Dublin Marathon: Decision Time

box-hill-walk

Gorgeous views from Box Hill last weekend!

I’ve drafted and re-drafted this post sooo many times, and then I dithered over whether or not I should even publish it. But here it is.

I have a habit of setting big goals, and putting quite a bit of pressure on myself to meet them. And I’m pretty hard on myself when things don’t go to plan.

So this decision was really hard.

A few weeks into my Dublin Marathon plan, I caught a nasty cold and was out of action for a couple of weeks. When I finally got back into my running shoes, things just… didn’t feel quite right. My breathing wouldn’t settle, my legs were heavy, and even the shorter ‘easy’ runs felt like a struggle.

I hate to say it, but I kind of fell out of love with running.

I blamed it on taking a break, I blamed it on the freakishly hot weather we’ve had, I blamed it on work… But what I eventually realised was that for whatever reason, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.

I feel a bit crap admitting it, if I’m honest!

The thing is, when it comes to marathon training, it’s not enough to just tick off the sessions on your plan. As the long runs get longer, it’s that mental drive that will keep you going – pure stubbornness and determination. And somewhere along the line, I lost mine.

I love running. I love races, and I love big city marathons. Standing at the starting line of an event I always get butterflies, and crossing the finish line is the best feeling EVER.

But I think I need to listen to my body, and accept that maybe 2 marathons (plus that little hike across Exmoor…) are enough for me this year.

So I’ve decided to DNS Dublin, and postpone my sub-5 marathon attempt to 2017. I’m going to work towards a spring race, which means training will start again a little later this year.

I feel like a bit of a failure for giving up. But I’m not going to stop training completely – I’m going to get back into parkrun; I’m going to work on my swimming; I’ll be exploring more walk routes in the Surrey Hills (suggestions or company are both welcome!), and I’ll of course be spending some quality time with friends and family.

It’s time to take some of the pressure off, and get back into running for FUN, not for finish times.

Next month I’ll be heading down to Devon to join my lovely parents for the Great West Run. It’ll be my Dad’s first race since his accident last year, and I’m really looking forward to running it with him.

Dublin, I’ll see you next year.

Have you ever DNS’d or postponed a big race?

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5 handy tips for big training sessions

When it comes to marathon training, I’ve pretty much sussed out the weekly long run – the route, the kit, fuelling and hydration and pushing through the tough bits – but I’m still a fairly novice cyclist, so when the reality of my upcoming 100-mile cycle event hit me, I might have freaked out a little. (Ok, a lot).

I’m cycling the Prudential RideLondon 100 on August 2nd, to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (an incredible organisation that saved my Dad’s life a couple of months ago). When the magazine came through the door, it still seemed a looong way off, and I registered without thinking too much about it. Since then, I’ve managed a few cycle commutes (14-mile round trip) and I’ve done Guildford to Brighton (42-45 miles) twice on the hybrid.

100 miles is a bit further than that.

I should have started building up my distance on the road bike weeks ago. But if I’m completely honest, the idea of heading out on a long cycle – solo, and on unfamiliar roads – scared me.

Finally, after weeks of procrastinating, on Saturday I finally bit the bullet and set off on a 100km solo cycle through the Surrey hills.

60-mile Surrey cycle

And you know what? I survived. In fact, it was actually quite fun. Yes, I got lost (multiple times – the route above was meant to be a neat loop!). And yes, I completely failed on the nutrition front and hit the wall massively at about 50 miles… But on the plus side, I didn’t faceplant instead of unclipping from the pedals; I didn’t accidentally end up on the A3; I didn’t get hit by a car; my phone (i.e. Google Maps) didn’t die on me, and I made it home unscathed (albeit with crazy tan lines). Result!

Whilst they didn’t stop the nerves completely, I found that a lot of the tips and tricks I’d picked up during my marathon training applied just as well to a long bike ride, and really helped me to feel a bit more confident about the whole thing:

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, right? (Or yknow, something a little less melodromatic). If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past couple of years, it’s this: You can never be too prepared! Sort out your kit, and lay it out ready to go; plan your route, and print off a map if you think you might need one; work out your fuel and hydration (not just what you’ll eat and drink, but also how you’ll carry it with you) and add it to your kit pile. The last thing you want is to be running around like a headless chicken trying to find your socks when you’re meant to be heading out the door!

2) Plan your route carefully

If you’re attempting a new distance, it can be a bit daunting, and you might want to break it up into smaller sections. ’15 miles’ sounds a lot tougher than ‘2 10ks and a parkrun’, for example! And when it comes to planning a route, the options are endless: Out-and-back? Big loop? Small loops? A-to-B? Whilst this is really down to personal preference, it’s worth thinking about the logistics: if you want to stick closer to home, repeating a smaller loop is a better option than a long out-and-back slog. And if you fancy the A-to-B option, how will you get to/from the start/finish? Will friends be joining you along the way?

3) Pick your time wisely

If you have plans that afternoon, you’re going to want to get it out the way first thing. Equally, if it’s going to be a late one the night before, chances are you won’t be heading out at the crack of dawn! And that’s fine – schedule it for a time that works best for YOU. That said, if you’re training for an event with an early start, it’s a good idea to schedule some of your longer sessions for that time of day – breakfast logistics are as much a part of training as the session itself, after all 😉

4) Accept the worst case scenarios

Fact: Things WILL go wrong at some point in training. We’ve all been there! Whatever worries you have – getting lost, hitting the wall, kit malfunctions, tummy trouble, mechanical problems, chafing – make a list, and then think about how you’ll work around them. Whether that’s getting familiar with Google Maps; planning a route via shops or loo stops; learning how to fix a puncture, or packing some vaseline – trust me when I say that you’ll overcome it in training, and you’ll overcome it on the day!

5) Avoid time goals

When it comes to longer sessions, don’t stress about the pace – especially if you’ve not covered the distance before. If you need to slow down, walk, stop and stretch, make a pit stop, throw a bit of a wobbly – do it! Leave the finish times and mile splits for race day, and just focus on getting the miles in your legs (or wheels). It might feel counter-productive if you’ve got a time goal in mind, but trust in the training and you’ll be amazed by how much the adrenaline, crowds and taper will carry you along on the day!

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What are your go-to tips and tricks for getting through the big miles? I’d love to hear them!

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?