“There will be days you don’t think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have.”

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on here, but as we’re well into 2012 now, I feel it’s only fair to update you on my Marathon Mission and my progress.

December saw a last minute holiday to New York, which you might have thought along with a killer cold, would have slowed my training, but against all my better judgement I carried on regardless. I planned to have a nice restful week, but waking up at 5am every morning from jet lag, there was little to do other than abuse the free wifi and use the gym. One morning, I even searched New York Hash House Harriers, but sadly their runs cost $20 – a far cry from our £1 hash cash!

Realising that I probably wasn’t going to be able to beat my cold into submission, I gave myself a whole week off and then an easy week or so. And boy did I appreciate it! After Christmas (but before New

 

Year I’ll have you know) I was back out plodding the streets with renewed vigour. I ended 2011 in style with a 10km trail race, called the Gutbuster on New Year’s Eve. Well, there is no fun to eating and drinking too much if you haven’t been up at 6am for a sprint through the fords of rural Berkshire first! We ran round the course at a fairly stonking pace, I got my free mulled wine (and John’s) and went back to the car. Somewhat distracted by the flat tyre that I’d gained, I completely missed the prize giving. (Well it’s not something I normally need to bother with.) Anyway apparently I was the second ‘open lady’ (don’t, it’s not big or clever!) to finish, which gave me my first (and last) running prize!

So now, the proud owner of a wooden plaque, I was spurred on to enter a glut of pre-marathon ‘warm up’ races. Well, it was either the wooden plaque or the numerous bottles of wine consumed later that day – it’s hard to tell! January was marked not by races or speed, but by the long slow plod of a Sunday morning. Finding someone else foolish enough to join me on my long runs was a great boost and suddenly I found myself running from Tadley to Basingstoke in an epic 19 mile run and I could still walk at the end of it! Feeling full of confidence that I’d finished January running two thirds of a marathon, I leapt into my races.

Following my 19 mile run, I headed down to Devon for a few days of Boot Camp. Monday was a nice relaxing day at the spa, where I did a couple of hour stints swimming, but rested up for the days ahead. Day one started with a half hour warm up in the gym – just a brisk 20 minute cycle and two rowing races! We spent most of the morning being tortured by various odd looking devices in the gym; my favourite was the leg press. The resistence was set so

 

 high that when I lay down and pushed my feet against it, all that happened was that my bum lifted up! Kettle bells, weights and resistence work was all on the menu – a delight for an unfit runner like me! A short break for lunch and then the killer cardio started – an hour’s high energy spin class, which ended with the instructor driving us 6 miles from the gym and getting us to run back (on busy country lanes with no pavements!) When we got back, we had to do 80 lengths in the pool. The next day was slowed down a little by the snow, but we were driven out into the wilds of the moors (after getting stuck in the snow twice) and made to race the 10 miles home. The rest of the day was completed with kickboxing, more resistance work and circuits. All that and then the drive home to Wycombe. I know how to use my holiday!

The next weekend saw the Grim Night Terror. Yep, it’s as daft as it sounds. An eight mile trail run across Aldershot military training ground, up sand dunes and through waist deep bogs. Unfortunately (or quite fortunately as it turned out), the freezing spell meant all of the water was under 4 i

 

nches of ice, so we were more likely to suffer from a broken ankle than hypothermia this time. It was a first for me though – my first night-time, trail run in the snow! I’m not ashamed to admit that I layered up for such an event; two pairs of running tights, a thermal base layer, a winter running top

 

, a neck warmer, hat and two pairs of gloves is perfectly normal right?

Racing round that in under an hour, we were over the moon and promptly celebrated with a fat Chinese takeaway. There has to be a perk of a Saturday evening race, right?

Next up was the Bramley 20/10. Now there was a 20 mile option, which we could well have tackled, but discovering that you had to run the 10 mile course twice (including going back through the finish), we decided that would be far too demoralising. Forgetting that I had a race at the weekend, I trained hard all week, running or using the gym every night except Friday when we moved house and collapsed with exhaustion. Saturday saw a mini duathlon when I sprinted the 4 miles to the bike shop to collect my newly serviced bike and rode it home as fast as my legs would carry me. It was only when we were Bramley bound that I remembered everything I’d done in the week. That, combined with the cold weather made it a killer for me. It was only 10 miles, but we ran it as fast as we could, finishing in 1 hour and 19 minutes. (Well, 1.20 was the aim and I like to please!) But I think the pictures say it all!

Sad face in the final sprint at Bramley
Have you ever seen such sad eyes?
Struggling even from the third mile, I couldn’t get into a decent rhythm, but even with a decidedly ropey moment around mile 7, we finished in our target time. Finding a bakery on the way back to the car went a long way to making me feel a lot better about the whole thing mind you! It was just one week until Brighton Half Marathon, so with a bit of a cough working it’s way through, I did the sensible thing and rested up with just a 6 mile run on Thursday night.
 
The difference was remarkable – I felt really fresh and ready to go on Sunday morning. (Although this could have been helped by the glorious weather, having got caught in the torrential rain and gale force winds the day before!) Leaving the calculations and timing entirely up to John, I just focused on running. Having no idea what time John had plugged into his watch, I assumed it would be pretty fast, so I set off at a good old pace, overtaking people who were getting in the way, thoroughly enjoying the flat road and spending my time looking for some of my colleagues running as well. There was some confusion when at mile 5, our watches seemed to be about half a mile different to the mile markers on the course, but presuming we would find a ‘short’ mile at the end, we carried on with gusto. At about 11 miles, I started to wane, which was only made worse when at 12 miles (or 12.5 miles on our watches), we were still nowhere near home. Even at 13 miles I couldn’t see the finish line and was feeling a little despondent. Again, thankfully there were plenty of photographers there to capture my pain.
Another picture of me looking pained
 
Finally, the finish line was in sight and we sprinted through. (Actually correction, John sprinted through. I stumbled through seconds later). Elated with our amazing time – 1.46, we stretched off and I couldn’t believe that I’d beaten my PB by a whole 12 minutes. But we were still confused by our watches. It’s normal for a race to be a little bit out – after all, we all run different lines, but 0.4 of a mile? It turns out we weren’t the only ones to complain and the following day, the organisers issued an apology and revised times. So what does that mean? Well, I am now officially the owner of a 1.43 half marathon time!  That’s nearer to 1.30 than it is 2 hours. That might not mean anything to any of you, but I’m not a fast runner, so to come away with a semi respectable time is just amazing.
 
So what next? Well, I plan an easy week or so, before celebrating my 25th birthday with a nice 22 mile plod. Other than that, I’m not sure. The marathon is getting closer – just 8 weeks away now, so I just need to stay fit, injury free and aim to smash my 4 hour target!
 
In fundraising news, I’ve raised an amazing £678.40 (0r £779.25 with gift aid) for the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. Money incredibly well spent and proven this afternoon as they landed just metres from my office to rush someone to hospital. So if you haven’t sponsored me yet, check out this link www.virginmoneygiving.com/bryonyharper and see what you can give!
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“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

“The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.”

I have had so many discussions with people over the last nine months where I’m told I’m so lucky that I can run because they can’t run for more than five minutes without stopping. It doesn’t matter how often I try and explain it to them, it doesn’t seem to sink in. It doesn’t get any easier – your body just allows you to run a little further, whilst suffering the same pain. I suffer as much as them, but my brain is better trained to block it out.

I am no more able to run for 2 hours without stopping than anyone else. But, I’ve spent a year training and building myself up to it. I think that, on the whole, it is not our body saying “no”, it is just our brain. Frequently, half way round a run I will decide that I am tired and I need to walk. The pain hasn’t increased a huge amount or arrived suddenly, but my brain has tired of ignoring it. I will then walk, for all of about five steps before sternly having a word with myself because the pain isn’t changed by walking and the pain is only prolonged by walking, so you just have to get on with it.

It seems to be a common belief that some people can run and some can’t. I hate to burst the bubble, but I have to work bloody hard at it! And it’s not the muscles that need training, more than anything, it is the brain. If you don’t feel like doing a run, or your brain isn’t truly focused, you will find it impossibly hard. Whereas on a day when your brain is switched to the correct function, you can ignore all the aches, pains and hills and simply carry on.

I think that despite the next 6 months training, nothing will prepare my brain for the 26.2 miles that I’ll be running in April. Someone told me that I had to stop thinking of it as 26 miles, but 10 water stops. No matter what we do, it’s impossible to switch our brain off; on Saturday, I decided that my ‘long slow run’ would be from home to course build at Berkshire College of Agriculture. I looked on Google maps and decided it was 10 miles. Sadly it was 11 and ½ miles. Now, I can hear what you are saying – if you’ve run 10, I’m sure you can manage another mile or so? But my brain was so focused that I was going to get to stop soon that when I got to 10 and was in the middle of nowhere still, I could have cried. I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep on running. I did carry on, but it felt like another 5 miles to the finish.

Whatever the distance you are running, I can guarantee that your body will begin to tire in the last 10% of the race. Well, put simply, if you don’t have that pain that feels like you are dying, you just aren’t trying hard enough! But if I do a 10km race now, I just know that at 9km, I would feel like I didn’t have another step left in my body, even though I know I’m fit enough to do the race twice. It is entirely psychological and unless I find a way of unplugging my noddle, I’ve just got to learn to live with it!

Normally I fall into a bit of a retirement in the winter as although I would love to carry on, running alone in the dark seems a bit silly. I went out once and was so terrified that I was going to be mugged or raped that I forgot to look out for potholes and nettles; I came back looking like I’d taken a scalpel to my legs. Thankfully that was the only damage, but I thought that realistically it would be safer to run in a pack. It might also help to keep that noddle of mine motivated through the dark, wet, cold nights. So a few weeks ago, I embarked on a couple of running adventures…

My first experience of running en masse was by invitation of a friend; she said that she does hash every Tuesday and it’s the most fun way of running. I wasn’t sure that smoking dubious roll ups prior to running was that wise, but I went online to do a little bit of exploring about her kind of hash. The next Tuesday, I found myself sat in a pub car park awaiting the arrival of the High Wycombe Hash House Harriers. Clad in more hi-viz lycra than you could shake a stick at, soon everyone arrived. I was taken into the middle of the group, lit only by our headtorches and pronounced a Hash Virgin and welcomed to the group.

Then we started running; there is no easy way to describe it, but essentially one of the hashers (called the hare), has been out earlier in the week and laid a flour trail for the hash to follow. So you run through woods, fields and along lanes shouting “on, on” every time you see a dot of flour on the floor. Every so often, you’ll get to a checkpoint, where you have to find the right way to go, which often means half a mile or so in the wrong direction first. There are some other odd rules here and there to make sure the faster runners run further than everyone else. Once you’ve been lost in the dark for a good hour or so, you eventually stumble back across the pub where drinks and chips are shared by all.

It was, quite possibly the most entertaining run I’ve had – everyone was so friendly and I think everyone made a point of talking to me and making sure I was having fun. Everyone was a mad as me – quite proved by the fact that next week, we’ll be dressing up in Halloween clothing for the hash! Nobody took themselves too seriously – but they made sure everyone was enjoying themselves, which is just what I was looking for! I have to say, despite certain friends likening it to dogging (which it isn’t!), it’s a great way to get some exercise in.

Quite buoyed up by the friendliness and the fun of the Hash, I bit the bullet and emailed a local running club to ask if I could join them. A few days later, I got a perfectly polite email back inviting me to run with them on Thursday. Again, I found myself decked out in hi viz lycra lurking in the carpark, waiting for more people to arrive. Bravely, I walked into the club house, at which point everyone stopped, stared at me and then carried on with their conversations. Try as I might, I couldn’t hide any further in the corner than I already was, but I stood there studying my feet, waiting for someone to talk to me. Eventually, the “ladies captain” came over, asked me if I was new and told me I had to join one of two groups, but failed to tell me how to decide which group to go with. They made some announcements including the classically friendly “there is a new girl in the corner” followed by pointing and staring and then we were off.

Out of sheer fluke, I found myself with the fast group, who ran at a faster pace than I normally train at, but not so fast that I couldn’t keep up. I started to notice that we were losing people on every turn, but no one seemed especially bothered, which further motivated me to keep up! I was damned sure that I wasn’t going to get left behind in the middle of nowhere, when I didn’t know anybody! We ran a good strong 8 miles and by the end, one or two people had said a couple of words to me. I finished, cooled down and went home. It wasn’t that fun, but I think it’s what I need in the run up to the marathon. If I don’t have people pushing me to go faster and further, I’ll be lost. It’s just a real shame that I couldn’t have a laugh along the way.

So that’s how my marathon training has started – hopefully it’ll begin to pick up pace as I get deeper into the winter. In my next blog, you might even get to see a picture of the Halloween Hash!