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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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Cheesy title, I know.

On Saturday I completed the Donadea Forest 10K, in Ireland. I went over there to babysit for my two nephews while my brother and sister in law went away for the night for their anniversary (I love that they can go away so easily and leave the boys with family…I hope to be that kind of parent one day). They had planned to do the race anyway, and so my brother invited me and Matt along too.

We had an early start, getting up at 5:30 to catch our flight dressed in race gear so that we could drive straight to the start line. I’ll admit, I wasn’t feeling it like I normally do before a race. Ordinarily I get a huge adrenaline rush and it carries me through, no matter how reluctant I might have felt beforehand. I don’t know if I’m just getting more used to racing, or if the pressure of expectation got to me. I’m still after a sub-40 time, but I knew I hadn’t trained properly for it. I decided to just do my best and try to place as highly as possible. I had looked at last year’s times and they were good so I was just aiming for top five really.

Anyway. The lack of adrenaline meant that I didn’t push it anywhere near as much as I should have done. My pacing worked out at 6:50 minute miles, which is about 15 seconds per mile slower than my PB. It was through the forest and there were a fair few undulations so it was to be expected. I think I easily had a sub-42 time in me though. I managed 42:28, placing fourth. Fourth place is becoming a common achievement in races these days. It’s the third race in a row that I’ve finished in that position. I’m not too annoyed because it’s still good, but after placing second in the Kildare half back in May I’ve had taste of what it feels like to get a top-three finish and it’s exciting!

But considering the winning female ran for Ireland in the 2008 Olympics I’m not complaining!

The photos that were taken during the race were available on Flickr for free, which is nice considering you can pay up to £15 for a race photograph in the most expensive races (credit goes to Peter Mooney for all the race photos in this post…the set can be found via the above link).

The race was super well organised too. It was set up by the same woman who organises the Kildare Half (and Full, this year) Marathon – the first race I ever did. There were wrist bands for those who had indicated a sub-40 PB, to allow them access to the front. And yes, I lied about my PB and got one!  I didn’t realise that was why they asked about your PB during the registration process…and I’m only 58 seconds off! Although that is quite a lot over a short distance.

They also had apple crumble and custard for the first 400 finishers. This was Matt’s motivation for running. He had me look up last year’s results beforehand to calculate the likelihood of finishing in the apple crumble bracket! This was the first 10K he’d ever done, and so he didn’t have a great idea of what time to expect. He’s run the Chevin Chase a couple of times, and is training for that again this year. But it’s on Boxing Day, having spent two days drinking and eating far too much. And it’s very hilly, so you can’t really gauge your 10K time from it. He decided that he was aiming for sub-55, but would really like a sub-52 time.

After I finished I stood behind the barrier at the finish line to wait for my brother, who I was expecting next. He crossed the line in around 46 minutes, at which point I settled down for what I thought would be a five minute wait for Matt. As I was chatting to a fellow competitor standing next to me, to my surprise Matt came flying across the finish line in just over 47 minutes! It was way beyond what I was expecting, and he was surprised too!

Having surprised myself in races before, I know the feeling you get when you exceed your expectations and have a super great race – it lasts for days afterwards! I was so pleased for him. Now he’s signed up for the Abbey Dash with me and is aiming for sub-46!

The medals were a nice touch too – they were made out of wood and designed to look like little chunks of a tree trunk.

I realised after the race that all of the time off I’ve had this year due to injury has meant that when I run I’m just aiming to get out there and put the miles through my legs, without really pushing it. I’ve been so grateful to be running that I haven’t thought beyond that. I remember how I used to feel when racing, and I would describe it as feeling like I was floating. Of course it was hard, but I was able to switch off to an extent and just let my legs do the work. I want to get that back.

With that in mind, I set out for a run yesterday with the aim of keeping to around 7:30 min/mi pacing. I was hoping to do at least 5 miles, but I decided to run to the Chevin and it ended up being over 10! My average pace ended up being 8:15 min/mi but that’s because it’s hilly there, and I was running on trail. I was also slowed to a walk at one point when I ran down a little path that disappeared from underneath my feet and I ended up trapped in thorny foliage! I had to turn back and go down a different route, but not before I had a chunk of my knee taken out by a branch!

It didn’t hurt too much at first so I didn’t bother to attend to it. Of course that meant running the rest of the way home with bloody streaming down my leg. I wonder what people were thinking! I’ve got to admit, I felt pretty tough. I can only dream of being as hardcore as true fell runners though, who run through sprains and breaks sustained from throwing themselves down hills. I definitely need to do more of my runs on the Chevin and start getting my legs used to the downhills as well as uphills.

After I’d cleaned myself up it didn’t look quite so bad. But then the stinging started, and with it being on my knee, it hurts whenever I bend it now!

So today I’m resting my legs after my adventure run. I’m also feeling stiff from Wednesday’s yoga session. I turned up to the class only to find that my regular teacher wasn’t there and someone was covering for her. I was disappointed because I really like her style, but I’ve had the guy before and I do think he’s good too. Anyway, then no one else showed up for the class and embarrassingly I had a one to one lesson! It was pretty cool, but a bit awkward. Fortunately I’m becoming more comfortable with my abilities in yoga now and I wasn’t put off by being the only person there. It meant that I got his full attention and he could make any corrections right away. He didn’t make too many, which I take as a good sign. And during a couple of the forward bends he was able to encourage me to go deeper than I might have normally. I think I often don’t push myself quite hard enough. I know you have to work with your body’s limitations, but when he applied pressure to my back at one point I realised how much further down I could go.

I’m writing this listening to a little soundtrack that I’ve compiled of relaxing music, most of which is from my Monday yoga class. She plays great music but it’s such a mix that I can’t ask for her playlist because it’s too varied. So I’ve taken to memorising some of the lyrics of my favourite songs and trying to search for them when I get home. I’ve discovered Ingrid Michaelson as a result.

I’m thinking about putting the songs together onto a CD for my friend as a Christmas present. She started doing the class with me a few months ago and she loves it so much that she’s stuck with it, and has done some of the other classes too. She’s become my yoga buddy! It’s great to share the experience with someone. I know she loves the music that our Monday teacher plays so I think she’d appreciate it.

I’m going to try and establish a home practice too, so having the music from my class to listen to might help me to get into the zone.

The more I read of the Yoga Sutras, and the deeper I look into the philosophy of yoga, the more I feel like my attitude and outlook on life is shifting. I think I might be on the cusp of something new. I can’t articulate it. All I can say is that I’m feeling a lot more content and the sense of direction and purpose that I used to have so clearly a few years ago (when I was so clear about my beliefs) seems to be returning.

I’m also reading Life With Full Attention. It’s designed as an eight week course in mindfulness, written by a Buddhist but really accessible to everyone. I’m hoping to cultivate a more mindful approach to every day life, and actually I want to apply it to my running too. I find that running is like a form of moving meditation, and the two often go hand in hand. Lately I haven’t felt that way quite as much, and I want to get that feeling back. The book suggests a mindful daily walk, but I want to use some of my runs instead.

I’ve set out my aims for the week, although limiting my TV and laptop time were two of them and I’ve already failed that today! It’s something to work on anyway.

I have more to talk about and a recipe to share too! But I think I should save that for another post, this one is getting to be a little long.

I’m going to check out some more photos of the race that I’m just found – while I was writing this I got an email and apparently there was an official race photographer! So I’m excited to see if there are any more photos of us.

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