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There used to be a time where I would happily spend every weekend running races and writing reviews about them, but unfortunately I am really struggling with childcare at the weekends so my racing normally means 6-8 large scale events per year, which is a massive shame because I love doing some of the smaller ones…but I have a cunning plan.

If I can’t go…I will instead send one of my (I was going to say minions but thats a little rude) Clubhouse ladies instead whereby they can represent the Too Fat to Run community and feedback on the event so that others from our community can consider it next time round.

So for the first of these I would like to welcome Henna Sisko Warner who has been a member of The Clubhouse for about 8 months and is seeing some fantastic results with her running, and with her confidence as an athlete. She also has her very own fan club too!!

Enjoy

All the marathon training plans I’ve recently read have stressed the importance of learning to run on tired legs. Most plans schedule consecutive run days or advise specific exercises to tire your legs in order to simulate the immense fatigue of race day. However, I have now learned that there is an alternative way to achieve the requisite tiredness.

Firstly, schedule a 10K race for a Sunday. Then spend the preceding week manically working (if you work in a school, the last week of term is ideal as it’s extra-busy), attending a multitude of evening events with your children, and having as little sleep as possible. Squeeze in a couple of 7km runs after work. Top off the week’s training with a full day of sightseeing on the day before the race, and add in a bit of family drama. That will do the trick perfectly.

imageO81DWV37So, having followed my own advice, I arrived at the Water of Life Half Marathon and 10K event with very tired legs. It was my first time at this event, organised by Purple Patch Running. The setting for this run is beautiful – starting off at Bisham Abbey, near Henley, taking in the Thames towpath and affording some glorious countryside views. It’s sponsored by Diageo’s Water of Life programme, funding WaterAid projects in Africa, and in its seven years it has so far raised over half a million pounds.

Unlike some of the “big” races I’ve run in, this one was fairly small scale, with about 500 runners registered for the two events. I’m used to receiving race packs in the post (it’s always exciting to receive your running number in a big fat envelope), but for this event, everyone collects their race packs on the day. We had, however, had all the information ahead of time in emails, and even had a reminder about he clocks going back to avoid anyone having the longest warm-up of their lives – a really nice touch. Collection of race packs was very quick and easy, and I was soon pinning on my number and attaching my timing chip to my shoe.

I had a look around at my fellow runners; many looked pretty serious. There was much purposeful stretching and fancy-looking technical kit. I kept checking out everyone’s shoes, as the pre-race advice had recommended trail shoes – I breathed a sigh of relief to see the majority of runners in “normal” trainers. It was my first off-road race so I didn’t really know whether my battered trainers would be up to the job. There were a fair few running club vests in evidence, so I felt somewhat apprehensive of the calibre of the runners – this was clearly a race where people meant business. How was I, with my tired legs and BMI in the red zone, going to fare against this lot?

Just before the half marathon set off, we listened to a brief description of the work of the WaterAid projects. We were also reminded that in Africa, without help from charities like this one, girls as young as seven walk 10K every single day to fetch water. Suddenly I felt like my self-inflicted tired legs were very much a “first world problem”.

The half marathon set off at 10am, with the 10K due to go at 10.15am. I told my family that I hoped to be back by 11.30, remaining optimistic about keeping to a 7-and-a-bit minutes/km pace. My sons didn’t mind the wait, as they knew there was a junior race that would take place whilst the adults were off running – with medals and t-shirts for all, and the tantalising glimpse of Actual For-Real-Life Prizes for the winners. My husband and mother-in-law settled in for the long haul, having checked they could get a cuppa in Bisham Abbey.

image-1As we lined up for the start of the 10K, I looked around for other plus-sized runners – hmmm, it was pretty much just me. Aaah well. I had a few chuckles and comments from other runners about my Too Fat To Run vest, all positive and encouraging. My husband called out the lovely parting words of “just don’t get overtaken by a bog” (there was a WaterAid lady dressed as a toilet). We set off, with me at the back of the pack – keeping an eye on my watch, repeating my mantra of “keep your pace under 7min/km” under my breath, and trying not to think about those blinking tired legs.

The runners spread out pretty quickly, and settled into a steady rhythm. The marshals were all smiles and the thankfully flat course was very well marked – the 10K and the half shared part of the route so it was important to be clear about which bit was which. We had been warned that some parts of the course may be slippery, and to watch out for tree roots and a couple of steep wooden bridges. The first few km were lovely and straightforward though, taking us from the start to the river’s edge.

The day had dawned misty and cold but the sun started breaking through and the route was just lovely. What better way to spend a Sunday morning than running in sunshine with pretty views across the Thames? I got myself into the zone, and my pace was hinting at the possibility of a decent time. The legs were feeling OK and the lungs were working, so it was all good. However, I knew those bridges were looming and I shouldn’t count all my chickens yet.

When we reached the first bridge, I realised why we’d been warned. Steep and slippery, this was a real pinch point, and we all had to slow to a stop and then pick our way gingerly across the river. My rhythm was broken and my average pace had dropped, and the first bits of doubt started creeping into my head. But the bouncy pace from my fellow runners pulled me forward along the beautiful towpath.

But by 4km, the voices in my head got louder. Those pesky legs hurt and it was still a long way to go. It was definitely time for the secret weapon: channeling the might of the Clubhouse.

Since I joined the Too Fat To Run Clubhouse back in the spring, I have been amazed by the amount of support the members give each other. There are over a 100 ladies from across the world, always cheering, always offering advice, always there for each other. I had posted a picture of myself before this run, and had received so many messages of support from the ladies that I felt that they were literally there with me.

It might sound like a cheesy line but I realised that even at the back of a race, plodding and tired, I wasn’t alone – there were so many people behind me, willing me on, that I couldn’t fail. Between the 4km and the 6km mark, the thought of all the Clubhouse members kept me running. It also happened to be the the last Sunday of October, the day of the monthly One Big Fat Run, and I knew there would lots be plus-sized followers of TFTR running their own 5Ks with me. With that in mind, I kept on running, and made a mental note of my 5km time as 33:50, thinking that I must add it to the OBFR spreadsheet.

The route was essentially an out-and-back (with a big loop at the turning point) and it was nice to see the same things from the opposite direction. There were cows in the fields, birds on the river, and a thin smattering of runners. At about 7km, I was settled back into a rhythm and had a lovely shout out from a smiling marshal about being “one of Julie’s ladies”. A lovely boost for the home stretch. Those tired legs were now pretty much destroyed so it must have counted as excellent training?! The bridges felt like a welcome break for the lungs and a great motivator to get the job done.

The last couple of kilometres went by in a bit of a blur. I kept looking at my watch, willing my average pace to drop under the 7min/km mark – so when it finally dipped to 6:58 I felt like punching the air. Turning back into the grounds of Bisham Abbey, I saw the glorious 400m to go sign and suddenly wondered where the 10K had gone. At 200m to go, I spotted my youngest son and upped my speed from plod to trot. At 100m, I saw the rest of my family, and tried an approximation of a sprint. As I approached the line, the master of ceremonies announced my name and the Too Fat To Run club, and he commented on how I had clearly just proved that I was, in fact, not too fat to run. A huge smile and a quick look at my watch took me across the line in 1 hour, 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Given the bridges, this was a really good time for me – had the course been obstacle-free it would have definitely been a PB. There’s even a little video of each runner crossing the line, and mine can be seen here image-3I’m used to being handed a medal and a goodie bag – usually full of advertising and nothing actually very good – but instead, there was a slick finish line operation where every runner first got a lovely medal, then a banana, then a pack of Mentos (delicious) and a fluorescent green (sized) t-shirt. The whole race was very well organised certainly put some of the big races to shame. Water was provided at 5km and at the end, there were plenty of toilets, and everyone was very friendly. The course seemed accurately measured & chip timing was a bonus for such an affordable registration fee. Results appeared on the race website almost immediately and each runner had a nice virtual certificate to download to boot. Definitely a race to put into our calendars for next year.

Medal and Mentos. What’s not to love?

I mentioned earlier that there was a junior race that took part whilst the adults were out running. I will now hand you over to my son for his own race report:

image-4Hi, my name is Oliver and I am 10 years old. I am the youngest in my family. I love running and I could call it my hobby. I usually run 2km on Sunday mornings at junior parkrun and I represent my school at cross country. When my mum told me that she was running a 10K, I thought I was going to have to stand at the finish line for about an hour, BUT when she told me that there was a junior race I shouted YESSS and was really happy!

We had to wait for the adults to start first, and then the announcer told us it was time for the junior race. We all lined up, focused on the prizes. I think there were about 45 children running. The race was supposed to be about 800m but I think it was a bit less, maybe 600m? Nevertheless it was a great race. There was a lady dressed as a giant tap who was our pacer. Me and my brother passed her with about 100m to go, and we did a sprint finish.

My brother is 2 years older than me but I am happy to say that I beat him! He came second overall. That meant we both got prizes of chocolates in a drinking jam jar. Everyone had a t-shirt too, and a medal. The medal was just like my mum’s.

Overall I really enjoyed the race and I wish I could do it every day.

I love that this event was a family affair and I would like to thank Purple Patch for giving Henna a free place and allowing her to report back on behalf of the Too Fat to Run campaign. Check out their website here for details of future races.

I would also like to thank Henna and her family for being incredible ambassadors for us xxx

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