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Vibram run number four tonight.

Well, numbers four and five. You see, I decided to combine it with a trip to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things that I needed. Actually at first all I wanted was grapes, but then Matt wanted to roast some veg for dinner so he wanted potatoes and parsnips.

So I did five miles in my regular shoes, came home, changed into my Vibrams and grabbed my rucksack.

The shop is just over a mile away, so it’d be over two miles in my Vibrams in total. Probably a little more than I should be doing at this point. Anyway so on the way it occurred to me that showing up to the supermarket in tiny running shorts and individually-toed shoes might look a little odd.

I almost turned around and went home again.

Determined, I carried on. I dashed into the shop and grabbed what I needed as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact and fixing a sheepish ‘Yes I’m aware of how ridiculous I look’ smile on my face. Which probably made me look even more ridiculous.

I noticed on the way there that the Vibrams were starting to rub a little, and by the time I arrived I definitely felt like a blister was starting to form. My first Vibram blister! I loaded my rucksack up with food and ran out of the shop.

Of course, potatoes and parsnips and a big bag of grapes are heavy. I ran back feeling a lot less light on my feet than I did before!

I made it home, and took the Vibrams off, whereupon I discovered this…

 

 

Yes, that is a picture of my foot. And instead of a blister, I found that the skin had simply rubbed off my foot leaving behind a raw, exposed wound.

Minus one for the Vibrams.

I’m assuming this is something that has been experienced by other wearers, so in true nerd fashion I’m going to head on over to Birthday Shoes and check out what people are saying in the forums. Maybe it’s a good thing, because it’s persuaded me to put the KSOs away for a few days and give myself a break. My calves need it – Matt kindly massaged them for me tonight and one misplaced finger elicited an ear-piercing shriek from me.

So that’s the latest on the minimalist running front. I’m sure you’re all so thrilled to hear about it. My brother – a runner himself – overheard me telling my sister about my run route the other day and said that hearing about other people’s runs is as boring as being told about their dreams. He’s right (but that doesn’t stop me from telling you!).

Let’s have some more pictures of my pretty little KSOs shall we?

 

 

Legs up the wall for post-run recovery!

 

 

I plan on wearing them for some walks this weekend (with a plaster on), to work on building up the strength in my feet and calves. Better get Matt on standby for more leg rubs!

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As is customary at this time of year, I’ve made some resolutions. Yes, I know that everyone makes New Year’s Resolutions, and no one ever keeps them. But I think there are two reasons for this.

 

1. They set unrealistic goals.

2. They make a general statement about where they want to be, without looking at what needs to be done to get there.

 

I’m hoping to avoid these errors. I remember making resolutions every new year when I was in the midst of an eating disorder. Of course, every year I would plan to lose weight. That was all I ever wanted. Of course it wasn’t all I wanted, but in the absence of sound mental health and with no feeling of self-efficacy or control in my life, I imagined that everything else just happened to me. Losing weight was the only thing I could actually control, and so I resolved to do that, every year.

It’s not just those with eating disorders who make those kind of resolutions. It’s maybe one of the most common ones to make – to lose weight. Especially after the excesses of Christmas. And I’m betting most people usually fail.

But here’s the problem – you’re making a resolution that involves denying yourself, punishing yourself, and adopting a lifestyle that is less desirable than the one you currently live. When you make a promise to lose weight, more often than not it’s attempted through dieting and denying yourself of the things you enjoy. And it’s accompanied by reluctant, frenzied exercising which is done purely as a means to an end and not for enjoyment in itself.

Of course people fail, when you look at it this way. And the same goes for any resolution – if you’re not excited about it, truly motivated, and without a clear idea of what you’re doing and why, it won’t be important enough to you to stick at it when the going gets tough.

So I have promised myself that although I AM making resolutions, they’re not just for the sake of it – they will be things that are important to me. I will not make promises that I don’t think I’m capable of keeping. In fact,I’m not making any promises at all, just setting goals. And as well as those goals, I’m going to look at what needs to be done to achieve them. I’m going to ask myself every day what I can be doing to bring myself closer to those goals.

And I accept that I won’t be able to progress towards every single one of them, every day. The list is too extensive! But to get where you want to be, you need to work out exactly where that is first. And so by identifying what I want to achieve this year in every area of my life, I’m taking the first step towards getting there.

 

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2012

 

Food and Recovery
Stop weighing myself on a regular basis
Pay more attention to hunger signals, and eat slowly

Running and Fitness
Achieve a sub-40 minute 10K
Achieve a sub-1:30 half marathon
Run a mile in under 6 minutes
Work up to completing a full run in my Vibrams
Join a running club
Establish a home practice in yoga

School and Work
Pass my placement, hand everything in and qualify as a social worker
Get a job as a social worker!
Enjoy what I do, and not feel so anxious all the time that I’m not good enough
Stay on top of assignments and don’t let myself get too overwhelmed

Relationships
Stop taking my anger and frustration out on Matt
Spend more quality time with Matt that doesn’t involve watching TV!
Make new friends, by pursuing things that I’m interested in and reaching out to people more

Money
Set a budget and stick to it

House
Do all of the home improvements that Matt and I are planning as soon as possible. Aim to be finished my mid-February?
Establish a weekly cleaning day – Matt has suggested Thursday

 

So I’ve done the easy part. I’ve made a big list of everything I want to achieve this year. The hard part is doing it! And that’s where running comes in.

Running? What’s that got to do with sticking to resolutions?

Well… my experience of running has taught me that I am capable of things that I never thought possible. This time a little over two years ago, I was a complete non-runner. Not just a non-runner actually, an anti-runner. I disliked people who ran. I couldn’t understand it. And like many things in life, when you don’t understanding something you tend to be fearful of it. I wasn’t homophobic, I wasn’t xenophobic but oh boy was I runner-phobic! I would actually scowl at them in the street. And when my dad, sister, brother, sister-in-law AND boyfriend went running, I would shake my head in disbelief and mild pity.

But deep down, what fuelled my negativity towards running was the fact that I just could not do it! I had tried. I knew it was good exercise. I wanted to be able to run for miles. But every time I tried, I would make it no more than 100 metres before I decided it was too hard and walked back home with my tail between my legs.

Fast forward two years later. Not only can I run, I am GOOD at running. I LOVE to run. I eat, sleep and breathe running (and eat, sleep and breathe BETTER because of running!). How did this happen? Could it be that somewhere deep inside me there lies a well of determination, stamina and willpower that had gone previously untapped?

So if I can go from despising running to it being an indispensable part of my life, what else could I do if I set my mind to it?

That, dear friends, is why I feel confident in my ability to achieve – or at least work towards – my goals. That, and a loving, positive approach to them. So if I don’t always do what I know I should, or if they fall to the wayside at times, I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I’m going to remind myself why they’re important to me (if they still are… because things change, right?), and if I decide they’re still worth pursuing I’ll pick myself up and get on with it again.

Of course it’s easy to pick and choose which goals you want to work on and neglect others. Sitting here in the library blogging about ‘staying on top of assignments’ is a convenient way to avoid actually doing them! So I have a plan. I’m going to identify one thing from each area, every day, that I can do towards a goal. It doesn’t have to be big or time-consuming. I just have to set that intention at the start of the day, so that I can be sure that the way I’m living is consistent with where I would like to be headed.

I’m sure you’re thinking this all sounds lovely and idealistic… but it’s only January 6th, how long will I keep this up? I’ll be honest, I’m asking myself the same question! But then I remember how determined I was to run, and how that determination has stayed with me – and I am reminded of how capable I am of making changes when I really set my mind to it.

So I’m going to finish this mammoth post off with my list for today. It’s a little late in the day now, so my intentions will have to be small ones.

 

  • Concentrate on eating my dinner mindfully
  • Go for a run, and do another mile in my Vibrams
  • Spend half an hour reading for my next assignment (seeing as I’ve already done some – but not enough! – today)
  • Be nice to Matt for the whole evening (yes, unbelievably, I have to set this as a goal because I usually find something to have a go at him for!)
  • Stay within my weekly budget (I doubt I’ll be spending any more money today, but so far I’ve done well)
  • Clean the bathroom

 

See, those are all easily achievable daily goals! And they correspond to each area of my life that I identified bigger goals in.

Maybe I should have added ‘Update blog regularly’ to the list! I’m not quite sure where it would fit so for the moment I’ll just keep it in my head – but at least I can tick that one off for today!

 

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I. Love. My. Vibrams.

 

That’s pretty much all I need to say.

I did another run in them last night. After running with Matt for around 4 and a half miles, we came home and I stripped my shoes off, got my feet naked and donned my KSOs. The weather was absolutely atrocious. The wind was howling, and rain was pelting down… we only went for a run in the first place because my sheer determination got us both out of the door.

Really, I just wanted that post-run cosy feeling when you’ve been out in bad weather and you return home to a hot shower, warm clothes (I put them on the radiator beforehand) and a bowl of homemade soup.

Matt didn’t join me for the extra mile because his knee was bothering him, so I went back out on my own. I planned a route that I guessed would be around a mile, although it ended up being a mile and a half. And off I went, in the pouring rain, wind blowing so hard I sometimes felt like I wasn’t moving. But I didn’t care. My feet were happy.

I ran through puddles, and on some squelchy grass, and over stones. I guess the surfaces I’d been running on before had been super smooth, because I really felt it this time. The balls of my feet almost hurt, but not quite. I thought they might do afterwards, but so far they’re fine.

The only problem is my even tighter calves. They were tight before, but they’re worse now. I was supposed to stretch last night, but I didn’t get round to it (I forgot). And the hour of yoga that I was supposed to do this morning also hasn’t happened. I overslept and now I need to get to the library.

I need to do some serious downward-dogging so sort these legs out!

But all I really wanted to say was that I ADORE these ‘shoes’. They’ve introduced a whole new dimension to running. It’s perfect timing. I’ve been fighting injuries, and feeling disheartened, and not running as well as I know I can. And my Vibrams have given me the excitement back again. I’m just itching to get out of the door.

Vibrams – you funny looking, embarrassing little things – I love you.

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Back in November, I took part in the Leeds Abbey Dash 10K for the second time. I didn’t write a race report at the time, probably because I wasn’t too thrilled with my performance. Well, I’ve avoided it for two months now. Time to give it a mention.

The weather was crappy. It was really cold, so cold that I couldn’t think straight and didn’t want to leave the warm shopping centre we were waiting in and go to the start line. The race started in Leeds city centre, ran out to Kirkstall Abbey, and back again. It’s a notoriously dull, but fast, race. It’s one of the flattest courses in the area (which is mostly hilly).

Last year I managed it in 40:57. I was aiming for sub-40, and was disappointed to fall short. It was my first proper 10K though (the only one I had done before that was on a beach so my time wasn’t comparable), so I was happy enough. I figured I’d return a year later, with more training under my belt, and smash the 40 minute barrier.

It wasn’t to be. A summer of very little training due to injury and an avoidance of speedwork meant that not only did I come in at over 40 minutes, I was actually slower than last year. I ran it in 42:31.

Matt did it as well, having got a taste of racing after the Donadea Forest 10K. He did great! He ran it in 45:28. For someone who is not a natural runner (or so I thought… the Chevin Chase proved me wrong!), that was a great time. He plays cricket from April to September, and when the season is over he usually takes up running and trains for the Chevin Chase, before putting running on the back burner again and focusing on cycling (his first love, apart from cricket) and training for the start of the season. So considering the race was in November, and he had less than two months of training under his belt, he did really well.

At this point, I would add a photo. But the race photography was shockingly bad! Every race I’ve taken part in (including the Great North Run, which is the world’s biggest half marathon), there has been at least one good quality photo of me, and usually lots. The Abbey Dash is a big race with plenty of photographers and the previous year there were loads of me. This year there were only two, and in both I was obscured by other runners. The ones of Matt were slightly better, but not great. And there don’t seem to be any photos of two other people we know that did it at all. Which is so unusual, especially for such a large race.

Can you tell I’m disappointed?

Anyway, I have vowed to do more speedwork and try again next year.

Speaking of trying again… I also did my first ever Chevin Chase! I had been looking forward to this race, because it was the one that inspired me to take up running. I was supposed to do it last year but a nasty cough stopped me. I had been looking forward to it for months. I had high hopes. Despite a long break from training over the summer, I was optimistic. And when my injury returned after the Abbey Dash, I remained optimistic while I rested up for a few more weeks.

On the morning of the race, all optimism had disappeared. Standing on the start line with Matt (who had been training his ass off!), I felt a sense of foreboding as a strong wind blew around us. My legs didn’t feel strong, I hadn’t been training on hills at all and my injury was still hanging around.

The first couple of miles is all uphill, and it’s a bitch. I could feel Matt breathing down my neck, which wasn’t a good sign – I’m usually way faster than him. As we ran into the forest, I began to feel nauseous – seeing as the run is on Boxing Day, after a day of eating sweets, chocolate and a big Christmas dinner, this isn’t surprising. I also began to develop a stitch, which worsened to the point of me slowing down and running with one hand clasped against my side.

As we ran out of one section of the forest, across the road and into another, it wasn’t getting any better. Usually in race photos I look strong, like I’m barely exerting any effort at all.

This time was notably different (I’m the one in the blue top)!

 

 

My form is all over the place! Oh yeah, and I’m being overtaken by a guy in a suit!

By the time we reached the big hill that is notoriously difficult, and reduces most people to a walking pace, I was totally spent. I ran up it, but slowly enough that Matt, who had lost me for a while earlier in the race, gained on me again and nearly caught me up. And he was walking! The last mile or so is all downhill, ut there are to stiles to go over which usually get congested. It was at the first of these that Matt caught me up while waiting to climb over. He overtook me afterwards, and when I caught him up again at the second stile, I gestured for him to climb over first seeing as he had been ahead of me. After that I lost all motivation, and he flew ahead. I could always see him, but running into a ridiculously strong headwind, his large frame enabled him to power away down the hill. He’s got more natural speed than me over a short distance, so I was doubtful of my ability to catch him up.

I think if I had known how close we would be at the finish, I could have sped up and overtaken him, or not allowed him to overtake in the first place. But I felt rubbish, and I was also totally shocked that he was beating me.

He crossed the finish line first, and I followed 12 seconds later. My time was 56:35, for a hilly route that was just short of 7 miles. I tried to be as happy as possible for him, while secretly seething! Of course he’s enjoyed his gloating time over the last week.

I’ve resolved to run the route every week between now and December, so that I can run it again properly and royally kick his ass!

Really, I need to keep this injury at bay and get back out on the hills, and doing some speedwork. Then I can try again in the Abbey Dash, and try again in the Chevin Chase. And maybe run times that I feel proud of.

But you learn. Nothing in life is perfect. And I can’t run every race perfectly. I think 2011 has taught me that it’s okay not to have a great race – you just learn from it, and work on coming back stronger.

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Happy New Year everyone!

 

Yes, it’s been a long time since I updated this. I took an accidental mega-break from the world of blogging. Partly because of the workload I had as the Christmas deadlines approached. And partly because I lack the self-discipline to sit down sometimes and just write.

But that is one of my new year’s resolutions! Despite the fact that I am about to commence my second placement in Manchester, with four hours of commuting time a day, and a whole load of new assignments and deadlines to contend with, I fully intend to get writing here again.

I’ve missed it.

I also have TWO races to write about. I would mention them here but my anally retentive personality prevents me from doing so, and I just have to document them in separate entries. But I will begin my return to blogging with a post about running.

Because, for Christmas, Santa brought me… *drumroll*…

 

 

…a pair of Vibram KSOs! Stylishly modelled in the above picture with the new cycling bib that Matt bought me.

Looking back at 2011, it wasn’t a good year for me where running is concerned. I started the year injured, and didn’t run at all for the first month and a half. I managed to build my training back up in time for the Kildare Half Marathon, where I knocked 5 minutes of my previous PB with a time of 1:31.05, coming in second place. Things looked promising. I followed it up with fourth place in the Leeds 10k, and began the early stages of marathon training for Chester.

And then shin splints struck. I had heard about this particular demon many times, and thought I was lucky to have escaped considering how quickly I had thrown myself into running from being a non-runner. Well, they caught up with me. I had most of the summer off, and just as I was getting back into the swing of things they hit me again. I was sensible enough to take nearly four weeks off before Christmas (and as a result, my performance at the Chevin Chase – the race which inspired me to get into running and which I had been looking forward to taking part in after a nasty cough stopped me the year before – was well below my usual standard).

During this time I started to look for solutions to my problem. The physio I saw over the summer was useless and had me returning week after week with no clear treatment plan. Maybe it was my shoes? But I know I’m a neutral runner, and they’re a neutral shoe, and they feel so wonderfully light. I didn’t want to spend money on another pair only to find that they weren’t right either.

And as Christmas was approaching, and my parents were asking me what I’d like from them, the idea crept into my head or trying out these crazy barefoot ‘shoes’ I’d heard so much about.

Of course, I’ve read Born To Run. And as soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to strip my shoes off and run down the street barefoot right away! Fortunately I was smart enough to know that it wasn’t a good idea. Having planned to look into this whole barefoot thing, I got sidetracked and carried on training in my regular shoes for another year.

Until now! I have promised myself that I will be careful, and ease myself in. So far, I’ve kept that promise. I’ve only run in them twice – the first run was 1.5 miles long and the second was just a mile. I’ve been running in my trainers, coming home and immediately changing into the Vibrams then heading out for an extra mile. I’m planning to do that again tonight.

So what’s the verdict? Well, it’s far too early to say. I plan to use this blog to document my transition to barefoot running, so watch this space! I don’t know what my plans are – maybe I’ll become hooked and transition to running only in my Vibrams. But I’m open to just trying something new. They might solve all of my problems, but equally they might cause a whole host of new injuries. I know they will, if I don’t take it slowly. I’m giving myself a whole year to get into them. I’m aiming to complete a full run in them by the end of the year. By full, I guess I mean anywhere from 7 to 10 miles. I’d love to be able to do a long run in them.

As for how they feel, they’re more comfortable than I expected. I chose the KSOs because they seemed the most popular for runners. Their sole is a little thicker than the Classics, but still thin enough to achieve the barefoot ‘feel’. They’re super comfortable. I measured my feet as 9 4/8″. The sizing guide suggests a size 38 if your feet are 9 3/8″, and a size 39 if your feet are 9 5/8″. As I was in the middle, I went for the larger size. It’s perfect. I have a little extra room in the toes but not so much that they don’t feel snug. I can easily forget that I’m wearing them because they just feel like an extension of me.

I had read up on them prior to my first run, and I knew to expect tight calves. They encourage a forefoot strike, and require you to use the spring mechanism that is naturally present in your foot. Of course the fact that I’m not used to using my feet in this way means that I have to take it slowly, and build up their strength. I actually found that I could still heel strike in them without too much discomfort. But I know this is the wrong way to run in them.

I also noticed that my stride was much shorter, and my cadence increased. This is all consistent with what I had read about them. I don’t know what my actual form was because I couldn’t see myself running, though it did feel closer to the Chi or Pose methods of running that I have read about. Instead of striking out in front of my body, my feet seemed to be landing underneath me.

I would love to wear the Vibrams when I’m not running, and get used to walking around outside in them. The only thing is, I feel self conscious! They’re attention-seeking shoes, and I’m not an attention-seeking person! It would feel as if I was trying to elicit people’s attention by wearing them, when in fact I’d like to wear them without anyone noticing. Maybe my confidence will increase with use though. I certainly intend to start going on walks in them, particularly in woodland areas where the ground is uneven.

I was actually a little disappointed that my feet felt so protected in them. I had expected to feel the ground more. Although I have only run on the road so far, and the one occasion on which I did step on a large stone I definitely felt it! It didn’t hurt, but I can imagine that trail running will really put them to the test.

 

Okay, time to get on with some more work. Still to come – two race reports and a recovery update!

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Last Wednesday night, as I crawled into bed, I started planning what to do the next day. I was done with uni for the week, and I had been to the shop to stock up on ingredients for a baking extravaganza. I had decided to make pumpkin cupcakes for my nephew, and take them over to Ireland with me. I was going across on the ferry with my parents, so I could easily bring them in the car. I bought orange and purple glitter, and a pumpkin which Matt could carve for Halloween after I was done with it.

I was also planning a run, first thing. I wanted to go to the Chevin, find the big hill that everyone complains about (the one I got lost on!) and do some hill repeats on it. It would be brutal, but it’d prepare me more than anything for the Chevin Chase.

So with all of these thoughts in my head, I began to drift off. And then I heard a text message come through. Quite inconvenienced to have been disturbed as I was falling asleep, I picked my phone up and reluctantly checked it. It was from my dad.

“Pick you up at 8:45 tomorrow morning.”

Excuse me, WHAT?! At first I thought he’d got it wrong. Or maybe it was after midnight, and he meant tomorrow as in Friday, which is the day I thought we were going to Ireland.

But no, it wasn’t after midnight (and even if it was, my dad certainly wouldn’t text me at that time!). I rang him in a panic. I suspected that I had made a fundamental error and had got the day that we were going completely wrong.

The phone call confirmed it: we were going to Ireland on Thursday, not Friday!

After the initial surprise had worn off, I remembered my hill session!

“But I was going to run to the Chevin and do repeats on that big hill tomorrow morning!”, I complained.

So, having accepted that I had no choice but to abandon my plans for Thurdsay, and set my alarm early to pack rather than to run, I began the long journey to the ferry port with my mum and dad (the reason they choose to spend all day driving and take the ferry rather than fly and be there, door to door, within three hours, is my mum’s fear of flying. She actually finds this arduous trip preferable to the anxiety of a 45 minute plane ride).

Before we set off, I ran to the deli for some sweets to keep me going. They sell my favourite vegan gummies!

 

 

I brought a copy of the yoga sutras to read, and sat in the back of the car munching on sweets and sipping on coffee, while contemplating the meaning of life according to Patanjali.

 

 

By the time we arrived, it was late and there wasn’t time to go for any sort of run. My dad said that he was going to run the following morning, and invited me to join him. Now, the fact that Kildare is probably the flattest county in Ireland pretty much put paid to my planned hill session.

Nevertheless, my dad did his best and the next day we got up early and drove to an area nearby that had some undulations (they don’t qualify as hills where I’m from!).

 

 

See, you can’t even see any hills in the photographs!

 

 

It was a beautiful run though. The air was crisp, and the early morning sunshine made the dewy grass sparkle.

 

 

The sky was a beautiful blue colour. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

 

 

After we finished the run, while my dad stretched and paced around, I skipped the cooldown and had some fun playing with my shadow, which was really long because the sun was still low in the sky.

 

 

One more for the family album!

 

 

Did I mention my dad’s a kickass runner? His half marathon PB is 1:31:-something. It was my aim to beat him when I started getting good at running, and I finally did it in the Kildare half marathon with a PB of 1:31:05. Then he reminded me that he got his PB at 57 years old! And on the same day that I was running in that race, he was running in the full marathon – his first ever, which he finished in a time of 3:53! To make it clear why that’s fast, he was 63 at the time.

He takes it easy when he’s training these days, so when we go for runs I’m now the faster one. But he still runs at a reasonable pace and it’s a great way to spend time together, running through beautiful countryside and chatting easily.

So that was my hill session. It wasn’t the gruelling lung-buster that I had planned, but it was a great way to start my birthday – doing what I love (running) in the early morning sun, surrounded by lush fields and trees, and sharing the beauty with one of the most important people in my life.

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With only two months to go until the Chevin Chase, I’ve decided it’s time to step up my training and get back out on the hills. The period of time that I had off due to injury over the summer has affected my leg strength, I think. I’m finding it harder to run over trails and up hills, and I don’t have the same confidence that I used to have when running up steep inclines. Back in the spring I was running between 14 and 18 miles every Sunday, beginning with a big hill, running up a hill in the middle and ending on the same hill that I started with.

The Chevin Chase is a particularly special race for me. It was while standing up on a snowy hill with my dad and nephew on Boxing Day, waiting for my brother, sister in law and Matt to run past, that I had the idea to start running and maybe sign up for the race the following year. I was a few weeks into recovery, and had the feeling that almost anything was possible.

I took to running so quickly that I ended up running in five races before I got anywhere near to doing the Chevin Chase! In the weeks leading up to it I started to feel excitement at the prospect of finishing my first year of running the same way that it began – up on that hill, on an icy festive morning – only this time I would be taking part myself.

But it wasn’t to be. A few days before Christmas I started to sniffle, and then sneeze, and then cough… and by the day of the race, I was struggling to even walk up to the finish line to cheer on Matt and my dad without wheezing and spluttering, never mind run the course.

This year, I’m determined to take part. And I want to do well, too. I’ve seen the results from previous years, and they’re good… so I’m not expecting to win or even place in the top three. But I’m just going to train really hard and do my best, and I’m hoping to maybe surprise myself.

The great thing about the race is that it takes place in an area that is right near me, and that I often train on. But I didn’t know the exact route, and so Matt and I decided to run it together today so he could show me. That way, I could train on sections of it or do the whole thing to get a feel for the course beforehand.

I was hoping it would be a sunny day. The Chevin is a beautiful area of woodland situated high up above a valley, and on a clear day you can see for miles. Seeing as Matt is a slower runner, and we set off with the aim of sticking to an easy pace, I decided to take my camera and try to snap some pretty photos along the way. It turned out to be a grey morning, although the sun came out later on.

I took photos anyway because I really love it up there and I often find that when I’m running through a particularly beautiful area, I want to photograph and document it. My runs, especially the long ones, often feel like adventures. And they sometimes feel like my little secret, because no one else is there with me and I’m out exploring forests and trails and paths. I don’t think photos can do the beauty that I see on these runs justice. But I still want to take them, because I feel so lucky to live in such a stunning area and I really want to capture it.

 

 

We started by running about 2 miles from our house to where the start line would be. From here, we began the ascent towards the Chevin. The first couple of miles are a gradual uphill climb, starting on the road and then turning into trail. Eventually we reached the woods.

 

 

Matt ran ahead when I stopped to take photos. In this one he looks a little crazed!

 

 

The middle section of the run is mostly flat, with a little downhill. Of course this means that you have to climb up again later! I showed Matt how to run downhill like a fell runner – windmill arms and try not to think too much! I pelted at full speed down a couple of the descents.

 

 

You can just make out the valley in the distance, but it’s not all that clear here because of the mist.

The steepest part of the course comes about two thirds of the way through. Apparently most people walk it, but having done Hellrunner I felt confident that I should be able to run up the whole thing. Matt told me to go ahead and meet him at Surprise View. “Run to the top and turn right”, he told me. I wasn’t sure that I’d know where to turn; he assured me it was obvious.

 

 

After running for a little while, I spotted a wooden post that marked out a path to my right. “This must be the right turn”, I thought. I also felt a little smug; while it was certainly not easy, the first portion of the hill was nowhere near as bad as other people had made it out to be.

Apparently Matt had overestimated my navigational skills (he should know not to do this… the first time I ran alone on the Chevin I managed to run right off the path and into the middle of a steep, slippery hill which was impossible to run down but which, having already run about 10 miles, I didn’t have the strength to run up. It was getting dark. I stopped running, stood still and began to cry. Eventually I found my way out by running through a tiny path and jumping down a wall into a car park, where I began to recognise my surroundings).

I quickly realised that this couldn’t be the right path, and I ran back down it, shouting for Matt. There was no reply. I noticed that after levelling out for a few metres, the hill continued further along. I realised that I was probably not at the top of the hill, and so I continued running.

Turns out the second part of the hill is where it gets really hard, and although I made it to the stop without stopping or walking, I did stretch the definition of ‘run’ to include a clumsy, slow stagger as I tried to lift my legs over the rocks and progress up a gradient that was steep enough to warrant having steps built into it.

Upon reaching the top, I saw Matt waiting for me.

“Only you could get lost there!”

 

 

The clearing at the top of the hill is known as ‘Surprise View’ because, well, the view is a bit of a surprise when you get there (unless you’re a local who is already familiar with it, in which case it isn’t remotely surprising but it’s certainly a nice sight).

The mist is obscuring the view in this photo, but if you look closely you can make out the fields and trees in the distance. It’s hard to see just how high up it is unless you’re there.

 

 

Instead of running back towards the finish line, we took a different route home. As we picked up the road I tried to up the pace and we settled into a nice rhythm. It felt comfortable for me, and although I wanted to go faster I stayed with Matt. It turns out he wasn’t feeling quite as at ease as me! But I pushed him to speed up with a few hundred metres to go, with the aim of getting the pace of that final stretch under an 8 minute mile.

My legs are surprisingly sore now. I guess it’s been months since I ran that far (apart from Hellrunner). I need to start upping the distance of my long runs again. I haven’t felt any shin or calf pain in a few weeks, and I think that’s a good sign. I’m going to try and do at least 10 miles on a Sunday from now on, and I think I’ll do those runs on the Chevin. My speedwork and hillwork will also be done there, using the toughest parts of the course. Within the next few weeks, I want the distance of my long run to be around 15 miles.

After I had showered, I quickly threw some more muffins in the oven (using the rest of the ingredients that I saved from yesterday), before heading over with my sister to see our parents. I took muffins, and we shared them out and ate them with coffee.

As I predicted yesterday, it was the perfect accompaniment to a delicious muffin. And the ideal reward for a delightful run.

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