Running

Running, or was it wallowing (?), in Beacon Park

I’m squatting by a bucket of muddy water outside my house with rubber gloves on and a toothbrush in my hand, wondering if this is what normal people do on a Sunday.

To clarify, the toothbrush has long been demoted from the task of cleaning teeth, and used to have a happy, later life getting around the taps with a dab of Cif. Now, it’s taken a further step down the ladder, and been relegated to scrubbing the mud off the grips in my shoes, as today was my first attempt at cross-country running since my school days.

Although I had taken my new trail shoes for a small, initial spin around Storeton Woods last Sunday, this was their real christening. I can now say that they were worth it, as they were really comfy and they kept me upright.

The day turned out to be a bright, sunny one, albeit with some hefty gusts. Some of our team found that out, when they tried putting the club gazebo up on the grass. By the time we arrived, they were busy taking it down again before it flew away to Oz.

Several hundred people were milling around in the sun in various states of preparation, We had a fifteen strong running group for Pensby, plus some kind volunteers to help look after us all, but I didn’t realise that so many people did this kind of thing for fun on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was the lack of runs in 2020, and the dry day today, but the first race of the North West Cross Country season  was very well attended.

I had triple-knotted my laces, and Claudia had shown me a handy loop on the top of my shoes to shove the bows in, but I was still thinking I should have tightened the laces a little more, and wondering if I had time to readjust, when the horn sounded. The hordes around me stormed ahead and I was swept up in it for a short while, until I was a little out of breath and slowed to a more manageable pace.

At the start, the ground felt quite nice. The grass didn’t feel like it had too many hidden dips and was actually quite springy and enjoyable, once I could breathe again. That didn’t last.

I often worry that, when I get left behind as I invariably do, I may be liable to take a wrong turning somewhere, if there aren’t enough marshals. I didn’t need to worry this time, as even if the marshals and well laid out sign posts hadn’t been there, I had only to follow the heavily churned ground to find my way. At Storeton Woods I did my best to skip over or go around the muddy patches. Here there was zero option to circumvent, and as I ventured to find some non-existent edge, a fellow competitor said: sometimes the easiest way is straight through the middle.

Sage words, and by the middle of the first loop I was heeding them, although I was nearly left shoeless on several occasions, and wished I had tightened up those laces at the beginning. Towards the end of the first loop I was being lapped by some of the front-runners, including Ben, the first Pensby in, who’d been feeding his new-born girl at 4am this morning. I think he just came out for the run to have a rest!

The marshal optimistically asked me if I’d done my two loops, just after Ben sailed passed me, but no, I had to do it all again before I could take that right turn to the finish. For the first loop, there had been two steepish hills and a few undulations. For the second, it all felt like hills, but, remarkably, I was really starting to enjoy myself. The sun was out, the endorphins were kicking in and I hadn’t fallen or twisted my ankle. What a great day!

Even more lovely, as I was getting to the end and pushing up a crazy final hill to that finish line, I had the biggest cheer from the rest of the Pensby Runners team. I was the last Pensby in but, surprisingly, not the last runner to finish the course. It actually wouldn’t have mattered to me if I was, as someone will always be last. Getting out there to begin with was the win for me today.

The trainers are cleaner than they were five minutes ago but probably not as pristine as they were first thing this morning, which is alright. They feel like they belong on my feet a bit more now that I’ve doused them in the mud. Though I have to remember to tie my shoe laces up tighter next time!

Running

Run To The Hills

I was saying to Sue last night that …

Well I wasn’t so much saying, as gasping, barely able to get a syllable in, between the short and desperate inhalations.

Despite my wheezing, we managed to hold a conversation of sorts and I was explaining that I’d not done any hill training for two, maybe three years. And it showed.

I’m not talking about going for a run that has hills in it. These are the more repetitive, and therefore somewhat more challenging, efforts that I inexplicably volunteered for last night at the club.

I was at the back. At the back during the 1.4 mile ‘jog’ to Teals Way, and at the back during the repeats. However, it’s an exercise that I cannot do with the same amount of push by myself. I would have walked some of it. I would have gone slower. I would have given myself a million excuses not to do it in the first place because I wouldn’t have been accountable to anybody but myself and I am a rubbish taskmaster!

A small section of our hill – courtesy of Google Maps

Those excuses were obviously listened to as I’ve not done hill repeats for years and there are plenty of hills in my vicinity. Red Hill Road and Rest Hill Road are neither red nor restful but they are both several levels above ‘undulating’.

So here I was, slightly knackered before we’d even begun, at the bottom of Teals Way pulling off my extra layers on a dark but rather warm evening. Andy, our drill instructor, is a deceptively smiley chap. He looks on you kindly and gives you encouragement and then blows his whistle.

The first ten minutes was to go up and down at a steady pace to get ‘a feel’ for the hill. Up to the first bend it’s a gradual incline. Then you veer gently to the right and you can feel your lungs starting to work as it gets a bit steeper. A bend then to the left again and this is the ‘pinch’, the steepest section and your breathing has shallowed as you try and get oxygen in as quickly as possible. It levels out a little at the top as you go right, and around the green electrical box and finally down the hill again, you pull in deep breaths to recover. Then you do it all again!

I think I managed about three hills to everyone else’s six and this one was the easy exercise! However, as I explained, haltingly, to Sue, during the second ten minute drill (she had popped up here as she’d been late getting to the club and this was the only group she knew the location of – that’ll teach her to be late!), my participation, and my uber slow circuits should just be an encouragement to all the runners who think that hill running with the gazelles is too daunting! Someone will always be last, and sometimes, like yesterday, someone may be last by quite a distance. But absolutely nobody will mock you and you will get a nice sense of achievement for some hard work done.

The second and third drills involved sprint sections: the second before the ‘pinch’ and the third, actually on the steepest bit itself. I didn’t have the lungs to sprint but I did attempt to lengthen my stride and pump my arms more for those bits.

We could see the silhouette of a man looking at us all from his bedroom window: hard to imagine how normal people may view this merry crew? Sue stayed with me even though, given her ability to string a longer sentence together, she could have gone faster. We managed to do one round of the final drill before I suggested making an early exit. I knew that the 1.4 miles back to the club was mainly uphill and I figured that, for a first stint in ages, I’d done alright.

The one good thing about doing these hills on a dark night in October is that there is less likelihood of tripping on tree roots as Teals Way is a wide, quiet and well lit road.

Of course, the other good thing is that it will, eventually, make me stronger. If it doesn’t kill me first!

Running

Sweetness and Light

No word of a lie: Adriene’s yoga theme for this month is called ‘RESET”!

What??!!

I didn’t know that when I wrote my last piece and of course, she knows diddly squat about me…or does she?!!!

Errr, no. But the synchronicity of the intentions has fired me up to be a little more resolute and follow her classes every day, for at least this month.

Also hit a little milestone on my running app last night. I completed the Chairman’s Challenge with the running club, which is 7.5 miles of hardcore Heswall hills as described in the blog I wrote when I ran it the first time. Despite still bringing up the rear with Sue and Janine, I actually did feel a tiny bit stronger than last time, taking just over 3 minutes off my PB.

But that 7.5 miles took me to just over a century of mileage for the month of August which is very pleasing. Plus, it took me just over the mileage that I managed in the whole of last year which is somewhat marvellous and makes me feel all super motivated to keep going, as I sit on my bed here typing this. This is the place that the motivation is at its highest!

My Year stats for running

During my run last night I tried out a new gel. I have always used SIS gels before but have always disliked taking artificial sweeteners.

The new gels compared to the old
Size matters, especially when you’re carrying these babies on your run!

The one I tried last night was Velaforte ‘Tempo’. It’s the one with a date on the front. All the recipes for this brand use natural sugars, so your sugar content is much higher than one with sweeteners. I don’t mind that at all as I need all the extra energy I can get when running. Plus, these little packets are so much smaller than my old SIS one, with the same amount of carbohydrates.

This is very different from the usual sugary sweetness I was used to. It does actually taste of date, predominantly, and is less sweeter than the SIS, ironically. But, once I’d got my head around that, it was nice, and it went down easily.

I would normally have felt a dip in energy, often just after the hour mark, if I didn’t take a gel. I didn’t experience that and I felt pretty good all the way around.

It is more expensive than the SIS; each gel in this pack works out to £1.60. I don’t mind that to get something a little more natural. I have to try out the other flavours of course, but it looks like I will be making the switch based on this first one.

And finally, the cat is being sent packing tomorrow to its real family down in London, so I thought I’d give you some final shots.

Running

The Chairman’s Challenge

I have decided that Heswall should be renamed Hes’hill’!

Cake with a picture of the challenge
A cake displaying the route of the Challenge

How someone could devise a route so close to the base of our running club with three humungous hills, just shows that a) the terrain is somewhat slopey and b) the route-master is a devilish fiend.

Roy Fisher is the man responsible for the multiple downs and ups I endured today. He had been Chairman of Pensby Runners running club for 20 plus years until he had to retire at the beginning of last year. The Chairman’s Challenge has been going since 2010, 4 times a year, and I had never ever run it before. And now I know why.

Today’s run was a special event, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, an organisation that has been helping Roy and his family through some pretty tough times in this last year and a bit, but he was here, an indomitable spirit, sending each group of us on our way.

Our old Chairman in front of our club base.
Roy, ready to countdown the groups.

I actually had offered to help out, be a marshall, look after the cake stall, or something like that. But Lisa Grantham, who’d done the (very brilliant) organising decided that she had enough helpers and that she was sure that I’d much prefer to run it.

Errr…

As preparations go, it had been a bit completely wrong. My 5K pelt on Thursday had forced my long run to a Saturday as my legs were so achy. I was planning a little 8 miler but then I went looking for bluebells in the woods behind The Wheatsheaf pub so it became a 10 plus a full mile and a bit walk just to get back home, as (too late) I was desperate to conserve a little something for today.

This morning while I ate my porridge, I foolishly watched a video of the route someone had taken on their bike in order to get an idea of where I was going (I have such a bad memory for directions). The downs seemed to take no time at all but the ups! The ups seemed to go on forever and I started feeling a little queasy and pondered calling in sick.

But Anne had already made a lemon drizzle for our contribution to the cake stall and I felt an obligation as it was for charity. So I heaved myself into the car and drove to the start with an anxious heart.

It was actually really, really nice to see lots of people that I hadn’t seen in over a year. This is the first time I’ve run with the group since the start of the first lockdown, as I hadn’t felt fully comfortable before, with the state of the lurgy as it was. There were so many faces that I recognised, and occasionally I remembered a name (I have such a bad memory for names) here and there. Sadly though we had to set off. The whippersnappers who were doing the ‘double’ (there and back again – What??!!) set off first, then it was several groups in reverse time-ability order. i.e. the tortoises got to set off first. Bringing up the rear, but beating most of us were the cyclists.

As you can see on the map, there are several sections where you come back on yourself. So the glorious downhills don’t actually feel so glorious when you know you’re going to have to haul your sorry arse back up the same way. However the first hill, for me, didn’t feel too bad. I was able to breathe steadily and my legs didn’t feel too sluggish. The middle of the second hill, on a road named ‘School Hill’ (a lot of roads around here have ‘hill’ in the names) was where I hit a mini wall. The gradient on that was incredibly steep and I was forced to walk (or more accurately stagger) up the second part of it.

There were a few more walky bits as the course went on but I eventually managed to get to the end in a few seconds over 1 hour 30. I wasn’t quite last but not far off. But I was relieved to see that finishing line.

And it all felt worth it when I got back to club headquarters and was given cake.

I also got to have a small chat with Roy to see how he was getting on. And although he would probably rattle if you shook him, with the amount of drugs he was on, he was an absolute inspiration. A lovely, genuine man, full of encouragement for us, even though he couldn’t do the runs anymore. It made me feel lucky to be doing the Challenge today. And it also reminded me that even nice people have a fiendish side!