Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Paris to Versailles

I don't need much of an excuse to jump in the car and head off towards Paris! One of my best friends lives there for starters and, let's face it, it is Paris after all! So, when Cerys emailed me the link for the Paris to Versailles race I started planning. The race coincided with Stephen's birthday, so I paid his race entry fee as a birthday treat.

We traveled over on Saturday morning, arriving at Cerys' house at about 11.30am, in time to persuade her to abandon her children and come and join us for lunch at L'Avenue before we headed off to complete our registrations for the race at the Palais des Sports Robert Charpentier. We are getting quite proud of our ability to navigate the public transport system in Paris, but still wish that the map was as beautifully simple as the London Underground map. Retrieving our race numbers required the usual level of French bureaucracy, photo id, copies of UK athletics association membership cards etc. were required before the all important number and timing chips were handed over. Souvenir t shirts were given out at this point too, which meant that rather than a 'one size fits all' affair we actually got shirts that fit! It was rather pleasant to watch some very athletically built men strip off to try on their new shirts.

Back to Maisons Laffitte for a fabulous Coq au Vin, made by Paul, a medicinal G&T and a couple of glasses of red wine to sooth my chest, then an early night. I woke often in the night because I kept coughing, and during the night I had many dreams about the race - I figure my subconcious was making up for the fact that I hadn't run for a week due to feeling rough.

Sunday morning arrived, cold but dry. We made our way toward the Eiffel Tower joining a growing throng of people in running gear, clutching their water bottles, isotonic drinks and energy bars. The start seemed chaotic to me, after the highly organised starts of races like the BUPA 10,000m and the British 10k. Where was the luggage drop? There were no signs, no one who looked 'official' to ask, and I couldn't think what 'luggage drop' would be in French anyway! We found our way eventually, passing the open air urinals which were being ignored by most men who seemed perfectly happy peeing where they stood!

The wait for the start seemed interminably long. I was so glad Stephen was with me as there was none of the normal pre race banter. This is probably because we aren't fluent in French, so couldn't join in easily, but looking around people seemed to talk to the people they had arrived with and not chat with strangers. We were thoroughly cold by the time the race started! A good warm up was provided by trying to avoid the litter left by our fellow runners, jumpers, shirts, plastic bags and bottles filled with suspicious coloured liquid, formed a compost on the road.

There were far fewer women than I would have expected to see in a similar race in the UK. When I was waiting to start I could only see 4 other women, and there were none of the 'jolly mummies' (as Stephen calls them) who are running for fun. Another absence was the huge numbers of charity runners - I saw about 6 charity shirts during the morning and, because there wasn't a huge charity presence, there were no bands of volunteers supporting their charities' runners.

The first 3.5 miles of the race were lovely! Easy, flat roads with me keeping the pace at just under 8mins 30secs a mile, my lungs hurt and I coughed as though I had a 40 a day Gaulois habit, but I was doing OK, my legs felt fine. The only downside was the spitting! French men seem to spit while running with as much regularity as I breath while running. We became adept at avoiding flying spittle. Support was thin on the ground, until the very end of the race. A few bored looking Parisiens watched us as they contemplated how they could safely cross the road to get to the boulangerie! There were bands along the way, and if you like brass bands you'd have been happy. I am not a mad fan, and would have preferred something a bit more uplifting - but I suppose anything is better than French pop music!

At 3.5 miles we started to go up a hill that would last for two long, steep (7%) miles. This hill just went on and on. We'd go up, turn a corner thinking 'this must be the end' and see the hill stretching away ahead of us. I don't mind admitting that I really struggled here, even though I was still overtaking people I knew I had slowed right down. All that running up Brockham Hill had helped a little, but not enough. At one point I was down to 11 minutes 55 secs a mile, and worst of all it now felt as though I was drawing every breath through molten larva! It took a good 2 miles for me to recover from the hill, I normally bounce back fairly quickly, but I just could not get enough oxygen into my system to revive my legs. Stephen kept telling me not to worry, that it wasn't about the time, it was about having a good time. 'What a f*cking excellent way to spend your 44th birthday!' I grunted at him halfway up the hill. This got a laugh from a passing runner, who yelled out 'No one can swear like the English!' as he sped past me. He must have been listening as I called Stephen every name under the sun when he tried to tell me that we were on the last hill!

A brief downhill section between miles 6 and 7, and another shorter one just before 9 miles did enable me to catch my breath and regain my sense of humour! We were not going to make our target time of 1hr 30mins, but then we hadn't reckoned with me running with a chest infection, nor had either of us realised quite how long and how steep the climb would be. The last mile was a steady incline up to the finish. We ignored the last 'feed stop' which was offering wine and ploughed on to the end. Despite thinking I was all in, I did manage to dig deep and find a little more speed, but not much.

We eventually finished in 1hr 33mins 35secs. I console myself with the thought that, had there been another 3 flat miles to run (i.e. a half marathon distance) I would have been able to complete them in under 26.25mins and finished a half in 2hrs. I came in the top third for my age and gender groups. I am grateful to Stephen for sticking with me. He knows that I wouldn't have done it if the roles had been reversed - I'd have left him and run on to get the best time I could!

Amazingly my legs did not protest the next day! I thought I would be stiff and achey, but maybe my legs decided to give me the break my chest wasn't giving me! We raised over £300 for Combat Stress - there is still time to donate via Virgin Money Giving and we had fun! Yes, really we did! I may have moaned a bit at the time, but now I've got my shiny medal I am a happy girl.

Photos are on Facebook, because I am too lazy to wait for them to upload here - you'll need to be a friend to view them.

Thank you to Cerys and Paul for putting us up (and to Emily for letting us sleep in her room), it was lovely to be met at the end of the race rather than having to work out the best public transport route. Even if the end of the race co-incided with Cathedral kicking out time (do they have last orders or last rites before this?) so it took us half an hour to get out of the carpark and another hour and a half to get back to Maisons Laffitte. It might have been quicker to run....

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


I haven't run since Sunday, when I ran 8.3 miles, this being most of the Alton 10 mile road race route. I started from outside my house and just ran round the circuit, but didn't add on the extra bit to the local school and back to make up the 10 miles.

I haven't run since then because I have a cough. I feel grim, mainly because I took cough medicine that enabled me to sleep through the telephone ringing on the bedside table next to me, and resulted in me feeling hungover when I was awake.

I am really worried about the race on Sunday. I have a busy couple of days coming up, an early start on Saturday (4am), sleeping in a strange bed on Saturday evening and losing an hour into the bargain. I need to shift this cough, and the associated lethargy! I have never approached a race feeling so ill prepared!

To make matters worse, the weather is beautiful! Ideal running weather! I know I am in a bad way because I don't want to run!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

So, in a moment of madness, I mentioned on Facebook that I would blog about boobs! This caused something of a stir, and I fear that anyone who does wander over here to read this will be disappointed!

I do love boobs! They are amazing things, they look good, feel good and mine have fed five children (just think of the money I have saved by never having had to buy formula or bottles!) I'd be lost without my boobs because all my clothes would be too big - and despite being pregnant and breastfeeding for most of my adult life my boobs have yet to sag so they still look pretty good!

But, but, but....they do need looking after. I thought I was fairly good at this: monthly checks for lumps (Stephen likes to help with this), always wearing a sports bra when running etc. But here's the thing, while I keep an eye on how many miles my trainers have travelled I haven't done the same with my sports bras. I didn't realise that they had lost a lot of their antibounce capability until I came home from a run a few days ago and as I took, or rather ripped, my bra off to get into the shower I whimpered in pain! This was not the infamous 'jogger's nipple,' my ill fitting bra had rubbed away the skin on the underside of my boob. It doesn't look much - the photo was taken a week after it originally happened - but it hurts like hell! I've taken to wearing Compeed blister plasters to stop me ripping the top off my skin every time I remove my underwear. Blister plasters are just so sexy!

So, the moral of this tale is that we girls need a good sports bra (or two) and that we need to check they still fit/haven't gone all stretchy in the wash. Blisters on your tender bits are not fun!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

I love running, really I do!

Two years ago in May I started running. I wanted something I could do that didn't take ages, and involve huge logistical machinations. Going to the gym was fine, but I resented the time taken to travel there and back in addition to the time spent exercising, and it was always quite tempting to have a natter with friends before, after and often during a session. Thirty minutes of exercise could take well over an hour to accomplish!

A friend had just started Couch to 5k, and it seemed ideal. Thirty minutes, three times a week seemed achievable and easy enough to fit in around the 5 children and husband. It did involve getting up extra early some days, or having supper a bit later on other days, but during school time I could normally run while the children were out of the house. I can still remember how hard I found that first week, 60 seconds of running, alternating with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes had me arriving home exhausted and covered in sweat! I loved the time alone, doing something for me, and getting some fresh air into the bargain. I did cheat the programme though - running every other day rather than just three times a week, so I completed the programme in 7 rather than 9 weeks and was soon looking for my next challenge.

I can't imagine a life without running now. Yesterday evening Stephen and I went out for a longish run (7 miles) with Stephen setting the pace. It was faster than I would normally run, so despite a longish slow haul up the hill at the start (about 2 miles where I only managed 9.04 and 11.40 mins per mile respectively) we completed the 7 miles in 60 minutes (5 minutes faster than I'd run it two days earlier). It had felt so hard, at times, while I was actually running, but the moment I stopped I was so pleased that I'd pushed myself so hard.

That's the thing about running. However much I don't want to go running (because it is too cold, too hot, raining, I've got a hangover) when I make the effort to go out there I always feel better for it - even if I overdo it and something is achey! I run for mental as well as physical health.

It is easier now the children are a little older. I can leave the little ones in the tender care of their big brother and dash out for a quick run. I always have my 'phone with me, but wonder how much use that would be if I was 30 minutes away and the children 'phoned to say that there was an emergency! I have educated them not to call me to ask if they can have a drink or an apple as that was somewhat tedious.

The only downside is that I have revolting 'runner's feet!' Last time I had a pedicure the poor girl almost passed out at the sight of them. I wish I had runner's legs to go with the feet....

Monday, 13 September 2010

What I saw on my run today...

I have spent all day feeling drained and exhausted. We'd had a lovely time in York, getting back at 11pm on Saturday evening, then we were up again on Sunday and out of the house by 6am to go up to London for the book fairs and the Help for Heroes concert at Twickenham (I pretty much agree with the review you'll find if you follow that hyperlink, so I won't say much more - other than I was glad to be there with a friend who knew who the likes of Pixie Lott, Alexandra Burke and Plan B were). I was so tired that I didn't think it was possible that I would manage a run, but I decided that I ought to make the effort.

I rewarded myself with one of my favourite routes. Not sure if that hyperlink will take you to the route, or if you'd need a password, but it is a lovely route - up the long (over a mile), steep (9%) Brockham Hill and then back through a scenic and undulating route to and through neighbouring villages. I was lucky with the weather, it only started to spit with rain when I hit mile 6. The views over the Hampshire countryside make the steep climbs worthwhile (although I wish I could run up them a bit faster).

Sadly, the route seems to have become a haven for fly tippers. I fail to understand why one would drive to such a remote location (single track road leading nowhere much!) to dump an old TV or fridge. There is a really good municipal tip in the centre of town, open all day every day! Such a hazard to wildlife to leave them lying on the side of the road (I doubt many children walk that route so probably not much risk to them), and so thoughtless and unnecessary!

Still, the run went well, I set off with an audio book (Bleeding Hearts by Ian Rankin writing as Jack Harvey) rather than music, as I knew that this would slow me down a bit, and I didn't feel like pushing it today. It is a while since I listened to a book while running, and I'd forgotten how enjoyable it is. For whole sections of the run (the downhill and easy bits!) I almost forgot I was running, and I you don't get the annoyingly up tempo song start just as you start the steepest bit of the hill! I needed a good run that didn't feel too hard. I was beginning to doubt whether I would be able to manage 10 miles on 26th September. I feel better about that now, and don't feel that I will let down the sponsors who have been kind enough to sponsor us as we raise money for Combat Stress.

Friday, 10 September 2010

In praise of good service!

We are up in York for a bookfair, staying at the delightful Middlethorpe Hall Hotel for a few nights. As ever I have my running kit with me, but realised halfway here that I had left my water bottle at home. Carrying a water bottle seems to be as much a psychological crutch now as a necessary means of rehydration! I even carry it in races where there are water stations at ridiculously frequent intervals just in case I get a bit thirsty on the way! So off I trotted to Up and Running to pick up a new bottle. Strange how the purchase of a £3.50 water bottle results in a bill for over £100 as one acquires new kit and decides to treat one's husband to new shorts (he's been wearing the current pair since the mid 1990s) and tops! The guys in the shop were great, helpful and knowledgeable. They took the time to sketch out a couple of good running routes for me around York - it makes a big difference to know roughly where one is going rather than just having to run out and back because one doesn't know where the road will end up.

Running in York has been refreshing, I did 4 miles on Wednesday and 5.5 miles yesterday. It is so flat here. That said, my run coupled with walking 2.5 miles into York, around the shops then 2.5 miles back to the hotel again yesterday meant that I could barely move last night. Today I am having a 'day off.' I may have walked into York and back, and I may well be considering a trip to the hotel gym in the next half hour, but that isn't running, so will count as a rest day.


Let us just, for one moment, ignore all my previous rants about my husband running with me and think about etiquette. Stephen has always walked on the outside edge of pavements when were are out and about together. Historically the gentleman walked on the outside to save the lady from being at best splashed as carriages trundled past and at worst being hit by a carriage (although in days when women had no property rights being widowed was probably a fate worse than death for some of them!)

When we run together, Stephen runs on the outside of me. We always run facing oncoming traffic, so my right side is closest to the hedge/house/wall. As a result I am the one who gets poked in the eye by low hanging branches and who makes close contact with nettles. I am the one with scratches down my arm where I have been attacked by overgrown brambles! Maybe we should swap places?

Then there is another thorny etiquette question... When two people run together how much effort should the slower runner make to keep up with the faster, or should the faster runner moderate their pace? I hate hills and am slower on them than my husband. I am happy for him to run ahead but hate it when he is STANDING at the top waiting for me to catch up! I do keep telling him to 'just run on!' We are running the Paris to Versailles road race 'together' and he has said that he will run with me, even though he is faster than me. I know that, were the roles reversed, I would not do the same! I am happy to start a race with anyone, but want to run in my own time, to the best of my ability to get the best time I can on the day. Maybe that makes him a better person than me....

And etiquette for non runners: if you see a runner pounding the pathway, sunglasses on, earphones stuffed in ears they are sending a pretty clear message that they are busy and do no want to stop to tell you what the time is or where the nearest public library is! And dog owners, for the love of God PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG! My trainers cost a fair amount of money and are not easy to clean - I do not like stinking of dog shit. And while on the subject of dogs, I'm not too keen on the game some dog owners think we runners want to play... we do not want to play jump rope with your dog's lead! Keep that lead short please - this has the added benefit that your dog will have fewer chances to try to use my calves as a chew toy.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Holiday highs and lows!

It has been so long since I wrote anything here that I hardly know where to start!

I've been to Volonne in Haute Provence for two weeks, sandwiched between staying in Maisons Laffitte. 18 nights with five children and no husband is somewhat of a challenge - I don't think I'd have survived without the company of some good friends (and their three children). The drive from Maisons Laffitte to Volonne took 8 hours one way and 10 hours coming back!

Once there, a great time was had by all! Most of the time, I think! There were the normal alarms and altercations that occur when you have 8 children of varying ages and temperaments to accommodate. Water slides were slid down, pools were swum in, trees were swung through, sun was sat in, beers and wine were drunk. We were so lucky with the weather - hot and sunny every day apart from one - where we had 5" of rain in as many hours, but they were early in the morning, so the only person who got wet was me as I was out running.

Running at 1500' is very different to running at 300'! On my first morning I thought my chest was going to explode and my legs felt like lead. Normally when I run uphill and feels the build up of lactic acid in my leg muscles I know that this will dissipate very quickly when I hit a flat stretch or downhill. This didn't happen in mountains - I was hitting the next incline with legs still heavy from the previous one. The scenery, however, was stunning!

My school girl French was woefully inadequate to cope with a tyre blow out on a bendy road through the Alps! I was rescued by a passing tow truck, with two very good looking 'boys' driving it, and towed to the nearest garage for a mere €40 - waiting at the side of that road with a car full of children didn't appeal! But I do wonder why I was taught to tell people that my aunt's pen is on my uncle's desk, that the monkey is in the tree and to list the contents of my bedroom! I can't imagine when I would use such phrases. Meanwhile it would be nice to have learnt how to explain that the tyre has exploded (and that is why you are on the other side of the road because the steering went a bit do-lally), that you need to call your friend to come and pick you up (and help translate) etc.

Much wine and food was needed to calm me down after this incident. I am hugely grateful to my friends for looking after me, and especially to Paul for cooking such fabulous meals almost every evening.

The rest of our stay in Volonne was relatively peaceful. I ran most mornings, enjoying a bit of solitude while every one else snoozed. Most mornings I returned via the site shop, so returned back laden with croissants. We had trips to Sisteron, Gap (where there is no Gap!), Moustiers Sainte Marie and Aix en Provence, but we were really very lazy. It was too hot to sunbathe until about 5pm most days, but the children had a whale of the time in the pools and on the water slides.

Back in Maisons Laffitte for two days before returning to England, I took the children into Paris for a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower. One of the little darlings said that it looked as though the tower was swaying - this panicked Esmé (my diminutive 4 year old) and she fussed and whinged in the lift. At one point a stranger started to pick her up - I rushed to grab her back and, in retrospect I realise, this is when someone, most probably a friend of the woman who picked Esmé up, took advantage of the fact that I was distracted and extracted my wallet from my bag!

Being stranded in the middle of a foreign city with 5 children and no money is not a situation I would recommend to anyone! Luckily my friend was able to come in and rescue me. The police were not friendly. My wallet was stollen at 11.30am, I left the police station at about 6pm. They knew I had no money, that I was sitting there with 5 children who hadn't eaten since breakfast, and we were not offered so much as a glass of water while we sat waiting on plastic chairs.

Our final day was a trip to Disneyland, but to be honest, none of us were really in the mood. We had to fight our corner to be allowed in as our annual passes were in my wallet, we were tired, missing home, and Disney was very crowded. We did a few rides and left at 3pm for the long journey home.

We had a great trip, but it is lovely to be home. My lovely husband had cleaned the house beautifully and we were all thrilled to be home in our own beds.