Cancer Research UK Tough 10, Box Hill

I was looking for some trail races a while ago. I like running. I love natural environments so it feels like a natural progression for me to take my running from the city to the trails.

For me personally there’s only so much city running you can do and feel inspired. There’s also the niggles you have to take into account like traffic lights, pedestrians that are waking, cars, bin bags, lamp posts… it’s a concrete jungle that leaves me feeling lack lustre at times.

To me my relationship with running feels like I would like it to progress as a way to get in nature, a method by which to explore the world and an experience that makes me feel very alive. Sometimes pollution fumes and sirens don’t quite do that for me. So I looked for some trail races and found the Tough 10 series by CRUK.

They rate the difficulty of their races by the number of trainers, 1-3. This race took part on Box Hill And was rated three trainers tough. Box Hill is known by cyclists and was one of the steepest ascents in the 2012 Olympic cycling events. The steepness of the ascent is quite brutal.

On the first ascent we climbed the steps by the stepping-stones. 270 stairs but not equal stairs, these are slippy woodland stairs which tend to be much more of a step than your average stairwell. I walked up and felt every breath and tiny oxygen atom mattered. Once at the top there were some flatter stretches, some down hill and a few more uphill.

I really enjoyed the variation of the terrain. I loved the views even though I’ve been and seen them before – there’s nothing more rewarding for climbing something than taking a breather to look around and admire the views you earned from the climb. The ground was quite slippy and I didn’t lose my footing.

I rolled my ankle once and didn’t go over or injure myself thanks, I think, to the ankle wiggling exercises I do before a run. Running on the slope down hill felt amazing when it was a gentle gradient. I felt like I could relax and my legs just carried me along. I felt so free and alive just running through the woodland. My legs just carried me and I breathed easy.

I honestly feel like I’m starting to get the going for a run to relax and unwind thing. It’s not always super hard work anymore – and it now is very enjoyable. I’m definitely going to be hitting up some more trails – it wasn’t as hard for me mentally as I expected it to be.

This race was 10k and I feel like I’m finally comfortable with than distance so now it feels like the right time to started increasing my distance up to 15/20km. Bring it!

I went to Kobox yesterday and although that was a 50 minute class it felt much harder mentally to stay in the class and push through despite being less time – I think this was because we did exercises by the wall as well as punching the bag and the exercises were weighted so I struggled quite a lot with them. Whereas I’ve been running more consistently for a few months now so my body is quite used to t by comparison to weighted squats, trunk twists and mountain climbers.

I mean I already established last week that my core isn’t strong enough and that I’ve lost some of the core strength I did have – and this class confirmed my thoughts further.

So here’s to getting my mojo back. Here’s to trail running being bloody fabulous. Here’s to increasing the distance and getting stronger in order to do this.

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Britain’s Ocean City, Run Plymouth 10K

As part of my running training for the Marathon I have signed up to a few races to make sure I stay on track. I work better with smaller and more frequent deadlines in all parts of my life. The London Marathon is quite a big goal – so in order to keep on track so that I don’t rock on up on Marathon Day completely unprepared I have set a few mile stones along the way.

Some races are milestones. For example some half marathons along the way to keep the distance in the forefront of my mind. Some are just for fun because once you have race fever signing up for races just becomes a bit irresistible, especially when you know people running.

My Dad was signed up for this one. I think he does most of the Plymouth Running Festivals, mainly the 10k and half marathon each year. He offered for me to do it with him, and what better way to have some father daughter bonding time than plodding through a 10k together? I love running races with other people – this is a form of socialising that I can get on board with.

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The day before I was worried the race was going to be a DNS or DNF for me. I felt really unwell. I was hot and cold, I was stumbling around a bit and losing my balance. I was feeling fuzzy headed – so much so it took me longer than usual to read the menu at the smoothie bar and understand what was in each one. It all seemed a bit like a blur to me. Stacey helped pick one for me. In fact, getting a smoothie was her idea and it worked. It transformed me – I can’t remember what was in it exactly; some spinach, some fruits, frozen yogurt and perhaps some other bits and bobs that escape my memory right now.

Before hand I was saying it would be a miracle if I got around the course without tripping over my feet because just walking around town on that Saturday I was tripping, falling and generally a bit of an uncoordinated mess. It wasn’t an ideal state to find myself in the day before race day.

I tried a few things, and they all seemed to add up to work: I had some re-hydration formula, I had a smoothie, I ate some carbs then at 9.30pm that night I crashed out for sleep. I think a combination of factors from the previous week led to that place – I had done a 2 hour cycle and not been able to refuel afterwards because I was scraping being on time for my lecture (I got lost, a lot. It should have been a 70 minute ride). I didn’t rehydrate with anything other than water and remained in a semi permanent state of feeling dehydrated no matter how much water I drank. I didn’t even have a Lucozade sport, which is often my go to. I kept making myself get up early and was refusing to go to sleep when I needed to because I wanted more hours from my days.

There’s a few lessons in there:
– if you’re feeling really tired, just go to sleep no matter how short changed you feel from your evening
– smoothies are a great way of getting in bunch of nutrients when used in moderation.
– always refuel after a lot of exertion with some carbs and protein and a little bit of some good fats.

Theoretically, I know all of this. Practically I wasn’t following my own advice or knowledge and chose to ignore my body begging for rest and salts. Lesson = use your knowledge of nutrition to help you and listen to your body Monica. It knows what it needs and you can’t out do your body’s needs with your mental desires to do otherwise.

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Race day I had my usual breakfast of porridge and banana. This is a staple pre-race breakfast for me. It always works and doesn’t come right through me. I stomach this meal well despite what gastric issues I may have. The race start pen was around the corner from where my Dad lives, which reduced the travel nerves and stress of missing the start wave. This was a luxury that I quite enjoyed on the day.

When we were in the pen we acknowledged a minute of silence for everyone who couldn’t be with us today. It was honoured well and I imagine that for a lot of people running for causes related to any losses they may have experienced this will have been a really important minute to clarify the why of their race that day. I think it was also important because Plymouth is a Naval town. Growing up I knew more families with ties to the MOD than not – and this will have been of importance to everyone for whom their partners, brothers, sisters may be currently deployed – or may have lost someone during a deployment.

In the starting pen I needed the obligatory third wee that happens every time I go for a race. I haven’t decided if this is nerves, because I drink too much due to dehydration anxieties, or if it’s because races start so early in the morning. I was getting nervous because I needed a wee. I thought there may be toilets on course, which is what I had to have in mind to stop getting anxious about it. I decided to run and see how I went – and secretly hoping that somehow I could perspire from my bladder.

Once I started running and got into the stride of it I was fine. So there is another lesson learned – sometimes a wee can wait and your body will prioritise running. I just don’t want a Paula Radcliffe moment because I don’t think I would get away with that seeing as I’m not Paula Radcliffe. There were no toilets on course but I made it anyway.

When looking at where we ought to start within the crowd because people who start farther forward with people much faster them are quite annoying, we kept an eye out for the pacers. I was aiming for a PB, which would mean getting anything less than 69 minutes. Ideally, I wanted to be between the 60 minute and 70 minute pacer. We set off and the crowds were quite thick until ~3 Km in.

The crowds began to thin out slightly on the first long and gentle gradient. I say gentle, in terms of running it is gentle but when you’re running it always feel like much more. The course was a very simple loop to 5km away and then back again. Along the embankment road the scenery was good as the misty fog hung over the water as the sun began to get brighter throughout the race. I didn’t take any pictures because I was very busy chasing that PB. I started the race with my Dad and near the 6 Km mark he told me to run on and chase it. I asked if he was sure because normally I’m all for sticking together and finishing together. He’s no novice to races and has smashed more 10 Ks and half marathons than me – so when he said he was sure I agreed to run on.

We had set out quite fast chasing the time in the first half of the race – this meant that the second half of the race was much more tiresome and it became harder to maintain pace and push on. between 8 and 9 Km the 70 minute pacer caught up with me as I had slowed down quite a lot, so I kept my eye on her. At times I was watching her flag bob up and down just ahead of me, like when your tour guide on holidays abroad has a colourful umbrella they stick in the air for you to follow as your guide, her flag was my guide and I had to keep up.

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I made it. I managed 1:10:50 – it’s within the minute of 10 so I’m going to count it. I’m not a pro so every millisecond isn’t too important to me. Even though I achieved my goal time I decided to maintain my ‘time is largely irrelevant’ philosophy on running. I found it quite stressful chasing that time and I had to really push myself to achieve it. Yeah I felt proud but no, I won’t do it again on a regular basis. I was pleased with myself but adding such an unnecessary stress onto it was as it says on the tin, stressful. Instead I’m going to focus again more on how my body feels when I do my running.

Was it enjoyable? If not, why not? Are there any lessons to be learned? Do I have niggles that need stretching out in stretch class or yoga or even a sports massage? As long as I’m improving over time as I have done from where I was to where I am, and from where I am to a new place in the future that is what matters. I think I’m going to maintain the philosophy of trying to be a better version of myself for me, of trying to improve on what I am whilst appreciating what and where I currently am, and on enjoying progress in ways that may be difficult to measure – but you know what? I don’t need to measure everything in my life. This is a difficult life lesson for me but micro-managing and quantifying everything in my life to justify, understand and realise where I’m at isn’t always necessary.

img_1240So lessons learned: no chasing times on a frequent basis, smoothies are great for nutrients if you’re feeling all over, plan for your wee’s right up to the race pen, listen to your body about sleep and rest, refuel after 30+ minutes of exercise, and stay hydrated all the time even if that means chugging more rehydration salts than you’d like because lets face it, they taste iffy, then do it. That’s a lot of learning from one day.

It was also a lot of happiness in one day. S came out to support us, I ran with my Dad which I have never done before, and we had a small family gathering in Costa after the race. It was a bloody good Sunday – and that’s not even mentioning the afternoons activities.

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Marshalling Run Wimbledon 2017

At the weekend I did something completely new. I did something that brought me joy, another something that I came across as a result of my running journey. I entering the world of being a race marshal for the first time.


I marshalled for Run Wimbledon, by Perseverance Events. This is a tough course of undulating, i.e. very hilly, difficult and sometimes loose ground. I ran a 10k loop here in 2015 at the Summer Breeze Running Festival, to date this remains the hardest race I’ve done because of the heat paired with the course. It was a looped course, with one lap for the 10k, 2 laps for the half marathon and 4 laps for the full marathon – read, those guys are batshit bonkers!

My job was to direct people in the right direction on a sharp turn, up the hill and onwards with the course whilst handing out sweets and cheering the runners on. On that day I considered myself Captain Morale Wimbledon. I had great fun cheering people on, dare I say possibly more fun than some of the runners seemed to be having as they edged to the foot of ‘that bloody hill’. This was especially relevant towards the end of the day for the half marathoners and the marathoners.


Having run a few races, I know how welcome a well timed cheer or music zone can be, I know how welcome a snippet of conversation and encouragement can boost a mindset of dwindling positivity. Hearing someone tell you that you can do it when your mind is telling you that you can’t, someone cheer and pass on some infectious smiles of good will to a grimacing face, or someone to just clap your efforts around a course can really help garner extra energy from god knows where, and sometimes it’s enough just to get you up that sodding hill a bit easier than you would have otherwise.

I felt like it was time to give something back to the running community considering how much I have gained over the years. So many times have strangers, friends and family cheered me on and congratulated me on my achievements – now it was my turn to believe in someone. I doubt I will ever be able to give as much as I have received – but to give back something is better than nothing.

The thing about seeing people push themselves on a difficult course is that it can make you want to get out there and do it yourself. You get race envy. I often get race envy when I see an event that I think I would have enjoyed.  On Saturday, there were times during the day when I was inspired to get out there and run. There were also times when I was put off it for the day when I saw how worn down many people got by the course. From this, I think I’ll take that when I sign up for this run next year, I’m going to do a lot of training on undulating ground to get my body used to it. Road running isn’t going to cut the mustard with this beast of a course. This isn’t the kind of race you rock on up to without proper consistent effort going into your training. It isn’t the kind of race you rock on up to the start line of in the hope of winging it because those rolling inclines will get to you and they might destroy you for the day. They might not but I doubt it’s worth taking the risk.


I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy marshalling. In fact I was pretty anxious the night before and wishing I hadn’t agreed to it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to project my voice loud enough for people to hear me. I wasn’t sure if I could be brave enough to talk and cheer on people I didn’t know on my own. Soon enough however, as with many things I have doubted of myself in my running world, I got into it, even as a relatively shy and awkward person, I got into it and received only positive reception for my cheering efforts which only encouraged me to crack out the shit jokes department of my personality.

To everyone who ran, a big well done to those who finished, those who didn’t finish and gave it a go, hats off! It’s a tough course on Wimbledon Common and I’m sorry for my shit jokes.

How Important is Nutrition for Running Anyway?

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If I said that when training for a marathon, or anything in any sport, that nutrition was an imperative part of the programme, I think there would be a resounding, ‘duh!’. I even say it to myself in my head, yet over these past few weeks I have learned that nutrition during training has even more of an impact on training and ability to complete training runs. It turns out that diet is as important as the running itself.

I am starting to realise that training for a marathon is about many more things than I originally thought: often it is my mind I have to work on more than I do my legs; my nutrition is a 24 hour a day, 7 days a week project; and planning when I will realistically do my runs via planning is proving to be quite the steep learning curve too. These are all things that are proving to be bigger factors than whether my legs can physically carry me for 26.2 miles in one go.

The answer to that is yes, my legs could definitely carry my that far if they had to – in fact, I think they could carry me very much farther if they had to. The trick is, planning the training when I’m not too tired, or too pressed for time; fuelling my body with quality nutrition on the days when I’m not even on rest days; keeping my muscles stretched and rolled out to avoid tightness and the risk of injury; convincing myself that even though TV and chocolate feels more appealing when I’ve come on my period and my bones ache that I’ll probably feel less cramps and aches after a run. This running a marathon malarkey is turning out to be very little to do with my legs and a lot to do with a lot of other things that didn’t even cross my mind when I signed up.

Having a strong nutrition game feels like a very obvious component of this journey. However, I didn’t pay enough attention to it a few weeks ago. I didn’t budget accordingly in order to allow me to eat well. This left me eating chocolate and biscuits because they’re cheap. I missed meals because I hadn’t saved enough money aside to do so. The result was that I missed some training runs because I felt drained, and it wasn’t a mental ‘I can’t be bothered’. It was a ‘my nutrition has been terrible and my body hates me for it, and therefore won’t comply with running 10K’ situation.

Then there are the days when eating pastries, cakes and chocolate in front of the TV on an off evening. I didn’t even consider that what I eat the night before will affect me for the next 24-36 hours as what I have consumed has an effect for far longer than the time it takes for me to eat it, McVities and Cadbury have a lot to answer for.

Don’t feel sorry for me that I couldn’t eat well for a few days. I had done it to myself. I hadn’t put enough importance on the longer term when I bought a few coffees too many, and an extra piece of cake for £3.50 here and there. It doesn’t seem like much because coffee and cake is very little for your money in London and added up, well, I could have eaten well for a few days on 2 coffee shop visits alone.

It comes down to priority, budgeting, and really enabling my body to function at its optimum ability. Having given this some thought, by pushing my body to its max and potentially breaking myself by running 26.2 miles I have to treat it like a temple and feed it well. If I don’t, my body will just not run efficiently or as well as it could do – and I will feel the consequences. This doesn’t mean no cake, this means proper nutritional intake before cake because damn, I am not going through this journey without some tea and cake along the way – I am British after all.