Saturday, 31 March 2012

I'm an Olympic Medallist

1) I have run a race in the Olympic Stadium
2) I was given a medal for that race.
If this does not make me an Olympic medallist, I don't know what does. And at least when I do 100 metres along the running track, I've done 4.9 miles before hand, not like that Usain Bolt flash in the pan!

Many months ago I entered a ballot to run in the Olympic Stadium. From 40,000 entrants, myself and 4,999 where chosen.

I met the first chosen others on the tube, when three ladies from up north called out "hello Olympic Runner". They were the Goalden Girls, a group of over 50s who had not run before and were about to do their first marathon. After a fun tube ride with them., I knew it was going to be a great day.

I brought my friends Lyla and Makmid with me, and their new little addition, Amira. We had a bit of a queue but I think meeting at 1130 meant we were missing the worst of it. Amira didn't look very pleased especially as part of the queuing process meant snaking around the Westfield Shopping Mall and then being rushed across a road. Her presence meant we got access to the VIP security lane (also the accessibility lane, which you couldn't fit a wheelchair down) and got through pretty quickly, unlike Makmid who had to remove nearly every item of clothing. The Group 4 Security staff were our first contact with Olympic staff, which is enough to make you shudder, but they had clearly employed lots of people from BME backgrounds who seemed incredibly happy and friendly to mask their evil corporate image. Political rant over.

Once suitably frisked we were in front of the Stadium where every runner started throwing Usain Bolt poses and having photos. It was bitterly cold and windy and I wished for more layers and definitely running gloves! The stadium felt quite small inside and as some of the seating was still being completed, it felt quite empty with only 15,000 people in it.

I went to meet Andy (@noynek) on the start line, trying to figure which bridge corner was near the Aquatic Centre. That's typical engineer directions that! I eventually found him (for twitter interested folk, he looks just like his twitter pic only nicer!) We huddled in a pack of pink people - the last wave to start and full of people with the right attitude - those wanting to take photos, have fun and remember the day - not those necessarily chasing a PB. We huddled in that pack for an awfully long time and had a real laugh trying to do a series of warm up exercises when we couldn't see the instructor and we had no room to move!

When we finally crossed the start line it was carnage as there was so many runners but somehow Andy and I managed to stay together. The route was around the Olympic Park so we managed to see a lot of the buildings, either finished or close to. Andy's company had done some work in this field so I also got to learn a bit about the buildings and work out which was which, thank god for civil engineers!

It was weird that there were no spectators, but a few well placed bands helped keep the mood bouyant. Any workers who were on gate duty came to the side lines and gave us spirited cheers which was sweet. Otherwise we waved hard at trains, walking tours and people outside the Olympic perimeter.

I was surprised how completely unfit I felt, and Andy was springing beside me like a deer. It was really kind of him to run with me as it was a nicer experience for grinning at someone! When we got back to the Olympic stadium, we went into the entrance but instead of running straight onto the track as I thought, we went through an industrial tunnel inside the stadium. This was great because you had seen a glimpse of inside the stadium and were all excited, but had suspense as you ran through the tunnel. To add to it, they played Chariots of Fire in the tunnel and there were workmen standing on blocks alongside cheering and high fiving.

Entering the stadium itself was phenomenal. It was simply like being famous! I noticed in a photo I took just after entering that everyone including myself was waving like a rock star to the crowds. It was compelling! Andy put in a big kick to the finish and I took my snaps waving like crazy down the final 300 metres in the stadium. I finished in 49 minutes, and while wasn't presented with a medal, found one down the bottom of my goody bag.

We had a long queue to get out of the Stadium again, but I was an Olympic medallist by that point, and I didn't care!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Show me your brass

Many moons ago (ie in the days before the Ultra) Kim and her Hastings crew convinced me to run the Hastings half marathon so I could get the much famous Hastings Brass (so famous though I can't tell you anything about it, and neither can wikipedia).

I didn't give a lot of thought to training as I thought there would be some muscle memory from the Ultra and I'd have done a 5, 10, 15k race each weekend before. But that was the plan in my training diary and not what happened in reality and as my regular 1.5 readers will know, I couldn't do the 15km due to Gambia Foot and so went into Hastings quite unprepared.

The day before I did a wee jog down the lane with Kim and realised I hadn't tested my burns and blisters for chafing but felt like the feet would be the least of my concerns as the race featured some big hills. I could tell that the half marathon was a big deal in town when the local sports shop had a 40 page event brochure in it. Featuring my name in print. I still get a kick out of little things like that!

The race start was down the road from those cute little wooden huts that line British sea sides and set next to a bustling mini expo! I was able to stock up on souvenir tshirts (who doesn't want one featuring King Harold getting an arrow in his eye on the front and their name on the back!?), free samples of Clifbar and more. Being outside London, bags were left on a trust basis, again something I got a kick out of, then it was off to spot some sun to bask in while waiting for the start. The event had provided pace makers for up to 12 minute milers which is really thoughtful so I aligned myself with a 10minute mile pacer due to being out of shape and out of respect for the notorious hills. This start group was full of eccentric entries: a man with his son in a shopping trolley looked the most perilous. A lovely man whose name I have now forgotten gave me lots of great route advice including how to tackle the hills.

I have to say that I felt the hills from the first incline through suburbia and I was really making a lot of effort to keep with the pacer. The pacer was a beautiful young man called Jules with the shiny smooth legs of a triathlete. In fact he was a double ironman. Bow in awe. Because of the heat, Jules made a bit of an error quaffing water ahead of the start and had to take to the bushes, instructing me to hold the pacemaker sign! Me! I'm a pace maker. The runners around me loved it and gave me a cheer and I tried really hard to keep pace as much as possible. It was a very cool moment. I tell you, it's the little things.

I stayed with Jules for about 3 miles as we came into the big hill of Queens Way. Jules was running a constant pace regardless of incline and I couldn't keep up and had to let the pack go. It was gutting. The hill just never stopped and even when the spectators told me it was the last hill, it never was. The crowds were great though - so many of them, super cheerful and true supporters of running. There were countless trays of jellybeans, jelly tots and orange slices provided by people out of kindness.

As well as hilly, the route was a bit tough for lack of water. There were only four water stations and after miles of staring fixated at spectator's personal drinks (and two beers) I had to pick up someone's drink from the road side. I'd seen that done in Prague and figured the runner must've been desperate - now that person was me!

I wasn't the only person struggling on the hills and it was nice that I could chat to others as we slowed to a walk and struggled to a run together. I could see the pace sign on the horizon and while on the flats and downhills I could make some distance, it would elude me again on the hills.

At one point I passed a Pirate and struck up conversation. Meldy was competing in IronMan Lanzarote next year and it sort of came out that I was too. (oh really Rowena?!) She told me that lots of Pirates would be doing it and too look her up. She also chastised me for not making the effort to run with Jules for the eye candy!

After so many hills, you would think I would be really happy to come down through the old town to the waterfront. I was not. It was more exposed in the heat and suddenly everything stopped working. My middle toes cramped along with my forefoot. I had to stop and take off my shoe and stretch it. Meldy passed and called out to check on me. All I wanted to do was finish. I fell in with a man I think called Rob from Macmillan and we walked-ran together. Alongside us (as had been for nearly 6 miles) was the Rye Team boxing club - a group carrying a stretcher full of sand bags and showing amazing team work.

I crossed the line in something like 2:13 with a massive smile on my face. The atmosphere was excellent and while the course was hard, it was truly rewarding. Plus I had my name on a tshirt!

A week later the organisers sent me a copy of the local paper with the event footage and our results printed. I still don't what a Hastings Brass is but I had so much fun I think I'll lead a campaign for Hastings For Capital!

Someone's happy

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Asics run club

A little post about the Asics run club in case anyone stumbles on this blog and wants to do it - in a nutshell: the people are very friendly and welcoming but it's good for experienced runners too.

It takes place every Monday from the Asics store near Oxford Circus and is led by a very friendly and professional runner called Eric Dol. We were also accompanied by his colleague Vlad. Yes, as in The Impaler, but I am sure he gets that all the time. And he was too nice to be an impaler.

Anyway, another lady joined us and while she said she was a bit slow, she went off quite strong, so Eric ran with her and Vlad kindly plodded along with me. Much nicer than Nike Run Club where you inevitably end up on your alone - especially in the dark, it was great to have company and almost like having a personal trainer! Despite running a 20mile race the day before, Eric and Woman Whose Name I Forget set a bit of distance between us, helped by the fact that I never do my laces up properly. And then can't do them up under pressure. It's like all the angst of being six all over again.

Vlad was nice and chatty and was also good at realising I was going to burst a lung and checked on me from time to time when he sense it was best to go quiet. I definitely went out harder than I normally would have if I was on my own - especially after being on holiday and then having poorly feet. Oh yes, the feet. At first they felt a bit raw but actually I got over that pretty quickly - maybe I was distracted by the pounding of my heart and squeaking of my lungs!

I think we did 5km all up around Regents Park and about (I'm not sure because I didn't wear a sports band! I know, I've been on holiday, what can I say?) before ending up back at the Asics store where you're given a money off voucher!

And it's all free. So just do it. Oh no, it's Nike that say that. And you can chat to Eric about it on twitter here.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Typically my foot is better by this afternoon - better as in I can now put my foot flat on the floor despite the blisters and walk on it. It feels a bit gross but it's doable.

As a result I will definitely maybe do Asics Run Club tomorrow.

Decisions decisions

I am supposed to be running the Stroke Association 15km run today. I'd love to as it would help me progress to next week's half marathon. But I need to be realistic. I can't plant my right foot flat on the floor without hurting it. I know I could run a different way but that might lead to a proper injury so I am going to have to DNS. This is my first did not start (I was supposed to do Istanbul Marathon but I recovered enough to be able to race the 15km run).

Ho hum. Happens to us all right...

In the meantime, look at some nice photos of The Gambia.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Running in The Gambia

Well let's be honest I didn't really run in the Gambia but it did have an impact on my running! My friend was due to leave the Gambia very soon for a country much harder to travel to (Burma) so I thought best to get on a plane and go visit. I didn't think about the 15km race or the half marathon that awaited me on my return, just of 41 degrees C temperatures, cold beer and maybe some cocktails! I figured I could run on the beach but then forgot to pack my sports bra...

The house I was staying in had a runner and Katie is a long distance cyclist so it should have been a pretty active holiday. Until... the cleaner came round and cleaned everything. And I mean everything. Because West Africa gets Harmattan winds from the Sahara, everything is covered in a fine pink dust. Even after you get out of the shower, minutes later, pink dust. So my thongs (you call them flip flops) were duly cleaned and part of me thought something of it and part of me was too "on holiday mode" to care. I went for a walk and by the time we had finished strolling along the beach to a beautiful hotel restaurant the soles of my feet were burnt blistered and sore from the cleaning chemicals.

Luckily you can buy prescriptions easily in the Gambia and there's plenty of lovely material to wrap my feet in but it did mean a day of just resting. Of course this ended up being the day that work needed me to work in our Gambian office but that's another story.

The flight home, the feet suffered. They inflammed a lot and I relied on all my lovely fabrics to get them home as clean and comfortable as possible. All I could think about was if I was going to run the 15km on Sunday or not...

Monday, 5 March 2012

To tri or not to tri?

That's not the question. Mostly because I generally don't question things. I just agree to do them and then lo and behold I've committed myself. But a lot of questioning of my sanity goes on while I train for said commitments.

Anyway, I'm deciding what actually makes me committed:
  • is it the entry fee? That won't be open till May 2012.
  • the training, that could start tomorrow
  • going to swim school?
  • buying a book on Lanzarote?
  • buying an "ironman in training" tshirt?
  • going to the triathlon show?
  • taking the dust cover off the bike?
  • looking at who flies to Lanzarote?
  • buying a wetsuit?
  • entering an open water swim?
You see there are so many moments you could ask yourself if you're committed.

Inspiration from all places

"Chrissie Wellington remembers my name!" I excitedly sent a text message to the SRO.
"That will be handy when she has to request a restraining order against you". Came the reply.

So I am not really a stalker, it just turns out that the weekend after Run With Chrissie was the London Tri Show... Really. Honest.

After Run with Chrissie, I found out that Lisa Gonzales, a super ace runner from America, was a big fan. Of Chrissie I mean; I am still working on my fan club!

Now I'm a bit of a fan of Lisa. Firstly because she did her first 50km just before me so I could watch and learn. She's now done a handful of runs that distance so she's in a completely different league to me. I also am a fan because she admitted that the first few years of running were hard. I can definitely relate to that. I rarely put my sneakers on thinking "this is easy" or "such fun". It's always something I have to work very hard at. Not many people admit that or they do, but actually they go out and trot out 13miles in a heart beat. Not me. But what I really liked about Lisa was the journey she has been on running; that she ran to lose weight and lose weight she did! And she's never going back. She looks like a different person. I thought that Lisa would easily do all her ultra races as nothing could be so hard as the physical transformation she's been on. That was inspiring.

So when I had the chance to get a copy of Chrissie's book signed at the Tri Show, I thought it would be a nice treat for Lisa. She's worked hard and the book isn't out in the States till May. A perfect treat. Now this might seem a bit odd but those who are friends with me will tell you I am the "saw this and thought of you" type person. I will never remember your birthday (or the joke is, I only remember it when you have cancer so it's best I don't) and am lousy at Xmas but I am a trinkets and dead birds kind of girl randomly throughout the year.

So I rock up to collect the reserved book and Chrissie has already signed it. I'm half pleased (job done already) but half disappointed (it's not personal). I know from the talk that Chrissie is only staying for an hour or two as she has a surprise birthday lunch for her mum. Chrissie is still in the Q+A when I collect the book so I wander around a bit thinking of what to do.

Now let's be honest here, I got distracted. I can't remember what by, but I did. And then I got talking from my old Running School and notice they are next to the Chrissie stand where she is autographing. I look at the queue, snaking round the room, look at the clock, ticking on towards the time she has to leave, and leap in the queue. Two others jump in behind me and then the queue is closed to make sure Chrissie can leave. A security guard is assigned to the end. Smug.

Now from the little I know of Chrissie, I can't just shove a book at her and say "for Lisa". She will chat. So I get my mobile phone and download a pic of Lisa from her blog so she can look at it! And then I pick one of the things I find most inspiring about Lisa which is her third birthday post. I figure if I was in the same country, Lisa would probably sucker punch me for this.

Everyone in the queue is really nervous. The woman in front lives in the same town as Ironman SA and has never run more than 10km. The girl behind is petrified and her mum is telling her what to say. Ahead of us, the woman who meets Chrissie next whispers something in her ear and Chrissie envelopes her with a hug. She is no aloof athlete this one.

It comes to my turn. "Hi it's me again," I say in case she does have a sense of deja vu. "It's Rowena isn't it". It's about all I can do not to jump up and down on the spot shouting "She remembered my name". I tell her the book isn't for me, it's for Lisa, who has inspired me through running. I tell her Lisa bikes and runs. I don't think I said she gets sea sick in pools! :) I show her a pic of Lisa and Chrissie is just about to sign the book saying "that's cool". Then I explain to her why I think Lisa is amazing and show her the third birthday blog post. Chrissie's eyes nearly fall out of her head. "That is amazing" she says in wonder and then without prompting signs Lisa's book with the words "Lisa, you are an inspiration"

Lisa wrote a lovely blog post on this from her end.

There's a moral to this story. All of us running, riding, swimming, walking. We can all be role models. We are all an inspiration. No matter how short the distance or slow the speed, you are faster and further than the person on the couch. There is always someone wanting to know "someone like me" can do it. There's always someone taking encouragement, reading your words, watching your journey. They might not tell you, but they are there. They might train when you train because they know they are not the only person up at 5am. They might go for a run when not in the mood because you're injured and can't and you reminded them to be all they can be. They might run round a carpark to get that last few yards in because knowing others do it makes it seem less silly.

You'll notice that I wrote "we can all be role models", not "we are all role models". Not all people make the slow and new feel welcome. I am lucky to be surrounded on twitter by people who are. If running, swimming and riding to the limit is a gift, then the beauty of that gift is the humility with which we share our achievements and encourage others to match them. I think this is something Lisa and many others who have supported me do, so look out, maybe one day I'll arrange your inspiration to come back to you with a note too!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The London Tri Show

So I went to the Tri Show. This is a big deal because previously I was a bit sceptical or indeed cynical of people needing to run, bike and swim. This is mostly because I thought it was short distances and therefore it's completely achievable, it's just about being fast. I am less into fast (because I am not fast!) and more into grindingly long days full of sweat and soiling yourself. These are the days when it's good to be alive, and when you learn something about yourself.

Cue Ironman. How did I stumble on this event? I sort of always knew about it. I have had Julie Moss crawling on my home page for a while. I read Ironholg's book with the fabulous title: Can't Swim, Can't Ride, Can't Run. He made it seem accessible, though maybe if I worked and lived where he did and had access to the uni pool, I thought! I ordered a book about real people doing Ironman as an inspiration for the Ultra. Then I ran 50km and felt like anything is possible. Really, you should be able to bottle and sell that feeling. I figure if you can run 50km you can probably run more, you can probably run day after day. So I needed an extra challenge.

I'd been inspired by Lena (also with a fabulous blog title: Invincible until proven otherwise) and who had been on a Run With Chrissie event. Because of her, I signed up to the next Run with Chrissie. I defy anyone to meet Chrissie Wellington and not leave wanting to do something with your life. As she was going to be at the London Tri Show the following weekend, I thought I would mosey on down there. Such a stalker.

So what was it like? First session I went to was listening to Chrissie talk. This was done as a media interview and I felt that she was much more media savvy than personal as she was at the Run With Chrissie event. Some of the questions were a bit tough too. Next up, a session on what it takes to do an Ironman. This was delivered by experienced competitor Mark Kleanthous. I thought his presentation lacked a bit of structure and so I didn't take away much that I didn't already know. He seems like a nice cheery chap and he has just launched a book.

I was really interested in the seminar on the Science of Tapering as this something I don't always get right and I figured if I understood it I would do it better. Unfortunately this presentation was a bit dry and I didn't stay to the end. Sounds a bit like my approach to tapering!

The best seminar was by Swimsmooth on the 5 most common undiagnosed swimming flaws. It was well explained and there are lots of videos on their website. I felt a bit miffed that most of their swim videos and training are done in my home town - all the way in sunny Perth Australia! This session was packed which said a lot about how comfortable people were with swimming!

In terms of exhibitions, it was a great place to pick up event leaflets - from aquathons, to duathlons, open water swims, and women only events. I also talked to Saucony and Brooks about their less chunky running shoes and will be testing some in anger once pay day comes. I skipped all the bike stands (but did pick up a lot of stickers - old habits die hard) and learned that you need to get a bike fitted. I keep telling myself that this will soon make sense in the way choosing a running shoe makes sense to me. I also had a good chat to the Ironman event organisers - actually I think I burbled at them excitingly, and to a personal trainer course provided - though this will have to wait till 2014 now.

The best part of the day was twitter connected. How geeky. I had planned a surprise for Lisa, a new ultra runner who I have found really inspiring (more on this to come!) and also met up with triathlete and speedster Eddie from Run with Chrissie, and ultra running, cross country speedster Eric from Istanbul Marathon. It's great for me to hang out with people with more experience, but also to chat to people who have the same passion, nerves, and excitement for pushing themselves into the unknown. It's not that we run similar or perform the same or have a shared speed - but that we understand the desire, be that to talk sneakers for hours, to stroke a new wet suit material or to dream of being able to ride until you vomit. And that was definitely worth the trip to Esher. Where's that? Exactly.

Age UK 10k: Rowena takes Crystal Palace

As part of my Ultra Recovery Plan - or at least a plan to keep me running long after the milestone had been met - I entered a whole load of races to keep the legs ticking over without me having to make any effort independently!

The first proper race was organised by Age UK and as part of the Wrap and Run series which they hold across the country over winter. The runs aim to spread awareness: did you know 25,000 older people die every winter from preventable causes? Pretty shocking. The great thing about the run is that you don't have to raise a certain amount - great for me after the big fundraising efforts, but not so great for the charity. So if you're upset by that statistic then drop them a donation or sign up for their e news.

The event was really well organised, starting at Crystal Palace running track with two laps round the park. It was quite cold and a bit drizzly and the excellent organisation meant we were there way to early so there was a lot of people doing impromtu warmup movements in the centre of the track to keep warm. Our spirits were kept high by AgeUK volunteers dressed as cheerleaders, over 65 and waving pompoms!

I started out nice and slow and saw that there were a lot of people visibly less fit than me - overweight and in street shoes so I knew I wasn't going to come last! The first hill really hurt but I was pleased I was doing ok and actually overtaking a lot of people. The course was marked out in miles which confused me and by about 4 miles the hills had taken their toll and I was walking the worst of them but not losing too much time. I then got a stitch which properly pulled me over - was it the cake I scoffed on the train?! When I stopped to work out the stitch, the cold got right into my bones - and my IT band started rusting up alongside the knee. I kept running but the pain never went away.

The second lap was more of the same but with more walks up the steepest section of the hills to ease away the IT band pain. A really old man kept coming up behind me at this point shouting "dont' walk, it's too cold". It didn't really help!

I had a strong finish on the track as it was lovely and bouncy and finished 1:03:14 - considering all the walking and hills I was really pleased as I'm not a sub 1 hour ten km runner yet anyway. The best bit was getting a Mars Bar over the finish line. Forget goodybags, just a mars bar please! We also got a tshirt to add to the growing collection.

After the race I got talking to the old man who told me to keep running. He was a marathoner and ultra runner and had lots of experience to share. I made a resolution to always speak to the oldest looking runner from now on as it was really enjoyable to learn so much from him and get encouragement and realise that you can be old and active! A very appropriate learning from an Age UK event!

A great event, well organised, affordable and great fun. I think entry was £14.95, the course was challenging and I even got photos taken! Recommended and perfect for two weeks after an ultra!