Not quite a marathon…

I started this post a week ago. It says a lot about the multi-deadline, post vicar weekend nature of today, that I’m only just finding the time to finish it… 

Last weekend [as in the weekend of April 20-21] was almost epic in its loveliness. Not only were there geeky trains and buses in the company of an old school chum, prior to an afternoon in a park with my favourite 18 month old, there was also an international athletics event to attend in the company of fabulous people.

April 21st had been marked in my diary for quite some time – a friend had scored an elite [i.e. not a ballot place] spot in the marathon (he runs a lot of them, in fact his PB is faster than some of the women who competed in last year’s Olympic marathon) and I wanted to see him taking part. Fortunately I was duty-free at church, so was able to have the morning off. It was going to be an opportunity to relive some of the Olympic excitement of last year and a rare chance to hang out with some of the best people I know. On Monday evening preceding the marathon, I was chatting with my sister about it and her jealousy that she couldn’t be there too. Little did we know that as our conversation was taking place, bombs were going off at the finish line of Boston’s marathon. That evening I pondered whether events in Boston would stop me going to the marathon – but if anything, it made me even more determined to be there. I think a lot of runners and spectators felt the same. There is never a place for such violence – but especially not in sport.

Robin races along The HighwayRobin races along The Highway. (Credit.)

So, on Sunday morning I was in Shadwell bright and early – just missing the leaders of the wheelchair race, but in time for the women’s elite. I passed a happy few hours watching the race, bumping into several people I know (so many people in fact, that my friend’s boyfriend – who I’d just met – asked if I knew everyone in London) and intermittently pondering whether I could ever run a marathon.

We were tracking our runners using the marathon website, meaning that we could see their times at each 5km point along the course. (This is a genius development in marathon watching, although 3G does tend to get a little slow with so many people around.) This struck a chord with me, as the previous morning I had only been 200m short of 5km on my very first 25min run on the 0-5k app. Since last Saturday, I’ve done three further 25min runs, meaning that I’ve run just over 11 miles in the last week. If you told me I’d manage that when I wrote this post about starting the app, I wouldn’t have believed you.

At the moment, I’m not in a state to do much more than 5km in one go. In fact, I’m moderately concerned about the increase to 30min runs in just over a week’s time (this week it’s 28, hopefully that will help). With the aid of the RunKeeper app, I now have an idea of how far I’m running during 25mins – it fluctuates. Yesterday I managed a paltry 2.2 miles thanks to the hilly nature of the countryside where vicar weekends take place. Last Thursday, I managed a new PB of 3.2 miles around the streets of the west end. I wouldn’t say I’m enjoying it, but I am motivated to get out of bed of a morning and get going – even on the Sunday morning of a vicar weekend. In fact, I’m particularly motivated on a Saturday morning when the streets of London are deserted and I can do fun things like run to Trafalgar Square and back.

Post-app, I have a plan. For a start, the RunKeeper app will allow me to carry on with regular runs of specific times and/or distances. Plus, my friend Abi and I are going to do a Parkrun together. I believe once I’ve done that I’ll be permitted to call myself a ‘runner’. Oh, and I need to buy new trainers and a new sports bra…

It’s got to be said, aside from my own iron determination (which kicks in every so often and regularly surprises me), what’s got me through the 0-5k programme has been the following:

  • Myriad apps. Obviously, the GetRunning 0-5k app was crucial, but so too is RunKeeper for distance tracking. Basically, I like to have enthusiastic female voices cheering me on along the way. 
  • Good music. In addition to the running apps, I also have Spotify on in the background, with my ever-evolving Mixing for Gymming playlist keeping up my enthusiasm. I will never cease to be amazed by the positive impact a good piece of cheesy music will have on my physical performance…
  • Twitter. I made a pledge at the start that I’d keep myself accountable to Twitter and I generally have done. As a rule, I’ll tweet about a run when I’ve done it – not in a sanctimonious ‘I’ve just done some exercise, yay me!’, but to prove to those following my progress that I’ve done it. Twitter also cheers me along and it told me not to go for a run the morning it was snowing and my boiler was broken. [I have done 3 snow runs, it’s just that with no hot shower afterwards, they’re grim!]
  • The beauty of London. Running in the city can be a pain – yes there are squares and parks – but there are also a heck of a lot of pedestrians and pedestrian crossings, which slow you down. However, deserted London weekend runs make it all worth it.

Who knows, maybe in the next decade I’ll be cheered on my way by a team of friends on marathon Sunday…

Keep on running

Or, in fact, get running in the first place.

This April will mark a decade since I took up running. I had decided to get fit and my next door neighbour decided we would sign up for a Race for Life 5k and she’d train us (i.e. me and my sister – I had significantly more training to do than she did). I had long believed that Clutterbucks did not run, but over the year and a bit that followed, I discovered this wasn’t true. In fact, learning to run became an instrumental factor in my subsequent loss of 5 stone (there’s a story there, but for another time). We began alternating running and walking between the lampposts of Gloucester park, adding in longer runs as the weeks went on. When the 5k came round that July, I ran/walked it. A year later, I ran the whole thing in around 25 minutes. Two months later, I developed severe tendonitis in my ankles and running was a no-go.

Yesterday, I went for my first outdoor run in over two years. (I vividly remember the last one as there was an unfortunate underwear related tweeting incident as a result…) Over time, I’ve discovered that I’m someone who needs to exercise very regularly in order to stay in some kind of shape and to keep myself generally cheerful. When I had a decently paid job, I had an indecently priced gym membership and went regularly. I became a pilates devotee. I swam. I cross-trained. Since starting vicar school, that’s had to stop. Instead I’ve walked insane distances across London (Monday afternoon’s post college stroll from Gloucester Road to Bloomsbury is a favourite), but it’s not enough.

So, I did what any logical 21st Century person would do – I bought an iPhone app. There are myriad options, but I went for the Get Running couch to 5k one (it had the best reviews). It works on the lamppost principle of old – mixing walking with running and gradually increasing the latter while reducing the former. You can play your own music and your instructions simply fade in and out, which is an awful lot easier than having to keep checking your phone (or digital watch, as was the case back in the day).

However, it took another two days and some motivation from Twitter for me to actually get my trainers on. Twitter really is wonderful in such situations. Yes, I’d already had my friends Shannon and Abi urging me to get going, but Twitter pushed me into it on Wednesday afternoon and subsequently cheered me on from the sidelines:

Twitter Cheering

It was fine. There was a rough patch in the middle, but ultimately it was ok. I didn’t bump into anyone I know (flipping miracle these days), although I did nearly get locked in the square – how was I supposed to know that the ringing of a bell in full daylight (at 5pm – hoorah!) meant the gates were being locked?

I’m going to have to hold myself accountable to Twitter. Tomorrow morning should see run 2 of week 1 – I’ll then obviously have to have a bit of a break while in Uganda, as there’s no way I’m going running in 30+C heat. If you don’t hear me mention my running exploits again, feel free to take me to task. I’ll appreciate it. Honest.

One day, I will run the marathon…

…possibly.

I wonder how many people bought new trainers and headed out for a jog this morning having been inspired by the antics of several thousand people pounding London’s streets for 26 miles yesterday? Can’t say that I have, but during the course of the four hours I spent watching runners yesterday I did have the odd moment of thinking “wow, it would be really amazing to do this one day”. It’s unlikely to happen, but I did once read a book about how to run a marathon – so if I do decide to do it, I know what strategy to use.

Yesterday marked another 2011 First – I watched the marathon, live, in the flesh, literally within spitting distance of the runners. This, however, is something of a shocking first given as this is the 5th marathon running that I’ve lived literally 5 minutes from the route. In the past, I’ve usually gone with time-honoured ‘watching people be really active while I’m being really lazy’ method of marathon watching – staying in bed, eating breakfast and listening to the helicopters whirr overhead. Of course I didn’t actually watch it in my neighbourhood – no, that would be far too sensible – in fact, I watched it in Mudchute (in the heart of the Docklands), passing the marathon four times on my way there.

The marathon, for all it’s wonderfulness, can be a bit of a pain when it takes place on your doorstep. Roads are closed, buses diverted and hoards of strangers turn up in a neighbourhood unused to visitors. The sight of the middle-classes trekking across Surrey Quays’ Tesco car park was impressive – they came prepared with maps, picnic hampers and foldable chairs. As I passed them, I overheard much that made me chuckle…
“You know, I think there’s an actual Surrey Quays station too!” [Yes there is, an actual, real-life station.]
“George look! There’s a cinema on this map!” [Yes, we in South-East London even have cinemas.]
Maybe this isn’t so funny in the re-telling, but honestly, people don’t visit my part of London. As is frequently pointed out to me, I live in the middle of nowhere. (I insist that anywhere half an hour’s walk from Tower Bridge can’t be the middle of nowhere, but apparently it is.)

Anyway, turns out that watching it live is a lot of fun indeed. It helps when you have excellent company (and an exceedingly cute 18 month old to play with) and when you have a good spot. At Mudchute we were excellently placed between a water station and a youth choir/dance group. (The latter provided music that seemed to be tenuously running themed, or simply had a good rhythm – I was particularly impressed with their inclusion of DC Talk’s What if I Stumble, which also revealed that they were probably Christian in origin.)

See, very cute 18 month old. (Added bonus that his Dad ran the marathon last year, so we felt we could cheer with proof that finishing was possible.) 

It can also be exceedingly therapeutic – have a lot of anger you want to release? Spend four hours shouting encouragement at total strangers. Honestly, once I’d got over my initial embarrassment at shouting people’s names at them (though surely they must want this if they’ve put their name on the front of their shirt) it was a lot of fun. (Someone near us initially thought we knew an awful lot of runners!)

So, highlights of the experience:

  • The ridiculous extremes some marathon runners go to. Jo and I were looking out for a former colleague running dressed as a Roman Centurion. Given as yesterday proved to be rather toasty, we did not envy him. Props to those dressed as superheros, a London bus, Rhinos and the guy who ran with a washing machine on his back, but not to the two men spotted in mankinis. (Why is that the men who go to that extreme are rarely the super-fit marathon runners who wouldn’t be so traumatising to observe in such an outfit?) 
  • Cheering on those really struggling at the 17 mile mark. The best bit about yelling names out is when someone hears you, looks up and smiles/waves – or when a walker suddenly starts running again. You feel like you’re doing your bit, albeit while standing still and eating a cheese sandwich. 
  • Watching people mentally struggle with the concept of throwing their empty water bottles to the floor as they approached the water station. Clearly ‘bin it, don’t drop it’ has become emblazoned upon the minds of middle-England. [All water bottles were recycled at the end of the race.] 
  • Spotting my colleague Jane, cheering her enthusiastically and her realising it was someone she knew and smiling. I’m super impressed with her performance in her first ever marathon. 
The hula-hoopers hadn’t quite given up by mile 17 – and as for the bus, well, sheer madness.

There was one disappointment though – I spotted no celebrities (apart from elite runners) and discovered to my bitter, bitter disappointment this morning that Will Young was running. How did I manage to miss a hot and sweaty Will Young run past me? Darn that exceptionally cute 18 month old who wanted to play football… 

When the going gets tough…

I’m angry. Almost (but not quite) hurling things around the room angry. But I’m not going to write about it (I’ll internalise it as usual and gradually turn more and more bitter and twisted…) instead, I’ll write about what I do when I get angry – burn off energy.

I have a love/hate relationship with running. I know it’s very good for me and tones my body in a way that a lot of other exercise doesn’t, but I hate how much it hurts and how awful a bad run can be. A great run is fabulous; a bad run is utterly dispiriting.

Thanks to a running injury over 6 years ago (I love that I have an actual ‘running injury’! Sounds fancy, though it’s only a recurring incidence of ankle tendinitis.) I’d almost entirely abandoned outdoor running, favouring very occasional speedy moments on the treadmill. Since the end of the summer gym running has increased in an effort to tone up a bit more. However, the looming prospect of more impoverished times when extortionate gym membership might not be feasible have made me wonder if I should start taking outdoor runs again – after all, it’s completely free.

So on Saturday, discovering that I didn’t have enough time for the gym, I decided to brave it in the park. All was well and good – the weather was fine, I had the motivation (plus a phone call that made me angry on someone else’s behalf, so there was even more energy to burn) – my only qualm being that I wasn’t sure how to carry all my stuff…

Thing is, when you’re running au natural, there’s no handy little cubby hole in which to place your iPod and water bottle and no locker in which to leave the other essentials like phones and house keys. Back in the day when I ran round Gloucester Park it wasn’t so much of an issue – iPods were the domain of rich people and there was usually someone at home to let me back in. These days, an iPod is as essential to a decent run as a pair of trainers, and you can’t leave a front door unlocked in Bermondsey.

Thus, I did what any sensible social networker would do – I consulted Twitter. In return I got a couple of sensible responses and a hugely embarrassing moment. It went something like this:

Liz: Lack of time means outdoor run instead of gym – only question is, how do I carry my keys etc? Never before have I wished I had a bum-bag…
Kate: I always carry keys in my hand when I run. I do keep meaning to invest in jogging trousers with decent pockets. [Eminently sensible – just what I needed.]
Jon: I have the same dilemma.A bum bag or fanny pack as the Americans would say is simply not an option for a macho man like me. [This might be a good moment to mention that I don’t know this Jon person, but we communicate via Twitter – I find this slightly odd, but I believe it’s the whole point of the concept.]
Liz: Right. Following 2 distracting (but v important) phone calls, I’m off for a run, keys in hand and iPod in bra.
Jon: Nor is the bra option I might add.
Matt: Re-tweets the above bra-related tweet. Then writes: I’m afraid I really didn’t mean to RT that! Sorry! Meant to reply to say I momentarily misread iPod as iPad. V worrying. [Matt is a good – and married – friend, albeit with a slight warped sense of humour and fat fingers…]

Never again am I tweeting anything about my bra…
(Plus, I’m not entirely sure if a guy even momentarily thinking I might fit an iPad in my bra is a good thing?)

In actual fact, the keys ended up in my bra too (the bottle of water stayed in my right hand, sports bras really aren’t that capacious); it’s amazing sometimes how being a woman has its advantages! However, before any future outdoor runs are contemplated, I will be making a trip to the fabulous Decathlon to purchase joggers with zipped pockets and some kind of iPod carrying device (and probably a new sports bra while I’m at it).

And a note on running music. Good gym playlists are essential – mine is (of course) eclectic, consisting of music that I both like and has good rhythm, while possibly being more than a little cheesy (I confess that there is more than one S Club track in the mix). Last month a friend gave me an entirely unexpected gift (I can say with some confidence that he’d not bought me a present since 2005) of 101 Running Songs. It’s a genius collection of excellent gym accompaniment, including two classic Journey tracks, the Proclaimers, a little Britney, some Blondie, my all-time-favourite Wham tune as well as some of the more acceptable dance tracks. It’s done wonders for my running capabilities – practically every run in the last four weeks has been an excellent one.