Thursday 13 November 2014

Cheryl’s Running Story

From, “I can’t run” to 10k.
Everything Starts with a Conversation in the Pub!
After the conversation in the pub that lead, eventually, to me training for a marathon,  my best friend, Cheryl took a keen interest in my running.  Either that or she was too kind to tell me to shut up!  Frequently she was impressed with my progress and expressed wonder at how I managed to do it.  She would often say, things like, “I wish I could run” and “how do you keep going” and “I could never run.”   Of course, that  last statement was like a red rag to a bull to me, as I believe that anyone can run.  I insisted, on a regular basis that she could definitely run – adding, “I bet you could run if I was chasing you with an axe!” 
And then, in another conversation in another pub the subject turned to the Caistor Running Club (CRC) beginners course and with a bit of gentle persuasion Cheryl and Chris agreed that they would both give it a go. 
Humble Beginnings.
Cheryl (right) with Katy, Vicky & Chris after a Saturday run.
The beginners’ course involves running 3 times a week – twice with the club and once under your own steam.  The first week’s runs involve jogging for 1 minute then walking for 90 seconds x 8.  From there, the time running increases and the time walking decreases on a weekly basis, finishing at week 8 when participants will be able to run for 30 minutes.
I knew that the folk at CRC were a friendly bunch and would be supportive. I trusted that the course was doable; it just made sense.  But I also knew that Cheryl would be totally out of her comfort zone and I promised I’d be with her all the way and that I could do her weekend run with her.  I said I’d bring an axe to chase her with if necessary! (Oh - isn’t that what best friends do? ... threaten to chase you with an axe if you start struggling?).

The course started in March before the clocks go forward and the runs were at 6.30pm, so there Cheryl was, one cold dark March evening, setting off on her first 1 minute run on Caistor sports field.  I immediately told her – “there you go- see- you are doing it – you are running”.  As might be expected she managed the first few sets (1 min run, 90 seconds walk) reasonably well.  As she started to tire, it got harder – BUT SHE DID IT.  And that was week 1, run 1 done.  She was pleased with herself, but very quickly started to worry about the next week!  “How will I keep going for 2 minutes?”  The answer of course is, “you just will” ... and she did.  I’m not saying it was easy, she was breathless at the end of each run section, but always just about recovered and ready to go again after the walk section.
We did the weekend runs together, and a few other beginners joined us over the weeks, so there was mutual encouragement and a sense of camaraderie. 
We Run So That We Can Eat More Cake
From week 2 onwards, regular club members started to bring cake for after the run.  I think it was about week 4 or 5 that Cheryl brought cakes – lovely buttercream butterfly buns and Chris Robey – who was the ‘main man’ facilitating the beginners’ course said that she could have her certificate NOW, without even completing the rest of the course! Anyone who can bake good cakes is very welcome at CRC.
The Seed is Sown for Races.
 By about week four, British Summertime began, so with a bit more light, it was time to venture out of the playing field and onto the roads.  This made the runs more interesting and helped it to have more of a feel of a club run. Also at about this time, Chris Robey started to talk about how, at the end of the course, participants would be ready for a 5k race.  When he asked Cheryl whether perhaps she’d consider entering the Race for Life or Normanby Hall ladies 5 k, her answer was “if I get through this!”  A week later, I’d cajoled (bullied?) her into entering the Race for Life. 
Metaphorical Ups and Downs – Illness.
As can be expected, Cheryl had runs that felt really hard and runs that felt a bit easier throughout the beginners’ course and beyond.  This is how it is for most runners.  Even those who have been running for years will sometimes have the odd ‘ shit’ run.  Or a bad week where every run seems to feel hard. 
Cheryl had a particularly hard time of it with a bad cough that set in about halfway through the course.  The general advice with coughs and colds is that if it’s above the neck, run, if it’s below the neck, don’t run.  It was below the neck and she still ran!  She managed to not miss any runs, but it certainly knocked her confidence for a while.

Literal Ups and Downs – Hills.
A funny part of the beginners course was about week 6 or 7.  We had run down to and through Nettleton and now faced the run from the Salutation (Nettleton) up the A46 to The Meadow (Caistor).  As we started a steady trot up the Hill, I told Cheryl to shorten her steps if she found it easier and on the steeper bits, getting up more on her toes might help.  Chris Robey came alongside to chat, and told Cheryl just the same as I’d told her .... I always like it when people who know what they are talking about are saying the same as me.  It makes me feel Cheryl will have confidence I’m not making it up!  Chris added extra advice though.  He said that the only one word she should keep in her mind up the hill is “YES”. Don’t give any attention to any other thoughts.  This resulted (of course) in us shouting out loud up the hill, “YES, Yeeees, Oh yes, oh God yes!”  There were more yeses than WhenHarry met Sally!

The last club run on the beginners’ course was followed by cake – supplied by another of our regulars, Jayne McConnochie and then a beer in the club house to celebrate.

A high point for me was the final run of the final week, which we went into Cleethorpes for on a weekend morning.  There was Cheryl, Michelle Wright, my Vicky and Chris all doing their final 30 minute run. It pissed it down with rain, but no one cared.  We all get on better in the rain than in baking heat.  It was a hard effort because of the sea wind, but a little easier than Caistor because of the absence of hills.  At the end of it, I gave Chris, Vicky and Cheryl a race style goodie bag.... a carrier containing a drink, choc bar a banana and other bits. For Cheryl the obvious additional touch was a string of axe charms so that should she ever need an extra bit of motivation, she can threaten herself!  Apparently, she still carries this with her when running! I wonder if it will come to Skegness?
Michelle, Cheryl, Chris and Vicky after the Saturday run of the CRC beginners' course.
Receiving her Certificate from Chris Roby.
With the beginners’ course under her belt, she set about running up to 5k as often as possible to prepare for Race for Life.   One of the Club runs was through Mausoleum Woods at Great Limber.  The faster runners in the club went on ahead and then we regrouped at certain points and some faster runners looped back to meet up with us steadier runners.  When we were approaching one of the ‘regrouping bits’, Cheryl started to slow to a walk.  “No, no,” I said. “Keep going, don’t stop running, you’re nearly there, don’t stop til you get there.”  I got the reputation for being a bit of a whip-cracking coach at that point... Di East saying, “oooh, she’s hard isn’t she?! I thought she was supposed to be your friend!”  Tee hee hee. Happy days.

Race for Life
Cheryl and Me - Race for Life 2014
It was baking hot on the RFL day and that is not Cheryl’s favourite running weather. Like me, she’d rather have it cold and even raining than too hot.  I briefed Cheryl to set off nice and steady and just let people who are in a rush come past.  I know from experience at RFL that many people will be walking within 2 minutes of the race start.  Did she set off nice and steady?  Nah!  Just like most of us on our first event, she lost all concept of pace (and I wasn't much help!) and got pulled along with the crowd around us that set off like a bat out of hell!  After the first km, we were both puffing and Cheryl settled down to a more sensible pace.  

Well earned pint at the end of RFL
By about 3½km Cheryl was hot, tired and, in common with many of us in an event, begging for the end to come!  Time for a pep talk ..... no, I didn’t threaten to get the axe out.  Oh – actually, I probably did.  Seriously, I started talking about how she needed to keep going because she’d be pissed off with herself if she walked now (come to think of it, it was similar to the talking to that Sue gave me on the Click’em 5 miles a couple of years before) I also reminded her we were going for a pint afterward!  That seemed to do the trick. She ran it all the way and, in true 'real runner' style, got quite frustrated at having to dodge round people  who were walk-running.
She was very emotional at the end of this and there were hugs all round as well as running poses!

Unfortunately in the few days after RFL, Cheryl developed hip pain.  We’re still not sure if it was just DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) or something else, but is was another set-back.  Just as she was really starting to enjoy running, something else had to crop up and she was really frustrated.  She probably had the feelings illustrated in this picture:

Running with a Hangover – Normanby Hall
The next weeks are a bit of a blur, but the next point of note was the Normanby Hall Ladies 5k.  Cheryl entered that and kindly paid for my entry and we ran it together... with a hangover!  We’d been on a Leo (Leo Sayer=All Dayer=all day drinking session) at Lincoln the day before.  Ooooh my goodness. It was baking hot again – hotter than RFL. I’m sure we started dehydrated!  I know Cheryl struggled with this one but she managed a short sprint at the finish – with me yelling my head off behind her. See the picture, left.  The blue arrow points to Cheryl picking up the pace - the red one is me pushing her on and the yellow one points to the two people she overtook on the finish straight! Go girl!  Always keep a bit in the bag for a sprint finish!

She felt sick and had her first experience of runners brain – that phenomenon of not being able to string a sentence together and feeling very confused following hard exertion.  I was proud of her for finishing but felt a bit bad for being such a slave driver.  She has a score to settle with that one (a bit like me and Sue with Sleaford half 2013 and 2014) so no doubt we will return to Normanby Hall next year and she will nail it.

The sentiment on this image reflects my  coaching / encouragement / axe-wielding philosophy. Cheryl said I always give her just the right amount of "Don't f*cking stop." Well, as Nick Lowe says,  "You have to be cruel to be kind (in the right measure)."

Cheryl, Michelle Jones, Vicky Allison, Kate Sargent, Fran Allison Jenni Plume, Jayn McConnochie, Liz Short and others.
I’m getting out of sync with the chronology of things now and I hope when Cheryl reads this, she will be as surprised and delighted as I am to see how much she’s done since those “run 1 minute, walk 90 seconds” days.  Parkrun, which is organised 5k timed runs, in parks, organised and marshalled  by volunteers (click here for details if you’ve never heard of it) got established at Cleethorpes (click here to find outabout Cleethorpes parkrun in particular).  We started running at Cleethorpes parkrun regularly, along with other CRC members.  This has been challenging for Cheryl at times.  Some runs have been easier than others.  There was one particularly bad one.  I think it was bad because we’d run there the evening before and done an extra half lap as Cheryl was wanting to start to build up distance, with a view to entering a 10k.  That run had been a great run, but I think she was quite fatigued the day after and it just didn’t go well. 
Key to levels of the "C" word ... no, not THAT one!

Her confidence took a severe knock and she started to use the C word.  No, not that C word. The CAN’T word.  She used it in her head first ... whilst feeling out of breath and starting to worry, she thought, “if I CAN’T do this, how can I possibly do 10k?”.  Then she started telling herself she was stupid to ever think she could do it. By the time she told me anything was wrong, she was panicking and telling me she’d got to stop.  
She was able to calm down though and I told her she was definitely going to finish this run, on a walk-run-walk strategy and that she would definitely run over the finish line. (Good job Di wasn’t there – she’d have thought I was totally wicked!)  
Cheryl and Michelle Wright
And she did!  She was still pissed off with herself at the end and continued to beat herself up over it, but luckily a posse of CRC members were at the finish line to offer support.  A hug and some words of wisdom from (Uncle) Rod Burton were just what the doctor ordered. And I think the Wetherpoons breakfast might have helped too! We needed to find a creative way to get over that run and restore confidence so we returned to the park later that week, just the two of us, and ran the route in reverse, metaphorically rewinding to before that shit run.  We left the park that day thinking of the triumph of the run before the bad run. I wanted her to keep in mind the 4 miles she had run so well and felt so good about.  It worked.  The next week, I was marshalling at parkrun (probably had a race the next day) and Cheryl donned the earphones, and equipped with lively music ran the thing on her own.  Brilliant.  At the end, I was talking to one of the other marshals and she was saying she watches everyone and it’s so inspiring, but she said that she could never do it.  Hmmm. I’ve heard those words before.  I asked her whether she was ill or had a disability. She said she hadn’t but she ‘just couldn't run’. I didn’t contradict her but we walked back to the finish line and I said toCheryl, “this lady reckons she couldn’t possibly run.  What do you think to that?”  Cheryl immediately said, “Anyone can run!” and shared a bit of her journey.  I forgot to tell Cheryl, but when I was at parkrun last week, I saw that lady – she was running!  Just shows you – you never know who you are inspiring.

And so to 10k
Once again, I’ve lost the Chronology, but at some point I started to encourage Cheryl to book a 10k event to give her something big to aim for.  Some might call it bullying, but I prefer to call it encouraging!
Eventually she gave in... er, I mean, agreed... and was all set to enter the Brigg 10k.  That is until she mentioned it to her husband, Bazzer, who reminded her that they’ll be on holiday in France!  Ha!  You know you're a real runner when you're thinking of booking a race and forgetting about your holidays! 

So, the next one that looked likely was the Skegness 10k – the inaugural race, limited to 200 runners, on 16th November 2014. 

Understandably, the idea of getting from 5k to 10k seemed quite daunting, but by now Cheryl was getting the idea. She would make the step a little at a time, just the same as going from 0 to 5k.  The journey to 10k has had challenges thrown in – another chest infection and a persistent knee problem. Nevertheless she has been committed and determined (I haven’t been bullying her with the axe, honestly).  I work in miles (showing my age now) so we worked steadily up from 3 miles to 5 miles half a mile at the time.  At each step, we only planned to add on ¼ mile with the option, at the end of that ¼ mile to commit to another.  This helped to put Cheryl in control.  Every time, she DID choose to add on the extra quarter.  

A real milestone was the day she hit the 5 mile point because the route we ran was from Cheryl’s house to her mum’s house in the next village.  A hilarious moment was when we arrived there, knocking on the door and her mum answered saying, “I thought it was you, but where’s the car?”  When we told her Cheryl had run there, all the way from home – the first time she’s done 5 miles – I expected her mum to be excited for her and very amazed.  Tee hee hee – her reaction?  “Oohhh Cheryl!  What about your poor knees?!!!”  Ha ha ha – bless her. We a both cracked up. She was pleased for her really, but I think it was a bit of a shock!
So – then Cheryl went away on holiday for a week, still just getting over a chest infection.  When she returned and did her first run, she hadn’t run for 2½ weeks.  I picked what I thought would be a nice easy route – starting downhill, from Caistor top to the salutation at Nettleton.  Her breathing was fine.  Her legs ached a bit, as you’d expect after a break – plus, I’d forgotten that running downhill can make your quads ache.  Then we ran back up the A46 on the “Yes, Yes, Yes” hill.  Job done.

Finally – we ran last Saturday, with a week and a day to go before the Skeg 10k.  When I asked Cheryl how far she wanted to go, she said, “all the way!”  Although everyone else was confident that if she can do 5 miles she’ll crack out 6.2 on event day (10k=6.2 miles), Cheryl felt that she’d be happier having done the distance beforehand.  And, at the end of the day, it’s what’s going on in her mind that will matter on the day.  So in the end, we agreed on 6 miles exactly.  This is enough so that she’ll know she can make the distance, because she knows she could have plodded on a little further. It will just be nice on the day for it to be the first time she’s run the full 10k distance.

So – she’s all set.  3 sleeps to go.
The final part of this story will come after the Skegness 10k.  Well done, my friend. I couldn’t be more proud of you.  There’s been blood, sweat, and tears along the way as well as snot and very productive spitting ... just realised I didn’t write anything about the times you’ve fallen over and how we named that tree root, “Cheryl’s Stump!”  Still can’t fit everything it.  What an eventful year.  If you have been inspired by this story, or if parts of it have amused you, please visit Cheryl's Just Giving Page, as she is raising funds for the Alzheimer's Society in memory of her dad, who passed away earlier this year.  
Finally, here's one final little tribute to Cheryl .... 
This will be Cheryl after the Skegness 10k!

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