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Better late than never

Oh how the title of this post applies to so many things. I haven’t written in months. Better late than never. My training could have started before it did. Better late than never. I finished my recent half marathon in my slowest time ever for that distance. But: Better late than never!

Last Saturday night was my first official race in two years. TWO YEARS! Long time coming. Injuries and having a baby will do that I guess. There’s so many running stories between last November, when I started running again after Nahuel’s birth, and now that I want to share, but for now they will have to wait. This post is simply going to be about Saturday’s race.

The ING marathon and half marathon in Luxembourg is a great big running event. The sort with helicopters, hot air balloons, DJs, an assortment of free stuff for the crowd to shake, rattle and wave, tonnes of people lining the streets in support and a route which takes in the delights of the city. Martin ran the full marathon last year and the route is famous for its inclines in the second half of both courses. He was a supporter this year, along with Nahuel.

I was nervous. The previous weekend I had run 10.3 miles along the ups and downs of the vineyards around the Moselle valley, where we live. It had been hot and tiring, but I had felt great. I had reserves and could have kept going. On that starting line a week later, my nerves led to doubts. Would I make it? I have never experienced that before. “I’m nervous,” I said to my friend who was also running. “Me too,” she replied. It was her first half marathon. It seemed to me she had the right to be nervous and I didn’t. Perhaps I just needed to start and I’d feel fine.

And then start we did. We kicked off at lightening speed. There were lots of people so you had the usual first couple of kilometres skipping past people and dodging around others. But we did it quickly, at just under 5 minute per km. This was not my half marathon running pace. But it felt good. So I carried on that way.

I got to the 12 km marker in an hour. Way too fast, knowing the up-hills that were coming on the way back. The crowd were brilliant, shouting and cheering your name at every part of the course. In the city centre, there was no way you could stop. The route was narrow and lined both sides with cheering and clapping. I felt like I shuffled the cobbled streets of Luxembourg city at that point on the wave of the semi-drunken audience with bubbly in their hands.

But after that euphoria, the roads widened again. There was space and a breeze and the setting sun behind me on the way back to Kirchberg. I had nothing in the tank. I had to walk. So I walked and ran the last part, hoping I had done enough to come in under 2 hours. I tried to buddy up with a couple of people who also seemed to be suffering, egging them on to get the same support back. But I ended up leaving them and their blisters and woes behind.

At kilometre 18.5, a friend shouted out from the void. “LAURA! Come on Bird!” There was a world out there beyond the pain and exhaustion! I ran up to her and got a kiss, some energy to get me through the last couple of kilometres. It worked.

Martin and Nahuel were also there, on the final bend before the finishing line. And so I made it. Not elegantly, or fearlessly or strongly, but I finished. My watch said 2 hours and 9 seconds. Oh well. Better late than never.

Congrats to all the runners of Saturday’s half and full marathon! And to my friend Kris, who finished her first half in 1 hour 54 minutes. Great job!

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

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Signing up, up and away

Sometimes your inbox is trying to tell you something.email

Yesterday I got four emails about running events, different ones around the Europe: a woodland 10km in the south-east; a hilly affair in the west; an exciting half marathon in a city best known for shopping rather than running; and a lovely little jog around a park in the capital.

They will only keep coming, I know that. The weather is no longer a danger to limbs and lungs and it now gets light before you get up, which helps. These race organisers know that now is the time to whet the competitive spirit, thrust a challenge onto the unsuspecting new runner and lay down the gauntlet to running heroes and villains. It’s the time to sort out those training plans and work out just how many weekends you can dedicate to charity runs in places where you know people. Now is the time to set a goal.

I say now, in February, because January is filled with so much pressure on doing/not doing/target-setting/changing that now all that waffle is over, you can be realistic and pick stuff that you want to do; that you’re going to do. In the fever of January (and this has happened to me before) you can sign up for all sorts and then forget about them until they come knocking one week before and you are in no way prepared physically/economically (how much?)/practically (how do you get to those woods in Wales on a Sunday morning?)

So, now the idea is making your neurons dance and legs twitch in anticipation, the dilemma is: which race? Fun and for charity? Something for a distance personal best? A route with mountains to distract you? One to combine with a holiday/city break? The choice is endless.

And once you’ve signed up, what then? The adrenalin kicks in, the planning starts, the trainers get on, maybe a new piece of kit gets bought. You work out how to get there. You let everyone know you’re doing it, so there’s no wimping out. Perhaps you get a mate or loved one involved for support and inspiration. Or maybe you go it alone: it is your challenge, your personal quest.

In life as much as in running, we need something to aim for, to look forward to; a date in the diary for something we have chosen. And when the moment comes, we soar. From the start line, up, up and away we go. We’ve worked towards it. It’s our freedom as livers and runners and we must enjoy it, remembering the joy at the click: SIGN UP HERE.

So, back to my inbox. Where do I go? How far? Who with?

Ping! And there’s another running event to put into the melting pot.

 

What running events are you doing this year in the UK, USA or anywhere? Let us know, tips and recommendations welcome!

 

 

 

Charity running

There’s a little booklet that comes with the November edition of Runners’ World UK about running for charity: the dos, the don’ts, the motivations, the pitfalls and people’s stories. It’s a nice little book to get your head round if you’ve never thought about doing a running event for a charity before. But there’s a JustGiving advert in the middle of it, which says: Running is tough. Raising money is the easy bit. And to some extent I disagree.

I love entering events and for the majority of challenges I have raised money for a charity. I agree that it can give you drive and purpose. And it’s a way that the non-runners in your life can be part of the experience. The two main charities I have helped have been really supportive: the MS Trust and Pelican Cancer. I have also done quite a few of Cancer Research UK’s runs over the years. It’s a good feeling to be on the long start line with hundreds of other runners wanting to do their bit, try their hardest, push their own boundaries for a good cause.

However, once you get the running and raising money bug, you’ll realise that the money doesn’t always come in so readily as it did at that first big challenge. If people knew you when you were a non-runner, knowing a 5km would push you to your very limits, of course they will inspire you to keep going and donate for the cause. But after doing marathons, after running across volcanoes, after swimming and writing challenges, how can you then do a charity 5km and expect to get the same kind of monetary motivation as before? You can’t. It’s that ‘charity fatigue’ that they talk about in the booklet.

But some clever athlete has come up with a nice idea to keep the funds rolling in as well as giving your givers something back in return. Guess2Give.com is a fundraising site where your donators pledge £3 to guess your finish time in the event, with £2.50 plus gift aid going to your charity and 50p going into the winnings pot. It’s something fun, different and means your wallet weary friends and family don’t have to pledge big donations if they don’t want to in order to help you reach your targets. And they are even more part of the experience – they have a vested interest, let’s say, in getting you out there training, whatever the weather (unless someone bets on the DNF option: Did Not Finish!)

I think it’s a great idea. Check out the website here www.guess2give.com Although my next running event in four weeks’ time won’t be for charity, I’m going to give Guess2Give first dibs on my next charity challenge. Hopefully, some of those fabulous friends and family who don’t think twice about digging in their pockets for me and my charity will also get something back… depending on their faith in me and my  finishing time of course!

The London Marathon: Say My Name

I have never been a spectator at a running event, unless you count our middle school cross-country races where after my run I would then have to wait for my brother in the boys’ version. So, going to this year’s London Marathon was a first to being on the side line at such an event.

First thing’s first: I would always want to be the one running; the person bouncing with excited and nervous energy at the starting line and looking out for familiar and friendly faces along the course. But I decided months ago that I would go to experience the London Marathon as I could – a mere mortal, observer, supporter.

There is something seemingly special about the London Marathon. You don’t have to be a runner, or even a sports fan to realise it. The amount of people running on the streets of the capital last Sunday was over 37,500. Helicopters hover above, showing the instant an elite athlete breaks away from the pack and later, the bobbing masses en route. Journalists jog alongside competitors catching stories; hundreds of photographers line the pavements and bridges to capture moments of joy, agony and achievement in their thousands. There are inspiring stories in abundance.

We headed to mile 24, along Victoria Embankment, just around the corner from the London Eye. It was the perfect weather to be running 26.3 miles: sunny with no wind. I had seen the elite women and men start on television beforehand and we timed it perfectly. At the half way point, leading the women’s race was a pack of about 10. It was incredible to see how they had been spread out in the second half of the race. The winner came past us, striding out and comfortable, minutes ahead of the second place who was minutes ahead of third. It was incredible to see these athletes, so strong and fast after 24 miles. Having experienced a marathon and Cruce this year, I will never stop marvelling at these incredible endurance runners.

After the elite men passed us in much the same vein: very fast from them and sheer awe from us, the next batch of runners arrived. These were runners making good time, who were tired, but oh-so-close to the finish. They needed that last push and we were there to give it to them. We didn’t stop clapping for two and a half hours. I love cheering and did so, whooping at people, urging them on, shaking winning fists at them as they ran, staggered and stumbled past. The ones that got the biggest boosts were those with their names on their shirts. Every name would get a shout-out, and most runners turned towards me with a grateful smile, mouthing the words ‘thank you’ and passing with a newfound spring in their step. It doesn’t matter that you’re a stranger, hearing your name being championed on the streets is such an encouragement. And I meant every word I shouted. I’ve been there. Two miles from the finish it can all become a bit surreal. Having someone say your name brings you back to earth, to the race, to the final push.

When you run the Buenos Aires Marathon, there are some lonely times. At parts of it there are no supporters, no city dwellers would even go there. There are just the water station volunteers doing their best. I ran it with music. But the London Marathon, you don’t need headphones. The beat of the streets, the spectators, drums, inflatable clapping tubes should keep you going even when your legs have had enough. The atmosphere is everyone’s winner.

Earlier I described supporters as mere mortals. I now understand that they are not. There were spectators there who had rushed between points to see loved ones as they passed. There were groups of charity workers and supporters who shouted themselves hoarse like me and were still going when we left. As well as the inspiring stories and successes being played out on the course, so the crowd from south to east to central London played out their own winning formula. Runners en mass had support en mass. And it was great to be a part of that side of it. Did I feel jealous? Of course. But I couldn’t have done my spectator training at a better running event.

There was one sad story to come out of this year’s London Marathon. 30-year-old Claire Squires collapsed a mile from the finish line and later died. She was running in aid of the Samaritans. Prior to starting the race she had raised around £500. The supporting public, on hearing the story, stepped up to the mark and have donated a lot more. Earlier today her fundraising total had reached over £850,000.

The London Marathon is a special race; not just for the running, but also for everything else. Inspirational people and feats; charitable accomplishments and generosity; and those on the side lines who might not run, but are there saying your name and will get you to the line.

If you would like to donate to Claire’s fund for the Samaritans, please click on the link below. JustGiving are waiving their credit and debit card fees in this case.

http://www.justgiving.com/Claire-Squires2

Running through the nerves

Last night I went to bed and I was nervous. All I kept thinking about were the miles I had to run the next morning, the blisters on my feet and the tibia twinge. These are all things I have dealt with before, so I don’t know why this time I was feeling the nerves.

I guess it’s because Cruce de los Andes is the something I have never done before, and all these runs are leading up to that one momentous event. With their latest promotional video (see earlier posts), it seemed that every time I closed my eyes there they were: lakes deeper than ever, volcanos as high as the sky, rivers, creeks, forests, steep and never-ending paths… I was turning Cruce into an arch-enemy.

But it’s not. Maria and I, as best friends and crazy chicas, are going to have to make Cruce our friend. It’s going to have to join the M&M Running Club. This will mean laughing at those impossible gradients of scree, the mud, the itches, the leg burn. It will mean relishing each painful moment, knowing that there will be less painful ones ahead.

That’s what I did today. I got up and got straight into my running gear, even though I wasn’t heading out for another 90 minutes. I paid attention to Maria’s earlier post and filled myself up on peanut butter. I hydrated after all the salted popcorn last night. And I stretched and tried not to psyche myself out. These were hills and routes I had run many times before.

West London was waiting for me in all its winter glory. And there were so many other runners I passed that I felt I was part of some secret club. I’m not running with music these days, so I kept mentally focused, imagining the stupid stories Maria and I would be making up along the way in three weeks’ time, and the hilarity which would ensue if we actually bumped into a mountain goat on our path. The sun beat down, I made sure I kept sipping my Lucozade sport and I relaxed.

Each step, each hill and the further I went, the easier it was and the more I knew I was winning. It wasn’t a race, I wasn’t going to win a prize, but I was winning against the nerves that had plagued me the last couple of days. As Maria alluded to in a previous post, I think sometimes we freak ourselves before realising that getting out the door and getting on with it is the only thing that’s going to get rid of those nasty nerves.

So, now I feel like superwoman. Psychologically speaking. Physically, I need a feet transplant and some more blister operations will be coming my way. But is this going to stop me? No.

As Steve Bull once said: “Nerves and butterflies are fine – they’re a physical sign that you’re mentally ready and eager.  You have to get the butterflies to fly in formation, that’s the trick.”

Let’s go flying…