Cancer is a cruel disease for which none of us are immune. Not only does it take our loved ones prematurely, but it leaves behind a wake of heartbreak and devastation for family and friends. In the 1970’s less that a quarter of people survived cancer, but today one in every two will survive. More than three in four women diagnosed with breast cancer now live for a decade longer and prostrate deaths have fallen by 20% since the early 1990’s. Finally, the ten year survival rate for people with melanoma has risen from 46% to 89% over the last forty years all because of the incredible fundraising and research put into finding a cure.
It’s safe to say that I’m not a runner, I love keeping fit and working out and really enjoy weights and ab work, but when it comes to maintaining a constant cardio it pretty much annihilates me within minutes. Running is by far the hardest form of fitness with no down time. Usually when I train my legs and they start to burn I then switch to doing my arms instead so that they can recover before alternating between the two, but you can’t escape the burn you get from running. Add to the mix that I have large bouncy breasts, lanky legs and flat feet with the lung capacity of a small mouse and I’m a recipe for disaster, which is precisely why I’ve challenged myself to run 5k in the Cancer Research Race For Life 2015.
I’ve made it my personal goal this year to tick off my bucket list the things that challenge me whilst helping charities. I have never ran in my life, aside from if you consider sports day as a child which I last took part in over a decade ago before having my two children, and I have flashbacks of finishing at the back of the crowd on the sprint, hitting the floor at the finish line feeling like I’d swallowed molten lava and trying desperately to get air into my lungs, crouching, standing, arms over my head, head between my legs, destroyed.
So at the ripe old age of 27 I’ve decided to do my first ever Race For Life in support of Cancer Research, and I’ve left it a little late to start training as the 5k event takes place in just four days time, which leaves me very little time to train. As I’m a single parent it also means that I have next to no free time without my children, as my 7yr old daughter goes to school and my 3yr old son is at nursery for a few hours a few times a week, and as soon as I drop him off and get home it’s almost time to go back and collect him again. So I have a grand total of two whole hours available for training, which means one hour today and one hour tomorrow as the race is in Luton this weekend. Eek! And did I mention I live on a hill? Gah! If I calculate it right I can squeeze in four half hour runs, as not making it isn’t an option because it’ll mean I’ll be late for the school run!
The Cancer Research Race For Life on Sunday 5th July 2015 is being held at Stockwood Park which is a wide open flat course that I’ve never been to but it’s said to be perfect for running as it encompasses grass, pathways and two laps of the athletics track with a wooded area. It’s cost me £14.99 to register and is open to the public, friends and family with stalls including face painting, merchandise, healthy food and sweet treats. I’m due to start my race at 11am with the temperature set to be 25 degrees, and I find heat my biggest barrier in fitness as I literally want to jump into an ice bath when I sweat. I’m a hot blooded person as it is and I find that I need my neck, shoulders and arms exposed at all times to be able to release heat and continue with my exercise, and I’m unsure if I’ll be running in a t-shirt on the day or if I can wear my own clothes. I’m planning to wear a sports bra, vest and shorts on the day and will change if I’m required to.
Today I began my training for my first ever run and it just so happens to be the hottest day ever recorded in July at a scorching dead heat of 36.7 degrees. With a still breeze that left me feeling like somebody had left the cooker door open in my face, I set off running uphill on my way home from dropping the children at school. Yes world record heat and an uphill run; let’s go in at the deep end shall we! Very quickly I realised that my sports bra was more suited to static gym activities rather than impact road running, and so I had to soften the bounce by keeping one hand supported under my bust at all times. With my mobile phone in my free hand I used my Strava app to track my distance, speed and time and set off for home, and every step was one that I’d never taken before.
I began with a gentle jog in the hope that I would be able to adjust to the level of activity and step it up after a short distance to reach an active constant stride. But I soon realised running uphill with no previous training in the dead heat wasn’t as easy as it first seemed. My breathing was sporadic as I gasped out little puffs and pants between steps, clutching my chest and running at half speed. My lungs rapidly burned, my legs felt as if they were stomping down into the concrete and my body and mind screamed “Stop! It’s too hot, I can’t breath, I can’t do this!” At the end of the road, perhaps 100m no more, I stopped to catch my gasping breath and felt almost 80yrs old.
I walked off my breathlessness for a bit knowing I had very little time to hang about and needed to get back, and decided to take it down a notch. Instead of setting myself the goal of running one complete stretch of road at a time, I gave myself the marker of a tree, parked car or shop a little closer to me. And I lowered my pace to just above a walk, little movements, light steps and standing tall with my shoulders back to open my lungs. I used my phone hand to swing for momentum and focused my breathing on taking big controlled breaths in and out, big breath in, long breath out, big breath in, long breath out in an attempt to stop my lungs from flapping so much and setting on fire. It certainly helped to regulate my movement, but the heat was immense and the calves of my legs winced as I made my way uphill, barely faster than a brisk walk, burning myself out.
From start to finish it took me 14:59 to run 1.3miles which is almost half of my 5k target. I was sweating as I normally would when I ran, but it wasn’t until I stopped that my body felt as though it was exploding. My face suddenly became incredibly hot and dark red, whilst every pore of my skin opened at once and instantly flooded me with sweat. It ran from my forehead, face, neck, arms and body and within minutes the heat was gone. I looked as though I’d had a bucket of water thrown over me and I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Just a couple of hours later after I’d had time to recover and change I did my second run to collect my son from preschool and thankfully this meant the route was downhill. I’d had a whole bottle of water to drink beforehand to rehydrate my body and a hearty vegan lunch of a jacket potato, salad and seeds allowing my food to digest for half an hour before I set off. Running downhill is so much easier than uphill, and despite it still being a dead heat I already noticed the improvement in my breathing compared to a few hours beforehand on my first run.
I kept my mind focused on a big breath in and a long breath out, but still had to fight to keep the panting to a minimum. My calf muscles in my legs didn’t burn as much going downhill, but I noticed I stomped harder on the heels of my feet to counter balance my weight which made it feel more effort because of the impact. I shaved around four minutes off of my time and moved my markers for distance further and further away from me, from the postbox to the roundabout on the main road. I still had to stop to gather my breath in places, but managed to run all the way to the traffic lights before stopping and waiting to cross the road. My son was so hot and tired from being at preschool that I carried him home on my back at walking pace and flopped out as soon as I got home. I’m already feeling positive about my progress and hope that tomorrow when I do my final two training runs I’ll be just as happy.
UPDATE: 02/07/2015 3 Days Until Race For Life
So today is my final day of training whilst my son is at preschool so I have to make the most of it. It means that my first run of the day will be uphill, but thankfully the weather is a lot cooler today at 24 degrees with plenty of cloud and a nice breeze. As much as I love the sun, it certainly helps to be cool when working out and the weather report has forecast cloud and scattered showers for this morning which has taken the hot stagnant density out of the air after a long dead-heat night of tossing and turning to find the cool spots of the bed. After kissing my son goodbye I turned on my phone app and set off up the hill to run home, breathing, pacing and setting my markers. This time I managed to get to the end of the road before stopping, not because I was scrambling for breath, but because of the traffic preventing me from crossing the road.
My perception of running has already changed and I noticed yesterday when my mind was screaming “I can’t do this” today it said “well done, you’re doing great”. It’s almost as if I hit my wall and found my limits, discovering what I am capable of and starting from the bottom up again with a more realistic outlook and approach. Today I managed my uphill run in 12:01 mins which is almost three minutes off of yesterdays time, the exact same route, the exact same challenge, but a healthier more able mind and body and I feel so good right now because of it.
Whilst my lungs still burn, they don’t burn as hard or for as long as they did yesterday, and I’m already seeing an improvement in their capacity. I feel more in control, more able and happy with my progress. From never having ran on a road before to feeling content on my second day of training I’m totally thrilled. It goes to show what the body and mind as a team is capable of and how quickly we can adjust to new things. I have my final run in a couple of hours which is downhill and I’d love to shave even just 10 seconds off of yesterdays time, as every step is progress and I’m confident that I can now achieve my first ever 5k run in three days time. Eek!
Can I get a high five right now for completing my training run in one continuous jog!? I’m literally feeling on top of the world and I feel as though I could have kept on going, only by the time I reached school I had no choice but to stop. I’m buzzing right now after totally getting into my stride, controlling my breathing and pacing my steps for a constant easy jog. I’m so hyped for this weekend and to take part in such a wonderful event to help so many.
UPDATE: 05/07/2015 RACE DAY!
Whoop, race day is here and unfortunately so is my period, cue bloating belly, stomach cramps and horrendous back ache. To make things worse my son kept me up all night so I’m feeling like a bit of a zombie today which I could have done without and it’s rather chilly and bleak outside. But hey ho, it’s 6am and I’m wide awake ready to start my day, although I think I should dress a little warmer and switch my hotpants for leggings and a hoodie in light of todays forecast of rain. I purchased a bumbag yesterday from the pound shop, bargain, to clip around my waist and hold my car keys and phone whilst I’m running, as I’ll be leaving my water and spare clothes in the car because I’ve been advised anything under an hour doesn’t require water during the race if you’re properly hydrated before and after, and carrying less weight means easier running conditions. I’m having a hearty breakfast to keep me fuelled for later, as being vegan it’s important to get enough protein to keep my muscles going. So in celebration of the many calories I can look forward to burning off on the race course I’m indulging in a cheeky fry-up of hash browns, garlic mushrooms, baked beans and a soya sausage, bliss! I’ve started sipping my bottle of water already to keep myself hydrated without filling up my bladder as I’m expecting to sweat quite a bit when I get running which will hopefully prevent me from needing the toilet.
I arrived an hour early at 10am following a 45min drive from home and parked on site in a designated field with marshals in high-vis jackets pointing the way. I was greeted by an ocean of pink-clad smiling ladies all ready to take to the track and it gave me goosebumps to see so many people in one place all proudly sporting their race numbers, tu-tus, pink wigs and pop socks. It’s sad to think just how many lives cancer directly effects and touches, and yet heart warming to know that so many selfless people are doing so much to help. The weather today was a lot cooler than expected and it was 19 degrees with cloud cover and the threat of rain which turned out to be perfect running weather as there was a nice cool breeze without it being chilly, and I find I’m at my best physically when I can keep cool.
The crowds gathered at the Heart radio stage as music played, children jumped on bouncy castles, food stalls served up warm meals and refreshments, and last minute runners arrived and collected their race numbers from the information tent. Taking to the stage, the organisers and presenters spoke so touchingly about the work that the charity does, thanking everybody for being here today and reminding us all to ensure that we collect every last penny of our sponsorship from friends and family following the event, as surprisingly statistics show that only half of the people who pledge a donation return their sponsorship. I was invited on stage to present my cheque for £1,000.00 which I’ve raised for Cancer Research because of your kind support so please give yourself a massive pat on the back and accept my heartfelt love and thanks for helping me to help others in such an incredible way. I was asked to talk about my fundraising and why I had attended todays event, and as I clasped the microphone overlooking the ocean on pink smiling ladies in front of me, I wondered how on earth I could possibly answer the presenters opening line of “Do you want to explain a little bit about yourself and what’s so amazing?”
Well I’m just an average girl, ahem soontobetwentyeightyearsold ahem, and as a single parent to my two young children having had a breast reconstruction two years ago, I found that when my world came crashing down around me, love is what built me back up again. And when I had nothing more to lose then I suddenly had everything to gain, to me true wealth is your good health and the love of your family. And if I can now achieve physical feats to challenge and push my body for the benefit of others, then I’d like to think I can inspire and motivate everybody to do the same. Cancer is a cruel and ungodly disease that doesn’t care about who it affects and the many many lives it touches and destroys. Because of our joint efforts today, men, women and children alike will have the help and support to be properly diagnosed, treated and hopefully recover to go on to lead healthy happy lives. To give the gift of one more day with your grandparents, several more years with your parents or an entire lifetime with your child is simply priceless. There is no greater thing than life, and for as long as I live it is my aim to protect and nurture my children as a mother, whilst extending my love and compassion to the rest of the world.
Following a wonderfully motivational exercise session by Superman and Superwoman on stage, with our muscles all nicely warm and limber, we were ready to begin the race so I took a last minute trip to the portaloo in a bid to silent my hamster sized bladder for the duration of the race ahead. The crowds were asked to separate into three sections marked by coloured flags, the Runners, the Joggers and the Walkers. The runners were led to the starting line first, followed by the joggers and finished by the walkers so that we could all use the track at once, and I positioned myself within the middle of the joggers with the reassurance that I could drop back slightly and walk for a few sections of track without disrupting any runners should I get tired. The countdown began and suddenly thousands of heads started bobbing in front of me as the running and jogging picked up pace, with the stationary crowd gradually breaking off and moving forward like an enthusiastically dispatched iceberg.
In training I have only ever ran on my own with a tight deadline for the school run, so I have little way of knowing how my results would compare to others. This is my first ever official run, and also the first time running alongside another person, let alone in a crowd of thousands, and I quickly realised that the majority of people run, jog or walk at the same speed as those around them, much like a traffic jam on the M25. Feeling that I wasn’t meeting my previous training pace I decided to move to the outer edge of the crowd so that I could run along the sideline instead of getting caught in the congestion of the middle, and this gave me the freedom to jog and even run at my own pace whilst enjoying the beautiful scenic views of the park and ooh’ing and ahh’ing at the racers wonderful outfits. I held my camera in one hand the whole time and greeted, cheered on and spoke to my fellow racers as I went.
I’m amazed at how the atmosphere boosted my athletic ability, as it was such a buzz to be a part of an ocean of neon pink people all moving forward that I almost forgot that I was even exercising. It may have also helped that the weather was cool with a nice breeze so that I didn’t sweat too much, which made it easier for me to breath and allowed me to talk the entire way through, something I’d never have survived in training with how heavy I had huffed and puffed! And also the fact that the course was nicely flat, with soft grass for low impact and motivational pink markers to tell you how far you had reached, whilst crowds gathered behind barriers to cheer us all on. I was swept away in a sea of smiles, music and fun and before I knew it I had reached the finish line at just over 28minutes for my 5k run without stopping or even slowing down. I had the most amazing experience and I can totally see why people go in for the 10k, mud run and half marathon routes available.
The presenters and organisers high-fived me as I crossed the finish line and cadets handed me my race medal, a brioche bar, water and protein drink for my journey home. I’ve literally grinned from ear to ear all day for how wonderful I feel for accomplishing my first 5k run and being a part of the £100,000.00 that was raised at todays event. If you were there please let me know how you got on, if you’ve completed charity runs yourself which were your favourite and what tips do you have for others? And if you want to make a difference and save lives then Race For Life is a fantastic event for all ages and abilities. Together we will beat cancer!