A personal running review by Rachel Barrow
“So, when Liza approached me and asked if I would like to write a retrospective report for the newsletter, my first thought was “it must be a REALLY slow news week”. Of course there haven’t been any races to write about for such a long time now but, even if I trawl back through past races, I’ve never taken part in anything like as epic and interesting as Martin’s Comrades race or the tough coastal marathon that James took on. I’m a keen runner, came to it about 10 years ago in my forties. What prompted me to finally give it a go was losing a lovely friend to cancer in December 2010. The following summer that was the push I needed to try the Race for Life 5k and for it to really mean something. I didn’t think beyond that distance and certainly had no great ambitions to do more. But I was one of the lucky ones, bitten by the running bug. It has brought so much to my life. New friends, better physical and mental fitness plus a slightly competitive streak that I didn’t even know was there! I now love taking part in road races and, like so many of you, have regularly run the popular, local 10k and half marathon events. I always like to have a few on the calendar just to keep some focus. Before the strangeness of 2020 took hold I had entered quite a few for the year with a view to seeing how well I could do in the Club Championship (I accidentally did quite well in 2019!) If everything had gone to plan, Stroud Half in October would have been my 25th half marathon. But we all know what happened then...... So what I can tell you a little of is how I used 2020 to make a few changes, find some other way to focus and to finally achieve a couple of long held, and almost given up on, dreams. I was so pleased when the Cirencester Runs On (CRO) challenges began at the start of the first lockdown. I used those as my weekly hard work run. I was never happy when the 1 mile distance came up on the schedule, I don’t think I was alone in that. But I took part every week and submitted a result, good or bad. The 5k weeks were the most valuable I think. I couple of them were memorable for all the wrong reasons but I learned as much, probably more, from those. For example, the art of control and not going out too fast in the first mile. At the start of this year I’d never managed to finish inside 27 minutes for 5k, but by October I had a new PB of 24:45. Two of the CRO weeks that stand out are the week when we could choose our own distance and the club 35th anniversary week, both in June. For the free choice week I plumped for distance rather than any kind of pace and ran a steady 15 miles, the furthest I had run since my last shambolic marathon attempt in October 2018. And for the club 35th birthday I ran with my friend and long run partner in crime Rob Tuttle. We shared the 35 mile burden and ran 17 and a half together. I think these two longer runs were a key part of achieving one of those elusive goals I mentioned. Around that time I also read a book called 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald. The basic idea is running perhaps more miles but 80% of them at a pretty easy, almost lazy, pace and 20% at a much harder effort. I was almost doing this anyway I suppose but I started to try to do better at making the easy runs easy and the hard runs hard, making sure there was a very noticeable difference between the two. I think I’d previously spent most of my time just plodding along at the same pace on every run. Of course there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that but I finally realised that you can’t expect to change results if you don’t change the method. At this point I should also mention Martin Croucher. Every week I sent my CRO result to him along with a little report on how it had gone. Without fail the email that came back was full of encouragement, wise words and suggestions for things to try. If found it so helpful and our weekly catch ups continue even though CRO sadly came to an end. I know this is getting boring now so I’d better cut to the chase. My big running dream was that elusive sub 2 hour half marathon. To many of you I know that’s not much of a challenge but it was something I’d wanted since my first crack at Stroud Half in 2012. I was elated with my 2:08 finish that day. Just to say I’d run 13.1 miles was enough in that moment but of course you start to think about new targets. I ran loads of half marathons in the following years but the best time I managed was 2:03:34 at Tewkesbury in 2016. I tried hard for a new PB Stroud in 2019 but the last mile or so was a struggle that day and I just missed out again. In late August the CRO challenge included the half marathon distance. Rob kindly agreed to run with me. It was the day to try to make it all come together, those weeks of lazy running and one short sharp effort each week. My sceptical friend Rob had asked quite a few times on our slow long runs when we were going to try a long run at the target pace. But my training plan didn’t tell me to do that, so I didn’t. On the day we had a great run, the weather was kind to us, not too hot thank goodness. Rob’s company was invaluable and we were both a bit stunned with my 1:57:17 finish. I honestly thought that if I ever did it, it would be 1:59:59. I’ve managed sub 2 twice since then, once in Bournemouth in early October in a howling gale and, on what should have been Stroud Half day, another new PB of 1:55:03. Both runs with Rob who, I think would admit, is a bit of an 80/20 convert. So now I really believe I’m a sub 2 half marathon runner and I’m going to have a bash at getting inside 1:55 on Virtual Bath Half day in March. I started to think about whether it would be possible to get a marathon PB before the end of the year too. I’ve run three pretty scrappy marathons. I managed to improve a little with each one but never got inside 5 hours. So for 3 weeks in late November early December I did increasingly long runs including the kind of steady 20 miler I had never managed before. I hatched a plan to have a go on New Year’s Eve but kept it pretty quiet, only Mr Barrow and Mr Croucher were in the know. I devised a 5.25 mile loop from my front door and decided that if I just did laps of that I’d never be too far from home if I got fed up, ill or injured. I could stop for refreshments and top class facilities - no Portaloos! And if I only managed 4 laps it would still be my longest run of the year. Nothing to lose. But in the days leading up to it I began to wonder whether I could be bothered. Even on the morning itself the frosty, slippery looking pavement nearly sent me back to bed. But at 10am I got out on the ice. What I hadn’t reckoned on was a truck pulling up outside my house at that very moment. Inside were Liza and Rupert on their way to Tesco! She said something like “you look like you’re about to run a long way”. The copious spare water bottles and snack box in the front garden were a bit of a give away. I didn’t want to give too much away but my talkative husband stepped right in and told her EXACTLY what I was about to attempt! “Let me know how you get on” she said....... ........it was all going surprisingly well until about 23 miles. My finger was poised over the stop button on my watch. I was miserable, tired, my legs wanted to walk not run but I couldn’t see the point of finishing off by walking even though I think I could still have scraped inside 5 hours by doing that. I just didn’t think it would be very satisfying. I am SO glad that Liza decided to go to Tesco that day. Who amongst you can imagine telling Liza that you gave up at 23 miles! I started running again. Finished in 4:22:09 with the biggest smile on my face. Having said to myself that, if I managed it, I’d never have to do it again, I think I’d actually quite like to, but in a proper race with a proper medal. If any of you have read all the way to the end of my ramblings, I guess the message is that it’s never too late to make some gains if you want to. I’ve stopped listening to the voices that tell me I’ve had enough. Now I tell myself to relax a bit and that I can carry on and I can hold a pace. If I can anyone can.