Thursday, 21 November 2013

Musings from the London train

Train: 15:09 to London Marylebone, 16/11/2013

Sitting by the window in the quiet carriage. I have a peppermint tea in front of me and an adolescent boy wearing a little too much cheap aftershave next to me. I'm on my way to meet friends in Covent Garden.

It's one of those days when the sun doesn't seem to have risen. It looks, to my mind, like it's 6pm outside, which confuses me: why am I going to London at 6pm for tea?  I find the loss of terms and essay deadlines confusing, there is no way to mark the passing of the weeks. At work, weeks and months are denoted by numbers, and the fact that before I know it I'll be peeling chestnuts and wrapping presents hasn't sunk in yet. I suppose this might explain why I think it's six o'clock and why I always find I have too few layers for running and why my mother asking me for Christmas present ideas seems bizarre.

The dying English countryside is slightly uninspiring. This is yellow and brown and grey, a world away from the sunlit golds, greens and reds that brighten my day as I drive to work.  The rising sun and ghostly mists never fail to amaze, and if you think I sound naive at finding beauty in the simple things, I suspect you've lost the joy of life. But there is beauty in the dying, too. The promise of glittering frosts, and snow, the memory of cold Sunday walks before 5 o'clock tea and a fire, Christmas.

The girl at Bicester in team kit wielding a hockey stick reminds me of school practices in winter. Hands so cold that to hit the ball and feel the repercussion was agony. I watched my sister's Christmas play at my old school last Wednesday and remembered that the best part of being in a performance was the camaraderie of the team. Everyone working towards one goal and spurring each other on. This is why I've fallen in love with my running club, why I will always find one to be part of no matter where I go, and why the manic days at work when we're working towards a particular target are my favourite.

Aftershave Boy has fallen asleep and is dangerously close to leaning his head on my shoulder. Should I subtly kick him? And I wonder if it really is that dark outside, or if the windows are tinted? This train track runs along a hill, and the cars below look like children's toys. But then, from an aeroplane I guess we look like a caterpillar, and people on a distant planet don't even know we exist. 

How Not To Do Life & Other Stories

You know those days when things just do not go according to plan? When you know if you'd just done something a little different your life would be much easier? Well, that's been my afternoon.
I faffed around for so long deciding whether or not to go shopping before my tea date that by the time I'd made my mind up to do said shopping, I no longer had time to get to the station and catch the train.

One missed train.

So I decided to get the next train which would just leave me enough time before meeting people to go and look at new running shoes. I successfully got myself ready on time, grabbed my phone and keys and was about to leave the house when the time on my phone showed me that the clock in my room was 10 minutes late, and that I was going to miss my train.

Two missed trains.

I'll get the next one, I said, the 14:47, I said. I waited ten minutes and then left, pre-empting a full car park by heading straight for the overflow one. Ironically, the overflow was overflowing, and the station car park had plenty of space. I would still have caught the train if it had been at 14:47, but sadly it was at 14:43 and it wasn't meant to be.

Three missed trains.

The proverbial straw was checking the board of London train times and realising there had been two trains between the second and third missed trains, and that if I had left home as soon as I was ready, I wouldn't already be half an hour late an hour and ten minutes before I was meant to arrive.

I'm standing on the platform waiting for the tube, so I can see the funny side of missing five trains now. Sort of.

However, the one good point of my day so far (and also what was meant to be the subject of this post) is that after years of shunning hair dryers because (in my not-so-expert hands) they transform my wet-and-full-of-potential hair into that of my year eight maths teacher, I have found the answer: hair oil. In ten minutes, with a pea-sized blob of argan oil that I bought from a market in Morocco, I went from damp-and-frizzy to silky-swishy-volume. No longer will I contemplate not washing my hair after running just because it looks more acceptable sweaty but straight than it does clean but hedge-dragged. Reader, I may be incapable of catching trains, but I have possibly just revolutionised my life. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Race recap: Ascott-Under-Wychwood XC 03.11.13

Distance: 6.5km (approx - I think each Oxon XC league race is slightly different).
Time: 30:21
Place: 43/190

I wish I could write this like Hollie writes her recaps, mile by mile (or something similar...), but I actually don't know where each mile ended and the next began, because I forgot to start my watch at the beginning of the race. Oops.

I decided to try to have fun instead of going all out and dying halfway round the course. The only other experience of racing I have is one Race For Life that I did with Imi, which I didn't actually treat as a race, and one ParkRun in York which I thoroughly enjoyed and ran a PB at, but went out far too fast and lost the man I'd chosen as a pacer with at least a kilometre to go. I thought that if I attacked this race competitively right from the beginning, there would be a danger of that happening again, and with a huge hill up to the finish I had to have some energy to make it to the line.

One of my team said that the runners tend to go out pretty fast, so I put myself towards the back of the pack at the start line and took it slowly. There were a good few downhill stretches in the first third of the race, and I'm alright at speedy downhills but I didn't want to kill my knees by doing it in spikes so I just took it gently (seems to be the general trend of the race!). The water trough and the hill (mountain) were looming in my mind...

Two of my team were ahead of me, as expected, but I tried to keep them in my sight. I was getting tired halfway around the first lap, but instead of slowing down as I might do on a training run, the fact that I was racing other people kept me going. I'm very uncompetitive against myself, but I hate giving up against others.

The water trough, or 10 metre stretch of water that came two thirds of the way up to my knee, wasn't as terrible as I'd imagined/various people had told me. One moment I was running along a winding trail through a large spinney, the next I was in the water. Mentally, it coming around so suddenly was easier than seeing it from afar and dreading it. There was no time to think about how to approach it or the best technique for running through more-than-a-puddle, I was just in the water and then out again. The initial, 'Oh god my feet are now twice as heavy' thought was quickly followed by, 'Ooh that was quite refreshing and my feet don't feel so tired now'. Then I saw the hill and all thoughts of water troughs went out of my head.

Probably a third of the way up the hill the first time around, wondering how to make it to the top.
There is no way to describe that hill other than brutal. It was awful. It was never-ending, a tricksy trail that pretends that the incline will stop around the corner/wall/gate but actually it just carries on. I'd done two hill sessions in training, definitely not enough, and I was all-too-aware that once the hill was done I needed enough energy to get me around the course and up the hill all over again. Running up that hill at a pace that would conserve enough energy was hell. Not that I could have sailed up it by any means, but I felt like I was walking with teeny tiny steps and not going anywhere. Luckily I'd asked my parents and sister to stand two thirds of the way up the hill at a wall which I would have to run around, so that they could see me coming and cheer me on up, and then yell at me to keep going as I went around and past them, up the hidden bit of the slope. If you ever have the opportunity to go and cheer someone on in a race, do it. Hearing people yelling your name is second to none in keeping you going, save for a new pair of legs.

"If I can't see how far there is to go then it won't be so bad, right?"
I picked my pace back up as soon as I hit flat ground - the hill was more tiring on my actual leg muscles than my breathing so it wasn't too hard to recover, plus some of our men's team were watching there and spurred me on. Picking up the speed was all I thought about for quite a while after the hill. A couple of women overtook me, and there was about twenty metres between me and the next pack. I looked behind and estimated that I would place in the last third of the runners, and decided to aim at catching the pack in front of me before I hit the water trough for a second time.

Matching your nails to your club vest obviously makes you faster.
I'm not sure if I ran faster or they slowed down, but I caught them. It hurt, but I managed it, and I could see one of my team not too far ahead. I tried to concentrate on (a) the water trough refreshing my feet and (b) the race almost being over, powered up a little hill, and after the water overtook the women who had done the same to me earlier.

I don't remember much between then and the end, except that I think I overtook three more women and looked like I was snarling as I tried to keep running up that hill. If I hadn't been trying to breathe I probably would have yelled in frustration that I couldn't make my legs go any faster. I knew it would have to hurt, and that if I could walk easily when I crossed the finishing line I'd be cross at myself for not giving it more effort, so despite the pain there was a certain amount of satisfaction when I couldn't stand upright after I'd crossed it.

After thinking that I was in the last third, I honestly thought that I was looking at the wrong number when the results came out and I saw a 43 next to my name. 1st and 2nd in my team came in at 33rd and 40th overall so I'm really pleased with my result. It went a lot more quickly than a normal 4 mile training run does, possibly because there were two laps so I knew how far there was to go on the second one, and also because there seems to be a lot more to occupy your thoughts in a race than running on your own. For the next one I'll walk the course beforehand so that I know when to push my speed and when to conserve it. There didn't seem to be much point for this one: I knew the hill was the final stretch of each lap and that the water was just before that, and the rest of the course was in full view from the car park field.

I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. Racing is totally different to going running, which hadn't really clicked in my brain. The people around you push your pace for you so I wasn't  forcing myself to go faster for no reason, which in a twisted way is easier than doing a tempo run or speedwork. Three weeks until the next one, and in the meantime hill training is going to be the flavour of the month.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A New Focus

So it turns out that I'm really, really awful at blogging when I don't have deadlines to meet and hours in the library to while away. I have no reason to procrastinate, aka no reason to read everything ever on the internet, aka nothing to rant about. Apologies, although I'm pretty sure that no one really minds.

To be honest I haven't really had time. Before you say, "That's ridiculous, you can always make time", hold fire. I know I can make time, it just so happens that I'm terrible at making time. You're preaching to someone who, at nearer 23 than 22, has to make goals each week to keep her life in order. Things along the lines of "This week I will put my clothes away before I go to sleep", "This week I will go to bed at an acceptable time each night", "This week I will leave on time for work". It was meant to all come together so that a month into having a job and masquerading as an adult my life would be a seamlessly organised machine that would prevent stress, tiredness, and dark looks from my boss. It didn't work.

But the one thing that really is taking up most of my time, the thing that is supposed to be the main focus of this particular post, is running. I joined a running club and haven't really looked back. Let's be honest, I haven't had time.

Once I started working and settled into a bit of a routine, I started looking at gyms in the town I work in. There are only two, so there wasn't really a lot of research needed - I just picked the cheaper one, which happens to be right across the road from my office (or perhaps I chose the closest one, which happened to be cheaper. Regardless, I think I win on both accounts). But in my brief Googling I stumbled across Kidlington Running Club, and eventually I emailed them and went along for a run.

I may or may not have painted my nails to match my vest...

I don't think I could recommend anything more than I can recommend joining a running club (except for bananas, mangoes, and travelling, which come in at around the same level. And new running socks). I've stumbled across a bunch of people that love running, are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and seriously motivating.

I always thought I was a lone runner. I've never found people to run with, except for a stint with my brother (and one of my sisters. Occasionally) over the summer, so I never really realised how great it was. I still love running on my own, I enjoy the freedom to run how I want to run, think about what I want to think about, but running with other people pushes you, and forces you to improve. I never thought I had a competitive side, but speed and hill training has quashed that particular myth. It's amazing  how fast my legs will go when I find myself in an all out sprint-to-the-finish at the end of a 400m fast lap...

Run swag. So beautiful.
In fact, running with other people who are far better than me has made me want to really push myself. I did my first cross country race of the season at the weekend, and it was fun but seriously hard. I came 43rd out of 190 and I'm now just determined to improve on that. So, since I'm living back at home where none of my friends live, I'm going to take advantage of having no social life and focus on running.

Obviously I'm never going to become a professional athlete, but aren't the most rewarding things in life the ones we have to work the hardest for? I thought about this the other day, and apart from a few piano exam pieces, the only activity I've really put any effort into in my whole life was making the hockey team at school. I went to hockey practice almost every week for a whole year without being put on the team and eventually it happened. Not that I was very good, but I enjoyed it. And I think it's time I made an effort for something once again.