Team Unicef: Royal Parks Half Marathon 2016

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If you've followed my blog over the last few weeks and months then you'll know I found training for Royal Parks Half Marathon tough. I'd set out with the goal of smashing my PB, but ended up finding training more challenging that I imagined possible, and more demoralising than I care to think about. Running was stressing me out, it was not longer serving its purpose as my way to deal with life's challenges and instead was creating them. I was beyond frustrating.

Gradually I worked myself round to the idea that I should accept this race as something that would be an amazing, and probably once in a lifetime experience - I needed to make this one count, and feeling miserable about an arbitrary goal wasn't going to help that. So I was feeling better, I was getting excited, which is just as well because the night before the race I managed to have a full on (non-running related) panic attack. Sweats, shakes, vomit, the works. It was real, it hurt and it was in no way the best way to prepare to the race. Yet some how I not only made it to the start line, but I made it around the race and I finished in a pretty respectable time (2:07:36).

Oh, and along the way it rekindled my love of running.

Royal Parks Half is absolutely beautiful. Starting and ending in Hyde Park under a canopy of trees as the leaves gradually change from green to red is magical. I'm not really an autumn person (I'm not too keen on the dark), but as I stood there inhaling the cold air and breathing out the stresses of the evening before, focused on my goal and trying to forget what was on my mind, I started to appreciate the atmosphere. When you feel vulnerable there's something comforting about being surrounded yet anonymous, invigorated by the cold air and aware that every day is temporary and in a constant state of change. 

Setting off, through closed streets lined with people, passed iconic sights in one of the greatest cities on the planet it's hard not to feel special. It's hard not to let go of whatever's bothering you and soak up that amazing atmosphere. 

Back in the park all the paths were lined with supporters - including Mike and his parents who popped up at various points, waving manically, very aware that I needed all the support I could get as I got my head down and pushed around the course, plugged in to a podcast and letting myself feel free. 

It was one of those days where the little climbs the park offers felt hard and rewarding, especially when I ran past the Unicef UK cheer squad! Even when training got tough knowing that I was running for an amazing cause kept me going, and it was amazing to be so well supported on the day. To everyone who turned out it meant the world, and it was so lovely to meet you all afterwards! Plus thanks for the Jaffa Cakes! 

I don't think I've ever run a race and not seen paramedics in action, but Royal Parks Half was the first time I've seen the Air Ambulance in attendance. It was a jolt, and not the only one. Between miles 10 and 11 a man was being resuscitated. I later learnt his name was Will and he had very sadly died. Running is an amazing sport, and it brings a lot to people's lives, but it isn't always safe. Watching someone dying because of a sport you love really puts you on the spot. Another reminder that our state is temporary. 

Running on thoughts flooded my mind but I pressed forward, past my friend Steph and her boyfriend who'd stopped to deal with some foot issues, snaking round so the final mile was in reach. Just as things were feeling brutal I crossed paths with Hannah, an old friend from my days in student politics. Just tapping her on the shoulder and waving like crazy was enough of a boost to get me through the the last 800 meters. Pushing forward, waving at Mike who was taking photos and across the line.

Where I promptly burst in the tears.

This is a bit of a thing. At my first half in Birmingham I burst in to tears in the last mile and needed a cuddle from a Red Cross Medic at the end. This time round I desperately looked round for someone, anyone who might give me a hug. Who might relive some of the emotions that were pouring out of me as a result of this run. This very cathartic run. Sadly there was no one free, but there was a medal. A memento to remind me of what this race meant. That is was more than sub-two, that it reminded me of the release running could be. That running could be my escape when life was too much, and could remind me of what I want my life to be about when I need that. 

Many many thanks to Unicef for asking me to join their team and blog about my experiences. You can read all of my posts here and can donate here.

Team Unicef: Half Marathon Taper Week

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It’s taper week!

I’m not sure where this has come from. While part of me feels like I’ve been training for this race forever, another part of me is shocked it’s come round so quickly. I don’t think it’s quite registered that at 9am on Sunday morning I’ll be trotting over the start line in a wave that’s much too fast for me (ah, those pre-race ambitions!!).

It’s no secret I’ve found training for Royal Parks a slog. It’s been hard and it’s really sapped my enthusiasm for running. I started with goals of a PB and struggled with the idea I probably won’t get there. When you start running they don’t tell you how much it can get up in your head, but it really does.

A big part of my struggle has been isolation. My best running memories are built around spending time with other people, working as a community to get through our runs, supporting each other and having fun. This time around I’ve spent a lot of time alone, often on a treadmill, lacking inspiration and without the support that buoys you when times get tough. I’ve stopped wanting to go for a run and every time I do it feels like inexplicably hard work, which has made me question my fitness.

I wrote last week that I needed to get my head straight if I wanted to get through this race, and luckily last Saturday I had the perfect opportunity to do so, taking on London with Run Dem Crew and Third Space.

I ran with the party pacers (TM Lululemon Run Club…we definitely thought of that first!) for 13km from Canary Wharf to Soho through busy streets and along the river. It was absolutely beautiful, and one of the most positive running experiences I’ve had in a long while. It is impossible not to feel the running love when you run with Run Dem. It’s a true community of runners that welcomes everyone, makes you feel unbelievably supported and believe that, if you focus, you could probably fly (maybe, that’s how they made me feel, like I could do anything). Everyone is valued. The slowest runners are cheered in for working the hardest. There are whoops and cheers and hugs.

It was the perfect antidote and exactly what I needed to remind me why I love running!

Royal Parks Half Marathon isn’t going to be the race I’d envisaged at the start of my training, but it’s rare that anything you plan in life works out exactly as you anticipated. However, I think it will be better. How often do you have the opportunity to run with thousands of other people through central London? To be cheered by friends, family and bemused tourists? To experience a Run Dem cheer station (they are the best)? To raise money for a charity you really care about. While my training was tough it ultimately helped me see what was really important – the experience I have when I’m running. Time means nothing if you’re not happy.

In terms of training this week I’m taking it super easy, a couple of short 3 mile runs and some yoga. Unfortunately this week is mega busy with work, uni (first week back!) and life in general, so I’m not getting as much rest as I’d like, but I’m really committed to having a super chilled Saturday so that I’m nice and rested for Sunday. I’m also trying to make sure that I eat really well and stay hydrated, and for the next few days I’ll be off the booze (harder than it sounds given I'm wearing a London Cocktail Week wristband!). My race number has arrived and my kit is clean. I’m ready to go and, finally, looking forward to it.

**all images courtesy of Third Space**

Team Unicef: Half Marathon Training Week 13

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I’d had such ambitious plans for this race. I had a whole summer to train, to get really fit and to smash my PB. I’d fall back in love with running and everything would be amazing. Now, a few weeks out it all feels quite different. I’ve not rediscovered my passion for running, I’m sure it’s still there, but it’s buried away reluctant to wake up from hibernation. Through my training I’ve had bouts of tiredness, poor sleep and the anxiety and brain fog that’s the two combine to produce – something I hadn’t expected with the pressures of studying temporarily from my life. Eachtraining run has been a slog, mentally and physically, and I don’t feel ready at all for this challenge.

I’ve never felt this way before about a race. I’ve always been excited. Even Hackney Half, where training took a backseat to my education and the heat meant a slow dawdle was the only option, was still a great day for me. At the moment Royal Parks just feels terrifying. Which is really messing with my head.

Being a runner, and being a reasonably good runner, is a huge part of my identity. Running has given me so much, but right at the moment it feels like a massive weight. Which is a headfuck. It sounds bratty, but it’s difficult to be in a place where you’re far less fit than you’ve been in the past. 13 miles didn’t used to mean a lot, but these days it’s a big thing. I’m finding it hard to get my head around where I’m at compared to where I’ve been. Comparison really is the thief of joy, because it’s sapped all of my energy and left me a little heap of miserable fear. Instead of enjoying the process of being outside doing something I enjoy, I’ve become self-critical and surrounded by negative feelings about my fitness and my body.

Rebooting my training a couple of weeks ago helped. It took some of the pressure off and dropping to three runs a week has definitely been better for my body and for my mind (if you’re not feeling the running love getting up and running more than you absolutely need to is just torture!). Now I want to do the same for race day.

I set myself the sub-2 hour goal in an attempt to beat my 2:01 PB from Brighton Half Marathon last year. I figured if I was going to ask people to sponsor me (which you can still do here) I’d need to make sure I was really challenging myself. After all, who really wants to sponsor something who’s doing something they love and when you know they’ve done bigger things before? Because of how I identified myself as a runner I didn’t feel it was enough to say I was running for a fantastic cause. I backed myself into a corner and now I’m beating myself up because circumstances have changed.

For the sake of my mind I need to reset my attitude to this race, after all a huge part of running is in your head. I need to take the pressure off, let the negativity slip away and enjoy a race that I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t want to start with dread and finish with regret, that would be a total waste. I have to shake off the idea that anyone gives a shit about what I’ve done before, and remember I am running for a great cause I really care about (which is possibly the only reason I’ve not already dropped out) on an iconic course that’ll be an experience in itself.

I have to remember running is putting one foot in front of another, it’s ok to walk If I need to and that it’s not about comparison. I have to remember that I want to finish, and to enjoy getting to that finish line. Enjoyment is important. No time should be at the cost of your happiness, it’s just not worth it (coincidentally, Brighton Half holds some of my happiest race memories, and not because of my time).

After all of that, here's how last week panned out...

 

Monday: yoga class at Brixton Pop with Brixton Yoga - this is such a nice, and really affordable, class in a great slightly quirky venue, definitely one I'd recommend. You can also follow up class with some great food!

Tuesday: 4.5 mile run and restorative yoga at home - a very standard run and stretch, nothing to see here.

Wednesday: 3 mile run and yoga at home - I'd been in a fairly vile mood all week and by Wednesday it had crescendoed into some pretty awful anxiety complete with grotty head fog. I didn't feel like running, so I went home to bed. It kind of helped.

Thursday: More Restorative and Meditation at MoreYoga (on ClassPass) - caught up my 3 miles after yesterday and went to a lovely restorative yoga class which stretched me out and chilled me out. 

Friday: Yin Yoga at Studio by The Detox Kitchen (on ClassPass) - another peaceful and reflective class to help me recover from my horrible week in a really lovely venue.

Saturday: Free Range Yoga at Bullfinch Brewery and 8 mile run - Bullfinch Brewery in Herne Hill not only makes great beer, but it's also a great place to do yoga! Think twinkly lights, candles and a teacher who seriously knows her stuff and is keen to share. I deferred my 8 mile run to Sunday evening.

Sunday: yoga at home and lots of sleep! - so I did get lots of sleep, but I also ran 8 miles around the city in the evening. It was pretty slow and steady, but it wasn't awful. 

Looking forward to this week, and it should be a good one! 

Monday - filming and yoga with WeTrain

Tuesday - 3 mile run and yin yoga at home

Wednesday - yoga at home

Thursday - 3 mile run and mediation with

Friday - a yoga class with ClassPass, but I'm yet to decide which one! All suggestions welcome!

Saturday - Third Space - Run this Space with the Fempower crew

Sunday - yoga and R and R