home from your race, like someone from Ghostbusters with the ability to deflect the 50 requests you get in the first five minutes for food, for something to do, to tell off a sibling who hit someone else and the ambulance nearly had to be called. Even though you got up at 5am to travel, run a marathon, and you came straight home so you can get the roast dinner on and help everyone with their homework (because your 16-year-old is swinging off your umbilical cord, even when you’re 40 miles away, and your nearly 14-year-old wants you to come up with all the answers and she knows exactly how to get you to do this even though you say I’m not doing your homework for you then 30 minutes later you realise you’ve done it), as why would anyone want to rest after a marathon anyway?
7. You are a warrior princess. Never forget this. As you put on your kit before your race and your nerves give you caterpillars and butterflies in your stomach, get out whatever make-up you need and apply it. You are now battle-ready. This is your war paint. You are going to do battle with your body (this could mean losing control of different parts at different times and never knowing which part and when), your mind (you will be pounding the voices in your head every step as well as the ground beneath you) and the world. That world that laughed when you tried to run at school. Or told you you’d never lose your baby weight. Or you couldn’t possibly run 26.2 because you’re not a real runner. Or sighs every time you put on your trainers and say you’re going out for a run, as if it’s some crazy teenage phase you’ll grow out of soon. Put on your paint and show them YOU CAN – and actually, I don’t mind if I look good while I do.
Remember, she who dares…runs.
Addendum… my 10-year-old has done her homework since she was two, even though she wasn’t at school I made her do it. I ain’t making that mistake three times.
Disclaimer: you do not have to wear make-up to be happy or a runner; this applies especially to men
Does it sound stupid – using your mind to run faster? Surely it’s harder reps, longer long runs and the odd hill session that normally does this? Well of course, training your body will improve your times. But what about training your mind?
NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. It’s the art of getting consistent results using the language of the mind to positively influence our attitude and therefore our behaviours. It’s something I’ve used in life, and sport, over the years.
“NLP is an approach that is underpinned by a high performance philosophy that on its own will improve performance dramatically,” advises Janet Smith, an Emotional Wellness Coach. “NLP provides a series of techniques that assist in changing negative mindsets or removing blocks to performance that have been created through bad habits or as a result of negative past experiences.”
That means NLP techniques can be used to seriously focus your mind. No more wandering off mid-race thinking about what you’re going to prepare for tea, or which homework task will be tackled first. An end to standing at the start line and saying to yourself: ‘Actually, I’m not going to race today, I’ll just take it easy.’
“Changing limiting self beliefs and negative self talk will increase personal success as a runner and also increase happiness as unresolved negativity is released,” Janet says. Believe me, my negative self talk can be so loud it’s been known to reach Australia. “Performance in any sport can be broken down into the components of knowledge, skill and attitude. With running, the attitude or mental approach is often paramount in achieving success. Think of the runners that you admire: what qualities do you notice? It is often attitude which allows that person to put in the dedication to achieve their goals; knowledge and skill become secondary.”
My view is always if they can do it, so can I. Maybe not to the same degree as an elite, but you/I can give it a try.
How can NLP benefit my running though, you ask
By working with NLP it is possible to challenge your long standing beliefs through ‘mental modelling’. Using a series of questions you can start to work at getting to the root of the problem that affects performance. “You may also wish to break down your running technique into components which can be looked at individually. Often what we believe about a problem is not where we end up finding the solution,” continues Janet. “We can begin by asking ourselves simple questions such as: What do I believe about my ability to reach my goal? Is there anything that will stop me? Do I commit 100 per cent or do I self sabotage?” Just be asking yourself a few tough questions, and giving honest replies, you can shift the stereotype you’ve been carrying around in your mind about yourself/your running.
Will it really NLP affect my performance?
Success begins with the right attitude. For all of us we have to look at ourselves as a whole. “It’s never just about the running; outside stresses influence our ability,” Janet believes. “Negative emotions and anxiety can drain our energy and cause under performance. Similarly being too relaxed and not focused will lose us ‘our edge’.” Janet stresses how it is, therefore, important to create the best attitude around running. “Begin by thinking of a time when you were off your game and under-performed. What emotions were present? How was your behaviour influenced by those emotions? It is most likely that negative emotions of anger, fear and anxiety were present in some capacity or they even stopped you from going out running in the first place.”
We can all raise our awareness of our own peak performance by recognising when we are on our game and things are going well. If we can just stay out of our own way then we will perform to the peak of our capacity! Increasing our self awareness provides us with the motivation to achieve our aims.
“Numerous coaches believe that the next big steps in human performance will come from how we harness the mind and this is where NLP will come into its own as we step into the future of sport and competition,” adds Janet.
OK, I get it – but what do I do about it?
Here’s some NLP strategies you can do at home
Janet suggests you:
Listen to the stories you tell yourself and others about your running. Do you constantly discuss your fears over a previous injury? Do you play down your ability? Are you frightened of achieving success or failure? Change the stories – change the results!
Focus on what you do want and not what you don’t want.
Ask yourself what do you believe about your ability to achieve your goal? If you believe it is impossible or that it will take a long time, you will be right.
Imagine yourself having the best run of your life, what would need to be happening? How would it feel, look and sound? Use this as a visualisation exercise.
Take time to focus your mind by using visualisation. Relax, breathe slowly, close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goal, is there a colour or sensation connected to it? Now make that colour or sensation more vibrant and more compelling. Do this everday to install new behaviours.
Ask yourself are you literally running away from your problems? How happy are you with your life? Are there negative situations that you should be addressing?
Listen to your inner voice, do not allow your ego to push you towards an injury.
To find out more about how NLP and how Emotional Wellness Coaching can benefit you, visit www.emotionalwellnesscoaching.co.uk.
Back in 2000 I had my first daughter in New Zealand. We came back to live in the UK in the summer of 2001. My brother-in-law Phil was turning 40 and thought it would be a good idea for my big brother Paul and I to run the Great South Run with him. Did they notice that having a baby had turned me into a different person; sleep-deprived, chore-driven, in need of a goal? I think my brother-in-law Phil couldn’t stop laughing at me, and my new-found role, and took me out for a run as ‘there-there’ therapy to help me. It worked. So there we were the three of us, a little crew, for a while. The big issue was both of them were way, way faster than I could ever be. It was so annoying. Being blokes they had a distinct physical advantage. Being one foot taller than me (well one was) meant their stride length was so massive that even during our warm-ups I would be sprinting to keep up. Phil laughed at me a lot. I laughed at me a lot.
Back then running was slightly different. Primarily, it was fuelled off red wine fumes. I hadn’t quite progressed to whisky. When I came back from NZ I lived with my brother. He had no choice; I was his little sister and if he didn’t give my family a place to stay I guess I would have tried to throw a punch northwards to make him do exactly as I wanted. Having two sisters must be horrible, especially when one is extra feisty even though she is extra small. (Isn’t this usually the way?).
We would often have a mid-week glass of wine, but never two days in a row. I don’t think. Or maybe we did a few times. I can’t believe it now, but I think we even had a few drinks on the night before some of our early Great South Runs. The thought makes my stomach churn today. What were we thinking? Well we weren’t thinking as we were able to get away with it. I can definitely remember dragging my body round the streets of Portsmouth with a hangover on a few occasions. I wasn’t really a real runner back then.
The three of us would hang on for the whole 10 miles, get our medals, then usually head off to a local pub to have another glass of celebratory wine. These were the good years. There are memories on those streets, especially in Eastney, the backwater before you finally come round into the long road back to the finish. We set up a tradition – every time I had a baby I ran the GSR that same year, in some crazy bloody-minded belief it was really important to show my girls that just because you have a baby doesn’t mean you can’t still have personal goals. Even after #numbers 1 and 2 were born, and I had had blood transfusions, I was trying to run around my nearest park 6 weeks later.
I’ve had some truly shocking GSRs. But I did what I aimed for and always managed the next GSR after each birth. The three post-birth races were really awful. But the worst one was when I’d had a chest infection but forced myself to run (raising money for Alzheimer’s Society, couldn’t let them down), coughed so much all the way round that I had to stop each time. I was in constant danger of wetting myself. For the first six miles I did that run where you cough and try to not stop but pull your legs together, trying to control your bladder so you look like your running off red wine fumes…
Phil died in his 40s, losing his battle with diabetes, just before #3 was born. I ran the GSR after her birth for him. It was awful. I know he would still be laughing at me and my running, the way it goes up and down, just like the support of the American people of Donald Trump. I know he would say: ‘Tina, just enjoy yourself, don’t worry,’ and then laugh his massive donkey laugh at me all the way round. I loved that man.
Plenty of times my brother’s beaten me, too. Goddamn it, I hate that. Thing is I figured out years ago how to beat him. All I have to do is train. Because he doesn’t. He’s so laid back he eased himself out of our mother’s womb making the peace sign. I’ve been doing reverse psychology on him for years, and he has no idea. It’s OK, don’t worry, he doesn’t read my blog – none of my family do – so he won’t find out. Every week I ask him the same question: Are you coming to my running group? Every week he says: I’m too busy. So. He thinks I really want him to come. Whereas I know the more I ask him the more he won’t come. We have this weird-psychic-crazy-brain connection where I know exactly what to do to make him not do something. You only have it with the souls who were there the day you came home from the hospital, wrapped up warm and tiny, who look at your bundle of life and instantly, with their 18-month-old brain deduce ‘I know exactly what that crazy piece of life is all about.’ That’s what he’s got with me. That’s called being truly blessed.
He can still rock up to this annual 10-miler with no training and run close to 80 minutes. It’s so annoying I want to slap him every year. I have to keep up my training just to beat him. What a motivation. And the best bit is he has no idea that he’s not running because I want him to, so I can beat him. Crazy life magic right there.
Some people write such sweet things about their brothers….
Isn’t it so cute? Oh sorry, I was looking for a lovely poem about how great a brother he is and this one kept popping up… Is it about me?
Then when the race is over I say: ‘Oh, did I beat you? Ah, I didn’t realise…!’ Knowing full well I did as the moment I get over the finish line I pull out my mobile and go on to the GSR results page, punch in his name, see his time and run round that whole lower field in a glory lap, singing ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T, all I’m asking is a litt’l respect!’ Even though something like 10,000 people finished in front of me. It doesn’t matter as I beat my brother. That’s what true victory is.
This year the GSR magic weaved its way through the streets of Portsmouth. The elites were out, the supporters were out, the sun was out. There was a bit of wind, but racing conditions were set for thousands of glorious PBs. The whole of the south coast was there, nearly every runner I know – either skipping over the cobblestones in the historic dockyard or shouting on their club mates. The support is priceless and makes the quite hefty price tag of the race (expect to pay over £40) melt into a big gooey mess of happiness and love.
I set myself quite a big target this year, 72.5 minutes and I didn’t quite make it. A duathlon last weekend finished me off. I finished with a chip time of 74.42… I ran 10.11, my watch time for 10 miles dead on was 74.03. But it was a GSR PB; on that first one in 2001, aged 30, I did 84 minutes. So I was 10 minutes quicker even though I am 15 years older. Can’t complain about that.
I have one, and only one tiny gripe – the t-shirts are always so massive. Please, Great Run, please, can we have an XS?
Did I beat my brother this year? Stupid question…
You can enter next year’s race here
I’ll see you there.