Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Classics

It’s no secret that on 21st September I completed the London Classics this year and it’s been one hell of a ride. Although I’ve talk about the network of people who helped make it possible on social media, I felt it also needed it’s own post. After all, this will only ever happen once. It doesn’t matter how many more times I complete the 3 events that make up the Classics, there will only ever be one Classics medal.

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So back to the beginning. If you complete the London Marathon, RideLondon 100 mile cycle and Swim Serpentine 2 mile events (you spread them out over as many years as you like….), you can be awarded an extra, very big very shiny London Classics medal and be inducted into the London Classics Hall of Fame (a list on a website, let’s not get too fancy here…).

So, in 2018 I had a deferred RideLondon ballot place ready to go for 2019 and when I got my ballot rejection magazine for the London Marathon in October, I stumbled across the Dementia Revolution campaign offering charity places. I’ve always been a bit wary of taking a marathon place for a charity as I know the fundraising is hardcore, but having lost yet more family members to dementia earlier in the year, I decided to apply as I felt it was a cause I could connect with. A few weeks later I received a call to confirm I’d been offered a place to run, and fundraising began in earnest.

It wasn’t for another month or two that I started to apply my thoughts to the Classics, I was vaguely aware of them but a monster swim had never been that appealing, but with my 30th birthday coming at me in 2019, I thought it was worth a try. And that my friends, is how the madness started.

The Run
I can safely say this is the event I had the most experience in training for. I’d completed a marathon a couple of years back (albeit horrendous) and I’m used to and quite enjoy a good training plan. In Jan I joined my now much loved Adidas Runners community to give me some support and by some miracle, I managed to keep my training on track all the way through the trauma of moving out of our flat, temporary accommodation and moving into our new place the week before. Because that’s what everyone does on taper week right? Haul boxes?

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I smashed my stretched target time for the marathon and finished feeling a justified sense of achievement that had been lacking last time. Seeing friends and supporters all the way round was a huge boost and although for me, running 26.2 miles was physically more challenging than cycling 100 or swimming 2, it remains my favourite event.
VMLM 2019: 04:57 – PB

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The Ride
Rarely have I trained for something less than I did for Ride 100 2019. I’m ashamed to admit that in a world where it seems to be a badge of honour to battle through injury or chance your arm without training. My longest ride of 2019 was a 25 mile trundle through the Herefordshire countryside in May. I’m fortunate to know how my body behaves on longer distance cycling and I’ve completed long rides in similar circumstances but it’s poor show and disrespectful to all those who pour their heart and soul into prepping for events like these to be proud of the complete lack of effort I put in before the day.

As July kicked in, I struggled to stay positive about the event and failed miserably, seriously considering abandoning the whole idea as much as the night before. It’s the first time I’ve ever declined to have Tom come and meet me at a finish line because I just couldn’t face celebrating. But I completed. I spent almost 8 hours on my bike, it was a glorious day and whilst I didn’t have the joy factor or any major clarity or revelation, those 8 hours spent alone, albeit surrounded by other people turned out to be exactly what I needed to attack August and feel on top of things.

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Of all the events, this is the one I am near certain I won't repeat. I completed 92 miles of it in 2016 due to a accident cut off, and felt the route was overcrowded and found the waiting around and stretches of walking due to narrow roads frustrating. None of these issues have gone away and the event feels a bit greedy, a drastic reduction in the number of participants is needed in my humble opinion.

Ride London 100 2019: 07:50 – PB

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2 down... And that just leaves….

The Swim
I can swim. In fact I used to think I was a reasonable swimmer. It’s something I picked up and put down a bit at Uni, but it has been TIME since I entered a pool for anything more than the benefit of temperature reduction on holiday. I also actively avoid swimming freestyle because thought I wasn’t fit enough to swim it.

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Armed with enthusiasm and no idea what I was doing, I made the pool a regular fixture in my week in June and by July I’d signed myself up for swimming lessons with a coach, because 2 miles is a bloody long way to swim inefficiently. Learning something new has been so much fun, but the very nature of swimming and being exposed really raised some questions on body image, especially when coupled with trying to do something that I don’t perceive myself to be especially good at. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 3 months repeating and explaining the idea that sometimes, you have to feel the fear, and do it anyway. Especially when you see the horror on people’s faces when you tell them that your sole experience with open water is a quick 45 mins on the Thursday before the event on Saturday.

But swim I did. The 2 mile stint of the event is 2 laps of the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, and as has been true for both of my other 2 events (hashtag blessed?), I was exceptionally lucky that they day dawned with perfect weather conditions- warm, dry, still-ish. I felt like I could have kept swimming when I reached the finish, although my second lap coincided with another wave starting which was a bit washing- machine-esque.


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I’m not in a hurry to repeat the swim next year, but I’m already planning more sunrise Serpentine adventures with some amazing people who have supported me through 6 months of endurance sport.
Swim Serpentine 2 mile 2019: 01:33 PB (1st time)

And now with a little over a quarter of the year left, a medal as big as my face in my possession, here endeth the endurance madness for 2019.

And what madness it has been, but instructive:
- Feel the fear and do it anyway- it’s ok to be scared
Accept it so you can own it

- Trust the process, because if you’ve put the work into your training, that one rubbish session doesn’t mean you’re not ready

- Surround yourself with people who understand that competition isn’t always about others, it’s about proving to yourself that you are capable of more

- Feel the joy factor, because at the end of it all, what else is there?

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

On The Families We Choose Ourselves

Families and communities are funny things. There’s the traditional notions of both which we belong to by virtue of our existence, but sometimes it’s the ones we choose for ourselves that can make the most impact on a point in our lives.

We all have families and communities that we choose for ourselves. Some of those have a more permanent presence in our lives such as partners, extra parents or your favourite 'aunty'. Some are more transient like work colleagues, friends associated with a particular time or place, or the people who make up the fabric of an activity. For me, running has been a lot like that.

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I joined a running group back in 2015 in Cambridgeshire and shifted to a running club in a similar area in 2016. I still have friends from the first group who I see (and travel to ridiculous race challenges with- HI JO!) now, but the time of that community is now passed for me. My running home in March Athletics Club gave me a sense of home for my running with a family supporting every person in it and creating a network of amazing people from diverse backgrounds, joined with a common goal. And it’s in running that I’ve found a most recent community with a global family.

I’ve been running with AR (Adidas Runners) London since January. Having already have a flavour of how good it can be to join with other runners, but also how awful it can be having tried a few London groups and clubs out, AR has been an important part of a year that’s been full of highs and also full of challenges. It’s been a space in which to meet people who pick me up and make me smile after a rough day in the office. It’s a space in which I’ve been able to push myself without fear of ridicule or questioning of my motivation. It’s a space in which I’m able to support others, and in which I hope even one person has left feeling just a bit more like the superhero they are. It’s a tricky one to explain to those who aren’t involved in the community, not least because we bare the name of a brand, which comes with amazing opportunities but it also often leads to the misconception that we’re only there for the potential of free stuff.

I have to admire Adidas for something that is a bit of a genius marketing concept to create running communities across the world that carry their name, but into which they have limited input and so we are so much more than a handy offshoot for the brand, which brings me to last week…

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My Instagram stories were a bit mad with pictures and reposts of 8 people (including me) and some pretty spectacular offices- who has an athletics track, football pitch, climbing wall, volleyball nets, hockey pitches and tennis courts at their offices? Yeah, thought not. But Adidas do. I was invited to Adidas HQ, a massive campus just outside N├╝rnberg, Germany with 7 other runners from 6 different AR communities from around the world for a rebranding collaboration to make sure we, as the AR community, put out there into the world an image that represents us and our values to perfection. Quite aside the idea that the Brand Identity team for a huge global brand invited us to come and tell them who we are, as opposed to having a brand dictate that to us, I have to talk about the additional dimension that my global AR family gives to the whole experience because let me tell you, it has been an INTENSE week full of all the feels!

For me, the simple 2D version of a running family is having a place to go, a sense of purpose and accountability to my training and running. And you can find that in pretty much any running club or group. Show up, run, don’t be a dick. It’s pretty simple.

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What makes the community 3D is the friendships. It’s remembering you speak a tony bit of French because you got talking to the person who’s living and working here from Bordeaux and has become the friend you look for in the crowd. It’s the person who lifts you up off the floor in a hug when you walk in the door. It’s the people we get to cheer for when they complete their very first run, ever , with a massive smile on their happy, strong, empowered faces. It’s still being in my running kit 12 hours after we finished a run, and went for a ‘coffee’.

That three dimensional community spirit is something I know and love. I’ve been so fortunate to have it more than once, and especially so in sports. It’s an amazing feeling to know you have a varied community of people who are united with you in common joys and values, but what happens when you take that and make it 4D?

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The experience of meeting AR runners from Paris, LA, Athens, Shanghai, Milan and Berlin has suddenly leaves me realising just how epic this whole concept is. Knowing that I have my London AR family is important, but globally, it’s the realisation that wherever there is an AR community, I have cousins who share the same values and we all pride ourselves on those, and that means welcoming our brothers and sisters and far flung cousins with open arms, and probably using it as an excuse to have a bit of a party! It’s coming together with people who are complete strangers and by the simple virtue of a t-shirt, knowing we share in something bigger than us, and bigger than our home communities. It’s laughing until you cry over mint leaves with Paris. It’s running for a flight connection with Milan. It’s trading stories about chocolate with LA. It’s working out if we can share a full set of clean clothes for Athens because their baggage went missing. It’s comparing Berlin to your best friend because the look like brothers. It’s trading t-shirts for chilli sauce. It’s working out when and how we can meet again, because the idea of not being together makes us all a little bit (more) emotional.

Last week, a major global brand opened up their doors, their Maker Lab and their Brand Identity team to 8 runners from 7 cities and asked us: what do you share, who are you, what does it feel like, how can we represent all this for you.

Yup, sometimes I wonder if they made a mistake when they picked me too, but I don’t think I’ve ever pinched myself and been grateful for this amazing privilege as many times as I have done during and since.






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