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The competitive edge

As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.

Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!

I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.

You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.

Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a  sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.

You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.

I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.

Plum, we’re back in the race.

The smoked ham motivation

There’s a smoked ham in the Black Forest which smells and tastes divine. I’m not sure I can do it justice in my description here: it’s not just smoky and it’s not just hammy, it’s a whole new level of cured meat fabulousness. And the taste is a lingering wonder of smouldering meaty goodness. Your ham and cheese sandwich will never be the same again.

Has M&MRC taken up writing a food blog? you ask. No, but we need to be clear about something. Food is a wonderful motivator. Let me explain.

DSC_0590My husband and I had rented an apartment at the top of the hill in a small village outside Triberg. We had views down to the village and the hills and forest beyond. When we arrived I had joked about having to walk up the hill with your shopping (there were a lot of old, retired folks living up by us). I had also joked about the road up to our apartment being an excellent toboggan run in winter. Joke not, Laura.

After a weekend of typical holiday excess – champagne, cherry wine, black sausage, breakfasts that last an hour and many local beers – we woke on the Monday morning to a sunny scene below. We needed provisions. And it was also time for a run. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is something very noble about running on holiday. So, nobly, we donned our running gear and headed out.

When I say out, I mean down. Because there was no other way to go. The road led down, the village was down, the German deli was down, the park was down. We had no choice. As we ran, breakfast smells wafted into the streets from small pensions. It was the smell of that special ham, a smell to die for.

“We need to get some of that stuff,” I said to Martín as we rolled down the hill. We went past the little supermarket and into a park.

“OK, once round the park and then we go get breakfast.” I don’t know why I didn’t think about how we were DSC_0808getting back.

I felt like one of those geek runners in the shop: trainers, running leggings, headband. The old locals looked at us funny. But I didn’t care. I needed a packet of that smoky ham, a round of that wonderful dark brown bread with sesame and pumpkin seeds, some of that wonderfully heavy hard cheese.

Martín loaded up the backpack and took care of that. We stepped out into the street. And then I remembered. The way back wasn’t back. It was up.

It started mildly enough. It actually felt OK going up, the opposite muscles getting a workout they had missed out on on the way down. And then the road winded further, curving upwards, steeper and scarier. I knew the last part was the worst, so I focused on Martín just ahead, the smoky ham made in heaven in his pack. Talk about donkey and carrot.

I thought I wouldn’t make it past the turning up to our little plateau above the village, but I kept going. The houses and pensions en route were still pumping out their own, edible breakfast smells, tempting me to stop and just lick the air. I didn’t. Up, up, up we went.

I stopped at the final turn. The gradient was volcano-like and my legs were now worn and jelly. Pumping my arms I attacked it walking, every step taking me closer to breakfast. The car park flattened out and the last hundred metres I ran again, sprinting to catch up with Martín.

I mean the ham. Which I did.

DSC_0802

This is the black sausage from the area – also to die for. I was never quick enough to get a photo of the smoky ham motivator.

Autumn running

Music to my ears

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been running for some time without music. This wasn’t always the case. Every run (apart from M&MRC runs with Maria) I’d be plugged in to my iPod. I even went as far as to have music and that woman from Nike+ talking to me during marathon training. But then my Nike+ died after the full 26.2 miles and I think the loss might have affected my iPod. It started out on its own long, drawn out death as well.

That was 4 years ago. I tried using my iPod again during training for Cruce de los Andes last year, but then I figured that I wasn’t going to be plugged in while slogging it up a volcano with Maria and running in a very cold lake (which isn’t actually possible to do). It also turned out that my iPod was down to lasting about 34 minutes. It had become a 4-mile iPod and my runs were getting longer than that. It was shelved.

It has still moved everywhere with me and during this recent running hiatus while my heel heals (doctor’s appointment pending), it’s made another appearance. Instead of running, I’ve been walking; still taking advantage of the ups and downs this city has to offer, along with its shady and quiet parks. What happiness it is to stride out listening to those old tunes again.

On Monday’s walk, it got me thinking. Each song on my iPod (367 in total) has been there since 2006 when I moved to Buenos Aires. All those runs and training I did with the same voices, tunes, messages. And even now, I can hear a song from my iPod and know exactly where I was running when I listened to it on a run in Buenos Aires: moments in all those miles I did back in Argentina. I’m not joking.

Nelly and Kelly Rowland, Dilema: Running past the yacht club in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.

Counting Crows, American Girls: Running into the Reserva Ecológica, Buenos Aires.

Shakira, Illegal: Running towards Avenida 9 de Julio along Calle Arenales, Buenos Aires.

Michael Jackson, Billy Jean: Crossing the bridge near the Floating Casino, Buenos Aires.

The Nike Human Race 2008

The Nike Human Race 2008

They say that smell is a powerful sense. One whiff can take us back decades. As my iPod’s power wanes to just four songs before going silent, I’m grateful that in even those 15 minutes, whatever comes on takes me back to a place where I did some of my favourite runs.

And where M&MRC was born.

The summer squeeze

I finally have chance to sit down and write. Sorry we’ve been missing. I wish I could tell you it’s because we’ve been traversing mountain passes and running through wind torn valleys. But no.

Ouch, actually. I’m feeling a bit tight in the quads. I guess that’s what happens when you put all your training for an up-and-coming 10 km into the six days beforehand.

Last Sunday we (the royal married ‘we’, not Maria and I together unfortunately) ran the Grand East Anglia Race (GEAR), a nice and flat 10 km around King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Here was my training plan:

Monday: Go for a fast 1.5-mile run to remind legs what running is and how it feels. It had been 12 days.

Tuesday: Run 4-mile route through fields, along cliffs and up little hills. Nothing like King’s Lynn.

Wednesday: Marvel as legs don’t feel too bad. WooHoo!

Thursday: Run the 4-mile route the other way round and with sun on my face do it in under 33 minutes. That hasn’t happened for a while! So chuffed with myself, I deserve a glass of husband’s home-brewed beer.

Friday: Fannying about at work means don’t get to the pool in time. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

Saturday: Get up and swim 1 km in the pool. Imagine it’s the sea and I’m on a tropical island. Leave the pool and need a coat.

Sunday: Run 10 km in 52 minutes and 14 seconds. The route sidles along the river, through the park and finishes in a flourish with a samba band motivating us through the final 400m. Celebrate with eggs, beans and bacon.

And, having got through it all swimmingly, running is back as its own thread of my week. I went out yesterday to keep the legs working, but I know I didn’t stretch enough, hence the tightness.

It feels good though. My mum is also back to her training for the Cambridge Race for Life (you might remember her being a running virgin last year) so our hallway is full of trainers. The sun has been shining and the wind is blowing at less than 80 mph. This bodes well; it makes us want to get out there.

The first race is out of the way. Nerves shivered through our bodies on the start line. The sun has arrived on the scene. Summer is not long – what can we squeeze out of it? How many runs do we have to reduce our times/actually get a new pair of running shoes and test them out/simply keep going? I remember last summer we started our half marathon training and squeezed as much out of the longer days as possible. We are starting to do that again. But what next? (Apart from a massage and some yoga stretches?)

There are so many options for summer running: trails, fun runs, marathons. I spoke to a very old school friend on Sunday who is off to try out the Edinburgh marathon at the end of this month. And a couple of weeks ago we had the runners shining on our television screens as they pounded the streets of London for their chosen charities; a warming sight, especially after the tragic events just days before in Boston. It is inspiring. Should I sign up? Should we sign up? Should we pledge our winter to training and have a fun summer just… running?

I’m not sure I can even plan that far in advance, but there’s no harm enquiring is there, via the charities I’ve already worked with (the ballot has already opened and closed!)? It’s just one email.

Blimey, one beautiful, sunny run quicker than expected and the need to squeeze in more is palpable. But that’s what summer is about.

P1060211 Sod the tight legs.

A happy ending

There’s nothing quite like a happy ending. Or an ending that makes you think That was great! I want more! (You know, those films which set themselves up for a sequel) Or an ending that takes you by surprise and was more than you could have hoped for.

All of these happened to me last Saturday at the Trees for Cities 5km in Battersea Park, London. After the roaring success of signing up my mum for a 5km and her running the whole thing and loving it, I did the same for a friend in cohorts with her boyfriend. She probably hadn’t run for as long as my mum hadn’t, even being 24 years younger, and I think it’s fair to say, hated running even more. Emma Wrafter was many things, but a runner wasn’t one of them.

A few weeks ago she found her trainers and even went out on a few runs round the park. She would much rather have been in the pub sipping a gin, or at home cooking a pig. And she made that perfectly clear. Running Is NOT Fun! You don’t have to read between the lines of her blog to get that message.

I didn’t expect her to be all perky and smiles as we met at Sloane Square at 9am. The sun was shining and as she stepped out of the shadows of the station, she certainly wasn’t. Knackered. Angry. Lemsip. These words might be more appropriate for those early moments.

But then we got into Battersea Park and the park started to win our reluctant runner over. If you need a reason to go and visit this wonderful park, read her blog, linked at the end of this post. Battersea Park should definitely be given a knighthood. It can turn tides.

After a very strange but fun warm-up with Sinitta not singing her So Macho song next to a very camp aerobics-salsa-zumba-man shouting at us, we headed to the start line. I recommend the Trees for Cities 5km, not just for the route and their village fete organisation and activities, but also for the fact that not a lot of people do it. It’s like running round the park with a few mates.

Emma ran the whole thing. Without stopping and with talking. She even laughed at jokes and shouted at us when we were lying about how far she’d run (damn her and her contacts). This can mean only one thing: she’s got more miles in her.

We crossed the line in under 34 minutes and headed to first pick up our free foot cream and complimentary trees, then to run 100m barefoot as part of a world record attempt and finally to sit in the sunshine with some drinks and listen to the music.

Em didn’t talk in the pub as Wo had, full of excitement at having done it and wanting to continue training. She was quieter, but proud I think that she had beaten even her own expectations.

Beep beep. And then, later that evening, a text message arrived: Bird, I’m hovering over a 10km…

See, even the unlikeliest of suspects can become runners, one step at a time…

To read Emma’s view on her first 5km, go to: http://runningisnotfun.wordpress.com/

To find out more about Trees for Cities, go to: http://www.treesforcities.org/

Running boosts when you need them

So, Maria and I are both back into our groove and I just wanted to share three things which have boosted my running this week. They are simple things which came along and made running moments better. What have been yours?

ORANGE SURPRISES

My friend Jenny who lives in Spain, also runs and has followed our Cruce adventure with mountain lover envy sent me a wonderful package this week and inside was this delightful surprise for my feet.

I’ve already written about how wearing pro gear instead of pyjamas and someone else’s hand-me-downs makes you feel better when you’re out there. But there is nothing better than the feeling of running in something groovy that your friend saw and thought of you. And something orange. But that goes without saying.

SIMPLE SUNSHINE

We have officially turned the corner. Spring is here and we’re on British summer time: warmer and longer days full of garden time and barbecues. Martín my boyfriend said to me this week that when the sun comes out after winter, everyone seems to wake up and feel happier. It’s true.

And as the sun gets weaker in Maria’s part of the woods, so it gets stronger here in London (though we’re never reaching a humid Buenos Aires 40 degrees, mind!) and on a quiet morning with the sun already at the tops of the trees, there’s nothing better than hitting the pavements and parks, as I did yesterday.

RUN TO THE BEAT

I’ve lost my running music. OK, what I mean is I no longer run with it. My iPod is old and temperamental. It no longer likes to be swaddled next to my upper arm and bounce along with me, drowning out cars, lorries and (oops) bike horns. So, it’s just me and my thoughts alone and the sounds of the cars, birds and people. Yesterday I headed into a little wood to do some loops and squirrels were scuttling about as robins and larks sang their Saturday morning songs. Good tunes.

However, later, when was I was back on the road heading up a hill (it’s post Cruce so please read slope) a car pulled alongside me at a junction. SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA! Ah, the familiar beat of my song supreme Mr Jones. I don’t really miss my music; well, maybe the randomness of it which used to make me laugh as I was running when Mozart would suddenly come on. But at that moment, as I needed a push to bound me up the hill (slope), it was a fabulous kick.

Maybe I need to learn to run and sing at the same time; so I can still hear the birds and bike horns, but I also get my musical boost.

What gives you a boost when you’re out running? Share your thoughts with us.