The memories of my visit to Hungary and the great time I ran at the Budapest half have kept me going for the past couple of weeks.
I can’t say these have been happy weeks at work. We entered a very tough period whereby my stress levels have gone out of the roof and I find myself working lots of evenings at home and a couple of hours at the weekends to stay afloat somehow. It is just the worst time of the year when everything seems to be happening at the same time for HR, and this is especially difficult for us, as our team is quite new so we have not been through this before, plus we have a few new processes so everybody is learning.
Stress has been my greatest enemy in training – when I am stressed and mentally exhausted, I simply cannot run well; I feel sluggish, totally run down and low on energy. Because I cannot change the circumstances at work (and let’s face it, things will only get tougher for a while), I decided that I needed to change the one thing I do have control over, namely my attitude. I realised that things will not get resolved because I am stressing. So I might as well just ‘keep calm and carry on’ (or in my case this translates into ‘keep calm and carry on running’.) In my friend Anita’s words ‘sometimes you need to inject a bit of ‘I can’t give a sh*t attitude’ into your life at the right moments’, especially when the pressure is so high you would crack otherwise. And I definitely do not want to crack and crumble – I came very close to that a couple of times in August and September.
A week after returning from my Wizzair Half Marathon race holiday in Budapest, I braved the Windsor Great Park Half Marathon and its neverending series of rolling hills (or as the official race description goes for the unsuspecting first-time runners, its ‘undulating’ segments.)
I have to say this race is neither for the faint hearted, nor for any PB hunters! The race was scheduled to start at 1pm in the afternoon, which is quite unusual. I definitely prefer a good old fashioned early morning start because that makes pre-race fuelling so much easier. The moment I entered the race HQ, a friendly reception awaited me and it had a very relaxed atmosphere with families picking on the grass – however, as it turned out later, the race itself was far from a ‘picnic in the park’! The army was there to help with marshalling and running the facilities such as the baggage tent. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon which made us feel like it was still summer. One of my friends from Kings Church Runners, James was there too with one of his friends, Katie, who ran the race with her Dad. It was nice to have some company and have a banter in the starting pens, which reduced my race nerves.
Proudly posing with our hard-earned medals. According to James, in this picture I look like I had just been for a stroll in the park…
The course was really beautiful, however, as I alluded to it earlier, very punishing – constantly up-and-down-up-and-down, all the way. It was also getting quite hot so even though I had my drinking bottle with me, I heavily utilised the drinks stations, too. I had a low point half way, but simply could not give up when so many good looking army guys were cheering us on! Later on, I saw some ‘casualties’ lying helplessly on the grass on the side – perhaps they had fallen victim to the deadly a combination of the stinking heat and the neverending hills. My goal was to complete the race without stopping to walk on the hills and achieving about 5:20 min/km average pace in the end (which I did). When we turned into the finish line, which was on the Long Walk (ca. 2 kms), the sight of Windsor Castle emerging in the distance under the clear blue sky and the dense crowd of supporters put a spring in my step and I finished this rather punishing course with a sprint, feeling strong. Actually, this has been one of the most spectacular finish lines I have seen so far! My reward came not from my finish time (which is nothing remarkable) but keeping my heart and doing my best with each step.
This finish line is an optical illusion, hardly getting any closer…
Having recovered from the hills of Windsor, I did a Parkrun again in Black Park the following weekend. It turns out that this weekend is the 10th anniversary of this UK-wide run series. I duly marked the occasion by finishing first in my age group. My age graded time equals to 64.14% .
The Park was dressed into amazing autumn colours. I was feeling really knackered when this photo was taken – it looks like my friend was right, I have a special talent for faking being energetic!
I have to say, I found it scary that many of the hard core runners at these parkruns are kids. I mean, this morning a girl in the 11-14 year old age group came first with 20 minutes (!) – I have always looked at being able to run anywhere close to 4 min/km unthinkable, but this coming from a kid just feels slightly ‘paranormal’.
Having said that, being able to run a half marathon or a marathon seemed like an unlikely event for me only a couple of years ago, so who can say that I will never be able to churn out 4 min km’s in the future if I work hard for it?
Finally, I got my letter from the London Marathon organisers in the post this week with the rather unsurprising news that I had not got in through the ballot. At least they sent me a nice technical training top, a magazine and my mind is at rest knowing my entry fee has been put towards their charity. The easiest (and perhaps the only) way I see for myself ever running this particular marathon is by running a ‘good for age’ time in a different marathon so that I will be able to automatically get into London, without having to go through the tedious lottery or put myself under any undue pressures to raise gazillions of pounds for a bloomin’ charity place.
And let’s face it, being able to say that I am so good at running marathons that I auto-qualify for London is much better than saying I have been lucky to get in! Earning the place trumps being lucky, any time.