Friday, 28 June 2013

Win, loos or draw

There are many lessons to be learned as a runner; some of the more pressing ones involve matters of a more personal nature.

We tolerate the lack of loo roll, blue chemicals, and stinky mist of a portaloo purely because we've learned, "if you think you need a wee before the race, you definitely need a wee before the race". You only need to be caught short on a once on a long run before your bowels become as important as your sports bra in the pre-run priority list.

Fewer things can distract a runner's attention more in a race than the imminence of a slightly nerve-wracking fart. On the other hand, fewer things tickle me more than an appropriately timed air biscuit. Frankly, if you're not amused by the occasional trump, I'm not sure we can be friends.

So, when Write this Run challenged us to write a blog post about funny, terrible or embarrassing race experiences, there was really one direction I could take this: down the pan.

Please enjoy my top 5 toilet-related race experiences (or not, if you're eating your tea): a game of Top Trumps, if you will.

5. I can't say I understand, but I can't help but admire those souls who run races dressed as giant African land mammals. If this is your cup of tea, don't forget to think through the details.

My overriding memory from the Great North Run was watching a lady in a 10 foot giraffe costume trying to negotiate her way into a portaloo.

I know that she made it into the cubicle but I'll never know if she made it back out.
4. When a friend sent me this fantastic blog post, "20 type of athlete you'll see at an ironman race", after last year's Challenge Vichy triathlon, I was able to report that all characters were indeed present and correct.

There was one clown missing from the list though: I like to call him "man squatting on run course trying not to get poo on his compression socks".

I may have struggled to run in 40oC heat that day but, in dark times, it's important to remember that there is always someone having a worse race than you.
3. I no longer run with an iPod. There are various reasons for this: wanting to experience a run/race; race organisers banning them from marathons; not wanting to be one of those swerving dervishes cutting people up at a mass start.

Superseding them all, however, was the moment I found myself around mile 9 of the Wokingham half marathon on a very quiet piece of road, running stride for stride next to a fellow competitor, and no-one else around us. With a PB in sight, I focused on the rhythm of the music in my ears and started to push the pace to ease past him.

Then I farted so loud, I heard it over my headphones. I got the PB though.
2. Counting lengths at the swimming baths is a tricky business in itself, never mind when you're racing.

At my first triathlon, I was reassured to be told in the race briefing, "don't worry if you lose count, when you have swum 28 lengths, someone will put a big number 2 in the water".

Luckily, it was just a laminated sign with a numeral on it; I kept my mouth closed in the shallow end just in case.
1. "You were my tailwind and are all record breaking runners, too!" said Haile Gebrselassie after he set a new world record at Berlin Marathon in 2007. I shared the road with the great man that day but it wasn't the tailwind I could feel while waiting in the start pen.

Packed into the crowd, I realised a warm sensation spreading down the back of my legs. Was it the collective tingle of nervous anticipation? No, it was the tepid sprinkle of a man's urination. On foreign soil and not knowing enough German to scold the perpetrator, I used my best international frown and shrug to ask him what he thought he was up to. He looked me in the eye and said in a London accent, "What's your problem? You'll have a shower at the end."

My race didn't go to plan that day but, in dark times, there are rare occasions when it's OK to hope that someone is having a worse race than you.


If you're racing this weekend - good luck! Feel free to leave your Win, Loos or Draw scores in the comments.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Plan to race, race to plan

My job relies hugely on planning; without it, the young, impressionable humans in my care would just join me on long runs in between games of sleeping lions and snacking on cashew nuts. Then I would be sacked because children need to learn things and some of them are allergic to nuts. Planning outside work is something I seem to have lost my appetite for though.

I used to follow a plan meticulously in the run up to a marathon and panic when I missed a session; more recently, I’ve set out a looser idea of how to build up the mileage sensibly and used it as a guide around which to enjoy the sessions that most take my fancy. Both approaches have their merits and both their pitfalls. Then, of course, sometimes I do neither.

Plans on race day have become similarly casual. The last marathon I did was mapped out something like this: 1) go for a poo before the start; 2) maintain forwards motion, no matter how difficult it gets; 3) finish. 

My hunch is that the lack of training plan and lack of race plan might be linked.

Last year, Laura, someone I look up to for her ability to make things happen, told me about her latest mission: to take on the triathlon world, combating its expense one cheeky e-mail at a time. Her latest success had come in the form of two entries to the Marlow Olympic triathlon and she was kindly offering me one of them. With nothing else in the calendar at that stage, beyond term dates and birthdays, I gratefully accepted and vowed to plan other events around it.

Triathlon isn't something I have any particular aptitude for; I just happen to love the three sports. I am lucky enough to have been through a swimming club as a kid when I could have been causing mayhem instead, and I take unbridled enjoyment from riding my bike down hills at speed; anything beyond that comes down to guesswork, sheer bloody-mindedness and an acceptance that I won't be setting any records on the run. I completed an ironboy last weekend so it would have seemed quite natural to stick to my usual race anti-plan yesterday and trundle around chatting. Instead, for the first time in a long time, and inspired by Laura's determination, I scratched out a race plan on the beermat in my mind: 1) swim like hell; 2) cycle like hell; 3) the run will just have to happen somehow.

How did it pan out? Despite missing the front of the wave while I was having the longest tinkle known to humanity in my wetsuit, I had one of the best swims I've had for months, catching the men's wave in front and leaving the water 5th in a field of about 35 women. Lovely boyfriend loaned me his smokin' hot wheels for the cycle and taking the pressure off the run meant that I had the confidence to push on without worrying about maintaining reserves. And the run just had to happen somehow. It might seem strange to only 'race' part of the event but I beat my overall time from the 2011 event by 22 minutes. Maybe a ⅔ race plan isn't as silly as it sounds.

I do have another triathlon in the calendar this summer for which the plan remains simply to maintain forward motion, no matter how difficult it gets, and finish. I'll probably try to go for a poo before hand too. 
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