Bushy Park 10k: The sub-60 attempt

I’ve been working on improving my running pace since the summer. Back in August, my 5k PB was 29:59 (9:40/mile), and had been exactly that for nearly 2 years. A couple of weeks ago I finally got myself into the 28s, and decided that it was now time to work on my 10k. Gulp.

My last 10k race was at Bushy Park back in 2013, where I crossed the line in 1:01:59. My goal was to average sub-10:00 – nailed it! But I decided that I really wanted to get down to sub-60. This would mean running at an average pace of 9:39/mile, which was a pretty daunting thought.

I have a very understanding boyfriend. (Also, I might have paid for his place and then bribed him with stew). Whatever the reason, I managed to persuade him out of bed at stupid o’clock on a Sunday morning, to run 5k in the freezing cold, and then wait another half hour for me to finish the 10k (at which point it was STILL freezing cold). He got a medal, a protein shake, and a lot of cheers for his sprint finish, so I think it did him some good 😀

Bushy Park 10k Final Stretch

The final .2 was SO hard. I couldn’t even muster a smile – all James got was a half-hearted thumbs up. But it waaas an 8:17 sprint finish, so I’m sure he’ll let me off!

As usual, I set off too fast at the start, but managed to slow myself down and hit 9:38 for the first mile. I then accidentally stayed at the slower pace, clocking 9:45 for mile 2, so I had to get a bit of a move on for mile 3! This hurt, and keeping it up through slippery mud and a thick layer of leaves was pretty hard work. I think I did the first 5k in over 30:00 (at which point a lot of the people around me headed off to the finish – not that I was jealous, or anything!)

Mile 4 was my favourite, and I settled into a comfy pace that I managed to keep up until about 8k. This was when I hit the muddy leafy bit again, at which point I wanted to cry and/or walk/sit down on the floor and strop. But instead, I channelled my inner adult, and got the f*** on with it. And then I nearly ran into a gorgeous stag, who chose that moment to wander into the path about 2 feet away. Pretty good time for a distraction, to be fair!

Bushy Park 10k Sprint Finish

The elusive mid-foot strike! It exists!

My inner adult got me through mile 6 in 9:26, which made me glad that I hadn’t walked or stropped, after all. But then I discovered that pushing yourself through 10k at what was recently your 5k PB pace can REALLY hurt. When I saw the finish line I pushed a little bit harder (I think I stopped breathing for a second or two), crossing it with a sprint finish of 8:17. Result!

Bushy Park 10k Medals

D’aw, isn’t he lovely? And the medals have Christmas puddings on!

After I caught my breath a little, and decided that I wasn’t going to throw up (it was a close call), my smile came back. And then a few happy tears, because 59:23, you are (provisionally but I’ll take it) MINE! (Edit: The official results are in, and I did it! 59:23!)

I wangled a 2:36 PB. Yes, I did.

Bushy Park 10k Bobble Hat

And then I broke out the bobble hat. Because, bobble hats. And it was still freezing.

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Did you run this weekend? How did it go? 🙂


Barcelona Marathon 2016: The game plan!

Marathon Training Week 0Do you set yourself time goals when training for a marathon?

For my first marathon, I didn’t dare put a time – I didn’t even know if I could manage the distance. I just wanted to run with my parents, raise some money for charity, and cross that finish line. Tick, tick, and triple tick!

For Paris, I tentatively decided that I wanted a PB. I upped the cross training and strength work, stuck to those mid-week runs, and clocked a personal worst on the day. (I might have overlooked the whole speedwork thing!) But on the plus side, it was sunny and beautiful and I enjoyed every mile… So I decided I was happy regardless of the time.

For Barcelona, I’ve finally decided to set myself an actual time goal: 4:59:59.

At the risk of sounding like a loon, my A-goal would be 4h40, though that seems a bit ambitious given my current PB of 5:16. Goal B would be sub-4h50, and Goal C is anything under 5h00.

Whilst I’m still a little bit dubious – 26.2 miles is a long way, and anything can happen – I’m feeling pretty optimistic. I’ve been picking up the pace over the summer, whittling my 5k PB down from 29:59 to 28:52, and I have a 10k PB attempt in a couple of weeks at Bushy Park (sub-60, I’m coming for you!). I just hope that I can hold a faster pace as the miles increase!

It’s worth a try, right!?

I’ll be logging my weekly progress on the blog, so stay tuned 😀

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How do you feel about marathon time goals? Have you hit any new PBs lately?


How running helped to save my Dad’s life

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been a bit AWOL for the past few weeks.

On Sunday 10th May, my Dad collapsed at the Bideford 10k after suffering a major heart attack, resulting in cardiac arrest.

He survived.

The heart attack came as a complete shock to all of us. Anyone who knows my Dad can tell you that he’s healthy; he eats well; he storms through hilly coastal walks and can handle even the toughest hikes across Exmoor without batting an eyelid; he’s a great runner (his marathon and half marathon PBs are better than mine!) and he cycles to and from the station for work every day. He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink much, doesn’t eat takeaways or sit in front of the TV for hours, or any of those other unhealthy clichés.

Unfortunately, it turns out that he suffered from undiagnosed heart disease, and probably had done for decades. The symptoms are easy to brush off – feeling tired and achey, a bit of indigestion and some chest pain, breathlessness. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’ve just had a few hard weeks at work, are staying up too late, or training too hard. Some even blame age – though at 56, my Dad’s certainly not old.

When my Dad collapsed, the first person on the scene was another runner, who began CPR. It was a second runner who took over the CPR, which gave the paramedics time to get to my Dad with a defibrillator to restart his heart. Bideford 10k is a small, club-run, low-key event, but the fantastic organisation on the day and the actions of the runners, marshals, and event organisers meant that my Dad was able to be transferred to the Devon Air Ambulance helicopter and stabilized enough to be taken to hospital.

The doctors told us that the reason he remained stable and handled the surgery so well is because he’s been fit and healthy for a number of years now – and that’s largely thanks to his decision to start running! The running caused him to rethink his diet, and the training helped to strengthen his heart, despite the damage having been done decades before.

The fact that the attack happened at Bideford 10k meant he was able to get the medical attention he needed at the time. Amazingly, the runner who began the CPR just happened to be a GP – and the second runner just happened to have completed an advanced first aid course the week before! Talk about amazing coincidences.

I’ll be forever grateful to that race, and to those runners, as they kept him alive long enough for the ambulance to get to him.

The air ambulance took him straight from Bideford to Exeter hospital. From there, he was then transferred to London where he underwent a triple bypass operation, and thanks to all this he is now at home and recovering well.

Without the air ambulance, he might not have made it this far. It was their incredibly fast response (they were already waiting for him by the time the ambulance got him back into town) that meant he was able to be stabilised quickly enough and transferred to hospital before any lasting damage was done.

I was amazed to learn that the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (DAAT) only have 2 helicopters for the huge area they cover – and scarily, the first was already out on call when my Dad collapsed.

DAAT is a recognised charity, and needs to raise a huge £4.5 million every year just to keep their service going. They also need to raise an additional £1 million to meet their maintenance and repair costs, and to extend their operating hours. Without our help, they can’t do their job – and that job is essential. You can find out more about their service here.

Whilst we’ve tracked down the runners and marshals and race organisers to express our thanks for what they did, it’s hard to know how to really thank someone for saving the life of a loved one. I mean, what on earth can you possibly offer to repay something that big?

Whilst I’m still trying to answer that, what I can do in the meantime is support the DAAT charity so that they can keep their amazing service going. But I can’t do that alone!

I’m going to be cycling the Prudential Ride 100 (yep, that’s 100 MILES) in August to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance, and I would be so grateful if you could spare even a few pennies. Donations can be made either online or by text:

Online, via my JustGiving page: JustGiving – Cycling 100 miles for the DAAT
By texting PTLA58 and your donation amount (£1, £2, £3, £4, £5, or £10) to 70070

I just want to end this by saying a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to the DAAT, the Bideford 10k runners, marshals and organisers, the staff at Exeter and Hammersmith hospitals and all of the other wonderful people that have helped and supported us over the last few weeks. We couldn’t have got through this without you.

I love you, Dad.

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There are some brilliant resources on the British Heart Foundation website on risk factors and how to keep your heart healthy: www.bhf.org.uk.

Know the warning signs: How healthy is your heart?

Rain, wind, hills and a gorgeous sunset

So a friend and I thought it’d be an awesome idea to head to Virginia Water for a scenic run after work yesterday. Given the weather we’ve had recently, we originally planned to have a bit of a picnic afterwards .. But England had other ideas, and rain was forecast on and off from 1pm.

We decided to go anyway.

We slightly regretted our plan on our way there, stuck in traffic as the heavens opened. But we told ourselves it was just a shower, and besides, after sitting in traffic (and getting lost), we figured we’d invested too much time to bail!

When we got there, the skies had cleared and the lake looked beautiful:

vw1We headed out for our first loop (the plan was originally to try for 2 loops at just over 4 miles each, but we decided to just see how we felt once we got there). We got about 2/3 of the way round before the sky turned an ominous grey and the drizzle began, but we agreed to suck it up and keep going. Think positive thoughts, right?

vwrain1To begin with, the rain was quite refreshing, and the breeze was at our backs so we almost welcomed it. The scenery was gorgeous, and the terrain (for us at least) was challenging and varied enough to keep us distracted. It was a mixture of smooth tarmac, off-road sections, and quite a few short, sharp hills. When I started to walk up one of the nastier ones, my friend ran past with a ‘F*ck this hill! WHO’S THE BOSS!?’ so I got myself moving again. After all, you only feel like throwing up until you get to the top – and the downhills were awesomely fun.

When we got to the end of the first loop, we hid under the shelter for a few minutes to regroup and look out at the torrential rain. The wind had picked up by this point, and we were getting pretty cold – and being soaking wet and shivering, it didn’t seem quite so fun any more.

vwrain2We discussed the merits of heading back to the car to blast the heater and eat sandwiches and chocolate chip muffins (the muffins very nearly decided for us), but instead of bailing, we headed back out – into the rain, and the headwind, and over the stupid hills. (I think the general consensus was ‘Oh sod it, we’re not going to get any wetter’).

In the end, we hit a full 10k, and were rewarded with a beautiful sunset as the rain eased off again:


vwsunsetfinalI guess the lesson we took away from that run was that it’s always worth pushing just a little bit further. Pushing through the rain, the cold, the aching legs, the burning lungs, and the little voice in the back of your head … and coming out the other side.

Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing worse than giving up, looking back and thinking – ‘I could have done more.’

Marathon training – lessons learnt the hard way

When I signed up for Brighton, I spent hours putting together the perfect training plan. I included hill training, tempo runs, and a steady increase in mileage, with a cut-back week every month. I told myself I would run before work, that I would go to strength classes at the gym and swim twice a week and squeeze in some yoga and stretching sessions for good measure.

As with most things, it didn’t turn out quite the way I had planned. I completely underestimated how easy it was for life to get in the way, and ended up burying my head in the sand and swapping many a mid-week run for a hot chocolate, comfy sofa and a couple hours of 4oD (time well spent, not).

Looking back at the year leading up to Brighton, there are a lot of things I would go back and change if I could. As I can’t, I decided to write them down instead and hopefully learn from my mistakes next time round. Please tell me I’m not the only one that got these things wrong!

1) Entering a marathon 10-12 months in advance doesn’t mean that I can be an absolute slacker and just ‘cross train’ (i.e. ride my bike to work a few times a week) with no running until Christmas, when I then panic and try to jump straight in to training 4-5 times a week. Sure, the 4 months ‘official’ training will get you to the finish line – but it won’t be pretty!

2) Whilst cycling 14 miles a day is great for quads, calves and cardio, it’s not an excuse to skip my weekday runs – and the long Sunday runs will be TOUGH (and get TOUGHER) if I don’t do any other running in between. This means more than one or two 5k lunchtime jogs!

3) I thought I was an evening runner, and last year I was; but the storms we saw this year had me throwing that idea out the window. Despite my best intentions, by the time I got home after cycling through the wind and the rain and the dark, soaking wet and freezing cold, the last thing I felt like doing was changing into my running gear and heading back out. Figures.

4) Unfortunately, I’m not much of a morning runner, either (or an early morning person in general!) But desperate times call for desperate measures, and by leaving my garage key (no access to my bike) and debit card (no money for the train) along with a change of clothes at work the evening before, I managed to force myself to start run commuting the 7 miles to the office once a week (though I didn’t manage it every week!) And it turned out to be way better than cycling, driving or getting the train.


The sunrise can be pretty special!

5) Stretching and foam rolling genuinely make a difference to recovery times and performance! I can’t stress this enough. I noticed a substantial difference between the long runs when I had stretched and foam rolled well the week prior, and the ones when I hadn’t. When I forgot to stretch (i.e. couldn’t be bothered), my legs would ache for days longer, and would feel heavy for a good mile or two during my next run. The real test was directly after the marathon – I had an eye-wateringly painful but brilliantly thorough quad and ITB massage on the Wednesday (I felt bruised for a day or so afterwards, but it was SO worth it), and could instantly walk down stairs again. I even managed a comfortable 10k on the Saturday! But I was told quite sternly that the massage wouldn’t have been half as painful if I’d been stretching and foam rolling regularly. D’oh.

6) I really need to refuel properly after my long runs! There were a couple of times where I did a long run on the Sunday, and then missed breakfast on the Monday morning (see point 4), and I felt AWFUL as a result – almost hung over! I was tired, light headed and sluggish, and often wouldn’t be back to my usual self until late on the Tuesday – assuming I ate well and rested enough. Tough times! In future: snack regularly, and eat proper meals!

7) I think the most important thing that I got wrong was my expectations for the marathon itself. After cutting down my times in 5k and 10k races, and clocking regular sub-10-minute miles (not constantly, but much more than last year), I had high hopes for my marathon time and pace. I assumed I would be able to average 11-minute miles for the whole distance, with time to spare for a few walking breaks, and saunter over the finish line in under 5 hours. But the longer my training runs got, the more I realised that my body simply wasn’t used to such high miles – and as a result, I slowed down towards the end of them, bringing down my average pace. On the day itself, I barely looked at my Garmin once, and decided to just focus on enjoying the experience. After all, I had worked for 2 years to get to the starting line. I had raised money for charity, put in countless solo training miles in all different conditions, studied the course map and practised fuelling and hydration and technique. At the end of the day, I would only ever have one first marathon; I didn’t even know at that point whether I could FINISH, let alone in what time. It was a brand new challenge, and getting to the finish line was all that really mattered. And ultimately, I did it.


I didn’t do it in under 5 hours, and I certainly didn’t average 11 minute miles – but I loved every. single. moment.

What mistakes did you make when training for your first marathon? Anything you would go back and change?