Reasons To Run

Tonight’s run was a good one. I’ve been feeling anxious about running recently. Questioning why I’m too slow and feeling worried about running with others. But tonight was enjoyable and it made me think about the reasons why I run.

This year I’m on course to run more miles than ever before, as long as I don’t get injured, ill or let anything else get in the way of running. I feel like running is now part of my routine. A way of life. Before when it was something I had to force myself to do. I need to run.  All this running got me thinking about the reasons why I started, why I pushed on and why I now get very grumpy if I miss a week of running.

I first started running because I was fed up of being fat and unfit. I didn’t run far, fast, or often. I plodded on like this for a couple of years, fitting in maybe one or two runs a week in an effort to lose some weight. I remember living in London and going for lunchtime runs along the Southbank, thinking I’d done something massive. Looking back at my running logs I was only running 2-3 miles once a week. Forcing myself to get out there was a big deal as I didn’t love running.

I started running more seriously a few years ago as a way to cope with heartbreak. I was desperately sad and lonely, struggling to hold myself together everyday, and running became my therapy.  I ran further and harder as a way to deal with the pain. Literally running through endless tears until I stopped crying enough to get on with another day. Running for recovery. Running for head space. Running to prove something to myself. Since then running has been an important part of maintaining good levels of happy. This time in my life definitely set me on a path to see running as essential. It made me love running because running helped me like myself again.

I carried on running more seriously because I got addicted to the thrill of races. I signed up to my first half marathon in 2014. I didn’t believe I could do it but once I’d done one I was addicted. It gave me a reason to keep on running and something good to focus on. Medal collecting became my aim. Over the space of a couple of years my medal collection grew with many 10ks, 7 half marathons and a marathon between mid 2014 and the end of 2015.

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Proud to be a Marathon Runner

Last year I discovered running for friendship. Moving around is hard and I wish I had been brave enough to get involved with running clubs much sooner as it would have made a big difference to my sense of belonging. I used to get jealous of religious friends who could go somewhere new and instantly find their new community through church. Now I know that if I needed to move somewhere new I could find my place much more easily.  Running clubs have transformed my running experience and brought so many joyful times. When you are somewhere new and don’t know anyone then a running club makes you feel less alone. It might not bring instant close friendships but there is an opportunity for a greatly improved social life.

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Races are a good day out especially if there is beer or cake involved

The final reason that I run is for the sense of adventure. I’ve discovered the joy of always packing a pair of running shoes when travelling. There is no better way to see a new place than to run through it. I love running in the hills, up mountains and in the wild. There is something incredibly satisfying about surviving a fell race or going out on the moors alone and knowing you’ve got the survival skills to get back home. I love running in the snow, wind and rain, battling against the weather and feeling tough. I run because it makes me feel strong. I run to see the world.

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The summit of Whernside in the snow.

If I get a bad injury that stops me running then I’m going to need to find a good replacement for the head space, friendships and adventures that running gives me.

Goodbye 2017.

In some ways we are very much into the New Year now. Back to work and back to school for everyone, although I still feel in something of a period of transition. I’m still eating Christmas chocolate for starters.  But January is definitely here with the gym adverts, diet programmes and good intentions all round.   I’d say this means it is time to get back to the running but I did a lot of running over the Christmas holidays. 47 miles during my 10 days off work which for me is a lot of running. I’m feeling comparatively lazy now that the new year is here and life has returned to the normal routines.

Before I write about my plans, or should that be lack of plans for this year, I want to stop and reflect on 2017. For all of it’s faults and my problems, it was a good year for life and running.

I ran 732.5 miles in 2017 with 79,334 ft elevation gain. I’m very happy with that elevation gain. I didn’t realise until I checked the stats from last year but I did 100 more miles this year compared to 2016.  I’m never going to set myself a target number of miles for the year because injury and illness get in the way.  Considering I’ve had both injury and illness in 2017 those numbers make me very proud.

Here are some of my highlights:

  • Bought a house and moved to the most amazing part of Yorkshire which happens to be dream trail and fell running country.
  • Running my first Wainwright, Place Fell during a camping trip to Glenridding.
  • Finished the Snowdonia Marathon in just over 5 hours despite thinking I wouldn’t even make it to the start line.
  • Made new running friends and had some excellent adventures. 2017 was the year of post race pub shenanigans, good run chats and car shares to further away races.
  • Trip to Mull and actual views from the top of a Munro!
  • Survived my first multi-day event, completing all 4 Tour of Tameside events. I came 8th out of 23 finishers in my age category which isn’t that impressive but it means a lot to me as I gave those races every last bit of energy I had.

 

 

Running through the Snow

We didn’t get as much snow up North as the weather warnings initially suggested at the weekend. However living out on the northern edge of the Peak District we did get a light covering of snow which made for the perfect weekend for Christmas tree decorating and mine pie baking. It was also great for running.

I hate ice but snow is a completely different beast. As long as you have the correct footwear!  My shoe of choice this weekend was the Salomon Speedtrak (used to be called the Fellraiser). For me these are perfect snow running shoe.  Great in proper snow but also grippy on that rubbish light snow you get on pavements and also horrible slushy ice.

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Speedtraks enjoying the snow

Friday was cold and icy. Saturday brought light snow during the day, with a lovely dusting on the pavements with the snow showers easing off in the evening. We were all set for great snow disappointment however it snowed lightly all day Sunday as well.  Saturday I decided not to run as I wasn’t feeling 100% and was worried about falling on ice and doing myself an injury. But Sunday I couldn’t resist the temptation of the snow covered hills.

I did a solo run up Pule Hill in Marsden. You can read more about a walking route (or running route!) around Pule Hill on the National Trust website. This route doesn’t go up Pule Hill but I’d definitely recommend exploring some of the higher level paths on the hill too. I feel incredibly lucky to have all of this beautiful countryside only a mile from my front door.

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I’ve not enjoyed running much recently for various reasons so a little solo snow adventure was exactly what I needed to find some love for running again. Stunning views, apart from at the top of Pule Hill, which was shrouded in clouds.  The climb up was tough and I got a little lost in the old quarries but once up on the top I had lots of fun running along in the snow.

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Some people might have used the snow as an excuse to stay indoors at the weekend but for me it was the perfect opportunity to get back to enjoying running.

Running without a car

Sometimes I get a bit down about the fact I don’t have a car.

This is a topic I have been mulling over a lot recently. I know what you are thinking, of course you don’t need a car to go running. You just need to put on some running shoes and head out of your front door. Easy.  But what about all the times when a car is almost essential to being a runner.  In fact the only times I ever wish I could drive and had a car are usually running related.

This is a moaning post. In my head I’m stamping my feet and crying ‘it’s not fair’ because sometimes I feel a bit lonely and left out of being part of the running community where I live.

Not having a car is rubbish for running…

When you want to go to a running club.

When you want to go to parkrun which is miles away and public transport is at the wrong time.

When you want to go run a race that starts early on a Sunday morning.

When you want to go to a running club.

When your running club decides to go meet somewhere else for a change of scenery.

When your running friends start going to track nights but it is miles away with no public transport.

When you want to go do almost any race not in a city centre.

When you fancy being a parkrun tourist.

When you want to recce a race route.

When you feel really guilty about always being that person that needs a lift.

It is my own choice not to have a car or a driving licence (well the valid driving licence bit is partly down to being rubbish a driving lessons and running out of money). Most of the time it is fine. It doesn’t bother me. I just adapt. I never planned on moving out to a village where having a car is more limiting though. Always thought I would be a city dweller and never need a car for anything.

Not having a car means being more creative about how and when you run. It means being good at timing runs to far away places that fit with bus timetables. It means being good at carrying spare clothes and getting changed in pub toilets. It means running is less about club training, races, cross country season and track nights.

I still probably won’t ever learn to drive unless I really have to.

A Long Weekend in the Lake District

For my Dad’s 60th birthday at the end of September he decided he wanted a week away in the Lake District, and we were invited to join my parents for a long weekend in Windermere.

This trip is a great example of how accessible the Lake District is by public transport, especially if staying in Windermere itself. We set off from Huddersfield on the train at 4.30 in the afternoon and arrived in Windermere just before 7, changing trains twice along the way.  Advanced purchase tickets and a two together rail card made it cheap as well.

Old Man of Coniston

On the Saturday we decided on a family walk up the Old Man of Coniston. Well my Mum decided and I’m not sure everyone realised how big a walk it was going to be. As we were with the family we drove to Coniston for this walk. Whilst I love exploring the Lakes by public transport, and Coniston is completely accessible by bus, it was quite nice going in a car. It was little strange though, I’ve never been in a car in the Lakes before. It was certainly nice at the end of the day not to have to wait at a bus stop!

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The walk was wonderful and we were VERY lucky with the weather.  Steep in places and tough on the legs. Not much peril, with no exposed edges or scrambling but it wouldn’t be a mountain walk for me if there weren’t a couple of moments of mild panic and fear.  The views were stunning from the top.

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Walking up a mountain with the whole family was a very different experience for me. For starters there was a little picnic at the top. My Mum even made sandwiches! My brother brought a selfie stick so there was also a family portrait. Usually my mountain walks don’t include much time for hanging about at the top. As we were with my parents the pace was gentle and we took plenty of rest stops. I definitely want to do more family walks as it provided the perfect opportunity to spend time together away from the chaos and distractions of everyday life.

Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: Those hills hurt (part 2)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

Read part 1 of the Snowdonia Mararthon write up here

Miles 14-20

This is where it starts to get really really tough.  Looking back at Strava miles 14 and 15 were actually one big hill. I powered on up and resisted the nagging temptation to just walk. Along this section of the race I wanted to see a steam train. The Welsh Highland Railway passes alongside the road but being a train nerd I had checked the timetables in advance and knew there wasn’t one due. A steam train would have been a nice boost along this quiet section.  Mile 18 has always been a big milestone marker in my mind in  the build up to race, as reaching 18 miles within 4 hours was the official cut off for this race.  A month ago this seemed to be a worrying target but I made it with lots of time to spare.

Miles 21-26

Everything hurt now and it is time for the final hill and the toughest climb of the day. I started walking at 22 miles and I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t attempt any running for two miles. The hill was tough. Starting at about 415ft and reaching 1230ft over a couple of miles. The cloud was down. Everyone was walking. I took the opportunity (also actually had some 3G!) to check the race tracker and text people to let them know where I was up to.  I heard the steam train down the valley and got very excited resulting in telling fellow runners all about the steam trains. The sight of the feed station at Mile 24 was wonderful, with a Halloween theme fitting the atmospheric surroundings. Big thanks to all the feed stations but especially those brave souls in the middle of nowhere up there.

We reached the highest point of the race at mile 24.5, so not far to go however Llanberis is a long way down in the valley.  Descending nearly 900ft in less than 2 miles at the end of a marathon is actually just as tough as the hill climbs. Especially when it is off road and all the grass has been churned up by the thousand faster runners who have already finished. I normally enjoy a fast off road hill descent but not this one.

The Finish

The finish line for Snowdonia is amazing. The race ends on Llanberis High Street and the crowds were amazing. As a slow finisher, you expect a lot of people to have gone home or to the pub, but not here. It was amazing running down the finish with everyone shouting my name. Then I got a foil blanket which was exciting as I’ve always wanted to run a race where they give these out.

The Aftermath

Wandered round it a daze. Went to collect my bag and sat down in a corridor then couldn’t get up again. Warm clothes on and to the pub for a much-needed drink. Nothing tastes better than a post race ale and some salt and vinegar crisps. We went out to cheer on some more runners then on the bus back to Caernarfon for some food. We managed to find the last free table in Weatherspoons (the only reliable place in town for vegetarian pub grub), which was packed with a mix of runners and locals out for Saturday night partying.  We were at the Travelodge in bed by about 8.30 with tea,

biscuits and in need of lots of sleep.  I didn’t sleep too well as my legs were aching however I actually felt good the next day and managed a 4 mile walk along the coast.

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Snowdonia Marathon Eryri: It helps if you like hills (part 1)

Race: Snowdonia Marathon
Location: Llanberis, Snowdonia
Distance: The big 26.2 miles
Time: 05:04:07

At the end of August I had given up all hope of making it to the start line of this race, nevermind the finish. Here I am now, a Snowdonia Marathon finisher with a slate coaster to show for it.

Registration and Pre-Race Nerves

We arrived on the Friday to collect our race numbers in advance, after a train from Huddersfield to Manchester, then a train to Bangor, followed by a bus to Llanberis. We didn’t actually stay in Llanberis, opting for Caernarfon instead.  I had the foresight to make reservations for dinner Friday night, lucky because Caernarfon was busy. Once fuelled up on pizza, pasta and chips, it was off to the pub for a quick half before bed (I gave up on no alcohol before a run after getting my half marathon PB the morning after two glasses of prosecco!). I didn’t sleep much Friday night thanks to nerves…

Getting to the start line

After much fretting on my part about the bus not turning up or breaking down, we caught the 8.30am bus from Caernarfon to Llanberis. I was surprised that no other runners were getting the bus actually, but I guess most people do drive to this sort of race. Looking at the traffic queues for parking I think that is a good assumption. The bus is brilliant. It only takes 30mins and costs £2.50 return. Cue all the usual pre-race faffing about in a very chaotic race HQ. Took us at least half an hour to find the bag drop as you could barely move for people. Then it was time to walk up to the start line for a 10.30am start.

Miles 1-6

We are off and its all up hill from here for the next 4.5 miles to Pen-y-Pass with about 900ft of elevation gain. So it’s a tough climb to start a long race. So important it was important for me to remember to go easy on the first section.  In reality I went off a lot quicker than planned, but felt reasonably ok and just wanted to get up the hill.  As most of my running involves hills I didn’t find the climb up to Pen-y-Pass too horrible or tough. The scenery was fantastic and the atmosphere amongst runners was jovial.

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Miles 7-13

This section of the race started off fun with a wonderful downhill trail section. Unlike other runners around me who were complaining about the terrain I could have happily stayed on that for the rest of the race. Give me rocks, stones and trip hazards any day over boring tarmac. Fair enough it was steep and road shoes are not ideal for trail running but at least this section was a dry one. One runner I chatted with said they hate this type of terrain as it means you have to pay attention to running. I  think that’s why I like it as it gives the mind something to focus on other than the fact there are still 20 mile to go.  Alas, it was back to the tarmac and this time on open roads. The long plod to Beddgelert. This section was saved by the friendly runners that I chatted with to pass the miles and the family handing out orange segments. Running through Beddgelert was awesome. Another runner described it was a Tour De France moment. I’ll agree with that. The huge crowds lining the streets cheering everyone on gave me such a boost as the halfway fatigue and pain set it.

In part 2 I’ll write about the 2nd half of the marathon and the aftermath…

Running after dark: the rural edition

I have never been that put off by the dark winter nights when it comes to running. I’ve generally lived in very urban areas where street lights are in abundance and pavements are wide so safe routes are easy to come by. I used to think that head torches were a bit over the top unless trail running and all you really needed for night-time running was some high vis clothing so cars and pedestrians can see you coming.

Then I moved to a village and got a taste of what the dark winter nights mean for runners living out in the sticks.  The arrival of dark evenings means altering your route choices because those favourite winding country lanes become a lot more dangerous in the dark.

Even though dark evenings are only just arriving, my new running group doesn’t meet until 7.30 so I have already experienced after dark running in my new village.  Night running in a rural setting has so far proved to be lot of fun, at times exhilarating and other times a little bit scary. We’ve done running up on the edge of the moors, busy unlit main roads with no pavements, wonderful undulating dark lanes, and some rather terrifying muddy trails.  There is something quite exciting about running in total darkness with looming Pennine moorland all around, although the other week I was a little freaked out shapes ahead that appeared in the road until I realised it was just some sheep.

As this photo illustrates, there aren’t many lights down there in the village where I live!

I wouldn’t ever go out to run some of the routes we have done on my own. It would feel too mad and dangerous. This isn’t about being afraid of people lurking round dark corners like I used to sometimes get with urban night running but fear of speeding motorists on country roads. Running with a group provides extra visibility and gives me the extra freedom to run routes that would otherwise feel impossible in the dark.

Living in a village with one main road in and out, the dark nights definitely limit route options. Tonight I went out for a short couple of miles to stretch my legs out but forgot my head torch and wore the wrong top which wasn’t bright and reflective enough. Even though I stuck to the village residential streets and main centre I felt anxious at times.  Pavements kept ending, road junctions involved sharp corners with poor visibility and there were cars everywhere with it being early evening. It wasn’t an enjoyable run.

Note to self. Always remember to be prepared!

A head torch is a must, quite literally to be able to see where you are going. Reflective clothing is also essential. I have a running tights with reflective patches down the legs, a reflective running bag and usually a reflective jacket. I need to remember to get a light for the back of my running jacket too so cars can see me up ahead.

Marathon training is back ON!

I didn’t want to speak too soon but I’m finally starting to feel confident about marathon training again.  Especially after a wonderful long hilly run in the rain this weekend. If I can do 2300ft of hills over 17 miles then perhaps Snowdonia will be achievable after all. This weekends hills have given me much needed confidence.

It’s been a month since my doom and gloom post about sprained ankles and low iron levels getting in the way of training. But my ankle made a good recovery and I’ve managed to fit in a couple of long runs, regular week night runs and even some trail running.

Since the ankle disaster caused the training schedule to be thrown out of the window I have done a 16 mile run and a 17 mile. I didn’t even need to resort to a run/walk plan for either. Hurrah. Definitely did not expect to get through those unscathed.

The 16 mile run which I did 3 weekends ago was hellish. I don’t recommend stepping up from running an average of 10 miles for a long run to 16 miles in one go, especially off the back of an injury, but I needed to do it. I was hurting by the end.  It was mentally tough as well as physically tough.  Running an unfamiliar route along roads and ugly industrial canal paths did not help matters. But I did it.

This weekend I ran 17 miles and it took 3hr 13mins with a lot of hills. Snowdonia has a cut off of 4hrs at 18 miles. My goal in training was to feel comfortable with that time limit so I am ready.

Bring on the hills and the Welsh rain.