Trails and Tribulations – How to be a Very Amateur Athlete
Since joining Striders 3 years ago and getting in to this running lark, I have often questioned my self as to whether I am an athlete or not.
I am often the recipient of letters and emails from various sporting organisations addressed to ‘Dear athlete’, and note on race applications and results lists, that athletes are participating in the same event as my self. But the fact is I just don’t see myself as one of the tribe.
A definition I have found describes an athlete as:
A person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise
However, my experiences this year whilst preparing for and taking part in races hardly demonstrates proficiency in sport, and in reality is more like a long list of complete cock-ups. Having said that, I think with the Vale of York Half Marathon, I am starting to crack it and may be on my way the being a proper athlete. I will now try and explain:
For me, an athlete must have a six pack, muscles in the right places, a square jaw and absence of numerous chins, look the part with all the right gear, and demonstrate excellence in their chosen sport. This goes back to my youth when sporting athletic hero’s looked the part and delivered. People like Brendan Foster, Linford Christie, Sally Gunnell, Kelly Holmes and Alf Tupper were in their prime, and achieving sporting greatness, and are the role models on which I measure what an athlete should be.
I conversely don’t fit in to that mould.
Firstly, my body has a bit of wear and tear, consisting of a series of sporting and work related injuries, held together primarily by scar tissue and lumpy bits. Getting out of bed in a morning, any form of sudden movement, or just walking the short distance from the bed to the loo, is always accompanied by a soft ‘Oooooh’ or “Argghhhhh’ as I manage the aches and pains and delicately try to get things moving. Once I get going, I’m fine, but the getting going gets harder with age.
Secondly, my list of athletic achievements remains short. Admittedly, I was a joint winner at the Maltby Church School wheelbarrow race (1973). I competed in the Inter-house schools cross country (1981), finishing around the back of the field limping in and ending up in hospital having 3 stitches after falling over in the mud at Roche Abbey. I completed the Raby 10k and was awarded a prize, but could not collect it as it was for 3rd finisher in the W60 section having taken a hand me down entry off a friend. I was 32 at the time.
Quite simply, I could not see myself as either athletic or an athlete.
However, things changed a little at the beginning of the year when I retired from work. With more time to focus on training I vowed to improve my running and compete more effectively in races, working to more of my strengths to help improve my fitness.
With very dodgy knees, which are painful in a morning and after longer distance runs, I simply could not risk increasing running mileage. Therefore in addition to the usual weekly runs, I focused on working very hard in spinning classes, 2 sometimes 3 times a week, and cycling in general. This helped me enormously, both aerobically and strength wise, and helped feed my competitive urge when I started to see some improvements.
A failure on my part was not to have a training plan as such. In my mind, if I worked harder, then there should be some improvement. However, as a training aid I have bought a Garmin Run / cycle / swim watch, which I have to admit is brilliant. Apart from trying to run a route, which writes my name on the Garmin Mapping Package, the advantages of the Garmin are many fold. I now know what different running paces feel like rather than second guessing, I can see performance improvement in the stats, I can see what times mates have run and rub it in that they should be faster than me by virtue of age.
In December last year, with little specific training I completed a half marathon for the first time in around 25 years in Sunderland. It killed me, and post race I could hardly walk around, with stiff legs, hips and other bits. However, I had set a marker PB, which I vowed to beat when I next competed in a similar race at some point in 2018, and the VOY Half Marathon was my target.
In the meantime, I had to do more races leading up to VOY to iron out how to do it properly, with out messing up. With that in mind, I have learnt some interesting lessons through competition:
1) Pre Race Food
Running magazines, wise wisdom and other top tips seem to advise that Carb loading is a good idea the night before a race, with a nice pasta dish being a meal of choice.
That’s all well and good, but I have a great recipe for a Chilli and baked bean sausage casserole, which I made the night before the Trail Outlaws Penshaw Monument half Marathon. As hills were expected in this race, I washed the meal down with a bottle of Wainwrights Beer.
The problems started at about 3am with some stomach gurgling.
Having taken appropriate measures I was ok until the moment 20 minutes before the race when I had a distinct need to complete a 100m dash to the toilets. I was pre prepared having taken a role of Andrex™ Best from home, but the main issues was not my ablutions, but the fact I fell off the toilet as the screws holding it to the floor came away and tipped me off. Unbeknown to me, the plumbing from the cistern was now detached, from the toilet, so when I flushed the loo, 10 gallons of water flooded the men’s toilet block. I managed to do some plumbing repairs,, but the cubicle was a mess. I’m sorry if this affected anyone at the time, but I did report it, and it wasn’t my fault, but it was a lesson learned, make sure you eat the right food before a race.
2) Pre Race Ablutions (and Post race ablutions)
The motto is be prepared, and go regularly so that the system is clear.
I thought it was clear on the Gateshead trail 10K at Blaydon, but about a quarter of the way around I had that stomach gurgling again. Whether this was pre race nerves affecting my system or what I’m not sure. The effect was that as the race went on I was running with very tense muscles, and was very close to making a dash to some tree cover to seek relief. Counting down the last kilometres was desperate. However, I eventually managed to get over the line, grabbed my medal and continued at 4-minute mile pace to the toilet cubicles.
That was another lesson learned on my way to being an athlete.
This is a real problem for me. Not the fact that I need to take water on board, but how to take water on board at water stations. Race organisers seem to think up different innovative ways to soak me rather than feed water in.
- a) Paper cup – Water split all over the place and trying to drink whilst on the move always ends up with water splashing dribbling down the side of my face
- b) Water Bottles – Always seem too big, can’t find the opening and I have to tilt my head back, missing my mouth and again dribbling water all over the place
- c) Water pouches – As used at the Durham 10k. This was a real hard one to master, as I simply could not get the water out whilst running, so gave the damn thing a really good squeeze, resulting in a jet of water in the face and up my nose, missing my mouth completely.
My agreed approach now is that I simply don’t care, and as long as I take water on board, I’m happy.
4) Jelly Babies and other race nutrients
Race organisers like to give out nutritional treats at feeding stations, particularly Jelly babies, which in the right circumstances are great.
Personally, I bite the heads off and chew them, but the dilemma is how many do you take from the box,? And can you select the red berry ones, and ditch the green ones without losing time?
At a Trail Outlaws race I just grabbed a handful as I passed the feeding station, but had too many to eat at once with out feeling sick. Rather than chucking to them away, I decided to keep a few back, only for them to create a horrible sweaty and sticky goo in my hand.
Is it race etiquette to grab a handful, or just take a few selected ones to nibble at?
I have not worked this one out yet, so it’s work in progress..
5) Race Strategy
I’m always being given helpful advice on race strategy. Whether that relates to the pace for the race, (start out slower and finish faster; start out faster and finish slower; just hang in there for grim death), or make sure you get near the front at the start.
The reality is that I fail on race strategy on the day, other than by adopting an approach that I must beat Runner X to the finish line. Runner X being a friend from the dark side, otherwise known as Durham City Harriers.
So far it’s 2 all on the races we have caught up with each other, with me taking the 10k races, and him the half marathons. I tend to start fast and gain a lead, then he gets me as a die close to the finish line
I need some coaching on race strategy.
This is a completely new concept to participation in sport, both in training and at events.
It never ceases to amaze me that so many photo opportunities exist. The only problem I have, is that I have a great face for radio.
From photos I’ve seen, I seem to manage to pull a tremendous gurning race face, look like a burglars bull dog chewing a wasp, or generally look half dead, even when I’m stationary and not even started the run.
Once I’m up and running, strategically placed photographers always manage to capture me looking as if I’m in the mid throws of collapse, or dealing with trapped wind.
A recent article in Runners World stressed the virtues and benefits of running with a smile, and the evidence of this is everywhere in photos of others, happily running with a happy carefree smile and striking new PBs.
I’m just going to have to smile more when running in order to achieve my goals.
With these observations in mind, I made my way to Sherburn In Elmet for the VOY, with a view of trying to get a new PB for the distance.
On arrival, the first thing to notice at the race start, was the total absence of Crocodiles, Father Christmases, Dinosaurs, Hen & Stag parties and runners carry fridges on their backs.
What was obvious was the number of club runners sporting their club vests. A smattering of north eastern clubs were represented, but I guess the GNR drew in many from our region. However, the race was dominated by clubs from Yorkshire, such as Steel City Striders, Grimthorpe Harriers, and Royston Vasey ACC. With the promise of a flat fast paced course, the race had clearly attracted many runners intent on going for a good time or PB.
Getting to the start was simple. The only local celebrity available to start the race was the Mayor of Selby, who thanked everyone for coming and set off the race with his air horn.
I’m pleased to say the execution of my plans went well:-
1) Pre race food
Pasta, and no negative after effects.
2) Pre Race Ablutions
Got to the start in good time, and completed without issue.
No problems, I just saved the hassle by pouring it over my head.
4) Jelly Babies
5) Race Strategy
Got near the front at the start.
I went out far too fast, died at 8 miles as I turned in to the wind, but managed to keep things going and got over the line in a new PB.
Runner X got to the finish line 11 seconds ahead of me after a last ditch overtake, and that’s not got to happen next time.
Having said that I had the moral victory as he is 10 years younger than me, but I wasn’t able to articulate that well to him after the race, plus he wasn’t listening.
Smiled all the way around, with evidence from the event photo gallery.
Its fair to say that I have learnt my lessons, shown improvement and despite several previous mishaps, have become a little more proficient in this chosen sport. If that makes me an athlete, then I am a happy runner, and role on the XC season.
|pos||bib||name||cat||cat pos||chip time||gun time|
|1||835||Kev Jeffress (Sunderland Harriers & AC)||M35||1/152||1:11:48||1:11:49|
|37||1012||Sarah Lowery (Rotherham Harriers & AC)||F35||1/111||1:19:52||1:19:56|
|675||957||Marita Le Vaul-Grimwood||F45||20/109||1:51:23||1:53:10|