As the Covid 19 pandemic rages on, some are trying desperately to hold on, waiting for the madness to end (healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, all hospital staff, etc.) For those of us not working, it feels more like waiting for life to begin again. I want to get back to the job I love, but as an agency worker, I’m left dangling, unsure even whether I’ll get furlough. Not that I want to be paid for doing nothing – I just want to be able to do my job. Lets out big “sigh”.
Then I’m also waiting to find out whether Newport Marathon will be postponed for the third time – making each long run a Big Decision. How far should I go? (As far as I want) Is it worth it? (Of course it is!)
And all the time social media, and google photos, keeps gleefully reminding me of how much more fun I was having this time last year/two years ago/ five years ago and so on.
This morning I was reminded that this time last year I was in London with my daughter for for the weekend. We had a fabulous time. The weather was fine, and we walked for miles, went to the theatre, and ate well. Sometimes I am irritated when these things pop up on my phone, annoyed that today doesn’t look as appealing as the past. I also tend to dwell on the fact that we didn’t know what was coming. But today I appreciated being reminded that I had a wonderful time, and realising that there will be more good times to come.
We just need to be patient, stay safe and healthy.
I’ve started marathon training again, with the somewhat optimistic hope that my twice-cancelled marathon will go ahead in April.
Today I needed to do a fifteen mile long run. I was very reluctant – the weather was not inviting. Just before I set out, there was a very heavy hailstorm, along with strong, icy wind.
But I pulled myself together and got out there.
I prefer to go to a nearby wetland, Steart Marshes, for long runs because it is beautifully flat. But it’s also rather exposed. So I decided to run closer to home, and put up with the pesky hills for the sake of shelter from the elements offered by hedgerows and trees.
During my 15 mile run I encountered hail, rain, sleet, snow, icy wind, sunshine and rainbows. And I also had to wade through some flooded roads. All types of weather in the space of three hours; four seasons in one. But I felt better for it and was glad I’d made the effort.
Isolation is a common problem at the moment. The UK news headlines right now are all about isolation – borders closed, no deal Brexit, Covid tier restrictions – I dont need (or want) to go on! Our movements and contacts are stripped back to the bare essentials for the sake of public (and our own) safety. And I think I’ve become so used to this way of living that I’ve almost forgotten about what I’ve lost along the way.
My blog has also been quiet of late, I think, because my world has become very small.
Then, a few days ago this was hand delivered to my door:
A reminder of happier, more hopeful times.
The medal is for Waves on the Prom, a series of 5K night races that began last winter in Minehead. They were great races, friendly, with a fabulous sense of community. I was particularly impressed by the children’s race, which was a wonderful, fun event and an excellent way to encourage children and young people to enjoy being active.
Sadly, the series was cancelled as Covid 19 arrived and changed our lives.
So when a kind woman hand delivered the medal to my home (I live a fair distance from Minehead and her effort is much appreciated) it meant more than just a medal for running a distance. This medal symbolises a community, friendships, and many happy times. It reminds me of much-missed parkrun, trotting along Minehead seafront in the wind.
Suddenly, I feel more connected, and grounded. I look forward to a time when we can see those we have missed again, and do the things we used to take for granted.
And meanwhile, I’ll keep alive the memories, and hope, and stay connected.
Last weekend (17th October 2020) I took part in the Exmoor Trail Running Challenge organised by by Trail Events Co. This is a small event, with a maximum of 500 competitors, offering four distances from 10k to Ultra, and all set in the breath-taking Exmoor National Park.
I signed up for the shortest distance – which was originally advertised as 12K, and then altered to 10K. I don’t know what the rationale for the route change was (probably Covid-19 related), but I was happy enough with the 10K. My reason for choosing the shortest distance is that trail running is much harder (if prettier) than road running – and I haven’t trained enough on trails to tackle the longer distances on the type of terrain I would be covering (or the promised 591 Meters of elevation). So, in short, 10K was quite enough, thank you.
The event was well organised in terms of Covid security. Everyone’s temperature was taken as they arrived at the site. Marshals all wore face coverings and gloves. There would be no mass start. Each distance had an allocated one hour start window – so for the 10K you could start any time between 9:30am and 10:30am. If you already had your race bib, you could just park, pin on your bib and go. Late entrants would register and pick up their number at the race. Face coverings were to be worn whenever queuing. Runners were told to carry hand sanitiser to use before and after touching gates etc, and to observe social distancing on the course. And there would be no aid stations available for the 10K and half marathon, only for the marathon and ultra – so runners on the shorter distances need to be self sufficient.
The race was about an hour from my home, and I aimed to arrive at about 9:30am. The drive was indescribably scenic. At one point it opened up into stunning views of moorland and coast and I felt like I was in a car advert – even more so when I slammed on my brakes as a sheep leaped down from a wall in front of me. Just was well I was doing a good job of forcing my eyes onto to the road and away from the mesmerising views (no easy task).
I arrived at the race location – the picturesquely named Cloud Farm – just after 9:30 to find that the car park was full. I was directed to the Lorna Doone (I do love Exmoor) car park down the road. Parking here actually gave me the opportunity for a nice one mile warm up walk. I pinned on my bib, made sure I had everything with me that I would need, and set off.
I was fortunate with the weather. It was chilly, with temperatures in single figures for once (9 degrees Celsius, feels like 7 was the forecast), and it was grey. But it was dry.
When I arrived at the race headquarters it was a little surreal. There were very few people around. The fact that people were just coming and setting off meant that there weren’t queues for toilets or registration, so it actually felt pretty safe. I walked down to the start line, and waited at a suitable distance from a man who was waiting to run with his dog (I forgot to mention – races were also Canicross friendly). He told me he was watching the bridge to make sure the person before him had crossed – and then he went off. So I did the same – waited for the bridge to be clear – and set off. It was a little strange to not have the big start line atmosphere – but that’s a small price to pay to be running races again. And there was also something nice and relaxed about setting off this way.
I had checked the map and knew that there would be a bit of undulation, two cracking great big hills, and a smaller hill. I had already made a deal with myself that I should start off at a nice steady pace, but walk as much of the hills as I needed to. I really enjoyed the first part of the course. To be fair, I enjoyed all of the course – but enjoyed actually running the first part, as this was the easiest bit. As I ran alongside the banks of a stream, with the sound of water bubbling over rocks and stones, and autumn leaves swirling down, it felt magical. Admittedly, there was quite a bit of mud and water, and my feet were already wet. But magically so. This went on for, I think, about 1.6 miles. Then began the climb.
The first hill began in woods, leading away from the stream. I continued to run, steadily. A faster runner came past me just as I decided to walk, and then he began to walk also as the climb became steeper. The hill was indeed steep and I was glad that it wasn’t muddier (or more slippery). Then, the trees disappeared, the path turned, and the views opened up.
Yes, the views were stunning. But there was a problem with the stunning open views. I have a very big issue with heights. My issue with heights has held me back all my life, and prevented me for signing up for events like this until now. What if, I would ask myself, what if, there was a big scary height thing that I wouldn’t be able to deal with? What would I do?
As I went on, the path became very narrow. At one point, it sloped down sideways, so my feet would have to be on an angle, and I actually froze, feeling that I couldn’t possibly move my foot forwards. Luckily at this point there wasn’t anyone right behind me. I thought, just for a moment, about turning back. I told myself that I didn’t want to have to go back down past the trees, as that might be scary too. Better to push on. But what if, said that inner voice, things get even scarier? What will I do then?
Now anyone reading this who was there might wonder what on earth I’m talking about – and that there was nothing scary there at all. That’s the thing with fear, it’s personal, and it’s inside us. I made myself go on, one step at a time. They say don’t look down, but as I moved forwards, I had to keep my eyes on the path so I didn’t trip. To my left was the grass of the hill sloping upwards. To my right, the drop, the view of the hills moving in my peripheral vision as I moved forwards. It was dizzying. And then it was over, and I was approaching a car park. I was strangely gratified to hear frightened squeals behind me as someone else was tackling my nemesis of a path. So maybe it wasn’t all entirely in my head after all.
For me that was the hardest part of the run, mentally at least. The next part of the course was downhill, which was still quite slow going, as it was rough, and slippery with loose material, rocks and stones. At one point I tripped, but managed to regain my footing and get my legs back under me. I then took it steady and walked. The path led down amongst trees, and past a little waterfall before beginning to climb again.
This was the biggest hill on the course. Here, I felt at less of a disadvantage when I walked as everyone was walking, or plodding, up the hill. The sun was trying to break through, brightening all the autumn golds. I stopped to take many photos. At a gate, I met two women who were having a rest, one of them eating a pork pie. She’d ran the virtual London Marathon two weeks before and injured her hamstring, and so was taking her time, “Getting more value for money” from the run. I had to agree that more time on the course to enjoy the scenery was a bonus. Even so, the hill was a challenge to walk, let alone run. I wondered if I’d have any energy left at all by the time I got to the top.
At the top of the hill, we approached the car park again, but took a new path (I was very relieved to not be revisiting my nemesis), and headed downhill. I found to my surprise that not only could I run, but that I actually wanted to run. I enjoyed picking up the pace a little as I ran down towards grassy fields. And then I got lost. Another runner also got lost and decided to climb over a barbed wire fence. I’m not quite as agile – and had already pushed my comfort zone out of shape enough for one day – so I backtracked, and met the two women I’d been talking to on the hill. One of them had the GPS file on her phone, and we found the right path (which was not – to be honest – all that well marked). I made a note to myself to download the GPS file next time.
From here it was about a mile and a half back to the finish line. I got going again, nearly got lost again, and started to feel vey fatigued and hungry. I remembered that I had an emergency Tribe energy bar with me. I wouldn’t usually bother with fuel for a 10K run – but this was taking a lot longer than usual, and it was getting close to lunchtime. I had a couple of bites of the bar, started to feel a bit better, and enjoyed the last bit of the run. As I approached the finish line I was surprised that there were quite a few people around cheering runners on, which felt fabulous. Then over the finish line, to stop my watch at 1 hour 55 minutes. A very slow 10K indeed. But I was very proud to have completed it, just the same.
I put on my face covering and picked up my medal and running buff from the medal table. There was also fruit, Jaffa cakes and water available. I requested a piece of banana – which was handed to me by tongues. Then, I treated myself to a jacket potato, cheese and beans, which I ate sitting on the grass. That hit the spot nicely.
All in all – the race was well organised. In terms of Covid, I felt it was considerably less risky than going to the supermarket. The runners were all friendly and supportive. A couple of times when I stopped to admire the view, other runners checked with me that I was okay. The views were just stunning. The terrain was challenging – but that’s what trail running is for. I was worried about going out of my comfort zone, but I did it – and will do it again.
The Coast to Coast Half Marathon, which takes place in Cornwall between Devoran on the south coast and Portreath on the north coast, should have happened in June. It was postponed until this weekend (3rd October 2020), but was then postponed again until next June. We had already booked and paid for accommodation, and I was already committed to running to raise money for a local charity – so we decided to come to Cornwall anyway (such a hardship) and run a DIY half marathon.
The race would have taken place on Saturday morning, but we decided to drive down on Saturday (avoiding stormy weather on Friday) and run on Sunday. This was fortuitous as it meant we got to run alongside many virtual London Marathon runners.
On Saturday, we got to know the animal neighbours at the holiday cottage, and enjoyed a sunny, windy walk on Portreath Beach.
Visiting Portreath on Saturday also meant that I was able to locate the start of the mineral tramway, where I’d be running with my daughter. Although the half marathon race follows the full course of the tramway from Devoran, practicalities (ie: lack of shuttle buses) meant we needed to run half the distance and then turn back.
As we arrived at Portreath on Sunday morning, it was super windy and threatening rain. We saw lots of other runners arriving and preparing to set off, many of them wearing London Marathon race bibs or charity t shirts. We felt we were in good company.
We set off towards the start of the mineral tramway behind a group of other runners. This pretty much set the tone for the day. It was the closest I can imagine getting to a race day atmosphere, without actually being in an organised race. Everywhere people were friendly, encouraging and supportive.
The tramway route was extremely enjoyable to run. It was mixed terrain, undulating (but flat for Cornwall) and took us through varied landscape. Much of it was also surprisingly sheltered, helping us to avoid the worst of the blustery wind that was blowing everywhere else. I enjoyed spotting reminders of the route’s industrial heritage – the granite stones that rails used to be fastened to, an old tram wheel, engine houses.
We weren’t very quick, and we did need to stop from time to time to make sure we were going the right way. My daughter (who is faster than me) held back and ran with me to our half way point at Poldice.
After Poldice, just as we turned back, the rain started to lash down. I told my daughter to run on ahead, while I plodded along. It was hard going running against the torrential rain and fierce wind.
The second half of the run was hard. I’m fighting off a cold, and also started to have some stomach discomfort – cramps, reflux etc. All my own fault for eating the wrong things the day before (when in Cornwall, pasties and chips are actually compulsory).
I plodded back, and settled into a routine of jeffing, which helped. I was frequently congratulated and encouraged by people who undoubtedly must have thought I was running a full marathon. I felt a bit of a fraud, although I appreciated the encouragement (especially as my phone died and I had no music to help me on my way).
Then, minutes from the end, my daughter had come back to meet me and cheer me on – which helped greatly.
I loved the route, and the atmosphere of running during the big virtual event. I had been a bit cynical about the virtual London Marathon. But today we saw so many people out running, and walking, their own marathons. We saw people helping each other and handing out water, and everyone was so positive and cheery. Virtual races are usually lonely events. Perhaps today has shown a new way of doing things, a way that has its own strengths and it’s own value.
I had no idea, when I laced up my trainers for a trail run yesterday (19th September 2020), that it was Global Trail Running Day.
I’ve got a trail race coming up in four weeks, which I’m a little nervous about. So I need to increase my off-road running. I planned an eleven mile route which would take me along the coast path. For basic safety, I had plenty of water (it’s ridiculously hot weather for September) and made sure someone knew where I was going.
I find trail running much more tiring than road running. Not only do my legs have to work harder over grass, rock, dirt paths and mud, I also need to concentrate a lot more on what I’m doing.
Even so, there’s nothing quite like running on trails for getting that runner’s high. Just imagine, running downhill towards the beach, the salty sea breeze at your back, open rolling countryside to your left, gulls swooping over the sea to your right; a euphoric sense of total freedom. Admittedly, it was less fun running back up the hill, but then all good things involve challenges.
My last race (and only race this year until now) was the Two Tunnels 10K in Bath, back at the beginning of March. I had a busy year of running planned with my daughter and we were, we thought, just weeks away from running our first marathon. However, within days, the world had changed.
I am grateful that I am healthy and well, and absolutely respect the adjustments to life that are necessary to ensure that people are protected from illness. Even so, the prospect of being able to run in an actual real organised race again was pretty exciting.
Having a Mare is not perhaps the sort of race I would usually have gone for. Firstly, the 10K was a two lap event. I hate doing laps – they are so demoralising. Then, the laps are of a racecourse (Bath Racecourse). I like a bit of novelty or scenery to keep me distracted when running (and running in my local area, I’m pretty spoilt for scenery). Just how interesting can running around what is basically a big field be? I like trail running – but wasn’t sure what it would be like running on racecourse grass (thick, longish with potential for divots). Even so, despite my reservations, I signed up – along with my daughter. The main reason being that I trusted in the race organisers – Relish Running Races – to do a good job.
Relish are the people behind the Two Tunnels races. They’d already staged a Two Tunnels event in August – and their planning seemed pretty good. Feedback from that event was also very positive.
The race was organised so that a limited number of runners arrive throughout the day, no one hangs around for long, and runners set off one at a time.
On the way, we’d driven through some rain, but when we arrived it was dry, sunny and breezy. It promised to be good running weather.
Instructions were to arrive 30 minutes before our start time. When booking, people select a wave to run in – and are then issued an individual start time based on their expected finishing time. The racecourse was easy enough to find. Parking was super easy as there was lots of space and everyone was arriving at different times. We left our bags in the car. There was a bag drop – self service but supervised – for people cycling/arriving on foot.
There was hand sanitiser dotted around outside any buildings/ tents/ marquees – basically any points where people might touch a surface. Toilets were the racecourse toilets, not portaloos. Again, as people were filtering into the racecourse gradually, there were enough toilets (even with cubicles/sinks taped off for social distancing) to avoid queuing.
While my daughter waited for me to come out of the toilets – she heard two people who’d done the 5K canicross race earlier discussing how hard the race had been – “I didn’t expect 5K to be that hard” was the quote that would stay with us throughout the morning.
Collecting race numbers was easy – self service with names written on numbers – you couldn’t go wrong. Numbers of people collecting at any one time was limited – but again this was fine due to the trickle of people.
With numbers pinned on, we went to wait for our turn to enter the “holding area”. We went to have a look at the race. The racecourse is flat, but when you’re level with it, it’s not easy to see what’s going on. We could see people spread out on the course, running in what appeared to be different directions. We were a little concerned that the course looked confusing – but hoped that all would be marked out. We moved up to the finish line, and then towards the spilt where runners either run towards the finish, or go for another lap. We cheered a few finishers on, and felt for the 10K runners continuing onto their second lap. It looked like hard work.
The lack of spectators or the big event atmosphere of the starting line seemed a little odd. Even so, we agreed that it looked like a nice, chilled way to run, and liked the idea of everyone being spaced out.
After a short while, it was our turn to enter the holding area. The holding area was set out with a grid of cones placed five metres away from each other. Runners stand next to a cone and wait to be called forward by name. There is no race briefing because it would not be logistically possible – all information is provided in a pack on the website. When called forward, runners wait in a line of five – again spaced by cones – at two metre intervals. When it’s your turn and time to run, you move forwards and wait to be counted down, like a rocket ship about to launch. Before we knew it, it was our turn – me first, then my daughter. We had toyed with the idea of running together. Two runners from the same household bubble were allowed to run together, single file, but had to stay together for the whole race. This was not likely to happen in our case, so we went off individually.
So we were off. Immediately, I didn’t much like the grass – even though I had my good trail shoes on. It didn’t take long for my daughter to catch up and overtake me. There was lots of space for overtaking – and many others after my daughter also overtook me. I wasn’t concerned though, as I was not expecting to go particularly fast on grass, and was just hoping to enjoy the experience.
Our concerns about getting lost on the course proved to be unnecessary, as the course was well marked. Even so, looking back, it’s hard to visualise where we went. There was just a lot of following the person in front and going up and down and around on grass. The photographer seemed to be lying on the grass everywhere I went. There was a stretch that went onto a dirt footpath with some interesting tree roots and rocks to avoid. At one point I saw a woman limping back towards marshals – and my heart went out to her.
Although the course was described as flat, there was an upwards or downwards tilt in places. This was most noticeable on the final half mile or so to the split/5K finish point. This was the hardest part of the course – the ground was gradually climbing, the grass was thicker, longer and more annoying than ever, and we were running into the wind. Having ran less than 5K, I found myself walking. I knew that this would be even worse next time round, on my second lap. As I passed the 5K finish I wished I’d signed up for the shorter distance instead. I’m raising money for a local charity through my running at the moment, and quitting would not have been an option at all, but I really would have liked to stop.
Then, running past the holding area, I heard lots of cheers and clapping. In a race without spectators, the support of fellow participants is very much appreciated. Similarly, the marshals were super friendly and encouraging all the way round – for which I am very grateful .
Once I got into the second lap, I felt a bit better. I passed a 2K marker, meaning that I’d now done 7K. I realised that this 2K was easier than the 2k that went before it. Another kilometre went by and I still felt okay. And then my energy just disappeared. For the final two kilometres I walked and ran in ever decreasing ratios of running to walking.
I was actually in sight of the finish line and couldn’t be bothered to run. A 5K runner from a later wave caught me up and said “You must be stupid doing this twice!” We both continued to walk a bit, run a bit right up to the end. I made sure I was running through the finish funnel, but I was very glad to reach the end of the race. My time was not great, but it also wasn’t my worst 10K time (that was Severn Bridge 10K last year).
After the race, medal collection was self service. There were also a good range of sweet snacks – chocolate, protein or energy bars etc. Bottled water, and water refills were available (no water stations on the course).
I was amused to see that the medal had a picture of a dead horse on it – which pretty much summed up how I felt at the end of the race.
However, even though the race was hard, I was glad I went, and glad I finished it. The positives were – it was incredibly well organised and I felt safe. At no point did I feel people were too close – I feel more at risk when I go to the supermarket. The marshals and other runners were all friendly and encouraging – I suppose we were all just so happy to be there! There were dogs – due to the earlier canicross. Dogs always make things better. Negatives? The course was hard work. Although the location was pleasant, there wasn’t much to look at other than the racecourse itself, which is a bit samey. This isn’t a problem as such – just not to my taste.
The biggest positive is that I got to run a race again – and I’d have the confidence to do it again.
One of the better aspects of the long and strange summer of 2020 has been rediscovering cycling.
We haven’t been away on holiday at all this year. We’ve had days out, been for lots of walks, done some decorating, DIY and gardening (a “staycation” in the true meaning of the word – but I’m not going to get into that debate!) One of the days out was a trip to Barnstaple with my son and daughter, to explore the Tarka Trail, a cycle path that runs along the route of the disused Barstaple to Bideford railway line.
The Tarka Trail is great for cycling, being flat and surrounded by gorgeous Devon countryside. There are also traces of the route’s railway heritage to be spotted. It helped that we picked a calm and sunny day – but I’m certain it would be stunning in any weather.
We hired ebikes from Tarka Bikes, who were extremely helpful, and conveniently located at Barnstaple Railway Station (handy for parking). We thought ebikes would be fun – and easier as we were all a bit out of practice. I was, in truth, a lot out of practice. I hadn’t been on a bike for at least 35 years.
They say you never forget how to ride a bike. Well, maybe you don’t forget, but I was very, very wobbly. I had to take the bike back to get the saddle lowered as I felt very insecure and just couldn’t get going. Once I was closer to the ground, I was able to start – and it was fun.
We had a glorious day riding alongside the Rivers Taw and Torridge. We cycled 9 miles to Bideford, and on the way back we stopped at Instow for our packed lunch, and at Fremington for an ice cream.
As far as the ebike was concerned – I found it heavy, and didn’t really use the power enough to get the best out of it. Eighteen miles was very ambitious for a first ride in three and a half decades – my sit bones were very sore for days afterwards. But – the cycling had captured me. So – there was only one thing for it – I had to get a bike.
I didn’t get a bike straight away because, hum, well, lots of people have been buying bicycles this summer. But eventually I got the bike I had my eye on – a very pretty sit-up-and-beg Pendleton bike in mint green. It’s not sporty, because I don’t intend to go fast. If I am a snail when running, I am a tortoise when cycling. Yes, visualise a tortoise trying to balance on a bicycle and that’s pretty much me.
I’ve been out a few times now, gradually building up my confidence, exploring more of my local area. It’s good to have a different activity to do on non-running days – and it’s good to have a different perspective. And, whereas running was a new thing for me, cycling is familiar and reconnects me with my past self. I left cycling behind some time around 1985. I’m enjoying becoming reacquainted.
A year ago I ran my first half marathon – Bridgwater Half Marathon. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this lately because, over the summer, running hasn’t been going so well for me.
I’ve only been running for just under two years and, for the first eighteen months or so, it was progress all the way. Every time I compared runs on the same routes on Strava I’d be seeing improvement over time. My PBs were gradually, steadily getting better. I’m a slow runner anyway and so there is a lot of room for improvement. I expected the improvement to continue and, for a while, it did.
Then I started to have a few health problems. Nothing major. Niggles. I kept running. I kept my mileage up. Although all my races for the year had been cancelled or postponed, I continued to clock up the same miles I had while marathon training – albeit over shorter but more frequent runs. Of course, with hindsight, I can see that this possibly contributed to my problems. I expected to maintain fitness but gradually, bit by bit, it just melted away. Running the same distance became harder and harder. My runs became shorter and slower. Running shorter distance became harder and harder. I had no energy.
Now, when comparing runs with previous efforts, I would either panic or become despondent. Suddenly I was relieved that the marathon that had been postponed until October, was postponed again until next April.
I had an endoscopy a couple of months ago, which reassured that, although there was a cause for my issues (always nice to know it’s not just in my head!) it’s nothing serious. I think the endoscopy also set me back physically much more than I’d expected. It was not very nice.
But finally, over the past week or two, I’m beginning to see improvement. I’m increasing my miles again. Although my times are slower now than twelve months ago, and considerably slower than they were when I was marathon training – I am getting out there and running. I’m still doing better than I was before I began this journey.
I think what I have learned is that I am who I am today. I can do what I can do today. Comparing what I can do today with what I could do in the past is only useful where it can serve to motivate. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of energy.
Running still brings me joy, and that is why I got into it in the first place.