Mud, glorious mud and lots of wool

I managed to get out with my Garmin strapped firmly on several times last week.  Always a challenge when there’s a baby involved!  I’m trying to increase my running frequency over the next couple of weeks.  I have an ultra coming up in April which presents enough challenges now that I’m a Mum without worrying that my mileage has been much lower than pre-pregnancy.

Monday was my first run of the week.  I usually get up early on a Monday morning and run before Dan heads off to work but I had already arranged to head over for the Monday evening group club run last week instead.  It’s the first time that I had run out with the group on a Monday night.  Before Oscar, Dan and I always used to head over to our local pub quiz on a Monday night, but we can no longer attend that now that O is here.

It absolutely tipped it down on Monday and at one point we were showered with freezing cold hail too.  I hate the feeling of hail hitting your face and your face being sent into completely numb shock!  I should have woken up early and got my run in first thing perhaps after all!  We didn’t bother with a cool down upon reaching our cars – it was quick goodbyes and car heaters turned up full blast for all before I drove quickly home for a nice warm bath and my tea.

Wednesday was the club trail run and we covered a further six miles across muddy fields and footpaths.  I’m feeling so strong on the Wednesday night trail runs just lately and it has really boosted my confidence to be running so far towards the front of the group of runners that I run out with.  My core strength has improved loads from carrying Oscar regularly during the day and I swear this is why my trail running has improved so much.  I would say that across trail I am definitely running back where I was pre-pregnancy, perhaps even stronger now.  (Good job my upcoming ultra will be run over trail!)

Saturday it was time for parkrun.  Annoyingly I managed to leave my breast pump at my parents’ house the day before so had to bring Oscar along, despite Dan offering to have him for the morning.

It was raining slightly, and there was even a bit of snow at one point, so I wrapped him up well with lots of layers, two blankets and a rain cover.  He was definitely very snuggly under all that lot and loved watching the other runners go by!

Going to parkrun with Oscar in the pramGarmin time: 45:08
Official time: 
Gender position: 
Age category position: 

Quick side note to say that the blanket pictured above is the second one my friend Hollie has crocheted for Oscar.  Isn’t she super talented?!  I would love to be able to make something like this!  I did recently knit a monkey for a friend’s new baby, but I’ve never managed to master crochet or clothes.

Oliver's knitted monkey

There’s something special I think about receiving hand made gifts.  All the time and effort that went into creating them and the thought that goes along with it too.  Jane sent Oscar a lovely set of booties and a hat that she had made when he was first born in our club’s green colour.  When he gets a little bigger he will be fully decked out in WDAC green with his knitted items along with the mini club vest he was given from a friend.

Oscar's knitted hat and booties

On Sunday there was a six mile trail run organised.  I knew that if I got up early enough I would be able to feed Oscar twice before leaving, park a little way away at the local Tescos, run to the meeting point and then get in an extra couple of miles around the park before meeting up with the others.  5:30am alarm set for a 9am meet up!  I don’t think I’ll be accidentally leaving my pump at my parents’ house again!

There had been a lot of rain around these parts last week and it was fairly muddy once I hit the park.  Stupidly, I picked some of the muddiest trails for my warm-up run too.  It was down one of these muddy trails that I felt my foot slide out from under me and in slow-motion saw my right leg go down into a large muddy puddle!  Somehow I managed to keep my left leg standing so I never fully went in, but my right leg was absolutely covered!  Usually if you don’t pussy-foot around the edge of puddles and run straight through you miss the slippery mud, but on Sunday the bottom of the puddles seemed to be just as treacherous.

Muddy trail run legsAt least it was during my solo warm-up run when I fell so no-one was around to see me go down.  No hiding from it though with all that mud on my leg advertising my fall! One of the other ladies slipped over later too so it wasn’t just me.

I had to nip into Tesco for a few bits after my run so mooched around the aisles with my mud covered leg on show.  It wasn’t until I got home that I also had flecks of mud across my face – even covering my lips and eyelid!  Nobody stopped and stared at me anyway!

Annoyingly, despite feeling fine after the fall and for the remainder of my 10ish mile run my right thigh has felt rather bruised yesterday and today.  Going downstairs has been a little uncomfortable and it really doesn’t help that Oscar has been insisting on practising standing on the top of my legs this week!  Two days of rest and I’ll see how I am tomorrow evening at the trail run again.

As well as managing to fit several runs in last week, I also headed out on lots of walks with Oscar in the baby carrier.  I was gifted the We Made Me Pao Papoose 3-in-1 Front and Back Baby Carrier* from my work colleagues when I headed off on maternity leave in the Autumn and it has really come in so handy.  Once you know how to get it on and how to strap Oscar safely in, it’s so much quicker and easier than lugging a pram around.  It also means that we are able to go offroad without the worry about whether or not a buggy will fit down little tracks or if there will be any stiles to cross!

Walking with Oscar in the baby carrier

I’m really hoping that Oscar will grow up as an outdoorsy-child and not one obsessed with computer games or watching YouTube on the iPad.  Dan and I aren’t big television watchers.  I never have been really – always having preferred to be outside and doing something rather than sat down stationary in front of the box.  I hope I’m setting a good example to him with everything that I do.  I can only try my best, right?

Did you have an active childhood?
Do you mind going shopping in your running gear?

Fitting in running alongside a baby

Oscar turned four months old at the end of January.

Oscar is four months old

Man, that went fast!  Yet, at the same time, it strangely feels like he has always been here and I couldn’t imagine life without him now.

From the very beginning I was adamant that I was going to keep my own identity and not just become known as ‘Oscar’s Mum’.  Ask anyone to describe me and I’m pretty sure that somewhere in their description the words ‘runner’ and ‘teacher’ will feature.  I didn’t want to lose those parts of me when Dan and I decided to have children – especially not the runner part.

Fitting in runs has been tougher than I first thought it would be.  Luckily Dan has been very supportive and welcomed having Oscar so that I was able to run from very early on.  Unfortunately the new job Dan started after Christmas means that he is no longer back in time for me to make running club on a Tuesday or Thursday training night, but I can still make the informal Monday road and Wednesday trail club runs which don’t start until the slightly later time of 7pm.

Before Oscar, all I needed to do was throw my clothes on and nip out of the door but now there’s so much more to think about before heading out for each run.  I will never take being able to run for granted now, for sure.

Breastfeeding is the biggest issue.  I have to schedule Oscar’s feeds throughout the day so that it falls just right in that I can feed him before I leave.  Mess the feeding schedule up and it could all go to pot.

Sleep is another issue.  Since December I’ve been getting some early morning runs in before Oscar wakes up.  If I set my alarm for 4:45am I can usually express, throw some clothes on and head out for three or four miles before he wakes.  It can be a proper challenge though…Let my alarm ring for too long and he wakes.  If this is the case, sometimes I can feed him and put him back down again, but he doesn’t normally drift back off unless he can hear me breathing in the bed beside him.  If I lie down in the bed with the lights out to encourage him to return to sleep, I often then end up falling asleep myself.  Game over!

There have been a few times where I’ve gotten out the door only to realise I’m not wearing my heart rate monitor/Garmin/headband.  By this point I’m not turning around and risking opening the bedroom door again so the run goes without data/unrecorded/my head gets cold!

At the start of each week I’ve written a set of if-all-goes-OK runs in my training calendar.  The aim is to get out for at least three – hopefully four – of these runs each week.  I usually schedule five or six in order to hit this target!  I’m also back on the 10,000 steps a day train.  I just feel so much better in myself on days I move around more and I think it’s much better for Oscar to get outside at some point every day.

2017 running calendar

I’ve had to improvise when it comes to my training plan a couple of times.  Dan was late home from work on trail run night the other week and then Oscar didn’t settle on his return.  My ‘7 mile trail run with friends’ became ‘5x solo 1mile loops around the estate I live on’, so that I was near to hand if Dan needed me.  I guess that sort of run could be good for me mentally as it was rather dull and I had to power through at one point.  In a weird sort of way I actually enjoyed it.  It was nice knowing that if I wasn’t feeling it I was only ever 4 minutes away from my front door.
I have a feeling that some of my long runs are going to turn into mile loops from my front door so that I can be around if Oscar wakes up or Dan needs me.  They’re not ideal runs, and I do miss running with other people on these occasions but miles are miles at the end of the day and there is a fifty mile race fast coming up on my calendar which requires my mileage to start increasing!

The last couple of weekends have been rather manic which has made fitting runs in even more challenging.  As neither of my parents are very well at the moment I’ve made the decision to return for a visit back to Norfolk every Thursday and Friday for the remainder of my maternity leave.  A couple of weekends back we stayed in Wolverhampton for Dan’s Nan’s 90th birthday and this past weekend was once again in Wolverhampton for two 30th birthdays, having been out in Northampton for a 40th birthday the night before.  This really is the year of the big birthday!

Oscar’s head control is so much better than it was.  The guidelines for taking a baby out in a running buggy all suggest six months and full head control.  He’s getting stronger every week.  He’s not yet fully rolled over, but come very close from going back to front on more than one occasion when lying on his changing mat.  He definitely needs to remain within arm’s reach now!

It will make things infinitely easier to fit runs in once Oscar can go in a buggy as I will be able to run during the day.  Oh, daylight runs, how I have missed you!  I feel like I am forever running in the dark at the moment.  And there’s no point in me weather watching, as even the heaviest of rainfalls doesn’t stop me if that hits my time to run!

The only weather which does stop me completely in my tracks is ice first thing in the morning.  I’m not going to risk breaking my leg for three measly stupid-o’clock-in-the-morning miles.

How do you make sure you fit in your runs during the week?
Do you manage many daylight runs this time of year?

No Magic Mile this month

The last two months I have been able to get out to the Magic Mile following the parkrun at Northampton.  It was great to see the improvement I had made between December and January, where I knocked 31 seconds from my mile time.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the Magic Mile this month.  Dan and I were Birmingham-bound for two friends’ birthdays at the weekend and needed to be in Birmingham by 12:30.  I could just about make the slightly-closer Kettering parkrun if I headed straight home to shower and change afterwards, but I definitely would not have had time to head to Northampton and run the Magic Mile, which doesn’t take place until 10am.

Anyway, I was looking forward to running another parkrun without baby in tow.  The last time I ran the parkrun in Kettering I had been almost 39 weeks pregnant and it had been the first event held at that park.  I was curious to see what my body was capable of now, but knew that basically, I only had to beat 33m 15s in order to get a course PB.  Pretty much guaranteed!

It was rather cold when I woke up on Saturday morning.  Although, as always I dressed in a t-shirt and shorts and whacked the heating up full blast for the drive over.  I did worry briefly that perhaps the event would be cancelled due to the ice like it had been last month when I had tried to make it over.  But the barrier into the car park lifted as I arrived and a whole stream of cars followed me in to the grounds.

I briefly chatted to one of the marshals whose daughter also goes to Oscar’s swimming class and then the Race Director stepped up to give us our briefing and count us down for the run…

WAIT!  We have pacers!…”

False start!  He pointed out the two pacers that would be out on the run that morning and then we had a second, more successful count down to the start!

To be honest I went into the parkrun a little too relaxed.  I was cocky and thought I’d be able to easily hit a time somewhere in the region of 27 minutes on Saturday.  Whereas in reality I had felt rather light-headed for most of the Friday morning and I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night either.  Laying in until nearly 8am meant I then hadn’t had time for breakfast, and having stayed out late at a 40th birthday party the night before with just two sandwich triangles for my dinner wasn’t the best of plans.  Within minutes my heart rate was showing as in the 180s.  (I usually try to run a parkrun at 170bpm and it usually takes me about a mile before I come close to hitting that bpm).

Kettering parkrun heart rateThis was whilst running downhill as well, so I knew I needed to pull things back.

When my watch flashed up with 8m 36s as my first mile time split I knew I wasn’t running very well as it felt like I had been running much faster than that.

The course was much more ‘off-road’ than I remembered from having run it back in September.  Back then it was at the end of a hot Summer and I guess now we are mid-Winter and have had a fair amount of drizzle over recent weeks.

Kettering parkrun in the mud

(Image from the Kettering parkrun page)

I really don’t remember all that dirty, muddy track ever being there before.  Should have worn my trail shoes!

The Kettering parkrun course is run over two and a bit laps, and you cross the pontoon bridge twice.  I skidded as I leapt onto it for the first lap and almost went down, deciding at that point that I would be better to take little steps and sacrifice a few seconds of my time, but remain upright!

I was fairly confident that I was on track enough to still course-PB and so, in the interests of keeping my heart rate low I decided to walk up the slight hill after the muddy, grassy bank.  The woman at the top looked at me walking amongst all the runners and told me that I still had to do the distance again yet.  I felt like shouting out “I had a Caesarean 18 weeks ago!” but resisted.

Lap two was just as muddy, just as slippery on the bridge and just as cold.

Me running at Kettering parkrun

(Image from the Kettering parkrun page)

I think this picture captures just how much my legs were not impressed at the decision to wear shorts that morning!

Once you’re on the final bit-lap though, it’s pretty much all downhill to the finish, as my splits indicate…

Mile 1: 8:36
Mile 2: 9:26
Mile 3: 9:56
Nubbin (0.13m): 6:13 pace

A perfect example of rubbish pacing!

Garmin time: 28:49
Official time: 
Gender position: 
Age category position: 

Somehow I still managed to come in the top half of the results table despite my poor run and even came first in my age category(!)

Are you still wearing shorts for workouts at this time of year?
Any courses to mention with a great downhill finish?

Related Posts

Two parkruns and the final cross country

This post is delayed partly due to me hoping that there would have been some cross-country photos posted online, but there doesn’t seem to have been any.  (The rest of the delay is purely down to laziness!)

Last week was parkrun #69 for me.  Laura has recently undergone surgery and currently unable to run so offered to be tailrunner at Northampton parkrun.  She hadn’t walked as far as 5k since her operation, and as I ended up with Oscar in the buggy for the morning I offered to walk round with her at the back.  Not a great deal to report about the event – just chatting at the back and walking a 5k really!  Laura wrote about it in more detail than me though.

Garmin time: 53:01
Official time:
Position: 486/488
Gender position: 210/212
Age category position: 36/37

I didn’t even take a cake picture afterwards!  The only thing really note-worthy from the event was that it was ridiculously cold!  I dressed Oscar up in a vest, sleepsuit, fluffy jumper, woolly hat, snowsuit and two blankets for the parkrun and at one point I spotted a few tiny flakes of snow falling from the sky.

The following day was the final cross-country race of the Three Counties Cross-Country season.  I missed the first three of the series as they fell too soon following the birth of Oscar for me to be out racing, but I made it to the Letchworth event just before Christmas and was looking forward to the final event to be held at Sharnbrook last weekend.

With a bit of enthusiasm drummed up on social media, there was to be a much larger turn out of runners than there had been representing our club at the Christmas event, which made me a little nervous.

Frustratingly my phone battery died on arrival at the school ground where the race was to be held, and despite seeing several supporters out snapping photos, I am yet to see any posted online, bar a couple of set up shots from one of the marshals.

Sharnbrook cross-country trail

(Photo credit)

It was pretty fresh out there, although I had decided to just stick to my standard cross-country attire consisting of shorts, a t-shirt and my club vest.  It didn’t take too long to warm up though, and after a lap of the school playing field we were launching ourselves down a steep slope and out through the neighbouring fields with feeling in fingers once more!

Last year, – the first year the course had been part of the series – it had been incredibly muddy.  So, so very muddy!  This year there had been very little rain in the weeks leading up to the event, although there had been a lot of thick mist which had settled early in the mornings that week, giving everything a rather damp feel, without things getting too boggy.

The ruts were still there along the tracks, but now with added ice along the top which meant for some slippery running.

I always think that the back runners at cross-country have a much tougher time than the front runners as by the time all the front runners have been along the course it ends up churned up and much more difficult to run in.  This time round though, the front runners were all hitting the ice first.

The route was slightly different this year, and included a couple of fallen trees as jumping obstacles!  I didn’t fully trust my legs, especially as many in front of me considerably slowed for the obstacles, denying me of any real run-up.  I opted to quickly clamber over them instead.

The toughest part of this course is the final sprint across the long field at the finish.  It’s churned up from all the runners ahead of you and this year the mud was that horrible sticky type of mud which just makes your trainers become more and more heavy until you stop to pick out the mud with a strong stick.  Visibility is good across the final field so you have the rest of your clubmates cheering you in the whole way and there’s no chance of slowing down.  You must speed up for the finish, and right at the very end there’s a bit of a bank just before you cross the line requiring that last bit of effort for the finish!

Sharnbrook cross-country trail

(Photo credit – taken pre-churning!)

I’m so happy that I remained consistent and ran the entire way, finishing about where I expected to position-wise.

Position: 295/336
Gender position:
Distance: 5.75m
Garmin time: 57m 46s

Three Counties race number

As I’m sure I’ve explained before – cross-country doesn’t record times, but rather finishing positions.  The aim is to beat other runners of the same gender.  You get a certain number of points depending on your finishing position.  The higher the number points, the lower down the table you come.  Each scoring team at this league consists of eight male runners and four female runners.

I will never be fast enough to score for our club, as we have quite a strong cross-country team.  However, I am fast enough to push the scores of some of the other teams down and any clubs who cannot make the twelve runners required for scoring receive the number of points given to the final finisher plus one.  (Hope that made sense!)

This past weekend I was back to Northampton parkrun again.  This time without Oscar, as Dan had him for the morning.  It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to actually run the whole way at Northampton parkrun since Oscar was born and I was looking forward (although also slightly nervous!) to picking up the pace and feeling slightly uncomfortable on the run.

I perhaps didn’t set off as far forward as I should have done, erring on the side of caution, although I instantly regretted this.  It’s been a long while since I ran with the 26-27 minute runners and it has become so overcrowded at that point in the runners.  It was still perhaps 10 runners wide at the first corner of the run (about a quarter of a mile in) and I struggled to push myself into a spot onto the path from the grass verge.

Mile 1: 8:18

I planned on running to heart rate, trying to stick to about 170bpm.  As always, it took a little while for my heart rate to pick up at the beginning of the run.  I usually capitalise on this if it’s only over 5k and get in a first fast mile.  However, it was so difficult to weave in and out around the other runners that I ended up settling back a little, knowing that I could have gone a little faster.

Mile 2: 8:44

By the end of mile 2 my heart rate was getting a little higher than I would like and had sat around 175bpm for a little while.  I decided to pull it right back and walk up the final hill to ‘reset’ my heart rate before continuing the rest of the run.

Mile 3: 9:18
Nubbin (0.16m): 8mm pace

I was very happy to see a time starting with a ’27’ on my watch as I crossed the line.  My best ever parkrun time at Northampton is 26:37 so I am still a minute away from where I used to be (back in 2015) but I do feel like I’m starting to get back to where I came from now.

Garmin time: 27:37
Official time:
Position: 215/461
Gender position: 44/193
Age category position: 8/24

As I was without buggy we could go to Magees this week, the first time in ages.  I did take a picture of that cake!

Magee Street Bakery - salted caramel tart

Have you struggled with a particular pace being overcrowded on a race/parkrun?
Have you run a race where there have been tree jumps/other obstacles before?!