Smug cometh before a splat

It’s been a good, solid week of training, culminating in a 20-mile run which started at 6am and finished at parkrun.  20 miles in the bag before breakfast and a whole day cleared for OU study.  My level of smug was at 10/10 and rose to 11/10 this lunchtime when I went out for a recovery run only to find that I didn’t feel as though I had anything to recover from.

Then I ran into a tree.

Current level of smug: -1/10

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Based on an original idea by

It’s been an odd seven days.  Instead of the nice, neat, “Done. Done. Done. Done. Done. Done. Done.” that I like to write in my training plan (with some added text because apparently “Done” by itself doesn’t give my long-suffering coach enough feedback), my plan has read “Shortened. Done-ish. Bailed. Modified. Modified. Modified. Done.”

Barring the “Bailed” outing (a run which had all the right ingredients for a cracker, but which felt revolting from the outset and was ditched less than four miles into the planned sixteen) the week itself has been good and has featured new trails, no particular niggles, less procrastination than usual, and even some unexpected company, but it hasn’t been as written, and that bugs me more than it should.

The shortened run fell foul of traffic and ended up being shoe-horned into a slot slightly too small for it.  The done-ish run was meant to be easy but featured a panic-jog to make a 9am parkrun start.  The lack of long run meant that I couldn’t justify Monday’s easy cycle recovery, so I ran Tuesday’s run on Monday, attempted Wednesday’s run on Tuesday (getting lost and running long), went for an off-the-books pootle on Wednesday, and finally ended up back on plan today.

How long I’ll stay there is anyone’s guess.



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Losing focus

There was a time when I couldn’t repeat parkruns.  I ran my 51st parkrun at my 50th different venue less than a year after running my first parkrun at Wimbledon.  The journey was more than a little obsessive, huge amounts of fun and laid the foundations of my touring community.  It was also exhausting.

Fast forward five years and I’m on the cusp of running my 200th different UK parkrun.  I’ve been on the cusp for 8 weeks, having run my 199th different UK parkrun at Homewood in early February.  Since then, I’ve run two hard efforts at Dulwich, met friends at Reigate, stayed home at Wimbledon under the pressure of an OU deadline, snuck in Kingston before a family wedding, joined some friends at Burgess, and coerced another friend into joining me at Nonsuch.  With Worthing planned for this Saturday, another hard effort at Dulwich on the cards for Easter Saturday, a “can’t justify the travel time because of an OU assignment deadline” local repeat the following Saturday and Reading-as-part-of-a-long-run-before-TP100-volunteering on the April/May bank holiday weekend, I’ll still be on the cusp this time next month.

On the cusp and enjoying every moment.  Except possibly the eyeballs-out effort at Dulwich.

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Fleet Half Marathon

Given how much I dislike large road races, Fleet Half Marathon was surprisingly pleasant.  Granted, it’s not London Marathon large, but there’s a fair crowd of runners, and enthusiastically loud supporters can be found on large chunks of the route.

It started at 10:30, though runners were asked to arrive by 9:15, presumably to avoid the road closures.  We were warned not to park on the streets around the park and told to use the town centre car parks, for which there would be a charge.  I dutifully took along a handful of shrapnel, only to find that the car park in the main shopping centre is free on Sundays.  Bargain.  It also, the shopping centre, not the car park, had toilets, a fact a fair number of runners were taking advantage of.

I followed the trail of runners towards the park, passing several banks of portaloos on the way, and took refuge in the baggage tent.  At 9:45, we were called outside for a warm-up.  I ignored the call and continued loitering in the relative warmth of the tent, chatting first to a runner returning to half marathon distance after two years off running with plantar fasciitis and then to some club mates who were helpfully sporting club vests.  Memo to self: wear club vest to races.

As 10:30 approached, we wandered over to the start.  I’d decided that I didn’t want to spend the race clock watching so I lined up behind the two (two!) 2:00 hour pacers.  What followed was 20 minutes of me reeling them in, 10 minutes of basking in the knowledge that I’d overhauled the pair of them and was feeling goooood, a horrible realisation that I wasn’t all that good as the leading one reeled me back in, another twenty or so minutes spent telling myself that I hadn’t slowed, he was pacing way too fast and thirty five minutes of knuckling down, staying with him and reassuring myself that at least I was way ahead of the other two hour pacer.

And then, 85 minutes into the race, with just over a parkrun to go, the second two hour pacer came flying past and vanished around a corner.  Damn.

I reached mile 10 with less than 30 minutes in hand, on the back of a 9:40 minute GPS mile which was nearer a 10 minute on-the-ground-not-quite-running-the-racing-line mile.  Suddenly my sub-2 (the weakest of my three goals going in) did not look good.  Telling myself that I was not NOT NOT! going to accept a 2:0x time, I drew a line under the first 10 miles and set out to run a 29 minute parkrun.

I did it.  I think.  Official results are either not yet out or just very well hidden*, but according to Garmin, I did it.  It was touch and go and needed a sprint (sic) finish, but I think I snuck in just under the 2 hour mark.

It wasn’t a PB, but it’s only 20 seconds per mile off my PB pace, it’s my first solid sub-2 in two years and it’s one of the few races I’ve managed to keep plugging away at until the bitter end.

Just don’t ask me to tell you about the big metal tower, gigantic canal, large white folly, or ferris wheel that we ran past in the last couple of miles because I didn’t spot a single one.  Just the mile markers, supporters, marshals, and very, very welcome finish line.

* EDIT.  Gun time 2:02:00.  Chip time 1:59:13.  Phew!

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Ockham and Wisley Commons and Chatley Heath

Now that the evenings are starting to get lighter, mid-week trail runs are slowly but surely creeping back into my schedule.  On Friday, I headed to Ockham where I completed a carefully planned, almost perfectly circular lap of the common, taking in a section of the woodland, some of the open heathland and the telegraph tower, and chosen specifically to optimise the mix of sandy horse trail, classic tree-root-and-leaf-mould forest track and run of the mill mud path.


What do you mean “it looks like the web of a spider on a caffeine high“?  Carefully planned, almost perfectly circular lap, I tell you.  No random path following here, oh no.

Buoyed by my success, and not daunted by the startling level of activity to be seen in the pitch black car park at the end of my run, I returned to Ockham this evening.  To avoid falling into a rut and running the same route again (it was perfectly planned, you know, and thus wholly repeatable), I crossed over the footbridge to Wisley Common.

Lowland Heath” is how it is described in the Surrey Wildlife Trust leaflet.  A leaflet which I now believe to have been penned by an Estate Agent.   Bog.  It’s a bog.  All paths lead to bogs.  Bogs with spiky plants.  Spiky, scratchy plants.  In bogs.

My plan to run around the edge of the common very soon turned into a mission to find my way back to the bridge as quickly as humanly possible.  Easier said than done.  I escaped from the bog and found my way back to a path which felt hopeful, only to be confronted with the other end of a bog which had blocked my path.


I turned tail and started running towards the sound of the traffic, and then followed the M25 back to the A3 and the A3 back to the bridge and over into the familiar surroundings of Ockham Common.

And the car park with a disconcertingly active night life.

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Guest blog: Running with anxiety

I don’t often feature guest blogs on here, but I’m glad to make space for this honest and thought-provoking piece written by an amazing woman whose friendship changed my life.

At the beginning of 2017, I decided to have another go at the Couch to 5k program. It’s gone a lot better this time than my 2014 attempt (when I stopped in Week 4, but was already a convert – it was “right for me”, just not “right for now”). But this has been because of a couple of decisions about how I’m approaching running this time. Call it personal growth.

My problem is keeping motivation up. Sticking with it. Don’t ask me to list the personal objectives I’ve had that were abandoned halfway through. It’s embarrassing how many there are. No, it’s shaming. But the advice on running has a common theme:

  • find a running buddy
  • join a club
  • enter a race .

I understand how all of these work. You don’t want to let someone else down. It’s no longer about just you. What will they think? I’ve paid money to enter, what a waste. I understand how all of these motivations work. It’s about making your exercise about more than just you. Good tactic.

But I’ve been experiencing (I just deleted “suffering” because I don’t want to wallow, but you draw your own conclusions) anxiety and depression. This time last year, it got so bad that for a two month period, I did not wash. At all. I’m not proud of it. Rather the opposite. But it helps as a yardstick. I’m feeling better than I did then. And I’ve taken up running. I’m looking for ways to bolster my motivation. And all I find are articles suggesting the above three approaches.

Here’s the thing. All three sound to me like emotional blackmail. All three are anxiety-inducing. All three run counter to why I’m enjoying running in the first place. All three almost guarantee I will fail if I try to adopt them.

What I am loving about running is that it’s not a competition. It’s not a class. It’s just me. While I far prefer getting out of bed, changing into my running gear and going for a run as soon as practicable, it doesn’t have to be that way. Life doesn’t necessarily accommodate what works best. What generally, actually, happens is I go walk the dog in my pyjamas, we eat breakfast, I read about today’s awful news – THEN I change into my gear, etc.

But here’s the thing. If I’m not able to do it right that moment, the park isn’t going anywhere. I can do it in half an hour. Or after lunch. Or at 3pm. Or tomorrow. And I understand that for a lot of people, this is a problem with running. This is what impedes motivation. You don’t have to do it now, because there’s always another moment. And that’s why the tactics above are suggested. For me, it’s the strength. I really want to do it. That’s not to say I’m not afraid. I was petrified about the switch from run/walk to run. But that there is always another opportunity is what helps me. I can run any time. It’s easier in the morning, but there’s no rule saying I can’t run in the afternoon. I can’t do it right now. Give me a minute…

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Dulwich parkrun

Despite the god of traffic lights’ best efforts, I arrived at Dulwich parkrun before half past eight.  There was a void where the finish funnel lives.  No flag, no hi-viz, no barrier tape… just an empty bench.  I locked my bike up on the nearby railings and returned.  Still empty.  I sat down, changed from my cycling kit into my running kit and dug out my mobile phone.  Still deserted.  I checked facebook – no cancellation notice – and twitter – ditto – making a mental catalogue of parkruns within spitting distance, just in case*.

And then he came, Run Director Hayden Judd, kit in hand.  Within minutes the flag and the finishing funnel were in place, and the wasteland around the bench was awash with parkrunners.

Memos to self:

  • next time, have an extra 15 minutes in bed and save yourself some heartache
  • update your sacrifices to the god of traffic lights.


* I wouldn’t usually be so twitchy but Storm Doris had caused a number of parkruns to cancel due to fallen trees and other obstacles.

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