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My “Cancelled” First Half Marathon

I had completed my first ten mile run. I had walked some of it but a half marathon was only a couple of extra miles, I’d give it a go.

I wanted to support one of the run’s charities, a local Multiple Sclerosis rehab cent017re – I work with a friend that has it.

I had three weeks to prepare. I ran, cycled or swam a couple of times a week anyway, but I spent a week before it running every day, starting at 5k and working up to 16k, mostly on the treadmill. I prefer exercising outdoors because it gives you a sense of freedom, you actually go somewhere and you can enjoy nature.

My brother asked what time I was aiming for. I reckoned 2 hours and a half. It had taken me an hour to run 10 miles. He did his first full marathon last year in Copenhagen. We have a photo of him finishing, looking pale and ill. He reckons you need at least 8 weeks training.

He also cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats (the length of England) in 10 days (doing about 100 miles a day) when he was in sixth form and this year he canoed round all the major lochs in Scotland (52km).

Race Day

On race day I had some porridge with bananas for breakfast, great for slow energy release. I wore trainers I’d bought the week before, ones to stop pronation, or your foot rolling in towards your ankle when you run. They were specially fitted from “gait analysis” – I was filmed on a treadmill and action snapshots documented how my feet fell. I have used the same pronation trainers for years and never had any injury – I think because of the way they are made.

When I got to the stadium I had a cereal bar and picked up my charity t-shirt from where the finish was. Announcements were blaring out about the location of key areas. There was quite a queue for the toilets and I worried I’d miss the race. There was no indication of where the start was and quite a few people were asking around. Nothing was signed, but then I spotted the crowd and the time markers. I was surprised that I couldn’t hear any announcements. I wondered why I could hear them at the finish area but not at the start. When I did a 10k last year there were loudspeakers covering the whole of the start line and a guy with a megaphone on a platform getting everyone warming up.

Chaos and Confusion

The communication in this case was someone yelling repeatedly: “The race is delayed by 30 minutes”. He wasn’t wearing anything identifying him as an official so not everybody listened. Not everybody heard either but most people passed the message on.

About 15 minutes later the man returned, yelling “police are removing obstacles from the course“. I wondered what sort of obstacles and why.

My brother had recommended that I start ahead of the time I thought I’d run it in. The markers were all set out the same distance apart. This meant that there wasn’t enough space for the time the majority of runners were aiming for. I queued to enter the 2 hour section, which was only possible when runners left to warm up. I went back until I found a bit of space so that I wouldn’t be crushed when the crowd started to move. The earlier markers then went round a corner ahead of two hours, so we couldn’t see or hear what was happening at the start.

“Cancelled”

We waited to start for about an hour. At least it was warm in the crowd, but we had no idea what was happening as during that time we heard no announcements and there was not one official in sight. Eventually there was slow clapping from the 2 hour 15 section which rippled forward, followed about 15 minutes later by booing.

Then a rumour went back that the race was cancelled. Everyone stood there in disbelief. There had been no announcements, it must be some kind of joke, I said. Luckily a lady next to me, Sue, had an in-law who was one of the race volunteers. She had discovered by text that the water had not arrived for the race and that they were dashing round supermarkets buying more. I thought that wouldn’t happen somewhere like London.

We waited another 15 minutes or so and then someone in front showed us breaking BBC news on his phone – it was official. There was anger and disbelief. A lot of us were sponsored. Family, friends and colleagues had been generous. I didn’t want to let them down and besides, this was supposed to be my first half marathon. But in that moment, the whole crowd of over 4,000 just set off.

I saw Sue and we settled into a nice pace where we could just about chat. She was running for Macmillan and lived nearby. We passed two water stations, one after about 5 miles and one at about 7.

Superhero Spectators

The supporters were fantastic, there were people lining the route almost everywhere, with one group blowing whistles and horns. They were almost all holding out bottles. Runners passed these among themselves. I was touched by the kindness of strangers and moved by the community spirit. Others had bowls of sweets, which helped keep sugar levels up at the half-way point. I saw people I knew and the cheers from them and the rest of the crowd gave me bursts of energy.

With the first sugar hit wearing off, I suddenly felt a bit tired and had the rest of the sweets I’d been carrying for this point. There had been spectators until about 6 miles. I hadn’t drunk more than about a bottle of water as I hadn’t wanted to get the stitch. At 8 miles there were no more as we were in the inner city industrial area. This meant there was no more water.

Casualties

When I hit 10 miles my legs decided they wanted to stop running and went heavy. A grey-haired runner had just collapsed at the side of the road and an official was bringing him round. Then I passed a young runner who was unconscious with blood on his mouth, paramedics around him. I felt like I was running in a war zone. I could be next I thought, with my parched mouth and heavy legs.

All I could think about was finishing. I remembered my brother’s advice that when you’re tired you shouldn’t run as if you’re tired, as that makes it worse. So I lightened my pace and managed to keep going, but exhaustion made it a massive effort. It was time for sheer willpower to keep my legs moving.

I finally came into the stadium and saw a sign “800m to go”. I sped up a little, not realising how far 800m feels when you’ve been running for 13 miles.

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Overtaken

Then I saw the “400m to go” and remembered how I felt in a school sports day race. I had no energy and was flagging but then someone cheered “it’s now or never!”.  I looked at my watch. I had to do it in under two hours. There wouldn’t be a repeat of this, this was my one chance. I accelerated and sprinted the last 400m.

I collected my “medium” race pack and looked for a water bottle. There had been one in my 10k race pack. Nothing. Someone at the finish line had pointed out a water table further down so I went there. A lady looked helplessly at me “sorry”, she said. To the left of the table were four empty 2 litre water bottles.

As I finished I saw someone being attended to on a stretcher in the middle of the stadium, who was then rushed off in an ambulance.

The Long Walk Home

I was dehydrated but managed to get public transport to town. Then the bus didn’t turn up as the roads were still closed from the delayed race. So I took it on myself to walk the 3 miles home. It would be a challenge but I could do it. It was worth it, as on the way I met and chatted to a neighbour, who kindly sponsored me.

After walking uphill for the last two miles I was exhausted and had a migraine the rest of the day, but when I woke the next morning I was fine. A bit of a tender hip and left leg but the day after that I was fine.

Outrage

The event made the national news. Our local MP, Nick Clegg, said that lessons needed to be learnt. The winner said that it was the “first and last race” he would run in Sheffield.

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We were still timed and knew that without sufficient water, we ran the race at our own risk, but I think the organisers should learn from the organisers of the BUPA 10k race, which was flawless in every detail.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me and if anyone still wants to, the page is:

https://www.justgiving.com/firsthalfmarathon2014

Finally, a big thank you to all those who handed out water and saved the day.

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Overheard on the Bus

It’s going to take a few days for me to charge my holiday camera and write about my incredible Istanbul adventure. I aim to do it for Sunday but I’m making no promises.

One of my favourite blogs “Stuff Heard On The Bus” frequently documents the random conversations you catch bits of during the daily commute. It’s always entertaining and off the wall so I thought I’d give it a go with the odd chat I overheard today…

There is a larger lady in front wearing a turquoise fleece. Thin glasses frame small eyes almost in the middle of her face. Her hair is glistening with a layer of sebum, it hasn’t seen shampoo or even dry shampoo for quite some time. Next to her sits a slim, slight young man with dark features, hollowed cheeks, a short beard and an impish grin. He’s wearing a sleeveless puffer jacket with a hoodie underneath.

He sings: “Ringing da bell, ringiiiing da beeeelll”

“Shussshhhhhh” she says, looking round at me. I look away.

“Look, aa can’t ‘elp it, you know what a’m like, a don’t av an off-switch. Anywe, a thought a was funny!” he sounds hurt.

She smiles and leans towards him, pinching his cheek: “You wahhhr” she says softly.[Yorkshire language. Translation =were, should be “was” but the grammar is incorrect]

We’re at a busy stop and students are piling onto the bus.

“ON CUM DE ANIMALS TWO BA TWO!!”

The passengers stare.

“Sssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh”

“Ssh yourself, ya can be really annoying you”

“Ye but no one wants to hear ya do they”

“How do YOU know?”

Silence.

She leans towards him again and says in a conspiratorial tone: “Soon we’ll be peelin. You’re peelin tonaht'”

[What were they peeling? vegetables? were they cooking dinner together? How romantic.]

“Peeling it, a peelin it” he sings triumphantly, moving a pack of multicoloured lighters into another bag and sticking a rolled up cigarette into his mouth.

“You’re not allowed to smoke it ya know”

“A know, I just like ta chew it, a like de taste”

Peelin it, a peelin it!”

His eyes widen and he bounces on the seat “Soon we’ll be peelin da foil off tha drugs!”

“SSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH don’t say thaaat” she looks round yet again.

They get off at the council flats and as they do I’m hit by a strong smell. I don’t know what it is but I don’t want to think about it as I put my head down into my scarf.

*                                      *                                     *

They were clearly so wrapped up in addiction they weren’t concerned with personal hygeine. It was sad and I felt sorry for them. Thank goodness I have never been caught up in a cycle of drug-taking, debt and despair. I can’t think of anything worse. For example, I’ve heard of heroin addicts who give up their own children to the drug and seen how painful that is.

It’s crazy how intensely these peoples’ lives revolve around their next fix. Drugs become their only subject of conversation, when they are going to take it, who will have it first and then who had the most, who used it all up, when and how they are going to get some more. Once they’ve tried a bit it becomes just a bit more and it’s a slippery slope.

Don’t bother with drugs folks, nothing beats a natural high (e.g endorphins, love) and being addicted to it won’t kill you.

Love

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Bug Buses

After the 10k on Sunday my legs were achy for the next two days, so I took the bus.

Public transport really bugs me and this week it did quite literally. On Tuesday morning a wasp was diving at the passengers and then angrily hurling itself against the window. It then sought comfort in the blonde’s hair in front of me. The young lady didn’t realise at first and then jerked away instinctively. KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

She hit it with the buttoned sleeve of her jacket. There was silence and it disappeared. She looked around for it for a while and then, satisfied it was out of sight, put it out of mind.

As did I. But then I thought “what if it’s crawled between the seats?”. I patted my wide trouser legs. Since I’d lost weight I’d had to secure them with a belt and they were quite roomy. I felt a sudden sharp pain just below my right knee. Rolling the trouser leg up I realised I’d been attacked and pulled out the sting. Ironically on the bus the day before, I had been reading about a guy who stung himself with various wasps and bees and then rated the pain. This felt like more than a 3/5. I patted my rolled-up trouser leg and couldn’t feel anything. For the next 10 minutes or so I squeezed the spot as fire ran through my blood. Some commuters looked, but no one asked if I was alright. I suddenly realised I may have rolled the damn thing up in my trousers. On unrolling it dropped out, dazed.

Having endured enough for one journey, and not wanting to spend another five minutes in the company of this vicious creature I staggered off and limped to work, unable to bend my leg. When I got there everyone crowded around and marvelled at the red golf-ball sized lump. I took two antihistamines, which luckily I had in my handbag, then soaked a couple of kitchen towels in vinegar and secured them to the area with sellotape. I replaced this throughout the day, ensuring the dressing was always damp. I then took two more antihistamines at lunch time. They don’t suit everyone though – a blogger I follow had a reaction to them, so always read the leaflet first.

People asked after my “wooden leg” and told me to “buzz off”. The next day it was fine, but I still had to take the bus as the weather was horrendous, with rain lashing down and thick fog. 

On Wednesday I felt so tired I felt jet-lagged. My throat was a little tender, so I drank honey and lemon in hot water. It was lovely, really soothing and antibacterial. On Friday I woke up at 5am as I was breathing out of one nostril. The infection had gone into my chest and I sounded like Darth Vader’s wife. My body was fighting for sleep but I had to get through the day.

It has been a long week catching bugs of both varieties. On Friday I had an unidentified insect crawling across my paper and a fly buzzed in my face at work, reminding me it was home time.

I commute on a bus packed with snotty school kids. They are then replaced by sneezing students and parents.

360x268germsbus

As I’ve previously noted, public transport is great for strengthening the immune system, although as viruses constantly mutate there’s always something new around.

After doing an Olbas and tea tree oil steam inhalation this morning I feel less congested. I haven’t got a temperature which means it’s nothing to worry about. If I did it would mean my body was still trying to kill infection. I’m just expelling the aftermath of a white blood cell battle. But this weekend I have to clean the house for my parents. It’s going to be a wheeze…

Not only do I sound like Darth Vader, this person shows how you can get the look too. Just use a black towel for optimum results.

Not only do I sound like Darth Vader, this person shows how you can get the look too. Just use a black towel and dim the lights.

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A Near Miss

Commuter cycling is the most dangerous form of transport, especially in the morning rush hour. Perhaps this explains why only 2% of us get to work on two wheels. 

I enjoy it because it gets me more alert and relaxed and saves me £11.50 a week, which adds up over time. It’s also exciting whizzing along as clumsy cars wait in a queue.

A few days ago though, I took my eyes off the road for the first time and the unthinkable happened.

I knew it was a possibility – all our cycling friends had been hit at least once. But I thought I was too careful for it to happen to me.

I was a little concerned about setting off late, it was already 8.15am and the roads were incredibly busy. There was a traffic jam briefly in the bus lane and I had to dodge round buses, motorbikes, school transport vehicles and even other cyclists. It was mayhem.

But after the jam everything seemed fine and I continued as usual. 

On my way to the junction I was keeping an eye out for pedestrians, giving space for cars coming out of side roads, slowing down when cars were switching lanes ahead, following all the usual safety precautions.

But as the lights went green I felt the angry breath of the car’s radiator on my back as I sensed it trying to turn impatiently. So I put my head down to get some speed for a split second. Then I looked up just as a white van was turning into me. It hadn’t seen me speeding through in my bright blue top and high visibility vest. I immediately applied the breaks hard, skidding along. I looked opened mouthed at it coming towards me, bracing myself for the inevitable. But by some miracle I stopped just before the bonnet.

I pedalled on furiously in both senses of the word. How could they not see me? I had right of way, they SHOULD have seen me. Arriving at my destination shaken, I got myself some calming chamomile tea and talked about it. They reminded me that the van’s driver would only have seen a blur if anything.

I later celebrated my survival with an indulgent shop at Waitrose.

Cyclist versus vehicle is all too common. In 2011 52 490 cyclists were injured on the roads and the number killed or seriously injured increased by 9%. In my city alone, 15% of “slight accidents” had risen between 2006-11.

In my experience red lanes are inadequate, badly maintained and sometimes completely illogical, like the lane which stops before a vehicle bottleneck. We need street signs raising awareness of bicycles using the lanes.

My brother’s friend was knocked off in a hit and run, a family friend was injured by a car not leaving enough room, and a fellow zero emissions commuter told me how he once didn’t see a Land Rover and ended up in a neck brace. But even as a pedestrian the roads are perilous. A friend tripped over her shoes and landed across two lanes. The car on one side stopped but the bus didn’t see her. She rolled over and the wheels

This picture is not of the subjects referred to belowpassed inches from her head. Quick reactions can be the difference between life and death.

I think myself lucky that I escaped unharmed but learnt an important lesson. I haven’t let it stop me, indeed I cycled in to work today. Due to my added awareness I managed to avoid going into a car that had seen me, but thought that it could turn before I came towards it. How a driver can be on the road with that sort of spatial awareness I don’t know. I also avoided a car crossing into the lane I was in ahead of me, without leaving sufficient space.

I had inspired a friend to think about cycling to work, but she is now deterred by my near miss and safety warnings from her family.

However, I think it’s important to remember that if you keep safety in check, the health benefits will make two-wheeling worth it. Research shows that cyclists have lower weight, blood pressure and insulin levels. It can even cut the risk of breast cancer. I have certainly noticed my stamina and general fitness improve. I think it is still possible to cycle to work safely. Here’s how…

LEAVE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.

  • I have found that the earlier before 8am the better. The roads are quieter, less traffic and I haven’t had an incident yet before this time.
  • alarm-clock-ringing
  • THINK – CYCLE LIKE YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR
  • This is probably the best advice I have seen, from an accident lawyer. Since following this I have not had any trouble. Anticipate just as you would when driving.
  • 1. Pedestrians – are they about to cross the road? If they are crossing the road, have they seen you?
  • 2. Vehicles – have they seen you at junctions? Slow down until you can be sure they are not going to move off.
  • Are they switching lanes? Let them do this ahead of you as they may not have seen you and so may not allow enough room.
  • – Be aware of hidden side roads – cars can come shooting out of them so slow down when you pass them and look right into them.

DON’T RISK YOUR SAFETY FOR A

MOTORIST’S CONVENIENCE

  • If I hadn’t been rushing to try to allow the tailgating car behind me to turn, I would have seen the van coming turning towards me.
  • If I had been cycling in the middle of the lane the van would be more likely to have seen me. It is often better to cycle with the cars than at the side of the road, which can encourage them to pass you, sometimes without leaving enough room.

All this sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Don’t ever get complacent because as soon as you lose concentration like I did, something could happen. But don’t let a brush with danger stop you getting on your bike. Stay safe out there everyone!

Bicycle+messenger+vs+car+in+Helsinki+106381

So what am I taking away from my experience?

 ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AS YOU GO THROUGH A JUNCTION.

share the road

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Selfishness

Last night...

Last night…

I was woken this morning by the sound of the toilet flushing, then a door banging. Just as I settled back to sleep the neighbour started up with his pneumatic drill of a water pump, hosing down his car and then presumably the drive for about half an hour. Even when both are clean he continues, enjoying the sense of power and the manly whirring noise as he revs it. Like a big boys’ version of a trial bike and he has a motorbike as well. Then mum rubbed it in about how she watched my friend and I waiting for a bus when she could see one waiting up the road. We waited for 15 minutes before we walked to the bus stop down the road and waited another half an hour until one finally came and this was with two services. It was 20 minutes late, no explanation given.

Apparently a bus driver actually said this on a forum! http://www.boards.ie/vbulletin/showthread.php?p=80803098

We could make a real difference just by thinking of others more. Of course I am prone to selfishness too, it’s all too easy to be thoughtless and self-absorbed. But when I put myself in the other person’s shoes I find myself changing my behaviour for the better, becoming more thoughtful and sensitive.  I think the opposite of selfishness is generosity such as sharing, taking our focus off the “I”. Last night a guy gave my friend and I free drinks from his bucket for example. I’m a believer in the “pay it forward” movement – it’s the little things in life that make a big difference. Sometimes though, a grand gesture is much appreciated – I was so grateful to my boyfriend yesterday when he picked up ear plugs on his shopping trip and drove them round, I enjoyed a night out without whistling ears, and my friend selflessly sat with me every time I had sore feet at the rave. Judging is selfish. When we measure up others we compare them to ourselves. But we’re all unique, we all have individual stories and often, the person making assumptions knows little or nothing about that person. So next time you find yourself thinking you know a book by its cover think again. First impressions count for a lot but they are not everything. People have so many sides to their character that they can often surprise us.

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Bus-boosting immunity

Recently my parents have been virally infected by my student sister and have been quite ill. Surprisingly I was the only family member around to be unaffected.

As my parents cough, sneeze, splutter and weakly sink into bed or chairs I have wondered how on earth I have avoided this ninja virus. Now it may be that I spent less time with the infector, but there is also the fact that I imgHandSanitiserLargehave not had any colds or other illnesses this year. Partly it is due to lower stress levels – I feel in control with my new job and I am getting enough sleep. I also run at least once a week. Perhaps taking one multivitamin a day helped – although my doctor dad (retired) insists that double-blind studies have ruled that out. Or is it my regular use of hand sanitiser (followed by moisturiser, that step is important)?

But I have also been exposed to infection on a daily basis through public transport, along with 34.2 million others last year just on Stagecoach.

Everyone moans about the “service”. I once complained to my local providers after I was late for work every day for a week. I appreciated the letter back and the day’s free bus fare but I switched to a more reliable company. In general buses here are usually late, dirty and sometimes slower than walking. Recently I got a driver that seemed to enjoy braking hard and often. As we lurched to a halt after a short journey I felt as queasy as if I’d been hours in a car. Where I live, the time you arrive depends on which bus driver you get and how fond they are of having a break. This is understandable later in the day but I can’t understand why they need it in the morning rush hour. Time ticks by as the man or woman yawns and leafs through The Metro.

Although rare, the recent fatal stabbing on a bus at 7.30am in Birmingham reminds us that sometimes other passengers can be dangerous rather than simply irritating or smelly. However I think you have more chance of being killed as a pedestrian or cyclist.

The other day three people sneezed simultaneously around me and I have yet to feel any ill effects (though perhaps I speak too soon). So although it certainly has its faults it is fantastic for keeping your immune system virus-immunologyupdated like your computer’s antivirus. Twice a day you keep it alerted to current threats and if you do a bit of exercise and get enough sleep you’ll combat them and develop a great firewall to minimise sick days and save money.

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