My story and the reason we are running the Race to the Tower for Mind.

I wanted to give you all a little insight into why John and I are running the Race to the Tower double marathon in June.

In 2006 I was 28 years old and happily married, we had Isabelle, nearly 2, and I was pregnant with Lily. I hadn’t worried about my pregnancy with Lily; when I thought about being a parent I had always wanted to have one child not two, it’s not that I didn’t want Lily I just hadn’t imagined her in my life plan so I just got on with it.

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Then in April Lily arrived, she was a completely different baby to Isabelle and much more demanding. My husband at the time had taken two weeks off paternity leave and when he returned to work I quickly realised that things were going to be different, I didn’t feel the same connection that I had with Isabelle. I was finding Lily hard work, she seemed to cry a lot, in fact it felt like she never stopped crying. I started to doubt myself as a mother, I was tired and I was quickly falling into a dark place. I was thinking ‘What am I doing?’ and ‘I am not good enough to be a mother’

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Not many of my friends and family know this but one afternoon I put the girls into the double pushchair and went for a walk to the local park when we got to the park I took Isabelle out of the pushchair and walked off. I had left the pushchair with Lily in it in the middle of the field and walked away and the worst thing was I didn’t care. I just didn’t want to be her mum anymore. I was really trying to put a brave face on it. As I walked back to the house I remember thinking that if Lily’s Dad came home and found that Lily wasn’t there he would go mad so I’d better go back and get her so turned around and slowly walked back to the park.

The breaking point came. One afternoon I had put Lily in her bouncy chair near the back door as it was a nice warm day she was crying again and I was really tired and grumpy. I screamed ‘Shut Up’ slammed the back door and it smashed. I had slammed the door so hard that the glass in the door had completely shattered and covered Lily. At that point I knew I had to do something. I was so worried that Lily had been hurt and upset about what I had done to her. I knew it was time to get help. I telephoned my husband and he came home immediately, he telephoned the Health Visitors who came round the same afternoon and I told them all exactly how I was feeling. I had never actually realised I was suffering from Postnatal Depression, I never wanted to ask for help, I just thought I could get through things as any other mother would do. The health visitor got me an appointment with the doctors and I was prescribed anti-depressants.

As soon as I asked for help I felt much better, my family rallied around me and within a few weeks the anti-depressants had started to work. I got into a better routine and Lily started to settle down I wish I had asked for help earlier and to be honest I still feel sometimes like I let my family down. I was on the anti-depressants for around 2 years. During that time my marriage broke up.

I wasn’t really aware of Mind at time, living in a small village there weren’t really any support groups, I know now that speaking to someone impartial when going through my darkest days would have helped. I don’t want any mum to feel the way I did. Around 1 in 5 women will experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth.

This is why we are raising money for Mind. Remember it is always good to talk, a problem shared is a problem halved as they say.

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Now my Lily is nearly 13 and she has grown into a caring and lovely young lady. In some way I feel a close connection with her because of what we went through together. It’s actually quite difficult to write this down on paper even through I experienced this 12 years ago it still makes me feel a little anxious.

So that is why we are running Race to the Tower and why your donations are so important. If you wish to sponsor us please follow the link below.

www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/johnandclare

Clare

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What A Weekend!

I do love an adventure and the weekend of the 22nd September was definitely an adventure.

Now let me tell you a story –

At the end of last year I had decided that I was going to do some fundraising for St Clare Hospice. Who, as most of you will know, looked after my little nan and were the very reason I ran Brighton marathon in 2016. When I was looking for my September race I asked the @UKRUNCHAT community on Twitter for some help. Ealing Half kept coming up again and again as a race I should book. So I did!

Now picture the scene –

It’s a Sunday evening, the week before the Ealing Half and I’m sitting on the sofa with the lovely JK @Kennedy107. We had seen on the internet a one mile open water event at Hever Castle and we kept going back to look at it. I had never done an open water swim (I can swim breaststroke and that’s it) but there was something about this event that seemed to entice me. It was advertised as a leisurely swim with breaststroke encouraged. JK has done a few Triathlons in the past and is a big fan of open water swimming so between drinking a cup of tea and doing the washing up JK signed us up for the swim. Now the swim was on Saturday 23rd September….Ealing Half was on Sunday 24th September! Mile swim Saturday, Half Marathon Sunday…..why not chuck a Parkrun in too! Next thing we are googling Parkrun locations close to Hever. Tonbridge came up and the plan came together.

Friday evening arrived, it must have taken us about two hours to get everything together, I was exhausted already. Going through things over and over in our heads – run kit for Tonbridge Parkrun, Wetsuit, Goggles, swimming costume and then a whole new set of running clothes for Ealing. Alarm set for 6.30am and we were ready to go!

The Adventure Begins –

Saturday morning and the alarm goes off, 6.30am always feels so early, especially at the weekend. Up, a little bit of breakfast and out of the house by 7.10am. We headed down the M25 towards Tonbridge, clear roads all the way, a plus point of leaving early. We arrived by 8.45am, parked and headed for the start. The Tonbridge Parkrun starts on a recreational ground near Castle Road and heads out into a wooded area before heading around a lake and back to the start. There are a few places where the path narrows to cross bridges so that slows runners down a little but that didn’t matter to me as I wasn’t going to push it, after all I’d got a 1 mile swim at 12.15pm. As I started the Parkrun I realised it was quite a flat course, JK is a much quicker runner than me and he was pushing the pace a little so I tried to keep up. I really enjoyed this Parkrun it had a bit of everything, nice views, gravel off road paths as well as the concrete paths around the park. This is probably the largest Parkrun I have ever been too with attendance at around 500 most weeks and it just so happened to be their 200th event on Saturday – Congratulations Tonbridge! Turns out that my time was 29:53, finishing in 333rd place and coming 9th in my age category. Not too bad for taking it easy but I knew I was going to feel it later.

After a quick trip to ‘Spoons’ (be rude not to!) for a coffee and some more breakfast JK and I headed over to Hever Castle. I was really nervous at this point, I can swim but I am not quick, I didn’t care if I came last, but I didn’t want to get too tired and have to be dragged away by a safety canoe. In my head I had imagined the swim to be in a moat around a castle, probably like Snow White’s castle with a big drawbridge and we would be doing laps around the moat until we reached 1 mile. How silly of me….it was nothing like that..it was a big lake and an island to swim round.

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First thought – RUN…Run away and hide….but instead I put on my cheap wetsuit, timing chip, goggles and swimming hat and jumped into the lake, it was freezing! Absolutely freezing! Before I could catch my breath we were off. The speedy crew were quickly off leaving the water relatively clear for me to breaststroke my way round the swimming route. My goggles had steamed up (rookie error on my part) and I couldn’t see a thing. JK shouted over to me to take my goggles off and look around, I’m glad he did or I would have just carried on and missed the view. It was beautiful. I was really enjoying myself, it was a slow swim and although I did feel tired, no safety canoe was required, I managed to completed the course in 1:03:10 I did swallow a little bit of lake water, yuck! and I was not prepared for the jelly legs when I exited the lake, a very strange sensation! It was so nice to be doing something other than running but I do need to learn how to be a stronger swimmer, I also need a decent wetsuit, I am still recovering from the chafing under my arm but would I do it again…hell yes! Did someone say Triathlon?

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We had a coffee and chat with Dani from Bishops Stortford Tri Club and then we travelled into London to stay with JK’s family and have a bite to eat with Kaya and Baz. Kaya was running Ealing with me on Sunday and JK & Baz were marshalling.

The Ealing Half –

Sunday morning and another early alarm. Baz & Kaya were travelling with us to Ealing so we all piled into my car and headed to Ealing. I managed to find a parking space close to the park #bonus! And we were in the starters’ village by 7:30am. My legs weren’t feeling their best, I was tired and I had to tell myself not to push it too much as I didn’t want an injury before the end of my 12 races. Baz & JK had headed off to their volunteering posts so Kaya and I went over to the Race Check flag and spoke with @leekemp and @caterinapresi. The running community is so inclusive and it’s great to know you could go to any event and say hello to old friends as well as being introduced to new ones.

The Ealing Half started at 9am, I find this to be my ideal time, get there early get the job done and get to the pub by lunch. Perfect! Kaya and I had decided to try and stick with Spencer (@SMillbery) who was pacing the 2:20 funbus but that didn’t work; I managed to stay with Spencer until the first water station, a massive bunch of sweaty runners fighting for a little bottle of water, I soooo needed water. I hadn’t drunk enough before starting and was feeling really thirsty, silly mistake. After water I got a good pace going and overtook the 2:20 funbus, I was really enjoying myself as I’d got into a lovely pace. Then the wheels started to fall off a little bit, it was warm and I was tired also it turns out that Ealing is a little undulating. I have always been of the mindset that I enter a race to take part in the event not to get a time. If I have to run/walk I will, yes, it would be amazing to run the whole race but with Beachy Head on 28th October I wasn’t going to push my tired legs to breaking point. In 2015 I had a calf tear due to not slowing down when I needed too, I hadn’t felt pain like it before (apart from childbirth!) and I was out of action for 6 weeks so I always get really nervous when I have niggles, maybe too nervous.

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Spencer and his bus overtook me about mile 6 and I plodded along managing to complete the Ealing Half in 2:26:18. I have to say this was probably one of my favourite half marathons. It was well organised, the marshalls were lovely (I have to say that or JK & Baz will be after me!) and the medal was cool but most of all the support from the local community was just fantastic, local residents were out handing out water, cheering people on and handing out Jelly Babies. It really did make the event for me, I have done halfs around residential streets before but never has there been so many people out watching and cheering. I loved it! If you ever get the opportunity to run the Ealing Half you should, yes it can be a little tough in places, but if I can do it so can you!

So after finishing Kaya, Baz, JK and I went to the pub! It’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s warm and I was craving a sugary drink. We then headed home where JK and I crashed by about 9.30pm. I was going to work on Monday for a rest! I’d had sooo much fun and I can’t wait to start planning the next crazy weekend.

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I can’t wait for Beachy Head now, one more long run and then tapering time.

Clare

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If you want to sponsor me you can at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/claregallagher1

 

Run Hatfield Forest Parkrun Before It’s Too Late!

 

It’s Saturday evening and I’m sitting on the sofa with a heavy heart. Today I ran my last Parkrun in Hatfield Forest. My most favourite Parkrun is closing and next Saturday is your last chance to run it!

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I have always been a Parkrun fan but never seemed to have time to run it, always somewhere to be or a long run on the Sunday. Then my circumstances changed, I moved house and Hatfield Forest became my local Parkrun. I grew up in Essex and as a child spent lots of time in the forest with my family so it’s always been close to my heart. I had done the run last summer and fallen in love with it, now it was my local Parkrun and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. It is a beautiful 5km off road run, you are guaranteed to see animals of some kind, squirrels, rabbits or the herd of cattle wondering around. Watch the seasons change and witness the MASSIVE airplanes coming in to land at Stansted Airport. It is a truly unique venue. The volunteers and other runners are friendly and there is always time for a coffee before heading home afterwards.

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Today was the forest’s 130th Parkrun with 298 runners. The average week has 193 runners. The first Parkrun had 92 runners so that’s an increase of around 100 runners every single week running around the lovely royal hunting forest which dates back to the Norman times. 95% of these people would be arriving by car as there is little/no public transport to the forest.

Chris Holt (Hatfield Forest Run Director) say in the relocation statement -‘Hosting a free, timed, weekly 5k in a sensitive location such as Hatfield Forest has always required close collaboration between parkrun and the National Trust. Last winter it became apparent that our increasing numbers were beginning to have an impact on the parking situation at the forest, with demand exceeding supply on a weekly basis and we were sensitive to issues this was causing for the National Trust.

We can therefore announce that September 23rd will be the final Hatfield Forest parkrun, before we move to our new location in Bishop’s Stortford on September 30th for our first event, as Castle Park parkrun. ‘

I can completely understand and accept why the Parkrun needs to relocate and Yes, it is exciting for the Parkrun community and the future of Castle Park but I am going to miss the Forest…Yes, I am lucky enough to run the forest at anytime I wish…but…it won’t be the same and today I am in mourning for Hatfield Forest Parkrun.

If you have never been to the forest, if you have never run a Parkrun before, if you are local or if you need to travel.. Make the journey..walk, run or roll the 5km if you have to but go and be part of Hatfield Forest Parkrun before it’s too late, go say hi to some friendly faces, go have a coffee in the most beautiful of setting. I can guarantee you’ll be so glad you did.

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Clare

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The Morning Before The Big One

Ok, it’s 8am on Saturday 22nd April 2017, the day before The London Marathon.

I’m laying in bed and I’m nervous, really nervous. The first thing I thought when I woke up was..oh no! I’ve got a sore throat quickly followed by..my hamstring hurts..have I done enough training?..I should have done more..should I go out for a run?..What if I miss the bus getting to my Blue start?..Paranoia has definitely kicked in.

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I was very lucky and got a ballot place for London, I had only entered the ballot for the first time this year and know so many people who have entered year after year but are still waiting. I have been running since 2014 and when I found out I had a place I was consistently running around 9-10 mile long runs each weekend. From there I picked up to 15 miles in January for the Benfleet 15 then up to a few 16 miles by the beginning of March..everything was on track. Then I completed the Silverstone half in March, this is where things start to go pearshaped..maybe I pushed a little too hard, maybe I had done a little too much mileage, either way my hamstring wasn’t happy and the physio ordered a rest period, 2 weeks! For the next 2 weeks, I was cycling in the gym to keep my fitness up as well as weights and attend my usual yoga classes. What a nightmare! I thought that was it, I won’t be running London now, I’ve blown it but all was not lost and it’s amazing what a bit of rest can do. I ran a short 4km on 26th March to test the hamstring, it felt ok, so training resumed and I completed my last long run of 18 miles on 2nd April. Now it was taper time which for the last few weeks has felt like I’ve been lazy and that I’m just ruining my chances at the marathon. At Brighton last year I completed the 26.2 miles in 5:47 so I am desperate to beat that time, I know I shouldn’t worry about a time and just enjoy the atmosphere but I know in my heart that I can do better.

My life has changed dramatically during my training too. I don’t normally talk about private stuff on Twitter or in blogs but I will mention it here and now as it has definitely affected my training. Last year I separated from my husband and my running had definitely contributed towards the breakdown of the marriage, our lives had taken completely different paths. I had moved in with family temporarily until my children and I had a new home, I had lost weight and hadn’t been eating as well as I should, some days I had been so stressed about everything that I would just cry (If you know me then you will know this just isn’t me). I would feel lethargic and just wouldn’t want to run. This has also made planning my long runs difficult and there were morning where I have been up at 5.30am to get a run in before becoming mum for the day.

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The Family

On a much happier note I would just like to say that I have met someone, the amazing JK (@kennedy107) who I met at the Benfleet 15. He has been my rock and I don’t know where I would be without him. Not only has he kept me strong through my personal rubbish he has also listened to my marathon moans and worries, he has kept me training and helped me achieve a few PBs in the process. The man deserves a knighthood.

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Silverstone Half with JK

This week – Work has been busy, really busy, I haven’t had time for lunch twice this week and I haven’t drunk enough..ideal for the week before a marathon but that’s life I suppose! I did have a mega sports massage on Wednesday, an hour of Jess at SV Sports Theropy beating up my legs. It felt amazing in a pleasure pain kind of way. Today I will mooch around and spend time with my girls..who want to go shoe shopping (this isn’t going to happen!) three girls in a shoe shop is nightmare.

The support from my family, friends and work colleagues and has been fantastic and I can’t thank them enough. Lots of encouraging Facebook & Twitter messages and notes left on my desk.

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Am I ready for the London Marathon, no I’m not, I don’t feel ready at all. Will I complete the London Marathon, YES, YES, YES. London I am coming for you, I may be nervous but I am also excited and by whatever means I will be collecting my medal at the end.

Good luck to everyone running tomorrow. I will be wearing my St Clare Hospice vest with Clare on the front please do say hi if you see me or cheer extra loud as I waddle past. All encouragement gratefully received.

Clare

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http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/claregallagher1

The Super Silverstone Half

Sunday 12th March saw the arrival of my third race of twelve for St Clare Hospice – the Silverstone Half. So far I have ticked off my list the Benfleet 15 in January and the Winter Run last month. The Silverstone Half is my last race before the London Marathon in April and I can already feel the nerves kicking in! Training has been going well and I have gradually increased my mileage since January to 16.5 miles. Silverstone Half would be a good test for me to see how my legs would hold up in race conditions.

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The Silverstone Half was also to be my first race with JK (@kennedy107) pacing me. JK and I had met at the Benfleet 15 in January and have since become a couple. I have been known to swear a little as I get closer to the end of a race so I did advise JK not to take it personally and I may become a little grumpy! This was going to be a test of our new relationship, would we last the whole 13.1 miles?

The race started at 12noon at the Silverstone race circuit, this is later than most of the races that I have taken part in so it meant that I didn’t have to rush the yucky porridge and could enjoy my cup of tea. The weatherman said the weather was going to be a bit temperamental with rain forecast until 12 and then becoming dry but cloudy.

On race day we left for Silverstone at 9:15am with the SatNav telling us we would arrive at 10:30am, perfect timing! Except….we got caught in traffic and spent the last 10 miles travelling at a snails pace, in fact, it probably would have been quicker to park the car and run there. We eventually pulled in to the car park at about 11am, 30 minutes later than we had hoped, but we had arrived! As we headed towards to the start we bumped into Carl (@BigCarlRunning) so we had a catch-up whilst walking to the event village.

By the time we had walked the 20 minutes to the event village it was getting closer to the start time. We said our goodbyes and good lucks to Carl, I put my bag in the bag drop area and we headed out to the start. The entrance to the start had been separated into two sections Sub 2 hours and over 2 hours, JK is a much faster runner than me so when he looked longingly at the Sub 2 area I laughed ‘As if!’ I said ‘Are you trying to kill me!’ and carried on to the over 2 hours entrance.

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Considering how many people were taking part in the race everything moved nicely and we were out at the start in no time. We moved through the crowd to position ourselves between the 2:15/2:30 area with the 2:14 pacer just in sight, My instructions from the boss: keep the 2:14 pacer flag in sight. We had a small stretch followed by an obligatory selfie and within a few minutes the crowd was excitedly moving forward toward the start line. Garmin watch started, we were off and the pacer flag was already out of sight! Unbeknownst to me JK had a plan, 10-minute miles was the way forward! This for me is quicker than my normal pace of around 11-minute miles, keeping 10-minute mile pace going for 13 miles was going to be tough but I was up for a challenge. There was a good feel around us and the atmosphere was great, lots of fancy dress costumes and smiling faces. I noticed pretty quickly that we were overtaking and weaving through the runners, my legs were working as they should be and my breathing wasn’t too heavy, which was a bonus. By the time we got to mile 4 we were still hitting the right pace and JK informed me that we were heading for a PB if we carried on at this pace…yippie. As we got to mile five the track was becoming a little crowded, this is where things get a little interesting, JK sprints forward darting between runners, I then played catch-up. I then sprint on and JK follows. This was fun, I was pushing the pace a little more and having a giggle at the same time. We carried on this way for about a mile and then the dancing and singing began as we entered the pits, Tom Jones’s Delilah and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, who wouldn’t sing to these classics?….well apparently not many people as it seemed to be just me and JK singing. I think people were even giving us a wide-berth…is our singing really that bad?!

Then wham, mile 9…I started to get tired, my pace was slowing and I was getting grumpy. I wasn’t feeling the love anymore and Tom Jones could do one! I was enjoying the race but now I just wanted it to end. Mile 9 was a nightmare mile with a toilet break and walk included, a 12-minute mile. I was beginning to question why I was running and if I would ever actually get around Silverstone, let alone the London Marathon next month. JK knew I was struggling, he handed me a Shot Blok and told me that I was still on track for a PB so we picked up the pace again, now I was running closer to my usual pace of 11 minute miles. My legs were tired and were starting to feel like lead. We pushed through the final 3 miles, at one point I tried to hide from JK and sneak in a quick walk….it didn’t work! He quickly noticed I had stopped running and I was off running again. I knew that the end was in sight and that it wouldn’t be long before we would cross the finish line. I desperately wanted that PB and knew that although I hadn’t caught up with the 2:14 pacer I wasn’t far behind him. I wasn’t up for the sprint finish so we ran at a comfortable pace to the finish. I was so relieved to finally cross the finish line and after a quick check of my watch I could see that I had got my PB, 2:18:14 a PB of 5 minutes. I was very happy, the endorphins were kicking in and I knew that London was in my sights. April 23rd I will be there on the start line and I cannot wait!

It was now time for a drink! We met with Rachel (@RacheeVee) and her husband, who had just run his first half marathon. Then along with her lovely family we headed for the nearest pub….after queuing for ages to get out of the car park!

Silverstone for me was a great race, the course was good fun, it shows on the race map that there would be 3 laps around the track but I never felt like I was running laps. The atmosphere was fantastic, it was nice to be running with people in fancy dress and a lot of people were going to be running the London Marathon too.

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My only issue was the traffic in and out, it was frustrating, especially when I really needed the toilet and after parking had to run to the nearest bush or risk wetting myself!

As for myself….well Silverstone took it out of me – by Tuesday my hamstrings were aching and I had to book a physio appointment – 2 weeks off running and instructed to come back slowly. I managed to clock 2 miles last weekend and so far this week I have run 10km. This weekend will be my final long run before London so keep your fingers crossed for me people, I will be at the start line no matter what. I just have to take it slowly for the next few weeks and wrap my legs in bubble wrap!

In regards to my relationship…well I didn’t scare JK off, I did swear at him a couple of times, not very lady like, but after running a half marathon with me he hasn’t run for the hills.

London here I come!

Clare

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You can sponsor me at http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/claregallagher1

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The Winter Run

My second race of 2017 for St Clare Hospice was ‘The Winter Run’ on Sunday 5th February, a lovely 10km race around the streets of London. This particular race necessitated a tiny bit of planning, not to mention an early start. With almost military-style timing, I had scheduled for my porridge to be consumed by 7am before I embarked upon a 30-minute cycle ride in order to catch the 8.04am train to Kings Cross. All went according to plan…except that I forgot to pack my deodorant and I was now a sweaty mess!

Nevermind, the flat course awaiting me represented ideal conditions for a PB. I had in fact attempted this same race last year, but with recovery from a calf injury in progress had to hold myself back. Not this time, my training had gone to plan and I had successfully completed a few long runs – including the Benfleet 15 just a few weeks before, which followers of my blogs will already be familiar with! The weather, not too cold and fairly dry, seemed well suited to my running style. I had determined not to carry any water with me as I knew there was a water station along the route. Armed with my trusty Hoka One Ones and my St Clare Hospice vest, I was determined that nothing would stop me from having a good run.

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The St. Clare running top

Before the start of the race I met Kirk (better known as @R8v3N amongst Twitter folk) for coffee. Kirk had previously helped me complete the Brighton Marathon in 2016, when I had managed to reach the 20-mile mark but was really struggling so was grateful when he called out my name and joined me for those last 6.2 miles. It’s amazing the people you can meet when you are running and how their encouragement can pull you through those final few strides.

Once the coffee had been consumed we headed over to the starting area of the race, located in Trafalgar Square. The ‘Bag Drop’ area was busy but very efficient and I was able to part company with my bag quickly before following the crowds of people around to the start line. My wave was due to start 10:10am and sure enough, almost to the second, we were off – at least I was, my Garmin watch decided not to pick up any signal for the opening 2km which was very frustrating!

Once the race had begun in earnest, I sensed pretty quickly that the 2017 Winter Run was going to be a good one. My legs felt great and my lungs were actually working, although the earlier watch malfunction meant I was unsure of just how good my final time would be! Determined to keep pushing to the finish, I was weaving effortlessly through the route and passing other runners with ease. I was really enjoying myself, so much so that I didn’t take in any of the sights! No time for admiring St Paul’s Cathedral, nor the Bank of England or the Savoy Hotel. There wasn’t even any frequenting of water stations, who needs water anyway?! It’s fair enough to say that I was firmly in the zone and there was no stopping me…

No stopping me until I saw a dancing penguin near Bank station! This was Jenni (@_jen_mo) from #ukrunchat who had volunteered to wear costume for the occasion. I had never met Jenni but have followed her since forever on twitter and profess to being a huge fan of her blogs. I just had to say hello and claim my sweaty penguin hug, before returning once again to the zone. I was doing really well and looking around could feel everything coming together. This was definitely my day!

As I approached the last 3km I was caught by a close friend whom I knew was running today. I call her ‘Speedy Louise’ as she nearly always tries to kill me (not literally, I hasten to add!) when we are running, being much quicker than me. Louise was due to start around 9.40am, but had met with delays so had ended up starting later than I did. We chatted and ran together for a little while before Speedy headed off again – she was heading for a PB too but there was at least time to wish each other luck before she powered off. I also bumped into Kirk again, exchanging brief pleasantries before my final relentless push towards the finishing tape.

As I crossed the finish line, I knew I had done well. My time of 1:02:47 smashed my previous best by around 2 minutes! I was over the moon, the course had remained true and delivered the PB so faithfully promised upon my arrival. After consulting my Strava, it seems I also managed to surpass my previous best 5km time too! Check me out, Clare the PB Queen! Ha Ha. To top it all off, I didn’t hurt, my body was happy. A few cursory stretches after the race was all that was needed.

Needless to add, the only way to celebrate such a monumental achievement was to enjoy a celebratory lunch with my favourite runner JK (@kennedy107) who had been running the Watford Half. Drinks with Baz (@baztav ) and Kaya (@kythespy) followed, marking a fantastic end to a truly memorable day.

‘The Winter Run’ is always an amazing race, organised by Human Race Events who do such an incredible job. The medal was lovely this year, a little bigger than the 2016 version and very shiny to boot. The snowmen, penguins and huskies along the route added to the carnival atmosphere and really made for a fun event. Anyone who hasn’t completed a Winter Run should definitely add it to their list.

Now for the serious bit. I am completing the 12 races this year to raise money for St Clare Hospice, who took such good care of my Nan before she passed away in April 2015. My family and I can not thank them enough for the care and love they showed to my little nan and the wider family. They help families like mine every day of the year so every penny really does count. My donation page is http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/claregallagher1 if you would like to donate.

Next up: Silverstone Half on 12th March.

Clare

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The Fabulous Benfleet 15

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Sunday 15th January heralded the arrival of the Benfleet 15, which represented the first of twelve races I have committed to in order to raise money for St Clare Hospice in Harlow.

A cross country race known for being tough and hilly, the Benfleet 15 started at 10.30am from (and then through) Hadleigh Castle Country Park – taking runners out past the castle, down to Leigh On Sea train station and along Benfleet Creek before heading back into the park. At first glance this sounds a fairly straightforward assignment, especially after consulting the official website and reading the race description. It must be tempting to think: ‘It can’t be too bad, can it? A few hills never hurt anyone…’

And so at 6.45am on that Sunday morning I was a bundle of nervous excitement whist sitting in the kitchen eating my porridge – the only time you will see me eating porridge is on a race day! I hate the stuff, but it does the job.

Just over an hour later I was on the road to pick up my running buddy Wei and by 9.30am the two of us had arrived in Hadleigh Castle Country Park, suitably beset with those pesky nerves. There were nearly 600 runners taking part and it was comforting to spot some friendly faces whilst we waited for the run to start. My favourite #ukrunchater @kennedy107 was in attendance along with @baztav and @kythespy, who were more than happy to say hello.

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The weather, on the other hand, was less than accommodating – dull skies and rain with a temperature of around 2C, it was freezing! I was wearing everything: hat, gloves, rain coat, leggings, shorts, long sleeve top and my hospice top. I was taking no chances!

The race started at the peak of a small hill and from there we ran down into the park – shortly before I realised that my choice of footwear had been ill-considered as the course was muddy, really muddy. I was sliding around everywhere and within half a mile had fallen over, rolling around in the mud. Fortunately that knight in shining armour @baztav came to my rescue and quickly pulled me up, thus preventing me from becoming the first casualty of the Benfleet 15! Luckily no damage had been done and I managed to carry on with the race, chuckling away to myself as I went. There would have to be some walking involved, in fact over the first 3 miles there was quite a lot of walking – this part of the course was proving just too slippery for running, but this unexpected turn of events only added to the fun.

Having familiarised myself with the routine of sliding around everywhere, it felt very strange around the 4-mile point once we had negotiated the park and moved onto the concrete path. I had been unable to get a good pace going until I started heading out towards Benfleet Creek. With flat trails and soft ground, this part of the race was lovely and the views could have been spectacular if only the sun had made an appearance – alas the rain continued to fall (although mercifully the ground resisted becoming too muddy to negotiate) and my glasses were getting steamy.

We followed the creek for around 6 miles before heading back towards the park, my favourite part of the race –  we were heading uphill and back into the mud again. I can safely say I haven’t laughed so much in ages, trying to navigate a muddy hill that 500 people have already run up is very interesting. The advice from the course marshals was to aim for the middle, apparently the muddiest parts are more likely to work in your favour. I’m not sure if that was the best idea but I did manage to at least stay upright this time! As we headed up the last hill there was one section where we had to pull ourselves up with the handrails, it was steep and very slippery. Whilst climbing up I asked the marshal if anyone had actually run this part of the race and it transpired that only a brave few had attempted to – before it had become so muddy. I can’t imagine these runners had as much fun as me!

Finally, as we reached the top of the hill, the finish line hove into view. The promised land was now just 100 metres away and we could scarcely believe that 15 miles had been completed. Time had flown by and I don’t think I have ever had so much fun in a race. Wei and I collected our finishers t-shirt and then located our running friends to enjoy a thoroughly deserved pub lunch. Once I was home I had to throw my trainers away, they didn’t have much life left in them and were completely coated in mud – farewell Hoka One One’s, you have done me proud. As for my body, now that’s a different matter! My hamstrings in particular were a little angry with me, but I know they will forgive me soon.

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When I decided to run 12 races for St Clare Hospice, I had struggled to find a race for January. If truth be told, I was a little worried about the length but I did want to make sure I was pushing myself. The London Marathon in April has already started to loom large so this first race had been earmarked for training, I couldn’t have picked a better race! The Benfleet 15 was fantastic, definitely one of my favourite races ever. It was very well organised and there were marshals everywhere, braving the cold and wet throughout so that all these game runners could complete the race safely. I don’t think you can enter a race like the Benfleet 15 and expect to emerge with a personal best, but if you like a challenge and want to have fun then look no further…this is the race for you!

Next up: The Winter Run in London on Sunday 5th February.

Clare

First blog post

1st January 2017 – New Years Day

I must be mad! It’s New Years Day, it’s cold, I am up and running.

The journey is beginning. Last year I resolved to run 12 races in 12 months during 2017 to raise money for St Clare Hospice, who cared for my Nan – now I have to actually do it! I need to put one foot in front of the other and run, training for 2 marathons whilst completing half marathons and 10km races in between. I can run, I am not fast and it doesn’t come easy to me but I run. My current long slow runs are normally around 10 miles so from January I will be starting to increase my mileage and time spent on my feet. Surely no better way to start than with a parkrun…

Pangshanger was my parkrun of choice, along with 339 other runners. It was a lovely morning as we headed out along the 5km route, a little chilly but almost perfect conditions for running. The great thing about Pangshanger running-81715_640is the terrain: off road, trail and – in places – a mud bath!

My trainers definitely relished sliding around and squelching in the mess, although I’m not looking forward to cleaning them (just as well I got a new pair for Christmas). One loop of the very scenic Pangshanger  park, our ‘course’ starts with a gentle incline into the first wooded area and finishes with another incline. If you are feeling a bit ropy then this route is going to be testing. Luckily I hadn’t consumed too much alcohol the night before, I can image there were plenty of runners heading back to bed to continue their recovery after completing their 5 km…

There is something great about running with other people, having your fellow runners around you and being part of a group. Whilst most of the population are recovering from the various excesses of New Years Eve, you are there with all these runners, young and old – all there to run 5km at 10.30am. You can’t help but feel part of something amazing.

Considering I had completed an 11 mile run on Saturday and suffered from the cold from hell for two weeks, I felt pretty good and my legs did not complain at all. I have a weakness in my right calf and when fatigue strikes it niggles and grumbles like a grumpy old man. I wasn’t running for a time, I was running for me, for sanity and to celebrate the New Year. This meant that I didn’t need to push it, I could enjoy a plod about the beautiful park and welcome in 2017. Today my calf behaved! I love you right calf, I promise to foam roll you later ♥.

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My Right Calf

Before we commenced the run, I got to say Happy New Year to some of the lovely runners who I have met through the fabulous #ukrunchat community: @AdamPrav, @ohhollygosh and @runninggem. We didn’t take the almost obligatory selfie today (too busy chatting) and all three of them were going for the ‘double parkrun’ experience today whereas I had decided I would just be doing the one, taking advantage of the extra hour in bed.

So I have now officially started my marathon training. The road to London is going to be a long one but first stop on my challenge is the Benfleet 15 on January 15th. I have a feeling that this race is going to be putting me through my paces. It has been described as a ‘very challenging course but lots of fun’ so I’m heading off to Benfleet for some fun. I will let you know how I get on!

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. May 2017 be full of love and excitement.

Clare

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http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ClareGallagher1

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