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.

 

Coastal adventures, training and the Christmas log

We have been in Girona for a month now and looking back there is a common theme and that is the kindness of the people here. It would seem that nothing is too much trouble and that people go above and beyond to lend a helping hand. It is quite humbling really as we are foreigners here and yet we have been made to feel at home and very welcome.

We had our first trip to the coast which is just beautiful. Breathtaking views, rocky coves with turquoise water and a rugged coastal path. On our walk we came across a couple who had been catching sea urchins. They had a bucketful of them and were quick to offer us some to taste! The man used a guillotine like contraption to cut them in half and inside a starlike formation of eggs to eat. I dubiously tried some and to my surprise it was very tasty. The first one tasted like smoked salmon, the second one that was a purple sea urchin tasted nutty and then sweet. It is a local delicacy here in Spain and apparently you would pay 20 euros in a restaurant for a spiky handful. Before we knew it the man had brought 6 beers out to share with us and we had a lovely time chatting and taking in the beauty of the little cove and our surroundings.

We carried on our way walking along the coastal path with a stop for paella before the return walk to the car. At the start of the walk Josh was very excited and in high spirits singing the theme tune to ‘Andy’s dinosaur adventures’ but by the end after getting  rather lost too we had walked almost 10 miles which is a lot for a little lad. His spirits were not quite so high and were was a lot of groaning and complaints that this was really not fun. Thankfully our friends had brought their dogs so the novelty of walking a dog on a lead helped and the homemade banana bread that I had brought with us came in handy for a ration stop. We found the car just before darkness fell.

Training has been in full swing for me. I have joined the local Catalan athletics group led by  Josep the coach. Everyone has been very welcoming despite my lack of Catalan. There is one other British girl that trains with them too so that is fantastic. Training sessions take place by the coast. Some sessions are on the athletics track, some on a killer hill circuit amongst the pine trees and others on a loop around farm land. My first session was on the track. The majority of the group are 10k runners and the session was looking fast on paper. It consisted of 5x500m, 6x400m, 7x300m, 8x200m. Thankfully I managed to keep up with the pace and really enjoyed training with a group again. For my longer training sessions Josep has paced me on the bike while I have had to run and keep close to the back wheel. He has been enthusiastically shouting ‘come on, come on’ while I have been working hard to keep up the pace. The drive home is beautiful as the pyrenees are the back drop now with their winter coats of snow on glistening in the sunshine.

As I mentioned before about kindness…one of our friends has lent us a car which is something we had not expected. Rich and Josh are excited that now skiing is made a lot easier and there is more opportunity to explore further a field. I have been enjoying riding my bike about town which is ancient…my bike that is. It weighs a tonne, has 3 gears, dodgy rod breaks and has a wicker basket on the front. I think it has seen through 2 wars in it’s time. It doesn’t look quite as slick as the bikes of many of the pro cyclists that live here! It is a good gage of how tired my legs are from training, sometimes I can speed about and other times I struggle to get the pedals to move around! Rich has been made welcome in the cycling community here and is enjoying the hills and churros at the cafe stops.

It is starting to feel more Christmassy here. The mornings start being cold and frosty but by mid morning it tends to be sunny and would be warm enough to wear a t-shirt. However if you want to blend in here wearing a thick coat and a scarf is a necessity. Even out running the locals are in balaclavas! The Christmas lights are up and there is a big Christmas tree in the old town. We have put up a little tree which is rather packed with decorations. Josh has been Joseph in the church nativity with his new friend Sofia as Mary. We have yet to introduce a new Spanish tradition into the family which is that of the log which they call the Tio de nadal. In most shops here you will see a log with legs on and eyes and a face drawn on and it has a blanket on its back. Apparently you have to feed the log up each day. Even in the local market the log there had a lovely array of cakes in it’s dish. As tradition has it after feeding the log from the 8th December up until Christmas Eve you then have to hit the log with sticks and sing a song. The log then proceeds to excrete chocolates and presents from its bottom! A bit different from the Father Christmas tradition!

Wishing you all a Bon Nadal.

 

Father Christmas and the unexpected Jean Bouin race

The last thing that I expected was to be entering a race within a week of moving to Spain. In fact I had thought that it would not be very sensible at all! In my mind my season had finished after a great race in Leeds on November 6th. The plan was to take two weeks easy while we got ready to move and then to start building the mileage for marathon training. Even on Thursday I hadn’t considered racing. After taking Josh to school I discovered some amazing mountain trails that surround Girona. One of the things that I love most about running is exploring new places to run. After about 4 miles of steady climbing I came to a beautifully bright blue painted stone seat with a few plaques remembering those that had passed on. I stopped to take in the view, the sun was beaming through the clouds and the back drop of the Pyrenees was spectacular. I wish I had taken my phone to capture it to share! It was so peaceful and I had the place to myself. I only came across a couple of mountain bikers as I was on the decent. I could have gone on exploring but I knew that I still had to run across the old town to get home. It ended up being a 10 mile run. In the afternoon I did a 5 mile threshold run along a flat sandy trail that goes all the way to the coast. It used to be a railway line. This path will be my equivalent of the Bristol to Bath Cycle path but with a better view! It was on Thursday night that I had the call about the race.

For those of you that are runners you will know that most of the time training is organised and races tend to be planned well in advance (well normally more than 2 and a half days in advance). If I was intending to do a race on a Sunday I would make sure that the Thursdays session would not be too taxing and it would definitely not consist of running up a mountain and then doing something speedy in the afternoon! When first asked I had said no and explained that I had just moved, it had been stressful and very tiring and I hadn’t planned to race quite yet. Appearance fees then got offered and the race was only going to be 10km and I do love to race. I asked if Rich and Josh could be put up in the hotel too and the following day it was all confirmed. We were heading to Barcelona at the weekend for the Jean Bouin 10km race (or so we thought). Bruce Tulloh my coach informed me that this was a classic race and that he had won the Jean Bouin race in Marseilles 50 years ago!

First we had a Christmas Fair to attend which was teaming with activities. A big array of stalls, festive foods, ginger bread decorating for the kids, face painting and the famous Father Christmas (which Josh was very excited about!). It was a great morning meeting lots of new people. Rich had a crash course in Catalan counting, offering to help sell teas, coffees and bacon butties as the team behind the food counter were rushed of their feet! It was then time to head on to Barcelona where the adventure began.

We found the athletes hotel fine and were given our room key. We trudged up to our room feeling tired, upon arrival we saw that the promised room with the double bed and the extra bed for a ‘nino’ (child) had no extra bed for the nino! We rang down and the staff said that they were sorry but there was no extra beds in the hotel and could Josh share with us. Rich explained that Josh kicks like a donkey and wriggles around in his sleep so there was no chance of that! We asked for extra blankets and pillows and made a bed for Josh on the floor which he was surprisingly happy about! Phew!

As I mentioned before runners tend to have routines especially pre race routines. For me I have breakfast 3 hours before a race so I was up nice and early for breakfast. The race was due to start at 9am so we arrived at 7:45am to give ourselves lots of time to collect my race number and timing chip. I had been told that I had number 45 and that it would be in the VIP area by the start. We found our way there and were told to go somewhere else and after being sent backwards and forwards a number of times there was no sign of my number, I need to learn some catalan running vocabulary! I have since written a list to learn for next time! Eventually I got told that there was a different race at 11.20am for the professional runners and that I was in that one. I was really hoping that they were right as the clock was ticking and I was anxious to be getting warmed up if I was due to be racing at 9am. We took their word for it and made our way back to the hotel. 9am came and went and so did the Jean Bouin 10km race. At our hotel I ate some more and after searching high and low on the internet we found more details about the professional race one of the details was that it was not a 10km race it was 6.6km! I was glad to have found that out before the start!

We made our way back to the race at 10am. There were lots of happy faces of hundreds of people who had all completed the 10km race. I was really hoping that I was due to be in the professional race and hadn’t just missed out! We found the VIP area again and I was sent to a table where numbers were laid out. Woohoo number 45 was there! What a relief! Despite number 45 being a number with the mens race colour on an organiser put his arm around me and said ‘tranquillo’ and then acted out running with fast feet. I took that to mean that I just needed to run fast!

I felt a lot better with my number pinned on and got into the zone with my usual warm up routine. Announcements for each woman racing were made and although I didn’t understand much I did understand that at leat 5 of the ladies were olympians.  The man on the microphone was saying ‘olympica’ very enthusiastically! By this point I was not phased I was just pleased to be in the right place with my number on and I was ready to race which is what I love doing. The fact that I had just had 2 easy weeks didn’t worry me either. I was ready and I was just going to do my best to hang on! I was just going to race this and forget looking at my watch to check for pace.

The gun went and off we went with the men too. The men were doing 3 laps and the women were to do 2. After about 400 metres it became apparent that the race was going up hill. We left winding all the way up to the top of Montjuic and then it was downhill until we got to the start of lap 2. The fact that it was up and down a hill twice worked in my favour as the distance is a bit short for me. I might have been left for dust if it was flat. I was in third position in the second lap but didn’t have quite enough in the tank as a girl overtook me in the final third of the uphill. I have never felt so out of breath running downhill to try and close the gap. I finished in a not too shabby 4th place. Despite all the stress and confusion pre race I am so pleased to have done it. It’s in moments where things are thrown out of routine that I remind myself of past races where there have been plenty of obstacles. The Toronto Marathon which I ran representing England was one of them. We were faced with jet lag, freezing conditions so we had to wear things that we hadn’t practised wearing in training and a number of other obstacles and yet I still had a good race there. I often use that race as a reference point to come back to.

They love a trophy here in Spain so despite not being in the top 3 I still got a great trophy! Josh was pleased! The winner got 4 trophies! We were well looked after and Josh and Rich enjoyed munching on the baguettes and complimentary drinks while I raced. I also picked up a Jean Bouin t-shirt for Bruce as a moment for his victory 50years ago!