A win and DNF. The ups and downs of racing.

Three weeks ago I ventured to Castellion de la Plana to race in a 10km on the road. After the disappointment of missing the Barcelona Half (due to a bad case of flu the previous week) I was fired up for this one. The journey was smooth as the fast train from Girona takes you almost all the way there.  The fast train is luxury compared to South West Trains and is a very pleasant way of travelling. The views of the coast line were beautiful and in less than 4 hours I had reached Castellion.

There was only a short walk to the ‘Pergola’ the race HQ located in a big park with palm trees. I arrived and collected my race number as well as receiving a goodie bag. The goodie bag never fails to disappoint. It usually is an Aneto soup sturdy shopping bag containing a host of delights. This time we had a race t-shirt, a bag of satsumas, a carton of soup and some energy drink. People were leaving the HQ in good spirits. The following day there was to be the 10km and also a marathon. I wondered along to the finishing arch that was being assembled and then my eyes caught glimpse of the podium to the left. I walked over to the podium and decided to take a photo of it. I could then look at that photo and visualise me on the number 1 spot. I was longing for that.

I went to my accommodation and put my running kit on to do a short steady run and some strides before having dinner and an early night. In this run my legs felt like lead, even for the strides they did not want to run fast. I tried not to worry despite both calves feeling as tight as a drum. I went back to my room and did a bit of massage to my calves and some stretching. I had to hope and pray that my legs would feel fresher the following day.

Race day was here. I ran to the HQ to drop my bag off and continued a good 3 mile warm up and the usual race routine of strides and drills. Soon it was time to line up on the start line. After a few announcements the gun went and we were off. The first km was slightly downhill which always helps to get the legs turning over nicely. I settled into a rhythm and felt good. I got to 5km in the planned time. Just after 6km I felt what I thought was a stone get stuck to the sole of my shoe. There are small ventilation holes in the bottom of my trainers and occasionally small stones can get lodged in. In this case it felt like a big stone. I contemplated stopping but decided that it wasn’t causing me pain and I wasn’t dying so I just had to finish the race as fast as I could. It continued to make a clank every time I stepped but I tried hard to ignore it and to stay focused.

The last 2km hurt (as 10km’s do) but I kept pushing on. The finish line was nearing and I knew that I had a significant gap between me and the next female runner. A sharp turn to the right and I was in the finishing straight and sped up for a strong finish. As I crossed the line I raised my arms feeling elated and also relieved. After a few extra steps I propped myself up on the shoulder of a marshal so I could remove what I thought was the stone. I was amazed to see that it was a large metal bolt! It took some yanking to remove it. No wonder it had made such a noise every step! The marshal was also amazed and he was quick to take a photo of it for his Facebook page. After a few photos and an interview I made my way out of the finishing area where we were given a medal followed by biscuits, cakes, oranges and bananas. They do know how to put on a good race. I did a cool down and came back for the presentation before making my way back to Girona feeling happy.

Two weeks on to the next race, the Big Half marathon in London. I was due to fly in to Gatwick on the Friday, have a quick catch up with my brother, see our cat Ronnie (who now lives with my parents) and then head to the race hotel the following day. The ‘beast from the east’ had other ideas. Seeing everyone’s photos of igloo building, snow men and sledging on Instagram had left me feeling slightly concerned that my flight may be disrupted or cancelled. I checked for updates before making my way to Barcelona airport and all seemed to be ok. It got as close as the screens saying that it was time to embark. I was in the queue with my warmest clothes on… scarf, big woolly jumper, down jacket and felt like I was soon to overheat but I couldn’t have fitted all the layers into my hand luggage. The announcement then came that the flight was cancelled. The word that I had dreaded hearing!

As you can imagine everyone swarmed to the desk trying to find out what was happening and a few people got angry. It soon became apparent that no more flights were going to London that night.  Most people got on the phone trying to find alternative flights. None were looking very favourable for me to get to London the following day in good time to get to the race hotel. I started to think that this was it, I had missed the race. Easyjet were promising accommodation for everyone so I called Rich. We decided that if he could find a flight I would stay in Barcelona and go the next day. He found a flight for 3pm and was able to book it for me. I was lucky as some people didn’t get flights until Monday or Tuesday. After waiting in a long queue, for what felt like hours, I had a notification that my request online for a hotel via the Easyjet app had been requested. I left the queue and  jumped in a taxi feeling relieved.

The hotel was nice, the taxi driver assured me that it was in a good area. He told me that Messi lived in this neighbourhood. I arrived exhausted. I had been organised for the day and had made all sorts of healthy snacks and had brought dinner in a Tupperware box. It hadn’t crossed my mind that I would need 2 days worth of travel snacks. Thankfully there was a supermarket close by so I planned for the following day and bought enough snacks to keep me going. Pre race food is always an important element of race preparation. I then climbed into bed.

I had envisaged my morning run to be in the snow in the UK but here I was still in Spain with Spring like weather. I found the Cataluyna Olympic rowing lake to run around. Rowers were out and later on there was wake boarding taking place too. Soon it was time to for me to go back to the airport and I could only hope that I would get to the UK. This time I was flying to Luton. It seemed like the flight was going to go ahead. I was back in the queue with all my layers on ready to board. Finally!

We arrived into snowy Luton which was enveloped by thick cloud and fog. After a bus journey and 3 trains I made it to the race hotel. I got my number, quickly had dinner, laid out my race gear and got to bed feeling exhausted but happy that I had made it and that I was able to race.

Race day was here and it wasn’t as cold as had been forecasted. The conditions seemed good. It was nice to see some of my racing friends from the UK. I did my usual pre race warm up and then we were called to the start. They had the sound of  a heartbeat blaring on the tannoy getting faster and faster and then we were off. I set off at my planned pace of 5 minute 30 miling but didn’t feel too good. Despite sticking to the pace it felt like I was running through treacle. I just had no energy and my whole body was protesting in a way that it shouldn’t 3 miles in. It felt like I was in slow motion and everyone else was in normal time. My calves started to tighten and the nerve pain that I have experienced in the summer came back with a vengeance. I thought I might feel better as the race went on but by 5 miles there was no change.

I stopped and pulled up on the pavement. Watching everyone pass it seemed like a bad dream. I asked the marshals where I should go and they said to an information tent a mile or so in the other direction. I started to walk and a lady came running after me with her jack russell dog. She suggested that I took the DLR and walked with me. She was so kind and offered me a hug. We walked past the boats and frozen water and I was able to get to the DLR. I hugged her and thanked her for her kindness.

I sat on the train trying not to cry and another lady came and sat next to me and told me that I did well just to start the race. She told me that she used to run half marathons but now she has a stick and has multiple sclerosis. I said how sorry I was that she had such an awful disease and how hard that must be. She didn’t want sympathy, she continued to try and be there for me. What an amazing lady. It certainly put my situation into perspective.

I reached Greenwich and walked along feeling frozen by this point in my shorts and vest. Finally I got to the hotel and was able to message Rich that I hadn’t finished and also my best friend that was waiting at the finish. She came straight to the hotel and was that friendly face that I needed to see.

I pulled myself together and we went for a cup of tea after locating my kit bag and had a well needed catch up. Before I knew it it was time to return to Luton (as if I wasn’t feeling bad enough already)! The journey home began but I couldn’t wait to get back to Rich and Josh. It felt like I had spent the whole weekend travelling. Waves of emotion kept sweeping over me as I felt so disappointed. What a contrast to the emotions from the previous race. A wise friend said to me  “you just have to bank it and move on even when it’s frustrating that we can’t do justice to the hard work or potential inside us”. She is quite right. I will put this behind me, keep training hard and I look forward to the next race. In the meantime I have a training camp to look forward to.




Rising from the ashes

It has been a while since I have written a blog. I could blame it on writers block but the reality is that the latter half of 2017 was filled with disappointment, followed by injury and a feeling that if I were a stuffed animal, the stuffing had been pulled out of me! Life as an athlete is not just about winning races and feeling on top of the world, there are a lot of low moments too and races that don’t go to plan. I thought I would put my story down because I have come to realise that we all go through disappointments and set backs in life. It is how we deal with them, what we learn from them and getting out the other side with a new lease of life. If this blog can help one person then it is worth writing!

The quote in the photo is one that I have in my bedroom and it has always helped me focus but this time I hadn’t been able to see beyond the obstacles. It began after the  London Marathon in April, my ‘A’ race. 6 months of hard training gearing towards the marathon. I usually get excited before shorter races as I love racing but before a marathon it is hard to get too excited because it is a long way. You try to control all the things that you can control by following your usual pre race routines, what you will wear, when you plan to take on gels and have a race plan. However, there are so many elements that you can’t control and you can only hope that all the hard training pays off and that you come away with a performance that reflects where you are at.

It was my first London marathon on the elite start which was exciting and I did feel proud to even be lined up with some of the greats. After a few introductions of the race favourites we awaited the countdown which was the sound of a heartbeat (just to get the nerves going a bit more), the gun went and we were off. The plan was to go off at a more reserved pace in hope to finish strongly.

The crowds were more sparse than when racing in the championship race, which I had expected, especially in the first half. This was a huge contrast from running 2 years ago alongside Paula Radcliffe where the crowds were deafening cheering for her. This time you could hear snippets of people’s conversations. I was overwhelmed by the support out on the course from my husband, family, friends, my coach Bruce and his wife, club members and strangers all shouting for me. A gang of my university friends had all got up at 4am to travel from Cardiff to cheer me on. Their trusty chorus of ‘Jagger, Jagger, Jagger’ (my maiden name) could not be missed!

I went through half way in the planned time but even then I did not feel good. This is a bad sign if you are feeling terrible before half way! The realisation that I was slowing down, my body was not wanting to play ball and my head telling it that it had to. I tried to stay positive and I used a tip from a friend to use the tunnels on the course to refocus. The last 3 miles were a complete blur and then suddenly it was 800 metres to go and I did not have  any sort of change of speed let alone a sprint finish. I finally crossed that finish line and couldn’t breathe having  shallow panicked breaths. Tears started to fall down my cheeks.

I had an A, B and C goal and this was off the scale. The promise of a dog from Rich if I reached my A goal was clearly off and that made me cry even more! Sudden irrational thoughts filled my head. I felt like giving up running altogether and that I had let everyone down. I had a lot of congratulations messages from so many people which I am genuinely grateful for and I know most people would think that I am crazy because 2 hours 38 minutes is a time that many would dream of. To me it was a disaster as I was aiming so much higher and I knew that I was capable of more. A race like that feels like a slap in the face.

It took me weeks to get over it.  I felt low, without a focus and just couldn’t feel myself. After 2 weeks of rest I got back to running but somehow the passion had gone. I went to Italy to race in a 5km which is another blog in itself and although it was good to get another race in I still couldn’t get the joy back. I finally got back to training well again and after a few weeks got severe calf pain. It would come and go so I continued to train but was mindful that I would need to adapt the training plan when needed. It then got to the point of side stepping down then stairs to get out the of door to run in the mornings and then alarm bells began to ring. I stopped running realising that something was really wrong.

This injury was a hard one to diagnose as I mentioned the pain would come and go and would often be in different places. One night I had so much pain in both heels that I couldn’t sleep, it was agony. It was  that  night that highlighted the origin was nerve pain coming from my back. With most injuries you can cross train to keep the endorphins going and to feel sane but back injuries are a bit more tricky. I felt like an old lady and at most I could do was a bit of swimming. 12 weeks of little exercise is hard not only physically but mentally. The added element of  pain most of the time and the unknown of when I would get better did not help. I also wondered if I would actually be able to compete at a good level again. It felt like my dreams had shattered and I was questioning my purpose in life.

How did I get through it? I think having other interests is essential! Thank goodness I am a mum. Here in Spain children get 3 months off school for the summer holiday so I threw myself even more enthusiastically than usual into trying to be the best mum that I could be. Adventures to the beach, making dens and craft mornings. I took up cooking and discovering vegan recipes that were amazing. I tried going walking which started off being enjoyable but then became a drag especially considering that I could run a marathon in the time it took me to walk 12km! I discovered a love for snorkelling. I also have a faith in God so that has helped to know that there is a bigger picture and this gave me hope that this was not it for my running.

Eventually I was able to run again, the pain had left me. One would think that you would feel on top of the world when you are able to run again but after the initial happiness you realise just how unfit you are and that is not so much fun. I started to doubt that I would get my fitness back to what it was. This is what most people I imagine go through when either taking up running for the first time so the best thing to do is find people to run with to take your mind off being unfit or being scared of ailments or injuries returning. Thankfully at the time I was getting back to running here a number of professional cyclists were on their ‘off season’ and were getting into running so I had company. After a few weeks we decided to form our own running group. All abilities welcome with a structured speed session that everyone could do. Having this little community around me really helped and is still helping. We had an ultra runner pass through town for a few days who had the plan to do 2x5km efforts up a mountain here. I joined in and felt inspired even though it was hard! It was great to do something different to my usual training, This session now features in my regular training and is a nice bench mark session to see my progress. I finally started to feel like I was getting my love for running back.

Then it has been a question of racing. There was a race here in New Years Eve, a 5km race. I was so nervous about signing up. The doubts of how fit I was kept creeping in. I went to the running track with a friend to do 400m efforts which I had been avoiding even though 20x400m efforts is my favourite session in the world. We were off to do 12. This is my go to session to see where I am at. It usually gives me confidence. So here I was facing up to my fitness. It wasn’t as bad as I thought so after a bit more procrastinating I signed up. It helped that my old coach and good friend Mike Gratton was coming to join in this race.  By the time New Years Eve came I had forgotten how much I had missed racing. I dug out my little bag that I take to races with safety pins in. We got to the race ridiculously early for a Spanish race but it was wonderful to be back at a race with a number pinned to my chest.

On the start line there are always girls that look like gazelles (looks can be deceiving) but by this point I had my confidence back and I was in this to race as hard as I could. The gun finally went after a bit of a delay due to some drummers performing. The pace that was set was a shock to the system, more like a 300m effort, but thankfully it settled down after the first km. It was amazing running under the Christmas lights of my home city through the cobbled streets. I won’t lie the pace was a shock to the system. A nice feeling though and I was determined not to be 2nd.  A girl was right on my heels until 3.5km. Thankfully with a couple of bursts of acceleration I was able to keep away and run for my life to the finish and take the victory. A mixture of relief and joy as I crossed that line.

It has been a difficult few months but I can say that it feels like I am rising out of the ashes and am starting to soar again. I feel alive and I am enjoying the freedom that running can bring. I am ready to set goals again and to overlook the obstacles. I know that there will be more setbacks and disappointments along the way but I feel ready to take them on and in the meantime I shall be making the most of every moment.







The Great Ireland Run

A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to go to Dublin to race in the Great Ireland 10km as part of the England team. Doing a 10km race 2 weeks before a marathon is always a good sharpener and to represent England is always an honour.

I was due to travel on the Saturday with an early start of 5:30am. I had arranged for a taxi to come and collect me at 6am to take me to the train station. I always worry slightly that the taxi might not come and in this case that worry became a reality. 6 am came and went, 6:05, 6:07 and by this point I needed a plan B. I had tried calling the taxi company and was greeted with an automated message to call back later. I tried another company and there was no reply. I ran upstairs to try and wake Rich but he didn’t even stir. I had calculated in my head that by the time I had woken him and we had got Josh up and all bundled into the car I would have missed the train.

One of the advantages of being an athlete is that running to get to places is always an option. I didn’t know if I could run fast enough to catch this train but I was going to try my hardest. I had already checked google maps and seen that it would take 41 minutes to walk and I didn’t have 41 minutes to spare. For those of you that have been to stay at our house you will know that we live up an enormous hill that is very steep in parts and is more like a mountain than a hill. I ran with my wheelie bag as fast as my legs would carry me. I then had to negotiate steps through the John Lennon Garden until I reached the old town. Here the streets are cobbled and my wheelie bag made a tremendous amount of noise clattering against the cobbles. I was aware that this could be disturbing people’s sleep but I didn’t have time to worry. I swerved past a small group of people who were in their way home from their night out on the town. I reached the cycle path that leads to the station and put an extra burst in, my legs were burning by this stage. The train station was now in sight and to this day I don’t know how I made it. I arrived at the station with 1 minute to spare, enough time to purchase a ticket and run to platform 1 as the train pulled in.

I climbed onto the train and sat down with a sigh of relief. I then quickly took off  my 5 layers and was sat in my vest top feeling as hot as could be. This must have made me stand out as  the few passengers that were in the same carriage as me had their winter coats and scarves on. I didn’t care. I desperately needed to cool down and was so happy to have made the train.  I was planning on doing a run when I had reached Dublin but decided that my efforts to catch the train would be enough! I decided that it was a good time to eat my porridge which had thankfully remained in it’s pot without exploding everywhere. The banana on the other hand had turned to liquid but had at least remained in the skin.

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time and thought that the rest of my journey would go smoothly. I should have known better flying with Ryanair. The first hurdle was that I hadn’t printed my boarding card resulting in a 50 Euro fine! I couldn’t believe my ears! There were about 10 other people who had also been sent to a booth to pay their 50 euros before being allowed any further.

Eventually Ryanair announced the departure gate. At Barcelona airport you go through passport control before you can access the specified area where the gates are. Here the queue tailed back a long way. I got to the back and waited and waited and realised that there was a possibilty of missing my flight. There was no other way so I jumped 2 of the cordoned off barriers and pushed my way to the front of the queue. This caused an uproar. The passport man sent me back and then a French family copied my manoeuvre and were let through. I had managed to remain nearer the front of the queue and got through and again ran to the gate where they were making last calls. I was then told that my bag had to go in the hold so quickly fished out my racing kit just in case my bag went amis. I joined the queue behind the French family to board the plane, A lot of people arrived on the plane stressed and there were a lot of empty seats despite it being a full flight.

The rest of the trip was pretty smoothly. The Great Run Company came to meet me from the airport they were with Alex who I had raced with in Bermuda. We joined the rest of the team at the hotel and were very well looked after. I was expecting to share a room but 1 of the girls had pulled out due to injury so I was on my own. This did mean that I could get a well needed nap arfter the eventful journey.

Next day was race day. The race was in Phoeonix Park an undulating beautiful park and despite it feeling a bit chilly when we left the hotel the sun started to shine. We had the luxury of an elite marquee to wait in which also had the most fancy porter loos that I have ever seen at a race before. More like ones that you would get at a wedding. Whilst we were all waiting we were approached by the media to all pose and try and look fierce as it part of this race was England verses Ireland. I struggled to look fierce and probably ruined all the photos as I couldn’t stop laughing. We also had to do some cheesy poses but again I couldn’t help but laugh.

Soon after it was time to warm up. Thankfully my legs felt OK despite the epic sprint for the station the day before. There was a fantastic atmosphere with music playing to get everyone in the mood. We were called up to the start line where we could do our final drills and strides. Here the crowds were out in full force and some girls asked us for our autographs and wanted a picture taken. That ‘s a first! They must have thought that I was someone else! After the final few strides we were called up to the start line and were announced by name. Needless to say that the Irish girls got louder cheers!

The count down commenced and off we went. It was a bit breezy and I was expecting everyone to go off at a faster pace but it seemed that no one wanted to take the lead. After the first half a mile I decided to push on and Gemma soon came with me. The tunes continues to spur us on as thre was a big sound system with speakers spread out over the course. The first 5km came and went and then the hills began. I enjoy the hills and this was where Gemma and I broke from the rest of the group. Towards the end of the race Gemma pushed on and I couldn’t keep with her. I knew that Kerry was not too far behind as I could hear people shouting her name. I kept pushing and pushing. I caught a glimpse of the French family from the airport out on the course watching the race before coming into the final straight which went on forever. I tried my hardest to close on Gemma but she proved to be stronger and took the victory and I came in 9 seconds behind her. It was not the fastest 10 km that I have done but a strong performance on a tough course. Ireland won the England verses Ireland match…just.

All in all it was a fantastic experience. We were so well looked after by the Great Run Company and it was great to run for my country. I feel very blessed so far to have raced in so many places over the world this year: Spain, Bermuda, Portugal and Ireland. The next stop is the London Marathon on Sunday. Watch this space!

Long run rescue and a training camp in Portugal

I set off on a long run a few Saturdays ago and learnt a lesson…always take some money in your back pocket and perhaps a small phone! I started out on my supposed 20 mile run which is the normal distance for my long runs at the moment as I am in training for the London Marathon. My planned route to go out for 10 miles along a disused railway path and then to turn around and come back the way I came. I was to vary the pace from marathon pace to steady pace along the way. My body had other ideas. At 9.5 miles I suddenly got an unusual pain in my quad muscle. Not just muscle tightness or fatigue but a feeling like cramp or that the muscle was about to pull. I slowed down to steady pace and carried on as the pain seemed to ease off a bit and then the pain came back. I had made it to 14 miles and had come to the realisation that I should try and find a different means of getting home. I still had 6 miles to go and a huge hill to get up to get back to our house which I didn’t even fancy walking up with a bad quad. My Spanish skills were about to be put to the test!

I saw a petrol station and thought that would be a good place to try and call Rich from and an easy spot to be rescued from. I walked to the garage and unfortunately it was closed. I had seen a car parked close by with hazard lights on and a family sat inside the car so that was my next port of call. I had seen that the man in the car had been on his phone so this was my chance to try and borrow his phone! I managed to get my point across that I had hurt my leg and that I needed to call my husband. He agreed to let me use his phone and asked me what the phone number was. I started off with 0044 and then I saw the mans face drop. I explained that is was an English phone number but my husband was in Spain and please could they help me. Thankfully he agreed and let me dial the number. Rich didn’t pick up the phone so I left a message and hoped that he would call back.

In the meantime the lady in the car had explained that they had run out of petrol and were waiting for a friend to bring them some petrol before they were continuing to Girona. She said that they could give me a lift to Girona. They seemed a nice family and I felt that I could trust them so I agreed. In the meantime Rich called back and I explained that I was getting a lift home and would see him soon. The friends arrived with the petrol and off we went. Shortly after the journey commenced the lady said that they had to quickly go to a shop first and was that ok. I didn’t feel that I could protest as they were helping me so I said that it was fine. We then turned off a round about away from the direction of Girona towards the motorway signposted Barcelona and France. At this point my heart sank I asked if the shop was far away. The couple started to laugh and said that they would call Rich to tell him that they were taking me to France, to Paris. I smiled with them but was starting to worry that this was a big mistake. They then said tranquilo and explained that this was a way of getting around the city avoiding traffic. Sure enough it looped around.

My nerves weren’t helped as the man’s driving was rather erratic! We drove towards some furniture shops and they pulled up beyond them just outside an empty warehouse just to get me even more worried! They got out the car and said that they would be back in 5 minutes. I was waiting in the car with the baby. The man had kindly given me a jacket to keep warm as I waited. They were true to their word and returned in 5 minutes with a big cardboard box that they put in the boot. I was thinking the worst about what was in the box but decided it was best not to keep looking at it. I was very relieved to arrive home safely and in one piece! Lesson learnt and I won’t be accepting lifts from strangers in future!

I am very grateful to be married to a physio. After a couple of days rest and Rich ascertaining that my quad pain was in fact nerve pain coming from my back. With a bit of treatment the pain disappeared and I have been able to resume training as normal.

I have just returned from a weeks training camp with 209 Events in Portugal which was fantastic. A chance to focus on training, to be amongst like minded people, to be inspired and to spend time with my coach Bruce and his wife. I have been on this training camp almost every year for the last 12 years. We stay in a hotel 200 metres from the beach. The morning runs often consisted of running along a trail towards Vilamoura and then returning along the beach. I love running bear foot on the sand. The orange rugged cliffs are on one side and the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the other side. A great way to start the day. Other training sessions were on the cross country course, the athletics track or around the orange groves. A good block of training was banked including a 24 mile long run and a 5km race. I have come away feeling more confident and excited about racing in the London Marathon which is in 4 weeks time!



Teaching, a race and the fierce bearded man

Since starting a job as a teacher I have even more respect for teachers than I did before. It is hard! I think in my case it has been exceptionally hard teaching largely Catalan children English and not being able to speak any Catalan myself. The age range is zero to five year olds so it is not just a case of teaching, but crowd control too. It has been a steep learning curve and I am very thankful for songs, puppets, Mr Potato head and the other teachers who have helped to come up with a few systems to encourage the  children to listen! The children’s English has improved since I started so that makes the effort and energy worthwhile!

As for my running I have been fitting in training before and after work. The first run of the day has been in the dark  (hopefully not for too much longer as the days are getting lighter). At the end of my morning run I have seen the most beautiful sunrises, pale pink skies with the snow capped mountains standing in their glory. Sadly no photos to show but I have the memory etched in my mind! My friend did capture it that morning from her balcony so I have used that in the cover photo. Thanks Abbie!

I have been battling tiredness but have kept the quality speed sessions going and have had to be open to adapting or switching the training sessions around accordingly as I juggle work, family life and managing my tiredness. It was really helpful having a good friend staying who is also an athlete so we have been able to train together and push each other on.

One run I did was on the trails that are out the back of where we live. Most of them are incredibly steep but I discovered a more gradual climb. This was on an easier day and on one of those days where I had to drag myself out to get running. It turned out to be the best thing that I could have done and is an advert for how exercise does make you feel better. The smells of the pine trees were incredible, along with the heather and lavender. I came across some mint plants…fresh herbs are hard to come by in the shops here in Spain so I jumped at the chance and filled my pockets with mint leaves. I also picked a few sprigs of lavender and heather in my other pocket and set off on my way again. As I was running down the trails into the valley even the puddles from the rain where a beautiful bright orange from the orange mud. I arrived back to the house a new person, my spirits were lifted and that run was one to remember why I love running.

The Barcelona Half Marathon on valentine’s weekend was a great race to do. I was so excited to be racing again. I love being on that start line and having the opportunity to run as hard as you can, a chance to prove to yourself that the hard work is paying off and I find that racing gives me even more motivation to keep pushing on in training. I think for this race  I felt even more happy to be doing what I feel I am made to do because I have felt out of my comfort zone teaching!

The field was strong with the world record holder for the half marathon on the start line along with many other strong international runners. This is always a good opportunity to be pushed on. It was a windy day so it was more of a tactical race having to speed up in places to ensure that there were people to tuck in behind to act as windbreaks. At one point in the race a group of us were all in single file like a long caterpillar all trying our best to conserve some energy. The bands playing along the route were fantastic especially the drummers. One band were blasting out a Sting song and I seem to recall Bryan Adams being played too. I finished with a 73 minute 38 seconds not a PB but not too far off it. I was pleased to be back in the 73’s as I hadn’t hit that since I was injured last year and I am even more determined to push on and get faster.

My pursuit of obtaining an NIE card has been on going! Here you need an NIE number for everything, it seems more important than a passport number. You need an NIE number for  getting a supermarket club card, opening a bank account at most banks, obtaining a Spanish racing licence, to get taxed at a normal rate, to register with a doctor. The list is endless. I have been to the office 3 times now and have faced the ‘fierce beard man’ each time. My second to last visit I had all the necessary documents that I had been told I needed: bank account, work contract, house contract and passport. I was feeling more hopeful this time, however upon my arrival the fierce bearded man was in a huge argument with an Irish man that was taking forever. In the end the farce bearded man just shouted goodbye in the man’s face and carried on looking at his computer pretending that the he had vanished into thin air. Not a good start for my petition. I sat down with all my documents only to be told that I didn’t need half of those and needed to go to a different office to collect a different number and to then return and surprise surprise that office was now closed because it was past 2 o’clock. I explained that I worked 9am-2pm the exact times that the office is only open from and he just shrugged. Better luck next time! I have since got my NIE number after my 4th visit and having to two and fro from one building to the next, via a photocopy shop and a bank and eventually got given the card. I never thought that I would feel so happy! This is the bureaucracy in Spain for you.

Rich has been busy working on two cycling training camps. One with the UWE cycling team and another with one of the pro teams based here in Girona. His physio seems in popular demand here too which is good.

Josh is continuing to enjoy school and is picking up the language quicker than we are. They had the excitement of a Children’s TV programme here coming to surprise them in their school show. He loves our garden and is a happy soul most of the time.

Until next time.


Bermuda 2017

It is always an honour to be selected to run for England and this time the race was in Bermuda! A beautiful location for my first race of 2017. It was an amazing opportunity to see a new country as well as good experience to race in a warmer more humid climate and adapt to changing time zones.

Prior to the trip I had been packing boxes in preparation for Rich and Josh moving house in my absence, starting my first day teaching 2 year-5year olds and getting my head around what to pack for Bermuda. A bit of a whirl wind but before I knew it I was at the airport to fly to the UK to join the rest of the team the following day.

It is always a bit odd to start with when you meet everyone for the first time at the airport. None us of knew each other prior to the trip except from hearing or reading about past running performances. We had all raced in the Great South Run in October in order to qualify for selection.  So here we were, strangers, going to an amazing location with the common goal of a race and with an understanding of each other all being athletes. It didn’t take long for the team to bond.

After a long day of travelling we arrived in Bermuda to be greeted by our host families. This was a new experience as normally we stay in a hotel. We arrived in the dark and were driven to our home for the next 5 days. The men’s team stayed in one house and us girls in another house. Feeling weary from the travel it was a great surprise to see that we were staying in amazing house. We were made to feel so welcome by our hosts Ian and Donna and by their 3 dogs Wilson, Sky and Milo. Prior to coming I had expected that us girls would all have to share a room but we all had a room each. Always a bonus as we all have our own ways of doing things pre race e.g. time of getting up, when you eat breakfast etc.

After a welcome cup of tea and a brief chat we all went to get some sleep. A bed always feels so much more comfortable after trying to sleep on a long haul flight. Despite waking at 3am I managed to get back to sleep until 7am. It was a delight to open the curtains and see the ocean out of the window and to see a swimming pool in the garden! First stop for me was to get out for a run. I had been directed to the rail trail which as you can tell by the name is a disused railway path which ran parallel to the sea. The island has an array of palm trees and greenery, colourfully painted houses and the spectacular turquoise sea.

The day was fairly relaxed to get over the travel. A short trip to Hamilton and then a second run before the sponsors evening. Here all the elite athletes as well as sponsors and a few running legends were present including Steve Jones! After some mingling all the elite athletes were announced and the sponsors were thanked. There were also a team from the America’s Cup. A chance to check out the competition and look up a few names on the internet to see what we were up against!

The day before the race we went to the track and did our easy pre race runs and strides. A lovely track that was quite springy underfoot. This was where the 10km was to start and finish. As we drove to the track it was apparent that the finish would be tough with a mile long climb before levelling off and turning into the track. After the run we were driven around the 10km course. In Bermuda there are very few pavements and the roads are quite windy so it would have been too dangerous to run the course prior to the event. It became clear that the course was going to be tough but sometimes that is no bad thing it can mean that you just go for it and race it rather than looking at your watch checking your pace.

The morning of the race we arrived at the start and a huge rainbow appeared on the horizon against the back drop of a grey overcast sky. The conditions were hot and humid and it felt harder to breathe. We did our usual pre race warm up routines and final strides and then it was time to line up. The gun went and away we flew. It was a fast start as the first kilometre was downhill. The road surface felt softer than in the UK, we were told that coral is a component of the road surface which might explain why. The first 5 km seemed reasonably ok.  Gemma and I kept together and then the hills began and Gemma started to take the lead. I kept her in my sight and attacked the hills the best that I could. The final climb was a killer at that stage in the race with a sharp start to it, and then just a long drag. It was a relief to hit the track and sprint the finish. 2nd lady and I was glad to see that my time wasn’t too bad considering how awful it felt towards the end! I was chaperoned immediately afterwards for drug testing. I was pleased to see that they were testing. It was a successful day for the England Team with us girls coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd and the men’s team coming 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Some of the team raced the following day in the half marathon again doing brilliantly with 1st and 2nd in the women’s race and 2nd and 3rd in the men’s race. I opted to do a long steady run instead. After the lows of injury last year I didn’t want to chance it.

That afternoon our hosts took us out in their boat which was an amazing end to a wonderful trip. We got to swim in the sea, jumped off some rocks, fed fish that were gathered by a wreck and saw how beautiful Bermuda is by sea.

A successful trip of racing and what an amazing opportunity to visit Bermuda. With all the hard graft that goes into training day in day out it felt like a reward to have the chance to go to Bermuda. I have aspirations to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in the marathon which will be in Australia so this was a good chance to get used to time zone changes and race in a warmer more humid climate. Thank you England Athletics  for the opportunity and thanks to our hosts Ian and Donna for making us feel so welcome. The next race for me will be the Barcelona Half Marathon.


The Race that never was

Here in Spain on New Years Eve there are many running races that take place. In my mind that is a great way to end the year! We made our way to San Cugat just outside of Barcelona for the San Silvestre 10km. After a bit of a detour and some bump starting of the car I went to collect my race number and as usual it was not a smooth operation! I went to find that my name was not on the list and was told that without my name on the list I could not race. Thankfully the race organiser was close by and he confirmed that I had a place-phew! Off I went to do my usual pre race warm up and drills. Everyone seemed in good spirits, there was a wide range of people racing from club runners to fun runners and some fantastic fancy dress costumes. The gun went off and off we flew. The course was quite taxing with lots of hilly inclines and some tight corners. I was amazed at how many people were out supporting a running race on New Years Eve. The atmosphere was great. I felt good and kept a group of men ahead of me in sight. As darkness closed in it was harder to see them and it became harder to see where I was meant to be going. There were not too many marshals out on the course. Thankfully a guy caught me up about half way round which helped. As we drew closer to a round about there was a policeman on marshalling duty but he was looking the other way. My new running companion could at least shout in Catalan so we were pointed in the right direction. I felt strong and kept pushing and attacking the hills. Finally the finishing arch was in sight and I could here Rich and Josh yelling as I sprinted for the tape. They announced that it was a big course record and the media got quite excited.

It all turned pear shaped from there. The prize giving was taking rather a long time to commence and then it transpired that the girl in second place was wanting to see my Spanish racing license (which I don’t yet have). She had approached the organisers and after my friends best efforts to protest on my behalf they would not allow my victory. Despite winning by over a minute it did not matter. They produced a piece of paper to say that if I was a slower runner I would have been able to race but because I was faster I was to be disqualified and that I needed a Spanish racing licence. It did not seem in the spirit of new year to me. I had to walk away upset and disappointed. It  was the principle of the matter that upset me. I had raced out of my skin and won and that was taken away from me. I train so hard every day and racing is a chance to show that the hard work has paid off and a bit of prize money helps the cause too. My results were wiped and the girl that came 2nd stood in first place on the podium with a big grin and won the 300 euros. It seems that in Spain there are national races and international races. The international races anyone can race and the national races you need a licence if you are likely to be in the top 3! For a fun run it seemed rather silly to me. In the UK anyone can race unless it is a very important race where you need to be a member of a club. My Spanish racing licence is now being processed and I shall race again with even more fire in my belly and will make sure that I race the girl that came 2nd again and increase that margin even more. Even though the race did not count in their eyes it was great training for me and on reflection I can put the situation into perspective. At the time it was hard to lay it to rest.

So that put a bit of a dampener on our New Years Eve and Josh was a bit disappointed to not get a medal or a trophy. On the plus side the goody bags had t-shirts that actually fit well. For those of you that are runners you will know that use race t-shirts could normally fit 2 people in and their only use is a nighty or as a layer to keep warm before a race to then be discarded. There was also a carton of soup, a few bits and bobs and a DVD of Barcelona FC verses Juventus in the final in 2015.

We have some great friends in San Cugat so it was lovely to spend new year with them and we were able to feast on amazing Catalan sea food and tapas. We were introduced to a new tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight. I had seen champagne glasses being sold in the shops with 12 grapes in them and had wondered what it was all about. As the clock strikes 12 you have to eat one grape every time that the clock bongs. If you don’t manage to bolt all 12 of them down then the myth has it that you will have a bad year! I was all set with a grape in hand all ready for the clock to strike without losing any time however it was actually quite a manageable task. Our hosts did go easy on us with small seedless grapes though.

So here is to 2017, next stop for me is Bermuda as I race for England which I am sure will be another adventure. In the meantime Josh and Rich will be moving house on our behalf and on my return I will be starting my new job as a teacher. Until next time.