Category Archives: The great outdoors

The Barbados Marathon weekend – a runner’s mecca

I’m writing this on the first day of winter and it’s dark, in the middle of the afternoon. It’s miserable. And cold. I have no desire to go for a run but at some stage I’m going to have to. If you struggle with this impenetrable solar obscurity like I do, I can help.

Just cruising along

Just cruising along

We all need to go to Barbados. We can all go to the 2017 #runbarbados marathon weekend series, together; we can sit in the sun, run in the sun, have fun in the sun. Drink rum in the sun. Let’s start saving now (OK after Christmas) and make this happen! We’ll have something to really hold on to during autumn 2017, and then we’ll be so stuffed full of warm-running memories by Christmas they’ll be no room for turkey.

My morning run route

My morning run route

Why? You can do the 1mile race on the Friday, the 5K on Saturday afternoon, followed by the 10K about an hour later, either the half marathon or full on Sunday morning, and if you choose the half you can do the 5K walk to finish it all off. Yes, five races in three days, but you’ll get six medals for your trouble.

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Where? Yes, Barbados! You know that stunning (light), amazing (light), hot (light) Caribbean island, about eight hours south-west from here.

It was amazing to swim with hawksbill turtles in Barbados

It was incredible to swim with hawksbill turtles during our stay

It’s just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, but Barbados packs a punch on a global level when it comes to marathon weekend experiences.

20161201_115355

There it is…

The island rose from the sea millions of years ago as coral limestone, rather than volcanic activity so expect to see colourful colonial houses chipped into the coral, as if they are sitting atop giant blobs of pumice.

Scenic 10K route at sunset

Scenic 10K route at sunset

You’ll also experience the magic of island life, the Bajan people and their culture. Yes, you’re travelling to find some winter sun but you can also step into the past, gaining a glimpse of what colonial life was like. There’s crystal clear sea to snorkel in, where you can swim with hawksbill sea turtles. Then there’s the rum…ah, the rum!

Another sunset on the route

Another sunset on the route

The race series is popular with local and international people; this year there were nearly 2,000 participants. A very generous prize fund has something to do with this, as money can be made at these races (the winner of the marathon not only wins BDS$4,000 but a return trip to the island including flights and hotel). So for slightly more serious runners this is a good chance to win enough money to make the trip pay for itself. There are medals for the first three in all age groups, as well.

How amazing, we went on a submarine!

How amazing, we went on a submarine!

Even at 5am in the morning, when the half and full marathon start, you are not only breathing in incredibly hot and humid air, you are breathing in the fumes of the past. The course is fast, with the sea on one side, waiting to cool you down as you pass the finish line, and beautiful Bajan houses dotting the road on the other. Ripples of support follow you all the way round (if you’re doing the full marathon you get to do two laps and the sun will have risen for the second) and there are plenty of water stations – you’ll need to make use of every one.

And we saw this little fella

And we saw this little fella

If you can, enter every race. The race organizers have ensured it’s possible to just about do this, so run them all slowly to get the most of the race series (and bag an extra medal for doing the full combo). Make sure you also plan your daily itinerary, so you don’t waste a moment while you’re there.

St Nicholas Abbey - it hasn't changed in 400 years

St Nicholas Abbey – it hasn’t changed in 400 years

You HAVE to visit a rum distillery or sugar plantation. Sipping rum at 11am in 30 degrees centigrade is just…surreal and makes you feel very, very happy. We went to the St Nicholas Abbey distillery. I went in saying I don’t really drink any more, then came out with a new love in my life. Rum and lemonade. It’s a stunning place – you find yourself walking through a Jacobean house alongside the ghosts of those who were born, lived and died there.

Not your ordinary setting for a race

Not your ordinary setting for a race

We also travelled by submarine to watch the tropical fish and turtles, as well as taking a sunset cruise where we were fortunate enough to swim with them.

You'll find the light in the submarine is very flattering!

You’ll find the light in the submarine is very flattering!

There are too many fantastic restaurants to list, and so many day trips (many featuring the serene aqua-blue Caribbean Sea) that you’ll get a tan while you’re on the go.

20161203_181142

This is always going to be the perfect time of year to travel to Barbados, as it’s the week of the anniversary of the island being granted independence. Being there on the golden anniversary was a beautiful thing. We all felt the love of these people – it oozes from them as a nation, and they share it with the world through their music. As it bounces away in the background, along the course, let your body then your mind join the Caribbean party. There’s no place for tense shoulders or furrowed brows as you pound the roads. You’re there to relax.

It's harder than you think to run in this kind of heat and humidity - add about 15 minutes to the time you would normally do

It’s harder than you think to run in this kind of heat and humidity – add about 15 minutes to the time you would normally do for a half marathon

You may experience a little rainfall when visiting; just think of the water gently washing away your stress and let it caress your skin. If you get rain during your races you’ll be so grateful. The most spectacular part of this trip was feeling my stress unravel, a gentle release, like the sprung mechanisms of a very old clock slowly peeling away, layer by layer, until all the crumpled old metal has been eased into a flatter, smoother inward landscape. Island life will wash away your tension and aches, while you do what you love most, running. Thank you Barbados.

Don't mind if I do

Don’t mind if I do

Travel essentials
Enter the race weekend at: runbarbados.org
You can get return flights from British Airways to Bridgetown for approx £600 (britishairways.com)
Stay at the Courtyard by Marriott from approx US$200 per night for two people (Marriott.com)
Restaurants: Tapas, The Beach House, Beach One, The Cliff Beach Club, Buzo Italiana
Day trips: Atlantis Submarines (barbados.athlantissubmarines.com), Tiami Catamaran Cruises (tiamicatamarancruises.com)
Make your trip complete by visiting St Nicolas Abbey rum distillery, Saint Peter Parish (stnicholasabbey.com)

Just in case you need a bit more sun, here it is again…

See you in Barbados!

Happy Christmas! Love Tina x

 

If you’re looking for last minute Christmas presents, here’s my latest children’s book, Rosalee’s Wish

screen-shot-2016-12-20-at-14-59-02

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Travelling to the land of ice

It’s the stuff of every runner’s dreams –  running a midnight half marathon at the summer solstice in Iceland, where the sun never sets in the sky. I couldn’t wait to try the Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Reykjavik!

20160622_181934

Ancient myth has it that, afraid their enemies may pursue them, the original Norwegian Vikings who settled in Iceland sent back word to Norway that their island was actually an ice-land – but that another island, was inhabitable: green-land. Hence the green island became Iceland and the icy island became Greenland.

20160623_184524

The land of ice: 66 degrees North of earth’s equator, where magical elves live (apparently), geothermal and renewable resources supply 85 per cent of the country’s energy and the surrounding seas are abundant with many sea mammals and birds. And in the winter you have a chance of viewing the elusive Northern Lights. Travelling to run in this mythical land, at a magical time of the year is probably one of the most exciting and alternative running events you can do.

Fuelling up Icelandic style

Fuelling up Icelandic style

This trip was planned for over a year – you don’t just swan off to run a half marathon in Iceland on the longest day of the year! Especially not when you have three school-age children in the UK. You need to plan ahead for an extra-special trip like this, although we had a great tour company that organised our tour itinery, All-Iceland. Once we left Gatwick for our 2.5 hour flight north, the excitement flooded in.

20160623_203232

Our hosts, All Iceland, are experts in knowing exactly what runners want from a sports tour – so our trip was packed full of adventure, history, the natural world and fantastic hospitality. This was massively helped by, just as we arrived at our hotel, Iceland scoring their second, and winning goal, against Austria – taking them through to their next round match against England in Euro 2016. This nation was partying for the whole of our stay!

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race - did I have one too many?

The crepes were divine, but they sat heavy on my tummy during the race – did I have one too many?

The drive from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik is hypnotising. Travelling in an almost lunar landscape, through ancient lava fields broken by purple veins of wild Alaskan lupines, against a backdrop of mountains, still covered in snow, is captivating. Did we carbo-load? Of course! As our hotel, Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, had a rooftop restaurant, we dumped our bags then dined on an incredible feast of freshly caught fish. We were ready! On the day of the race we popped along to Kria Cycles, whose owner, JR, just happened to be a childhood friend of my partner David. JR (aka David Robertson) is also a truly gifted runner – he is still ranked in the top 10 UK fastest juniors over 1500m. We had lunch with JR at the Coocoo Nest, a snug and cosy cafe tucked away on a backstreet. When it came to the race JR decided he would support rather than participate, and he popped up on his bike, with his son Elias, along the route.

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

Slightly crazed at finishing and managing to stay up past 10pm

The Suzuki Midnight Sun Half Marathon is a truly international race. There are several race distances available; 5K, 10K and the half. As I mingled in the evening with the other runners it was clear than many had come in groups, some tackling the shorter distances, a few propping open their eyes to brave the longer.

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

I had lots of these for my post-race breakfast

In the crowd, by the start line, runners, speaking over 50 different languages, switched on their GPS watches. The gun went off and everyone settled into their stride as we slowly made our way out and up along paths bordered by a beautiful river that bubbled away along the first part of the route.

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

Mysterious clouds over the Blue Lagoon

How can you not relax and enjoy each stride, and mile, when you are running alongside miniature waterfalls, surrounded by a thick carpet of lupines? It was a quiet journey upwards through Elliðaárdalur valley, one of Reykjavik’s most popular outdoor areas, as we took in a 600foot climb. We weaved through a golf course set in a lava field (with absolutely stunning views across Reykjavik that you just had to stop and breathe in) and around Lake Rauðavatn. It wasn’t a dense field – but there was always someone to run alongside or to hang on to.

An unearthly place on earth

An unearthly place on earth

At one stage I looked out across the fields to the horizon where a herd of wild horses were galloping away from the front runners – this wasn’t your usual race. After about seven miles the uphill evened out, but considerable damage to my legs had already been done! By this stage it was past my usual bedtime, and with travelling I was starting to feel a little … ‘weird’. It was if my eyes were trying to close even though I knew I had to keep running.

Well I had run a half!

Well I had run a half!

I had looked at the course profile before travelling and knew from half way it was a gradual downhill trek to the finish. I started thinking how surreal it was; it was getting closer to midnight yet fully light, and I was running a half marathon in Iceland. It was the strangest, most amazing, yet calming, feeling.

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

Bike porn at Kria Cycles

The marshals around the course all shouted encouragement though I had no idea what they were saying! Eventually we merged with the 5K and 10K runners – the organisers had cleverly set us all off at the right time so that the last few miles were crowded and busy. It really lifted me and definitely helped me keep going. By this time I was cold and feeling tired. I also had really awful stomach cramps for most of the race (be prepared for this if you are new to midnight running) but when we chatted to the other runners in the field they had experienced this, too.

Emil at Kria

Emil and me at Kria Cycles, one cool bike shop

I tried taking one gel on the course but felt so sick I thought I would have to walk. I also really, really needed the loo in the second half of the race – but there were none in sight! Or if they were, I was so delirious that I just didn’t notice them! The last few miles I felt weary, but there was a real gem awaiting us.

Moody moonscape

Moody moonscape

All runners were given free access into the Laugardalslaug geothermal pool, within walking distance from the finish, which meant 2,640 finishers relaxing together in beautifully warm waters. You had to literally run from the change area into the outside pool areas as it was so chilly, but once you dipped down into the warm water, with just your head bobbing above, it was the most amazing feeling. I didn’t want to leave, even though it was 1am, I was tired and very, very hungry.

Unfortunately we had to make our way back to the hotel, walking back in the daylight… it’s just so surreal and why so many are drawn to this race from all over the world.

Pic credit: www.hlaup.is

Some of the amazing scenery we ran though (pic credit: www.hlaup.is)

What’s the perfect way to relax the day after your race? For us it was one of the 25 wonders of the world, the Blue Lagoon. I loved being on the bus in Iceland, looking out at the other-worldly landscape, as the weather changed so quickly around us. On our visit to the lagoon, a lake of geothermal seawater with healing properties for the skin, the clouds were at ground level. It was raining, making for another dreamlike experience. The air was cold (about 9 degrees Celsius), but the waters were so hot it was divine. You can make your way to small huts in the lagoon to get silica mud and algae face masks. As you swam in the lagoon you felt like you were on the moon, or some other planet. It was extraordinary and somewhere I would love to return to.

JR also took us to another uber cool bar, Kex, again, tucked away from the main centre behind a nondescript door. It sold some interesting drinks…

Not seen this one before

I’m not saying anything

We were also blessed to share some amazing home-cooked Iceland food back at JR’s house, with his family – this really made the trip. Everything about Iceland is chic and stylish and just uber cool (more so in the winter I guess).

I knew that I couldn’t leave Iceland without trying to see the puffins on Lundey, a small island in Reykjavik bay, so we took a boat out there on our last day. Watching these little birds fish, then return to their barrows, was a truly magical encounter with nature. We also saw guillemots, fulmars, cormorants, eider ducks and black-backed gulls, and our guide, Tena, a naturalist working for Elding gave us so much insight and information about the wildlife in the area – she was so passionate about her job.

The trip felt like the best geography lesson I’ve ever had. It’s a trip of a lifetime, and a race you’ll never forget. If you, too, venture to the land of ice don’t forget your winter coat. Even on a summer trip!

Plan your trip!
Who to contact: All Iceland ( all-iceland.co.uk) organise a range of sport tours and packages throughout Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, and will put together your dream itinerary, whatever your chosen sport or race. Call the team on 01904 621614 or email info@all-iceland.co.uk for more information.

How to get there: Iceland Air (book.icelandair.is) or WOW air (wowair.co.uk) offer return flights from London to Keflavik for around £100. Just get organised and book in advance

Where to stay: For your Reykjavik city centre break choose the stylish Centerhotel Arnarhvoll, just off Ingólfsstræti 1 (centrehotels.com/arnarhvoll)

Essential trips: Blue Lagoon (bluelagoon.com) and Elding Puffin Watching (elding.is or elding@elding.is)

What? It was the closest we were going to get!

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

The Road to London #Week 7

Monday night’s session was so tough, there’s no way I would have pushed myself so hard if I had been running alone. Coach Penny set us 4 x 6mins of Kenyan hills, which means you effort on the up and don’t really slow down as you head back to the start. It wasn’t the longest hill climb we do but it was long enough!

Kenyan hills
There are too many fantastic runners in my club to ease back and glide along. There’s always someone ahead of me to chase and someone breathing down your neck to prevent complacency; group running is brilliant for helping you push yourself to new limits. I don’t time myself at Penny’s hill sessions as for me it’s about effort, not chasing a figure on my watch. After the first set of six minutes I doubted I would be able to do four, but everyone supports each other, and somehow we managed them all. I reached the same stage at the end of each rep, so my speed remained constant. This didn’t mean I didn’t feel the need for a pacemaker by the end.

Another windy run with Sue

Another windy run with Sue

For the first time in seven weeks I was able to finish the session, do the final set of strides and warm down stretches. It’s the little things in life, isn’t it? I also shrugged off my ‘I can’t run any more’ funk that had slipped into my mind at the weekend. The speed was still in my legs.

Everyone was so happy to do shingle reps, I could see it in their faces

Everyone was so happy to do shingle reps, I could see it in their faces

Crazy people doing parkrun in crazy conditions

Crazy people doing parkrun in crazy conditions

Tuesday I need to recover, but it was time to pull up my big girl pants and get on with some proper strength and conditioning work. I’ve been slack and it’s not going to get me anywhere. So I did my leg work (forward lunges, glute activation stretches, single leg squats, calf raises) and added super mans, clams for my lazy bum, standing lunges with a weight in my hand and leg lifts while resting my arms in a chair). It was on to bridges, then adding a single leg extension of 45 degrees and finally repeated after I had raised each leg to the ceiling, so 90 degrees to the floor. Arms: half chin-ups on the bar (an embarrassing 12, I really have been lazy), tricep dips (30) off the sofa, for my core some incredibly hard leg raises while lying on the floor (instructed by Sienna who is my core conditioning coach, so these are exercises she does at gym) finished with a plank for two minutes. Then I stretched and got on the foam roller for some agony, the double ball foam roller to get right into my glutes, then the hand held one on the sofa for a top-up. That was me trying to make up for months of laziness!

Three barcode scanners huddling together for warmth

Three barcode scanners huddling together for warmth

We all need to do this, but in reality how many of us do it enough? I haven’t managed a leg massage for ages as the amazing San who usually does the best job on my legs has moved a bit further away and finding the time to fit this in, in an already packed out week is impossible. So foam roller it is.

I tried to warm up the saddle on the smallest bike in the world

I tried to warm up the saddle

I ‘tri’ed hard this week…
Wednesday was freezing, about 4 degrees, and colder on the bike with the wind chill, but as the bike doesn’t care about the cold I thought why should I. Once I’d got my work done I cycled a long route to the pool, did 32 lengths, including a warm up, 4 x 25m efforts (my strides) 400m at full effort, 3 x 50 as fast as I could then a warm down. I treated myself to about two minutes in the steam room, the same in the sauna, then cycled home and my legs were still twitchy so I ran a mile round the block, with the cold pushing me on to do it in under seven minutes. If I had done two miles I would have completed a  sprint triathlon! I’m definitely progressing. For me it’s all about slow progression. If I do this again I’m only going to add on a little extra on the run. There’s nothing to prove and no one to impress; it’s about slow steps back to fitness and maintaining my running, not burning out/blowing out/worrying about others.

Thursday was mile reps, the session you just can’t wait for. I tried to ignore the dread and think positively about my mile reps before I went out. I was also sooooo lucky that my partner David agreed to bike round with me, as doing them on my own is miserable. The temperature was almost 10 degrees warmer than when I was out on my bike yesterday… this weird winter we are having. What has happened to our planet? Mile 1 was wasn’t too bad as I did a good warm up indoors before we left, mile 2 felt like I was flying and probably went too fast, during mile three, into the wind, I realised I had gone a bit too fast in mile 2, which made mile four tough. I managed to keep the motivation going just until my legs had had enough.

6:49 (Ave HR 124 – this must be wrong I think, although if it isn’t it’s great!)

6:39 (Ave HR 168)

6:58 (Ave HR 169)

6:52 (Ave HR 171)

I’m going to keep pushing the speed and my mile 2 was almost back to what I would call decent running (for me). Please let it last. Everything seems to be coming together at the moment. I just hope I can keep up training right up to marathon race day.

Anna and I taking the first bend, only 40 more to go

Anna and I taking the first bend

Friday is leading others from my club and we were spoilt with 10 lovely shingle reps along the front of beach huts at our nearest shoreline. Everyone was pushing themselves, and each other, to give 100%. In the evening when I dropped Sienna at gymnastics in Portsmouth I also went out for a shorter run with Sue, another gym mum, and she was fantastic running two miles without stopping (she’s only just started running). Well done Sue!

‘Snow joke running a 10K
Saturday I needed to rest my legs. I wanted to do 30 minutes slow on the turbo just to turnover, but I couldn’t fit it in as I was too busy with the girls. I marshaled at Lee parkrun and the weather was hideous; I had full body shivers by the end and the wind was crazy. How long can these endless storms keep rolling in?

Friendly polar bears took time out of their busy weeks to show up at the Snowflake Run

Friendly polar bears took time out of their busy weeks to show up at the Snowflake Run

Sunday was an effort/endurance day as I had a place at the first Cancer Research Snowflake 10K in Southampton, so I wanted to run that fast (ish) then add an extra nine miles on to take me up to 15 miles. David and I headed over to Southampton Common, which I’ve run round lots as it’s where we hold our Women’s Running 10K as well, so I knew there’s a little hill round the back. It was a really good turnout for a first race and everyone was happy, despite the cold and the wind. It’s amazing what running with polar bears can do for morale.

The 10K was well organised, a two lap course with the hill twice, plenty of support from the marshals and even a snow machine to run through. There were lots of people tackling their first 10K and quite a lot of walkers, too – being all-inclusive is what these events excel at. They’re a lot less intense than competitive races, and generally much more fun! However… there are always some people who want to push the pace, and there were a few ladies (and gents) who were giving it their best. My aim was to get under 45mins.

Thank you CRUK for such a great race

Thank you CRUK for such a great race

I hate 10Ks and I am crap at them. This is why I run one a year. So I dragged my tired legs round, a little grumpy with the cold and wind. David kept popping up on his mountain bike to shout out encouragement, but it didn’t make it any less painful than every other 10K you run. How can anyone like running them? The course was quite a bit over distance, and I clocked 6.5miles on my Garmin. My time for 6.25 would have been about 44:35 I think. I was the first lady in, followed by my lovely running friend Anna from Run Verity, and Tasha Avery from Itchen Spitfires. It goes to say, if any local speedy ladies had turned up I wouldn’t have been first!

First three ladies

First three ladies

As soon as I finished I threw on some kit and carried on with some extra laps, the first 30 minutes being very shaky due to a massive blood sugar drop that a double cereal bar and two gels eventually evened out. I found it hard to keep running after a race in the cold, but it’s perfect practise for when your legs are tired in the last six miles of a marathon. I earnt my lunch.

IMG_4153

Once I got home it was back to the girls and a new week to gear up for, but I’ve edged my longest run up to 15 miles. When training for Edinburgh Marathon my left hip started to seize from 16 miles on, so I am nearly at that point and so far am not feeling any niggles or injuries. All I’m suffering from is tiredness, and that I can cope with.

Did you see any polar bears when out running this week?
How do you feel your long runs are going?

It would be great to see you on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

A lifelong addiction

noo noo girl running for David

I am like a wild animal that roams this world, seeking extreme terrain and weather systems and other creatures who inhabit our beautiful oblate spheroid.

Being in possession of a treadmill in this life is a blessing – I have three young children – but it only takes a nervous glance out of my window at black clouds, trees almost bent to the ground with the wind, and the odd splat of water and there I am, running for miles along what seems, at times, the stormiest coastline in the world.

It’s never planned; it never should be. Any of us can take the easier option – to wait, to run inside. But this week the distant rumble of thunder drew me outdoors, and what an explosive experience I had. I switched off the headlines about the coastline of our island flooding and headed down to my local beach to check out the lie of the land for myself. Breathing? I couldn’t. The first three miles out the wind was against me and I was slow. Coming back it sliced through me, a westerly wind from an imaginary world more grim than the Ash Mountains of Mordor in Middle Earth.

My iPod flicked on to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, music I hadn’t listened to for years. It transported me back to my school days when I would run the same route, fighting the same battle with the relentless wind. Which ever direction you run, it’s always there. In the run up to my O levels, my form tutor Linda (also my P.E. teacher) would suggest that my grades would get better if I spent less time out running, and more revising. But then, like now, I couldn’t stop myself from venturing out. It’s been a life-long addiction.

On my stormy run I thought about how, despite living and running all round the world, there were deep constants in my life. After spending half of my life trying to get away from where I grew up. I then spent half trying to get back. That tutor and P.E. teacher is now training my youngest as she takes small steps towards becoming a gymnast. When someone from your past reappears you can’t help but ask both why they have come back into your life, and what message life is sending you by the reunification. Thoughts began to flood back and I remembered I still had all of my school reports. I went up into my loft and found my battered old suitcase that holds the memories of my 40 or so years, and dug them out. Having told my girls that their athleticism is down to me (which of course they sniggered at) I found myself in tears within minutes as I read my form tutor’s words. “Could try harder” then “gymnastics is her weakest area” and finally, from my last year of school “…giving up athletics is such a waste of talent”. Those words winded me.

10258779_10152369735999759_5558088485166479354_n

Like the majority of teenagers I left my sport behind for what I thought were much more exciting options: going out, boyfriends, the pub… Regret is a heavy feeling that no-one wants to carry around, but sitting in our dusty, cold and still loft it’s what I felt. I’m not saying I could have reached any heady heights within athletics, but if I had at least persevered I could have discovered how far I could have gone. And would know now. Instead I stopped running for nearly 20 years.

Yet running came back in my life, and it still brings the ups and downs that athletics did when I was younger. Now I seem to seek many different things from running, one of the most important being connecting with other people. There was a time, when my children were tiny, when I desperately needed to go for a run, and ventured out to a club session, for ‘me’ time, but if anyone asked how I was I would hold back the tears. Now I want to talk to everyone; any runner I see I say hello to, but some are zoned out and I have to admit, this bugs me! Is a quick smile or wave of the hand wave so much to ask? Yet I know that once this was me, so caught up in myself that perhaps I didn’t have the time to reply, respond, or react.

Still, I look for eye contact now, and even though it’s sometimes hard to get this, I will keep trying.

The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race

noo noo girl running for David

 

The Helly Hansen Killarney Adventure Race…an event of a lifetime! This race was amazing, even though it left me doing a serious John Wayne walk for a few days. Being the adventure race virgin half of the Running fitness team competing in this 60km run, bike, kayak, run, bike event, I was a little nervous.

When you start running everything is new, exciting, challenging. For some time you can step up the distance of races and every weekend you are meeting new people. As the years drift past
doing the same races and routes becomes tedious and uninspiring; this is the time to throw a new race, distance or challenge into your training. When I was asked if I would like to compete in the Killarney Adventure Race I was booking my flight online before I had replied yes please.

These races you book in months ahead have a funny way of coming round very quickly. Even though I was running regularly leading up to Killarney, I didn’t quite manage to fit in any bike training, and I had never been in a kayak. Killarney is quite a challenge; if I had known how tough it was I would have been scared on the start-line. In this race you will be running, hiking, cycling and kayaking some of the most dramatic, breathtaking and remote scenery in the world.

Held in early autumn, we were extremely fortunate in the weather; by the time we arrived at the start-line for our wave the sun had come out and the temperature had risen to zero degrees! The first run took us through a tough steep bog mountain trail up and over Strickeen Mountain, through hill trail and heathen bog. It was tough but culminated in the stunning views of the Gap of Dunloe, the Lakes of Killarney and Purple Mountain. However, I managed to face-plant myself six times during this first section and remember more the bitter taste of bog between my lips. I was covered in bog and very cold water up to my right shoulder, and couldn’t stop giggling.

Next came the bike stage; I had been looking forward to this… however, all media personnel who travelled to Ireland were provided with ‘sit-up-and-beg’ bikes that resembled the cumbersome bike that my 11-year-old daughter rides to school; the only difference being no basket on the front! This made for impossible cycling on the ascents and was hugely demoralising as every single competitor from our wave, who had bought their own bike, was able to overtake me on this section. The bikes were so under-geared we couldn’t peddle them up the mountains! Still, again, the views were worth it. A quick kayak was followed by the final run, incorporating a 1,755 ft climb to the summit of Torc Mountain, (at one stage we did a 30-minute mile!) then a slippery, almost treacherous descent causing my niggly knees to scream in agony throughout. The final bike was a breeze. The race took us nearly six hours; at times it felt impossible, but it was a huge achievement for every competitor. The Irish fairies seemed to have spread their magic dust on my pillow the night before, as somehow I finished it, and it will be an event I will never forget; I remember thinking that the next marathon I ran would seem easy.

Registration is still open for this year’s race on 4th October. Will I see you on the start-line? www.killarneyadventurerace.ie

Living with running envy…

noo noo girl running for David
You looked at each other for some time before you became more serious. It wasn’t a quick affair, more a gradual deepening of feeling; somehow you just got under each other’s skin. It took a while, but slowly your feelings grew and grew, until there was that hedonistic explosion of love. Your minds were tormented by thoughts of each other. Together, you discovered amazing places you never thought existed. There were challenges, of course, and some lows after the initial ‘high’. And when you were too busy to give your full attention, you felt guilt creeping into the edges of your relationship. The thing is, even though you’ve been in this type of relationship before, it’s never been this intense, this ‘real’. Finally, you ask yourself,: ‘Could this really be love?’ During your honeymoon period everything – EVERYTHING – faded into the background. You not only became lovers, you became best friends.

Yes, trainers can really do this to a person. Education, travel, career, family: all unbelievable life experiences. We all know that life often evens out after your roller-coaster years. But buy a good pair of trainers, and running can reignite dormant passions you couldn’t anticipate still existed following between one and 10 years of broken sleep.

The rush of endorphins keeps you coming back for more – seeking out new routes, new races, harder intervals, to see how far you can push your body. Why then, am I looking at my trainers now with those inevitable feelings of, not ‘hate’, but: ‘I’m not so sure now I made the right decision’ thoughts trailing through my mind. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ feelings plague me as I walk in and out the front door (sometimes 10 times a day) glimpsing the pink and green flash of my Brooks.

Every time I spot them, I am reminded that at this stage of my life, I cannot run as much as I would like. As I began to spout my frustration at this to my wise Aunt recently, she reminded me that running can always wait: she kept running into her 60’s, a once a week 10 mile excursion to ‘clear the mind’. “You can always run when the children are older,” she reassured me. “But I want to set some new PB’s now,” I impatiently replied. “In five years time I will be five years older and it will be so much harder.”

“But running is mental, not physical,” she retorted. “Don’t forget, the cells in your organs, your muscles, your bones, are constantly regenerating. However old in years you may be, much of you is only a few days new.” Of course she was right. But, I am getting more than a little frustrated at this half-way house I live in, where I have developed this love affair with running, and am temporarily having to keep it on the sidelines due to family/work responsibilities. I can’t do this gracefully. I constantly contemplate forcing the children to give up what they love doing, just so I can do what I love doing. It’s crazy! I can’t do this as it goes against motherhood: kids come first, right?

I can train, but not always with my club. I enter races, then don’t make the start-line. Yes, I am suffering from the debilitating condition commonly known as running envy. The more the weeks pass and my running fails to move forward, the more I contemplate ridiculous scenarios to fit in a run. The underlying condition can be diagnosed as never being happy with one’s situation; a common symptom is the desire to scream out: “What about me!” Originally thought to be a pre-occupation of younger generations, there are increasing numbers of older people who are struggling to come to terms with dreams of running at greater speeds than we ever thought possible when our journeys began.

I think creatively; during holidays my children ride on their bikes whilst I run, or play in the park as I manically orbit them, a desperate satellite trying to make each session count. I am now starting my runs as tired as I usually feel when I’ve finished them. The only solution is to take the kids everywhere, it seems. My partner is not just a running widow, the kids have become a strange mutation of the ‘latch-key’ variety. After manic mornings and evenings where five to six hours of life have to be compressed into one hour, so that we can get out of the house and to club/events/races, they stand, abandoned to the countryside, whilst mummy goes off for half an hour or so to ‘do her own thing’. Take a step back and, compared to the lives of some children, this isn’t such a hardship, so why do I feel SO guilty?

Everything changes

noo noo girl running for David

Some people are predicting a heat wave this summer…. This column, I wrote a while ago, sprung to mind….

On Monday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. On Tuesday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. On Wednesday morning I pulled the curtains: “It’s raining,” I said. By Saturday morning I was feeling slightly hysterical. We are all becoming increasing au fait with the malfunctioning of the northern polar jet stream, and experiencing first hand what happens when this jet stream meanders far from its usual course: by passing south over Britain, leading to record-breaking rainfall, no sign of summer – and mounting concern for the London Olympics – we have become a new breed of twitchers. Not looking for rare species of birds, but spending anxious hours, days, weeks in search of the rare summer phenomenon known as sunshine.

A summer without much sunshine isn’t the end of the world. Really. However, the weather we are having to combat during our running week is starting to wear very, very thin. This weekend I set out for a long run, after about 50 minutes thought about cutting my run short to get home (exhaustion getting the better of me) then didn’t take the turn: I carried on. Something inside pushed me to not give in to my ego. I’m not going through a good patch with my running, but a few people, whose advice I treasure, have stressed to me that I just have to work through this stage. “It will come back,” they tell me. So despite my slow pace, I just kept going. The road I chose not to divert from led me onwards to the sea, and as the swelling ocean emerged before me, sheets of raining started falling. Mid-summer, and in less than 10 minutes I started to feel cold. The ear facing the sea became so waterlogged with the near horizontal rain that my ear plug wouldn’t stay in, so there I was, running, no, jogging, into a storm front, soaked, in my sun hat and sunglasses (eternal optimist am I), one earplug dancing a merry dance around my head, wanting to cry! It became a battle between me and the jet stream.

I could either give in, instantly divert my route and find safety from the strange summer storm that seems to have been raging for months, on and off, or carry on. My stubborn streak, the fault-line that runs through my personality, took over. I ran on, and on, and on, along the promenade, into the weather, until my trainers were full of puddles and I was ridiculously soaked. Can one woman take on a global weather weirding phenomenon? Yes. Can she win? Of course. Well… umm… I didn’t stop, turn round, detour, hitch a lift or sit down and cry at the ridiculously tough wind that was hurling insults in my direction every mile. I battled on. I must have looked truly pathetic, if anyone saw me – I can’t say I noticed other people out enjoying the weather. And when I got home, my offspring asked me: “Mummy, did you have fun?” My answer? “I really enjoyed it.” I think I did, any way.

The (relative) day of calm that followed my mammoth effort tells me that even global weather systems can’t beat a woman with determination. This summer has left me a much wiser person; I have become more expert at lighting a fire through extra practice; I have learnt that buying summer garden furniture in the spring can be considered extravagant; I have learnt to go out running with sunglasses plus gilet, thus being fully prepared for both real rays of sunlight that I remember can be punishing to one’s eyes plus hideous downpours of rain: the two have become synonymous in our weather-riddled isle; but the wise Buddha that stands beside me during my journey in life, to whom I often ask advice, confirms that the greatest lesson learnt is that everything changes. Our journeys, our running, our summers (remember those endless hot summer holidays of our youth spent sweltering in the presence of the yellow god of the skies?). Knowing that nothing ever stays the same, I predict that the sun must reappear!