Monday, 24 November 2014

Brighton Brookes 10K - real women drink pints, eat cake and run a lot

I saw somebody recently wearing a pink hoodie that had the slogan "Real women drink pints, eat cake and run a lot"

I honestly believe that "Real Women" come in an infinite variety of guises that may or may not include all or none of the above. However, I am a woman who is proud to drink pints, eats cake and runs a lot.

On Sunday 16th of this month, I ran.

I was one of 3,196 runners that turned up on Brighton seafront at 9.30am to take part in the Brighton Brookes 10K. The weather conditions were perfect - cool, no wind and even the odd golden glow of sunlight breaking through the somewhat ominous black clouds that held onto their watery load until well into the afternoon.

The start of the race was near the pier. Competitors had to run 1.5km out towards the Marina and back with the remaining 7km being out and back in the other direction to finish where you started.

From my position near the rear of the throng, it took 4 minutes to actually cross the starting line which meant that the front runners were on their way back in what felt like no time. It was exciting to see the lead car clearing the way for the elite athletes and the fiercely competitive faces of the contenders for first place. In their wake was the seemingly endless stream of runners, amongst them my husband who shouted his encouragement to me as he passed.  I became a part of that stream as I reached the turning point and ran back against the people behind me. It was quite a novelty to see so many people behind me! I am usually plodding along at the back.

I felt really good running. I remember the first 10K I entered and being very nervous about the distance. The psychological boost of having achieved a half marathon is amazing. I know I have 13 miles my legs, so 10K? No problem!

As I passed under the inflatable finish arch and started the second out and back stretch of the course, I could see the Brighton traffic snarled up due to the road closure. There was a little bit of guilt but mostly I felt quite important. This busy road was closed for me (and the 3,195 other runners of course but at that moment I was only thinking of me!)

I took it upon myself to thank the marshals I passed. It helped to punctuate the long stretch of road ahead and it was nice too see their appreciation of the acknowledgment.

When I heard the familiar sound of the lead car, I got myself in a good position to check out the front runners. They were fierce and they were fast and they looked so angry. It was a stark contrast to myself  - slow but often unable to contain the grin on my face because I am loving it so much. Their world of running is so completely different to mine.

Hubby was looking good as he passed with a cheery wave for me. It gave me a little boost but it still looked an awfully long way to that second turning point.  As is if often the case when I'm running, I start worrying that I'll never make it and then suddenly I'm there. There was a significant psychological advantage  to be running back to the finish at last - add to that the slightly downhill nature of the course at  this point and I was away!

I was overtaking a few people and running against the flow of people behind me who were now widely spaced out and each fighting their own endurance battles. It felt great.

The pier came in sight. I tried to pick up my pace and maybe managed a fraction of an increase. I had already had a very busy start to the weekend and it was far from over with my father in law waiting for us to visit him and a 5 hour journey still to come. I couldn't find enough energy in my reserves for a fantastic finish and face what we still needed to achieve. I settled for just finishing.

I saw my husband coming back to run the end with me but I wanted to finish on my own. Shouting don't run with me made me lose the rhythm of my breathing and made me feel guilty that I had rejected his support. For the first time in the whole of the race I started to not enjoy myself but the finish arch was so close now that I quickly lost myself in the moment and my legs felt strong as they took the finish line in determined strides.

I was grateful for the banana and the water that were handed to me and collected my medal and a new personal best time for a 10K.

Reunited with my husband, who was not at all put out by my rejection, I watched the remaining runners finish.

In contrast to the half marathon I completed, I did not witness anyone running out of fuel and collapsing. The inflatable finish arch, however, did! It was comical to see the marshals desperately trying to hold the arch up high enough for runners to duck underneath to finish whilst another tried to refill the pump engine with petrol to get it blowing again.

It was a wonderful, well organised, well supported event. The winner finished in an amazing 30 minutes and 41 seconds - about the time it takes me to run half the distance on a good day. I finished with a big smile in position 2,862 with a time of 1hr 06minutes and 30seconds. Not a bad morning's work.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Bristol Reunion

Some weeks ago, I received a message from somebody I hadn't seen in thirty years suggesting a reunion of the housemates I lived with during my second year at Bristol University. How I came to be living with these people was pure chance.

I struggled badly during my first year when I quickly realised that degree level chemistry bore little resemblance to the chemistry I had enjoyed at school.  I loved being away from home but academically, I was not thriving. I suffered with depression and although outwardly I may have seemed perfectly fine, I was not coping well. I persevered with the workload but completely failed to give any thought to where I might live for my second year. By the time I realised my error, friends who may have been willing to share a house with me were already sorted so I wandered to the Accommodation Office alone to see if they could help.

There was an advert in the window. A house share for 8 were looking for 2 more students to make up their number. A chap who I recognised as a bit of a loner from a neighbouring Hall of  Residence was reading the ad. We got chatting and decided to put ourselves forward as the 'two'.

And so I went to live with six complete strangers and someone I vaguely knew.

We did not stay strangers for long and in the way of destiny, one of those students became an incredibly important person in my life. (I married another and had four daughters with him but there is no happy ending to that particular thread!) We all went our own ways.

The idea of a reunion was incredibly exciting. My ex husband, father of my four daughters was not part of the reunion and neither was the only other girl in the house (someone I never really bonded with) or the chap I met looking at the ad that started the whole adventure but a fellow chemist and close friend of the house was. Six of us in total. Six students now in their fifties with thirty years of life lived since we had last been together.

I don't know if it is being fifty that has given me a new perspective on life and a new confidence or if it is more to do with the fact that generally I am in a good place with a husband I adore, four incredible grown up daughters and two wonderful little ones that give me nothing but joy. I never once worried about what my old housemates would think of me with the inevitable grey hairs and wrinkles or if we would have anything to talk about after the first few minutes of niceties. I did worry slightly about the logistics of child care, getting myself to Bristol and the fact that I needed to be in Brighton the following day with my husband for a 9.30am start to run the Brookes 10K race.

Nothing is impossible. I planned to drive down to Swindon on Friday night to stay with my lovely friend Rose and take the M4 across to Bristol on Saturday morning. One of my girls was to take the Saturday nightshift looking after the little ones while my husband caught a train to Bristol. We would then drive down to a hotel in Gatwick (hopefully before midnight) to get a good night's sleep before an early start to Brighton.  Another of my girls was to take over the babysitting leaving us free to run our 10K then visit the father in law to help him with a few jobs. A 5hr drive home to Shropshire would mark the end of a very busy weekend!

The thing I should have been the most worried about was the Friday night drive to Swindon. An abandoned vehicle on the M5 meant a LONG delay. But I survived.

It was wonderful to be back in Bristol. Some parts had changed beyond recognition since my student days but other parts were achingly familiar causing memories that had lain deep in my brain to jolt to the surface. I chose a very familiar landmark to wait for my friends - The Wills Memorial Building.

I sat outside and watched the steady flow of pedestrians passing me by. Once or twice I caught sight of a salt and pepper haired gentlemen and wondered if it might be who I was waiting for but there was no recognition. And then I saw them - the band of five - marching up the road towards me. It was a glorious sight. They were certainly no longer the boys I remembered but the smiles on their faces and the twinkles in their eyes melted away the years until it felt like the most natural thing in the world to greet them with the sorts of hugs you don't want to end.

Fast Forward thirty years...

And Now

We reminisced, we caught up on thirty years of career and family news, we laughed... a lot... and I immersed myself in the company of these five men for whom I have the deepest affection.

I feel so blessed to have people like this in my life - people I might never have known were it not for that ad in the Accomodation Office window. Interestingly, none of them could remember placing the ad which makes me think it must have been my ex husband who was responsible for it. I wish I could thank him for that.

Photograph by Jeremy Randell

Monday, 17 November 2014

A Hallowe'en in Pictures

In quiet moments during the past few weeks, I have composed many posts in my head. Unfortunately for my poor head, the time to sit at my computer and commit these ideas to text has not been readily available. A post about Hallowe'en circles then crosses the path of a post about my latest running exploits as I try desperately to clear enough space to think about what to cook my kids for tea! For the sake of children's diets, I really need to start rounding up the wayward words and spill them out onto my computer screen.

So it begins...

I love Hallowe'en. In many ways, I prefer it to Christmas. I find skulls and spiders far more appealing than snowmen and sparkles. If it ever actually snowed at Xmas, the snowman thing would make more sense to me. Spiders and skulls ALWAYS make sense. And then there's the difference between providing  a few  trick or treat sweets compared with the outrageous expectation that we should be spending hundreds of pounds on gifts to put the same smile on the faces of friends and family. Hallowe'en all the way!

As well as dressing up, our Hallowe'en this year had spooky food (how I wish I had taken a photo of my daughter Charis sucking brain shaped jelly up through a straw)

 pumpkin carving,

 arts and crafts,

 scary story telling by torchlight

and a special adventure at local place of interest, Hawkstone Follies, where the trees are tall and gnarly, the heights are enough to make your legs wobble and the caves are dark. Perfect.

An unexpected stand out moment for me this Hallowe'en was the Mummy Contest, where 17 year old Charis and 4 year old Dylan 'volunteered' to be wrapped in toilet tissue. Dylan refused to leave his bandages  on long enough to be properly photographed but game Charis had a little dance in hers to show the look off to full effect. The real fun started after the loo paper was shed and Dylan decided that "a sandpit of Mummy skin" was excellent fun!

The pumpkins are now in the compost and costumes and decorations are packed away in the loft for another year. There are probably still traces of bog roll under the sofa.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Tickle & Giggle Peppa

Amidst the darkness with the clocks going back and the general Halloween mood, it was quite refreshing to receive a product for review that was light hearted and fun and unashamedly cute. I am guessing that there has been a TV advertising campaign because both my little ones knew exactly what this was and what to do with it as soon as they saw it.

It's Tickle & Giggle Peppa!

I had to act as referee as both children fought over who got to tickle the lead character from the popular animated series Peppa Pig. Once calm was restored, they took it in turns to tickle the tummy and hear Peppa react with giggles, snorts and phrases. When I suggested we do a short video to show people the new toy they were very keen. The video did not turn out quite how I imagined but it made my little boy giggle even more infectiously than Peppa when we watched it through together. 

I'm sure fans of Peppa Pig will love this toy. It certainly added a whole lot of giggling to our Halloween.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Pop Up Choir

With the kids back at school this morning after a wonderfully busy halloweenish half term, there is a definite feel of the year rushing wildly to its conclusion. Looking back I can see that I have achieved a lot over the months. Some of these achievements have been driven by substituting New Year Resolutions with a monthly challenge to change something for the better. I still have two months left - two more challenges - hopefully two more things to be proud of.

For October, I  decided to have a go at something new.

The town where I live was having a go at something new too. In an ongoing commitment to raise its profile as a regional centre for arts, sports and culture, the Drayton Arts Festival was launched. This event ran from Thursday to Sunday at the end of October with all sorts of activities and performances on offer throughout the town.

On the Saturday, I accompanied my daughter Liberty to my favourite pub (didn't need much persuading) to attend an Open Mic poetry reading session organised by the local Writers' Club, of which Liberty is a member. Tears streamed down my face as she took her moment and read her poem Mum is a Bitch, No Wonder Dad Hates Her to a rapt audience. A gentleman came up to me afterwards to let me know that I wasn't the only one who had cried at the heartfelt beautiful words.

Another event was a performance from a Pop Up Choir. I had seen an advert appealing for choir members saying: Please Join! All Welcome! No Auditions! No ability restrictions! No need to read music. This sounded like something I could do! The fact that the choir was to be lead by a family friend well known for his sense of humour and easy going nature was a bonus. I asked Liberty if she would be interested and before we knew it, we were at the first rehearsal.

It isn't strictly true that this was 'having a go at something new'. I was in a choir at school too many years ago to count. It was a shockingly awful choir. It did not seem much of an over reaction when the sixth form boys put ear plugs in their ears during our rendition of "All in an April Evening" in morning assembly. Even the teachers were grimacing... except for Miss Nunn, the music teacher,  who waved her arms around enthusiastically and ineffectively to conduct the caterwauling cacophany which somehow, to her ears, sounded marvellous. We only ever did the one performance!

I love to sing. I sing all the time - in the shower, in the car, doing the housework...

I do not love to perform.

Singing in a choir seemed like a good way to do something I love in a more structured way and deal with my dislike of being in the spotlight by the safety in numbers concept. It might also lay to rest the memories of the April Evening disaster.

The first rehearsal was great fun. The 'Pop Up' nature of the choir meant that we would have only four rehearsals, once performance and then it would be over. It was not a huge commitment.

Despite it not being a huge commitment I missed the second rehearsal. Luckily for me, Liberty was able to give me all the help I needed to get up to speed. By the third rehearsal, my daughter Charis was home from boarding school. As she had two weeks holiday (and is a brilliant singer) she joined the choir with us. It was lovely to spend this time with two of my girls and we were able to practise a little at home together.

The day of the performance came. I was mostly confident about all of the songs. It was a lovely relaxed event and I think I will always remember with great fondness our version of the Hallelujah Chorus accompanied by ukeleles.

I loved being part of the choir (which has the promise of 'Popping Up' again for future events) and being supported by family members in the audience. I am a little sad that it is all over (for now). I'd better start thinking of my next challenge!

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