Reading parkrun and the Stubbington 10k

When I did the New York Marathon in November I stayed with a bunch of girls who were just lovely. It was all arranged by Charlie, from The Runner Beans, and we had a fantastic time. Happily we’ve since kept in touch.

One of the girls, Cortney, was coming over from her home in Canada to visit so I headed up to Reading to do a little meet-up with a few of the girls. parkrun, brunch and friends – Saturday goals right there! I drove up straight from work on the Friday evening.

That evening we had a lovely girlie night at Charlie’s. Emma (from Nanny on the Run) made a delicious shepherd’s pie with a sweet potato topping. Daaamn it was good.

And we followed that with the less healthy but equally tasty Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (three different kinds! Be still my beating heart. I was a fan of the B&J’s Salted Caramel topped tub but not so huge a fan of the vegan Brownie one).

We chatted, we chilled, we ate and we watched the ever good When Harry Met Sally. It was lovely to see the girls again and properly catch-up.

The next morning we headed to the Reading parkrun. I had been tempted to run when I thought we were going to a different parkrun that I hadn’t done before (Woodley parkrun)…. but as I’d done Reading before (it was my ‘R’) and my calf was still not brilliant, I thought it best to play it safe and volunteer. Charlie was also volunteering and not running due to an injury as well. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out too much.

I was also quite chuffed because I’d been assigned the role of barcode scanner. I’ve never done that job at parkrun and was keen to tick another role off my list! I was also very chuffed for Cortney because it would be her first ever parkrun. Exciting times!

We arrived and ‘signed in’ to our posts. Cortney and Emma headed off to the start and Charlie and I got into our positions.

I was a little sad to be missing out but the other parkrun volunteers were so friendly and chatty that the time flew by and suddenly I was needed to scan the barcodes. It was MANIC. There were three of us scanning and it almost felt never-ending. Lots of people were super friendly and thanked me for my time or chatted to me but some people silently handed me the barcodes or, in a couple of instances, just pointed to their shoe making zero effort. I thought that was a little rude if I’m honest.

Some people asked how they’d done… I’ve no idea! I politely told them they’d find out later in the email. And some people, despite standing in the barcode scanning queue for a lengthy period of time still arrived at me expectantly but without anything prepared. It was quite an interesting experience it must be said. Eventually the buzz died down and I was able to relax a bit. Whew!

A lovely blog reader came and introduced herself to me. It honestly made my morning to hear about her running achievements and goals and that I’d had a little influence on it. I felt very touched. Sometimes it can feel like you’re writing into a void and no one is really listening but to hear from someone I don’t know who does read my random ramblings is just the loveliest thing.

Cortney and Emma did really well and it sounded like they both enjoyed it. Then we headed off for the essential refuel. Volunteering is hard work too! We went to Cafe Yolk, which is a small but very cute little cafe in Reading.

Unsurprisingly I ordered the full English, while the other three girls ordered avocado and eggs on toast. Probably the far healthier option but I’m fairly stuck in my ways and adore a fry-up. It was a rather posh looking fry-up so at least there’s that…

Then we headed for breakfast pudding of course. We originally went to one spot but their cake selection was not up to our high standards and so we headed next door to The Flowering Teapot instead. Now let me tell you, they were fantastic!

All homemade cakes, homemade bread… the whole shabang. The guy behind the counter was so helpful and friendly. Emma asked if there were any vegan cakes and he said there was a carrot cake being finished in the back so we waited for that (the owner who was finishing it said she’d be super quick for us which was lovely). While we waited the guy cut us a bit of the millionaire shortbread to nibble on. I mean, how good is that?

I went for the millionaire shortbread in the end because it was so good. We took our cakes and had a cup of tea at Charlie’s with them. A lovely way to end a lovely meet up!

The next day was the Stubbington 10k. This race literally runs past my house. It starts about a 5 minute walk up the road, and finishes about 15 minutes walk away so it’s super local and convenient. Sadly though I continued to be sensible and decided not to run. However, Kyle was.

He’s never run an official 10k race so I was quite excited for him. I detest 10ks so realistically I wasn’t too sad to miss the race but I was sad not to be running with Kyle and experiencing it with him. Instead, I would be walking to the 9k marker with my dad and Alfie in order to help cheer him. It would also be a nice walk for the three of us.

For whatever reason (probably entirely down to me being me) we thought the race started at 9.30am. I told Kyle he could easily leave the house at 9.15am and get to the start in enough time. My dad and I would need to leave just before 9am to walk the 2+ miles to the 9k marker, meaning we’d be there in time (9.35ish for Kyle to run past). Perfectly under control, nicely planned, we are amazing.

Except as my dad and me were 20 minutes up the road my mum rung to say the race actually started at 10am so Kyle and her were going to sit in a coffee shop for a bit to waste some time. Ah. Classic Anna.

This meant my dad and I were quite early and decided to go find our own coffee shop for a quick drink before heading to the spot. Not too bad considering – I mean, it’s not like we were late! That would have been a lot worse.

Around 10.20am the first runners started passing through and we cheered them on. I saw lots of friends, people I knew and people from my running club so it was good fun. However I do have silly panic moments where despite fully knowing these people I never seem to remember names!! Something about seeing people running just makes my mind go blank. Bit embarrassing but there we go.

Then Kyle ran past (I managed to remember his name ;-)). Then my dad and me quick marched to the finish to catch him afterwards. He’d done a fantastic time of 42:59 – just scraping under the 43 minute mark! Very jammy. And so fast! I remember for my first 10k I did 43:34. Clearly Kyle is going to be super fast in the future considering he hasn’t been running for long! He definitely has a lot more to give.

He mentioned he much prefers the shorter distances to the marathons. I can understand that (though I personally don’t have that preference, obviously). I think Kyle will do well in all distances but I think he’ll probably focus more on the shorter stuff.

Though I’m sad he doesn’t share the same marathon love I do, it does make it a little more interesting for us! I can happily support those shorter distances (I think I get the easier deal here hehe).

What distance do you prefer to race?

What parkrun volunteering role haven’t you done yet but would like to?

Do like to volunteer when you’re injured/not running?

Oh how I’ve changed

Running and I have come a long way. Not just in terms of PB’s or times or parkrun tourism…but in terms of how it affects my life and my views on it.

My yearly calf niggle has cropped up again. This always happens from time to time and to be fair I’ve had a good run (ha) of not having any issues so it was really only time before it happened again. I’ve done a lot recently – three marathons very close to each other. I can feel my body saying “can we please have a rest?”. I like to think I’m good at judging this, but clearly I need something to actually stop me. I’m good, but I’m not that good.

Of course I’m a bit bummed out – I love running. I do it frequently through the week and enjoy the freedom, the endorphins and the mental “ahhhh” I get from it. It makes me sad when suddenly I can’t run, or can’t run as much, and when things aren’t feeling as good as they felt before.

But that’s all – I’m bummed. I’m not distraught, or depressed, or feeling angry. I know this is my fault and I know I just need a bit of rest to clear it up. Time and TLC (tender loving cake? No?) and I’ll be back in no time. It’s a nice reset and refresh for my training if anything.

It did make me think though. There was a time when running was everything. Where getting injured literally ruined my week. I would become very down, very sad and everything else became tarred by the same darkness. Looking back I think this is because I was putting a lot of eggs into one basket. My happiness was quite dependent on my running. If I didn’t run, what else did I have?

Not to sound too pathetic, but a big part of my life was to do with running. I hated my job (the job before this one) and felt unfilled, lost and indifferent. I clearly didn’t have a marriage that was working (though at the time I kind of just ignored this, assumed all was well and didn’t question niggling doubts or feelings). I had my family and friends, but I was very focused on my running and became somewhat isolated in the relationship I was in. It wasn’t healthy.

Then when my marriage fell apart all I had to focus on was my running. Running would get me through the hard times. And it did. I love running for that. I was able to put a lot of emotion into it and use it to strengthen me mentally. It hugely helped and I’ll never regret that. The only problem is when you use running to make you strong, to keep you going and to enjoy life… when it’s taken away things become hard very quickly. What do I do with myself? How do I define myself? How can my body be so weak? Why have I failed?

I had no happy job to keep me focused. A lot of my friends are runners. My whole social media was just about running. My spare time was about running.

Today things are a lot different. Of course I still love running. It’s a huge part of my life. It makes me very happy and I love doing it. It’s one of the reasons Kyle and I got together – it brought us a closer than just talking in the office at work. I hope to always have running. But the difference is, I have so much more to me now than just running.

I have a great boyfriend. I have a fantastic job I enjoy. I love the gym and pushing myself there – the strength gains and being one of the best in circuits class some days. I still have running friends but I also spend quality time with non-running friends – and the close running friends I have are always there for me with or without running. I use social media for more than just talking about running (heyyyy Instagram food accounts). I don’t define myself by my running. It doesn’t control my happiness.

So yeah, I have a niggle. But hey, so what?

Is running a big part of your life?

What’s a niggle you always seem to get?

I’m a rubbish runner

“I’m a rubbish runner”. Not matter how many marathons I run, how many miles I clock and how fast I can do a parkrun, I always have this thought swirling around in my brain periodically.

I seem to live life perpetually disappointed in myself with running. I love running. It’s part of who I am. I believe I will always run, as long as I’m able. Whether I will always run marathons I don’t know – but for the moment, I love them and will continue signing up to them (notice I say “signing up” and not running, because signing up to a marathon does mean I will in fact run it).

So why am I disappointed? Ehhh. Despite loving running, running doesn’t love me. It plays a cruel game with me where I run well for a period of time, lulled into a sense of false security, then BOOM, injury will strike and I’m out of the game. I’m so fed up of this cycle.

I do a lot of strength training to keep myself strong. I go to the gym throughout the week and work on my glute strength, my legs and core. And don’t get me wrong, it has HUGELY helped me. I rarely seem to have niggly issues or full-blown injuries with my knees, hips or IT band. These have always plagued me in the past before doing any gym work. I was just limping from one niggle to the next. Always trying to foam roll away the niggly pains I’d get on a weekly basis.

But I still get hit with injuries that I don’t know how to deal with and strength training hasn’t seemed to helped. For example, my left calf has always caused me issues when I get into higher mileage. It’s also very sensitive to changes in footwear it seems. People have advised calf raises, but actually my calf strength is good (as tested by different physios) and doing calf raises only tightens my muscles further. It’s possibly something due to having fairly flat feet, or something else bio-mechanically “wrong” with me.

And then my hamstring. Since before the Boston Marathon it’s been bugging me on and off. It doesn’t hugely affect my running thankfully (though I’ll occasionally feel it crop up towards the end of long runs)… until I do something stupid like attempt deadlifting at the gym and ignore the signals of my body telling me “erm, maybe don’t do that?”.

Thankfully it seems my injury woes have subsided for the moment (*touch wood*) and I’m gradually making my way back into  running again. I’ve been sensible and taken things slowly and not jumped back into running too often. I worry a little how Marathon Talk Run Camp will go this weekend… but I’m confident I can take things easy and not be too tempted to do too much. Who knows though.

So back to being a rubbish runner. These feelings are both down to the frustration and disappointment I feel with myself for just not achieving what I’d like to achieve. And also down to that horrible, horrible thing called comparison. Seeing what other runners are doing… seeing them hit crazy high mileage… seeing them run every day, twice a day… I don’t care about times thankfully, but the sheer ability of being able to push my body to run as often as I want without issue. Entering races and not wondering if I’ll even make the start-line. Talking about upcoming marathons with the constant inclusion of “if I get there”. Because for me, I can never guarantee injury won’t strike.

I don’t think I’m a stupid runner. I don’t think I take risks. Yes I’ve done stupid things and yes some injuries have indeed been down to mistakes I’ve done. But I’ve since become a paranoid runner. A super careful runner. A runner who second-guesses every run I do, every pace I hit and every race I enter. Can I? Should I? Will I?

I’m sorry to vent so much and be such a bore. I know my injury woes can’t exactly be that enthralling and I can only apologise for not being as exciting as other runners out there smashing out all the miles. I only hope that a take-away from my blog can at least be that if you find yourself feeling rubbish, I’m here too feeling the same.

How often do you run?

Do you compare yourself to others?

Do you ever feel not good enough?

Upton House parkrun and so much food

This weekend I managed to tick yet another parkrun letter off my parkrun Alphabet Challenge. I went to Upton House parkrun to get my U. It’s down in Poole, which is just over hour away from me. I few of us from my club decided to make a pilgrimage down there for some parkrun tourism and a spot of brunch.

On Saturday morning I got up at 6.20am to walk Alfie (a good test of seeing what the weather is like and how my leg felt). It was beautiful outside. Cold, but clear and still. Perfect running conditions. It was getting light as well which just makes me so happy. Spring is definitely on its way! Then I got myself together and drove to my friend’s Mike house so he could then drive the rest of the way.More chance of us actually arriving at the correct place that way, let’s be honest.
We did actually arrive a little too early at 8.15am. The others who we were meeting had arrived too so we sat, car side by side, in the car park (which is huge FYI and only a £1) keeping warm.Upton House parkrun is located in the Upton Country Park, a National Trust spot.It was such a lovely location and the sun was shining which made things very pleasant. There were toilets there as well so that was handy for a pre-parkrun wee.After the briefing, we headed to the start which was really narrow. Mike, Jim and I decided to move a bit closer to the front as it was so packed (not with the numbers of runners really, as there were only just under 300 people) but because the path was fairly narrow.We still had to wend our way around people when we started but after a few hundred metres it spaced out and we had enough room to pick up the pace a bit. Happily my leg felt fine and I just felt so happy to be running again.The course is one big loop, one smaller loop and then the first big loop again. I love this style of parkrun because it means you don’t get bored and having the break between the same two loops means it’s not as repetitive. It’s run on trails – a compacted stony trail which is great to run on.The route is very pretty and scenic. It starts within a woodland area then stretches out onto some grassland area where you run past some cows (within an enclosure) and then past a beautiful lake.It was lovely, really lovely. It’s mostly flat but there were a couple of undulations but really nothing crazy. In fact the start is very much downhill so you can gain some good speed.

Photo Credit: Isabelle Somers

Mike, Jim and I kept together as we ran and kept up the odd bit of conversation but I could feel that I’ve lost a lot of fitness. But to be honest, I don’t care because running without issue is my main goal right now. I could feel my hamstring crop up a little but I didn’t mind that as I’d rather it be my hamstring than calf as I know how to help my hamstring, whereas my calf has been a bit of a puzzle.

Photo Credit: Isabelle Somers

I slightly pulled ahead of the two fellas and stretched my legs a bit, everything still feeling reasonable. But as we hit the final hill to then head to the finish Jim stormed past me. Apparently he’d realised I wasn’t as strong on the hills and decided to use it to his advantage at the end. Crafty but fair play! I couldn’t have caught him if I’d have wanted to.

Photo Credit: Isabelle Somers

In the end I finished with 23:13 feeling very happy. All my bits and pieces felt fine and I’d gotten my U! The others all said the same thing: Upton House parkrun is a beautiful and friendly course. I really wish it was closer as honestly I’d do this one all the time if I could. I loved it. OK perhaps the good weather helped but it just seemed like such a great set-up with how the loops worked. I signed the guest book (another nice touch at a parkrun) and chatted to some of the local runners. I mentioned about the parkrun Alphabet Challenge and they were quite bemused. Clearly not a very well known thing perhaps!Then we headed to the tearoom literally a stone throw’s away and had a nice cup of coffee and a natter.Sadly the tea room didn’t do anything more elaborate than toast or cake for breakfast so Mike and me decided to hunt out something more substantial on the way back home. Brunch was definitely in order!

 

We found a Haskins Garden Centre not too far down the road with a fantastic restaurant serving a good selection of hot and cold breakfast material. We went for the “8 piece” breakfast (you could pick the items you wanted).I loved that they had black pudding (a weakness of mine) but the scrambled egg was rather rubbery and tasteless. But otherwise it was a very yummy and sustaining breakfast.A very lovely morning indeed. I spent the rest of the day doing some deep cleaning in the house. I was just in one of those moods where I needed to busy myself and expel a load of energy. I do quite enjoy cleaning so it was nice to just put some music on and do some cleaning that doesn’t get done that often (like cupboards and hard to reach places…with dogs it’s hard to keep everything pristine!)

That evening my parents and I went to the Chilworth Arms for dinner to celebrate my dad’s birthday which had been on the Wednesday. I always feel sorry for my dad because sharing his birthday with Valentine’s Day always makes going out for a nice meal a bit tricky as everyone else seems to be doing that too and you usually get some generic set menus themed around it, which I always find a bit lame. And plus, because my parents are so disgustingly in love, my dad likes to treat my mum so really he doesn’t get the sole attention he deserves.
I hadn’t eaten since the earlier brunch (though it had been a large brunch of course) I was now really ready for food. Though my parents are still on the Slimming World wagon they decided to just enjoy a nice meal out without worrying too much about Syns and things like that. So we ordered a baked Camembert and a “grazing” sharing platter, which had lots of different meaty bits and pieces like chicken, lamb koftas, chorizo and pulled pork croquettes.

It was all so tasty. And happily the grazing platter had more than two of most things (food anxiety of sharing swerved…ha). I probably ate about 3/4 of the Camembert though. My stomach knows no bounds clearly as I was then very much ready for the main. Although I was initially tempted by the spit-roasted chicken I decided to step out of my standard food choice box and order something different. I went for the pan-friend venison and it was delicious. The gravy (jus? sauce?) was SO good.

A nice change! I should do this more often… Though saying that, I chose a different pudding than I’d have normally gone for too. Instead of being tempted by the brownie (always a safe tho delicious choice for me) I decided on having the apple and berry crumble (with ice cream not custard tho). It was fantastic!

My dad went for something a bit more extravagant with the chocolate orange bomb. Even though this sounded delicious, I really can’t stand chocolate orange together. It came out and the waitress poured molten chocolate sauce over the chocolate sphere thing. It eventually collapsed and melted. It was rather impressive. It left a few big chocolate chunks in a bowl of what looked like chocolate soup. My dad loved it for all of about three spoonful until it started to get sickly and too much. I was so impressed with him. In another life it seems this was the man who was able to eat entire packets of chocolate biscuits. He said he didn’t want to carry on eating it in fear that it would put him off chocolate forever ha.

The next morning I was supposed to run a few miles with Mike. We had both said we’d confirm for definite before 9am if we both fancied it as he had a slightly niggling hamstring and I wasn’t sure how everything for me would feel post-parkrun. Sadly Mike bailed as his hamstring wasn’t good. I’d slept badly that night – you know when you wake up mid-sleep and stare at the ceiling for an hour? Yeah that’s fun. So I was quite glad to roll back over and have a more lazy morning, rather than being on a timescale to get somewhere to meet someone.

In the end I headed out around 9.30am. I didn’t know how far I’d go as I didn’t want to stress my leg out. In the end I decided around 4 miles was good. My hamstring didn’t feel amazing, but it didn’t get worse. My calf felt fine. I’m happy with that outcome because I know how to help my hamstring whereas for my calf I’m literally in the dark. The hamstring is something I’ve had to deal with for a while and know what stretches and exercises to do and trigger points to work on. I just need to not aggravate it too much to mean I need to take a lot of time off to let it calm down, if that makes sense. Trying to keep it manageable for the moment.I went to the gym afterwards to do a bit of what I call “topping up” cardio as I want to maintain a level of fitness for any long runs. It also helps my sanity a bit – it’s standard ‘Anna Behaviour’ to over-worry about things like upcoming marathons, so doing this sort of thing calms those inner demons. Especially when I compare myself to other people doing the same marathon or marathons around the same time. Plus as I only let myself watch Peaky Blinders on the cross-trainer at the gym (to keep me from despising that machine and have positive connotations towards it) it was a fun 50 minutes.

So other than some more cleaning/sorting and usual jobs I needed to do, my Sunday was pretty chilled and relaxing.

Do you have any standard food orders you make at a restaurant?

Have you ever done a parkrun that you wish was closer to where you live?

Do you watch anything when you use a cardio machine at the gym?

Running Update

This week I’ve been super sensible. My calf was causing me a little bit of annoyance last week so I’ve taken just over a week off.

It’s frustrating to me because it felt absolutely fine during the marathon, during and after. And then when I started running again when I got home it felt fine. Even my eight miler was great. My hamstring was *slightly* niggly, but my calf felt normal. But the week after my two shorter runs didn’t feel good. My hamstring was also annoying me and so was my calf (both same leg). I decided the safest thing was just to stop running to let it rest.

I have Marathon Talk Run Camp approaching which I’m super excited about and want to get involved in (which is next weekend). I also have the Reading Half Marathon mid-March which I’d like to be fit for. I say “fit” as a relative term here. I won’t be PB-chasing as I’m not in any sort of shape for that. But I really like the race and want to be able to give it a little bit of welly.

So taking the time now rather than later is the wisest decision. The hamstring thing is interesting to me. I’ve had this issue since just before the Boston Marathon. In general it’s fine. It crops up occasionally in long runs at the end and is especially noticeable when I sit down for long periods of time (it’s basically just below my bum at the top of the hamstring, and niggled there and my foot recently). But mostly it’s not there when I run or in daily life. I found that avoiding direct hamstring exercises like deadlifts really helped. It’s a shame as I really enjoyed doing deadlifts, especially heavy deadlifts. But I’d rather run without issue so it was a sacrifice I gladly made.

Anyway, being the idiot that I am, since Christmas I’ve been adding in more hamstring exercises. Nothing heavy but some lighter, higher rep hamstring focused work. And this niggled it each time I did it. And yet I carried on (because I’m essentially an idiot). It aggravated my sciatic nerve.

Anyway, I wonder if the calf issue was made worse because of my hamstring being all angry – whether it’s annoying the calf directly or my calf overcompensating because my hamstring is feeling rough. I saw my physio (fully recommend if you’re in the Portsmouth/South Coast area) last night and he agreed that it’s probably all connected (as everything in the body generally is…). He commented that my hamstring injury area felt like “spaghetti” with the scar tissue. Bleurgh.

He worked on my back, “stretching” my spin (which was bizarre let me tell you), manipulated a few things, massaged and did acupuncture so I’m hoping that will help. Her didn’t seem too concerned though. I’m planning on doing Upton House parkrun tomorrow (yessss my “U”!) with friends so fingers crossed eh.

So needless to say I’ll be avoiding those pesky hamstring exercises that cause me issue. I won’t be bossing out any fast running either…but I hope to be getting back into more consistent running. But I won’t hold my breath 😉 I’m just going to jinx it all by being to hopeful.

Any advice on hamstring/calf/sciatic issues always welcome 🙂

Have you ever had any sciatic or back issues before?

Are there any exercises you avoid?

What are your weekend plans?