Wednesday 22 February 2017

A Weekend of Two Halves

On the surface, this post is about 2 events. But actually it's more about two other running related subjects - Support / Friends and 'Head Stuff'.......

When Sarah suggested that we run
 Dukeries 10 (an 11 mile trail run) this year, I was up for it. After all, we ran Dukeries 30 last May (and have entered again for this year), so, yeah, why not. It will be good training.  How difficult could it be?

When she suggested we muster up a team of 4 for the Caythorpe Dash (half-marathon, mainly off-road), I was slightly more dubious as I've seen photos from previous years
 - mostly very muddy!  But I said yes.  Again, it would be another good training run for Dukeries.

Then Sarah just casually mentioned these two events are on the same weekend and that
 Mike said that back to back runs would be beneficial in preparing for Dukeries.  OK then.......

Dukeries 10 - Saturday 11th February 2017

As we approached the weekend, I was unusually unexcited and unusually apprehensive.  I know why.  I've had a couple or three weeks where every run has felt quite tough.  Even taking it steady, I've felt tired easily, unable to motivate myself to push hard on hill / interval sessions and struggling to get to the end of the long runs (I'm currently training for a spring marathon).  There could be a number of reasons for this - I generally lack energy at this time of year; I've had a gum infection and been on some hard core anti-biotics (the type they use for sepsis!) so I might be a little run down; I'm half a stone heavier than my most comfortable running weight.  But for whatever reason,  any running has felt difficult, so the prospect of 24 muddy miles over 2 days felt a bit daunting.

We had an early start, getting up before 6am to eat and get there before 8am to park and pick up our numbers.  It was dark, there were a few flurries of snow along the way.  When we arrived, it was very cold and we all wrapped up well for the start - not heading out of the hall until the last minute!

Despite my reservations, the run started well.  The four of us - Chris, Sarah, Emma and I set off at a nice steady pace.  Once we got away from the start and into the woods, I felt good. The smell of the woods brought back memories of Dukeries recces last year and of
 Dukeries 30, 2016. Emma and Chris were mainly running a few paces in front and Sarah and I were chatting along the way.  In the early miles, I was still feeling like it was a bit of a struggle - my legs felt heavy and I felt like my breathing was more puffy-panty than it should be for the pace.

Chris is running well since coming back from a broken bone in his foot last year and although he hasn't done much off road, he seems to have taken to it better than this time last year. Emma is a bit quicker than Sarah and I.  Sarah is the mud-queen and runs really well off road and enjoys it better than road running so I was in good company in terms of keeping jollied along.

I ate a couple of jelly sweets but forgot to take an energy gel - partly because it was in a belt inside my coat, so a bit out of sight, out of mind.  As we approached mile 6, I was really struggling.  It was really slippery underfoot and everywhere I put my feet they seemed to slide. There were areas where we were running on narrow bits of grass between ruts created by farm vehicle wheels but even the grass bits had become churned up. I only lost my footing completely once, and even then, managed to save myself from a total face-plant by getting my hands down.  

I admitted to Sarah that I was struggling and of course, she was an absolute diamond.  I hate to whinge, and I don't like to ask for help.  I'm more used to supporting other people than needing support myself, but it would have been pointless to say I felt OK when I didn't.  Sarah stayed with me, encouraging, chatting, reminding me I'm awesome

As we approached the 7 mile marker, another runner shouted to her friend, "come on - only a parkrun to go!"  I automatically let out a cheer just at the mention of parkrun (I'm a big fan) but at exactly the same time realised that we actually had 4 miles to go, not three. The other runner clearly didn't know about the bonus mile.** I think psychologically, this messed with my head a bit.  A parkrun to go, means 'not far' in my head, and yet 4 miles suddenly seemed a long way.  My legs felt like lead and even in my lungs I just felt really unfit.

we officially declared ourselves awesome after completing Dukeries 30 last year!
** I've learned that off-road runs are difficult to measure accurately so often an extra bit is added in order to make sure the course isn't short. Hence Dukeries 10 is about 11 miles.  Dukeries 30 is 31 miles (or, to put it another way, ten parkruns!) These little extras seem to be known as bonus miles - I'm not sure if that is a Mike-ism or whether it's a technical term!

With just over a mile to go, I told Sarah I just wanted her to go on ahead and I just needed to take a little minute. When I said it, I didn't know whether I would walk for a minute or for the rest of the route.  Sarah was having none of it.  "It's fine" she said. "We'll both take a little minute together...... we're in this together, remember. You walked this with me last year!" (she was injured)  So we just walked up the tiny slope and that gave me chance to recover.  I just didn't feel myself.  Not in a 'feeling ill' way.  Just that my usual determination, focus and motivation was eluding me.  

During the last mile, my head was filled with very negative thoughts:  if I'm struggling with 11 miles today, how on earth will I do 13 miles tomorrow; I'll let the others down (Sarah, Chris, Paul C and I entered as a team); I'm 'the weakest link';
is it better to not start or to start and not finish?; come on stop being such a wimp, you've only run 10 miles.  As I write this now, it seems ridiculous, but I'm sharing it because from what I have learned from speaking to other runners, these doubts can just get a hold on you from time to time.  It's the head stuff!  Cheryl and I call the negative inner voice Bruce! ....... Think of the Electric Light Orchestra Song, Don't Bring Me Down.  The lyrics to the chorus are, "Don't bring me down .... grrroooos" but often misheard as "Don't bring me down, Bruce!"  So when Cheryl has her doubts, we talk about telling Bruce to p*** off!   It's funny at the time - you probably had to be there!  It's difficult to fight Bruce on your own sometimes, but with the help and support of friends he cannot get the better of you - it's just a question of being prepared to ask for help - whatever that help might be.  I didn't share all of my negative thoughts with Sarah, but she said all the right things anyway - tomorrow is just another training run, time doesn't matter, we can walk as much as you need to, think of the apple crumble!

As we approached the finish-line, Mike was there with his phone at the ready to capture us coming in.  He had done parkrun and come over to cheer us in at the end and to pick Sarah up.
Thanks Mike for the finishing photo.
All smiles now. Thanks for this pic Emma (taken by Mike with Emma's phone.

Caythorpe Dash - Saturday 12th February 2017

What a difference a day makes.  The Caythorpe Dash HM was a different kettle of fish altogether.  For a start, it was a much more civilised start time – 11am, so we didn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn. Initially, when I woke up, I wasn’t quite feeling it.  However, I had Sarah’s pep talk in my ears from yesterday and didn’t feel under pressure.  I’d also had a message from Cheryl, telling me to remember all the things I say to encourage other people and say it to myself. Half marathon is my favourite distance so I kept reminding myself of that too.

We were running as a team, the only CRC team at the Dash this year, comprising Sarah, Chris, Paul C and me.  We arrived in good time and waited in the village hall to keep warm. Once again it was a very cold day, but not initially windy.  As we left the hall to go to the start-line, we could already smell the pudding cooking – this was something to look forward to on our return. 

As we set off, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself running on the flat and downhill for the first few miles.  There were muddy slippery bits, but I seemed to be keeping my feet much better than the day before.  I was much more relaxed and although I knew (let’s face facts) that I was the slowest of the 4 of us, I really didn’t mind, and certainly didn’t have that ‘weakest link’ feeling that kept plaguing me on Saturday.

I decided to run mindfully and just stay in the present, enjoy the current flats and down hills and not let myself think of what fresh hell might be ahead!  This run felt more like a normal run. I felt more myself.  I got a tight calf and it eased off after a few miles. Just normal stuff. 

I just want to pause here to take my hat off to the marshals and volunteers at both events.  It was a bitterly cold weekend and they were, without exception, cheerful and helpful.  I never cease to be grateful to the people who give their time to stand in the cold so that we can enjoy our events safely.

Inevitably, the hills made their appearance.  We were warned by a friendly marshal telling us that the really pretty hilly bit was ahead!  Well, the first big hill was bonkers!  Across a field, no real track to speak of and really sticky mud.  Seriously, it stuck and stuck and stuck.  We were all walking up – it was impossible to run as we were sinking ankle deep with every step!  I kept thinking that eventually no more mud would stick – it would have reached its mud volume maximum capacity!  But it just kept on gathering!  I had to knock it off a few times and start again, because it just got so heavy!  On Saturday, this would have probably finished me off, but on Sunday, I just found it hilarious.

I kept my energy up ok. I put my gels in my jacket pocket, remembered to take one after an hour and Sarah reminded me to take another a bit later. I also had jelly sweets whenever Chris had one.

The miles seemed to pass by and very soon there was ‘just a parkrun to go’ and then only a mile to go.  A mile to go seemed so much easier than the mile to go on Saturday!  There was another hill shortly before the finish, which looked innocent enough but had odd terraces rolling through it so our feet kept hitting the ground at different angles. It was harder than it looked and we soon declared another walk break.

I’m not saying it wasn’t challenging, because it was. The terrain constantly changed: sloppy mud, sticky mud, slightly firmer grassy mud, a few bits on road, up hill, down hill, flat, stiles to climb with legs that felt heavy.  Mud mud mud and mud .... it's a bit like Python's Spam sketch but with mud with everything instead of Spam with everything!  There was even a steep short down bit where the mud was so slippery we had to hang on to tree branches to prevent ourselves just sliding down on our bums. The weather was cold and there was a biting wind whenever we were on high ground.  But despite the challenges, it just didn’t seem as difficult as the Saturday run. 

Soon we were back in the village hall feasting on hot soup, sandwiches, cups of strong tea and the famous crumble. I felt tired in a good way. Sarah and Chris fared well too. Paul was suffering with his knee a bit from mile 10, perhaps partly because he was sliding about more than the rest of us, as he chose road shoes. 

We were all delighted to receive a medal at the finish.  Emma and Sarah had mentioned that it is usually a certificate, so a bit of bling was a welcome bonus.

I was in touch with Claire later in the evening talking about the contrast between these two events. She was saying that her brother says most of running is in the head so perhaps my outlook was different the second day.  It’s so true. I’d had a word with myself, listened to the support and encouragement from my friends and beaten Bruce! Among other things, one of my favourite sayings is, "The body achieves what the mind believes."  The body has its genuine ups and downs and therefore running can have ups and downs.  A whole load of factors can make a difference - rest / sleep, any life stresses, illness, medication, diet, alcohol, twinges.  Any or a combination of these can lead to a period where running feels tough.  Sometimes there's a tough phase with no apparent cause. But one of the most important things is attitude.  The head stuff. Very often a strong mind can keep your body going, even when it feels tired and would really just like to sit down!   

There is a lot of technical and detailed and complicated running advice out there, relating to the body and training and adaptations. It is all valid.  In addition my two main pieces of advice to anyone taking up running or stepping outside of their running comfort zone would be -

* Believe in yourself.  If you believe you can do it, you will do it.
* Value your running buddies. You'll be in good company and they will believe in you and encourage you when your self-belief is weakening.  You will also do the same for them.

Keep on Running.....

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