DNS / Defer

20 July 2018, 15:18

I had one goal for 2018 – qualify for Boston again so I could run it next spring to celebrate my 40th birthday.

I’ve qualified a few times already, but never quite had the chance to actually run it, but with it being an off-year for the World Transplant Games and my marathon PB sitting untouched for the past 4(!) years, this was going to be my Year of the Marathon.

And my training was going really well right up until mid February, too – good strength training, I was fitting in run commutes to work, and I even got down to my target race weight a few months early, too.

And then I got sick.

At first, it was just the seasonal flu that went around my office. Seasonal flu, but one that multiple people told me was the worst they’d had in decades. So with my medical history, I determined that I’d probably be laid low for 3-4 weeks since it was taking normal people out for a week to ten days. Six weeks later, and I was finally starting to feel about 75% recovered, but missing six weeks at the height of marathon training meant that I’d now have to defer my London marathon place (having already DNSed the Big Half during the height of my flu) and I started looking around for other options over the summer to qualify before the Boston cutoff in mid-September.

And I’d just signed up to run Reykjavik marathon in August when I started to feel very, very unwell all over again. This time, it turned out, I’d come down with three other viruses simultaneously, all three of them very long-lingering and particularly nasty.

Culprit one – Parainfluenza. Despite the name, it’s not actually a type of flu, it can hang around for months, and knock you absolutely flat. And there’s no treatment.

Culprit two – Adenovirus. Apparently there is a treatment for this one, but you’ve got to test positive for it in more than one area of the body to qualify, and I (only) had it in my nose/throat/lungs, which count as one place.

Culprit three – my old pal the Epstein Barr Virus, aka mono, aka glandular fever. Nearly everyone has EBV laying dormant inside them at all times, but only special, immunosuppressed flowers like myself get to experience the joys of multiple EBV reactivations (for long-time followers, this is what took me out of action for 3 months in 2016).

So if you’ve ever had, or known anyone who’s had mono/glandular fever, imagine having that for, ooh, three months on top of two other nasty viral infections, after six weeks of horrific flu, and that’s been pretty much the whole of my 2018. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time, let alone go to work or anything social, and even just walking to the corner shop took an extreme amount of effort that would leave me in bed for the rest of the day. It was so bad that I had to get a “Please Offer Me a Seat” badge for the bus, as I couldn’t stand up for more than about ten minutes. I was beyoooooooooooond bored, beyond frustrated, and literally so jealous of everyone who was simply getting on with their life that I felt angry all the time, too.

Eventually, after being monitored, swabbed, tested, and spending days in hospital (having to fight not to be admitted at one point!), I eventually convinced them to give me the treatment for EBV, because I was simply not getting better on my own, and I had waited more than long enough.

The treatment for EBV is Rituximab, which is actually a pretty cool piece of bioengineering – they take mouse cells and graft human receptors onto the outside, which then bind to your lymphocytes, which are then targetted and killed by your immune system. Rituximab is given for a wide variety of auto-immune disorders, but since EBV lives inside your lymphocytes, it also works for that, too. And by “works”, I mean, it kills off half your immune system while also killing the virus. Yay. But at this point I would’ve drunken yak vomit if someone had said it’d make me feel better, so off to the chemo day unit I went, every Tuesday in June (and then into July, after the parainfluenza came back for a week and they postponed a treatment).

Oh yes, they can give you chemo for a viral infection! Rituximab may not make your hair fall out, but seeing as how they’re pumping animal cells all around your veins, people have a tendency to react badly to it the first time. I thought I’d be safe, since I was given it for my first EBV reactivation right after my transplant, but no, four hours into the first dose, and I started to feel the cotton ears, dizziness, and weird vision that I recognised from my years of reacting to platelet transfusions, so I slammed my hand on the nurse call button. The nurses paused the treatment, gave me two lots of IV piriton while they watched my blood pressure recover from a low of 80/40 (no, that’s not a typo). After an hour’s break, they restarted it, and another four hours later I could finally go home.

Luckily the other three doses were uneventful, and by the start of July, I actually started to feel a bit more energetic! Like, I could walk places and not need a lie down, and I could finally do a full day’s work, and I could cycle commute without feeling utterly awful (as an aside, taking it really slowly on the bike was WAY less energy and stress than taking a rush hour train). But not enough to ride 100 miles on a bike this weekend, so my ballot place for Ride 100 has also been deferred for next year.

So I’m at the point now, in mid-July, that I actually feel about 80% recovered, and I went for my first run back this week – a nice 5km around my local cemetery/park. But this does mean that I’ll be lucky to even run the 10km in Reykjavik next month (they host the marathon, half, 10km, and fun-run on the same day and you can switch between at the expo). And likewise, no British Transplant Games this year for me, as I was too sick during the registration period to have any hope of passing the physical.

And the dream to run Boston next spring is over, as there’s no way I can rebuild from this and qualify in time for September. And more than that, I feel cheated out of 5-6 months of my year. I was sick during the “Beast from the East” blizzard, and I was still sick during the heatwave, for godssake!

And the punchline to all this? I’d actually had the flu jab.

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Rounding off the year...

31 December 2016, 12:39

Whether you’d noticed or not, I haven’t posted since August! Was the cause of this some catastrophic illness, or injury, or that I’d given up running altogether to find myself in some Buddhist yoga retreat? Nope, just regular ol’ boring “I got busy”.

To delve a bit further – I’d been working 4 days a week as a Product Manager at a small tech company, running my entire sewing pattern business from one day a week. In reality, this meant I was writing blog posts and social media content every single lunchtime, doing product development nearly every evening and all weekend long, and Fridays were spent doing all the boring accounting and email answering that keeps a business alive. And I was exhausted. So in August I quit my office job to once again focus on my business. I thought it’d only be a few months’ full time to reinvigorate it and get a few more patterns ready to develop, but I found that as soon as I created some space in my life, the opportunities just poured in, and I had to grab them.

As a result, 2017 is going to be epic for the business, and my running forecast doesn’t look too bad, either: I’m running Cambridge Half marathon again (this time with the new single loop course!), London marathon for the third time (with my deferred GFA place I was too ill to use in 2016), and I’m representing Great Britain at the World Transplant Games again at the end of June, this time in the hot and sunny (eugh) climes of Malaga, Spain!

Cheering Cardiff Half

Looking back at 2016, there were definitely some highlights, but through no fault of my own, it was a bit of an “off year”. I started the year with an awful illness (or, at the doctors’ best guess, a series of illnesses alongside some EBV reactivation, giving me glandular fever/mono on top of everything else), which laid me low from January through to the beginning of April, causing me to DNS the Cardiff Half, something I don’t do very often (or ever? This might be my first DNS). I travelled along to cheer since it was my birthday weekend, but I was only able to stand for 10 minutes at a time, and the weather was atrocious that day, so maybe it was for the best.

As I mentioned earlier, I had to defer my London marathon place, since I only started to feel better about 3 weeks before the race, and I finally got to experience Run dem Crew’s crazy Mile 21 cheering station from the other side of the tape, which was super fun.

Post Hackney Half

This meant my first race of the year was a few weeks later, at Run Hackney (aka “Hackney Half”). I don’t know how they do it every year, but it was freaking sweltering yet again, and I just ran it as a training run to get some much-needed miles in my legs in preparation for my big race of the year…

Bear Race - with sign

…the Transylvanian Bear Race! This was the race I’d been looking forward to for like 9 months, and while I was disappointed to have to defer London, I would’ve been crushed to have to skip Transylvania. I had to scramble to fit in the training miles to be able to run it at all, and without all the base building and strength training work I’d had to skip at the start of the year, this was very much a “slow and steady” race, not to mention my first ultra (though I hadn’t intended to run an ultra yet…)

Dunwich Dynamo

No sooner had I recovered from Transylvania (and the overnight cycling rite-of-passage, the Dunwich Dynamo!) than I had to start thinking about the British Transplant Games, and, to be perfectly honest, this was the least prepared I had ever been for the Games. I had just come off long, slow trail running and had zero strength or speed sessions, and only set foot on a track the week before. So I was the most surprised of all to see that I could still do fairly well even without the specific training – even though it took me far longer to recover from these track events than it did the 6.5hr Bear Race! The Games this year also held one of my highlights – being asked to release some doves as the first female in the Mini Marathon (3km)!

BTG 16 - doves release

The weekend after the Games, I’d signed up to run a 10km race around my local park with a good friend. He’d only just started running a few months earlier, but with the enthusiasm of a new runner, signed up to run the Beat the Blerch 10km all the way over in Seattle! When I found this out I insisted he should get at least one race under his belt before flying halfway around the world, so I paced him through the four laps of Battersea Park, chatting most of the way and gradually getting faster until I had him sprinting across the finish line. This was my first “ target=“out”>Run Through race, and I was super impressed with the organisation and atmosphere – it’s really difficult to make a race welcoming to both first-timers and seasoned racers (of which this had both, and everything in between), and the custom medal made it overall excellent value, too.

Battersea with Meltie

For my own records, we finished in 52:17, wholly respectable for Meltie’s first ever race.

Battersea medals with Meltie

My final race of the year was the Cabbage Patch 10 (miler), which I’d signed up to ages back as it’s a pretty iconic club-focused race that’s been going longer than the London marathon. The name has nothing to do with the 1980s dolls – it’s named for the Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham that’s hosted it since the early 80s! It’d been ages since I’ve run a 10 miler and I’d been feeling rundown for the past fortnight so I opted to just run it comfortable, sticking to around 5min/km (8min/mi) pace, rather than try and race it. The first few miles were through dull suburban streets, but it picked up once we ran along the river and we even saw a few swans! I picked up my pace around 8 1/2mi in, grabbed a beer from the beer station(!!) at mile 9, and then ran with it for the last mile, keeping my arm steady and my pace hard. I got more cheers in the last mile than the whole race combined – turns out loads of runners missed the beer entirely and everyone loves a lady running with a beer! The post-race goodies were great, the long sleeved(!!) tech tee is one I actually wear instead of chopping up for refashioning, and my finish line photo was so good I actually bought it.

Cabbage Patch 10 with beer

I was hoping to finish in under 1hr30 & I ended up in 1:23:22 so I was pretty chuffed with that.

So all in all, a pretty light year on racing, but I’ve spent the last few months going back and doing all the base building work with my coach that I should’ve done at the start of the year. Lots of core work, glute strength, and frequent, low mileage running to get me ready for both London marathon, but also Malaga later in the year.

I don’t necessarily wish for more medals in 2017, but instead I just wish for good health. What I do with that health is entirely up to me.

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Marathon Talk interview

22 December 2015, 12:12

If you’re a fan of podcasts and you’re not yet sick of hearing my weird transatlantic accent, then you should have a listen to my recent interview with Marathon Talk! I’m super excited to be included on the podcast, because it’s been a constant companion on my long runs for several years now. Martin and Tom interview Proper Athletes like Olympians and professionals, so I was over the moon that they wanted to talk to me!

My interview starts at 54 minutes 30 seconds in (just after the song) and we talk about the World Transplant Games, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, outlook on training, my bucket list marathon, how to get more women running, and how I have zero athletic prowess in my genes!

There’s lots of links in the show notes for this episode if you’ve been inspired to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry or to become an organ donor!

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Live Beyond podcast interview

11 December 2015, 20:29

Last year my friend and sometimes-running-partner Viv went off and ran across Europe. Like, from Poland to the tip of Spain.


She’s recently started a podcast where she interviews people who’ve done some extraordinary things and I was supremely flattered that she wanted to interview me! We talked about my recent successes in Argentina, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, as well as how my journey has changed my outlook about fitness and keeping things in perspective.

You can listen to the full episode above, but please do also visit LiveBeyond.co to listen to the other episodes, too, as I frankly think Emily, Sorrell, and Viv are more inspiring than I am!

And yes, I’m pretty sure my mother will agree that there isn’t an athletic gene in our family, but the stubbornness one is very strong!

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Like the Wind - My Transplant story

1 May 2015, 10:59

I've been long overdue in posting about Like the Wind magazine, mostly because I wanted to take the time to do it justice. The only thing it has in common with other running magazines like Runners World is that they're both printed on paper, and that's about it.

Their motto is "It's not how to run, it's why we run", and that pretty much sums up what it's all about - each periodic issue is full of incredible, interesting, funny, inspirational, and wonderful stories. Some are written by famous names in the running world, and others are just by regular runners with a story to tell.

Like me.

With Like the Wind

After I taught a "Sew Your Own Leggings" class at their pop-up event last fall, I got to talking with one of the founders, Julie, who said I should write up my story and submit it for the next issue. I finally got around to putting mind to paper, then heard nothing further, until I got an invite for the 4th issue launch party in February, where my story was being published!

Like the Wind isn't just about the stories though - each article is accompanied by specially-commissioned art or photography, which really gives the whole magazine an amazingly rich and varied experience to just flick through (though in reality, it takes me months to read through an issue because I read it cover to cover and savour every article!).

My Like the Wind article

I didn't know it until I got my printed copy, but the artist chosen to illustrate mine was Leeds-based Mark Frudd, who captured my words utterly perfectly. The image of a turmoil-filled woman in the river as a lone runner crosses the bridge, well, it's a lot closer to reality than I often admit. The photo above doesn't do his artwork justice though, so click through here to see a better version of it. I felt like I won the illustrator lottery, as his artwork on the cover of Issue #2 is one of my favourite running images ever!

If you'd like to read the piece I wrote for Like the Wind, you can buy Issue #4 here. The cover price may seem more than you're used to, but there are no adverts, it's printed on high-quality, eco-friendly paper (which smells amazing), and the entire magazine is run as a non-profit, with any proceeds going to charity.

I've also been wanting to make my story even more accessible, as part of a project I'm starting in the lead up to the World Transplant Games, so I've recorded myself reading my Transplant story, which you can listen to below.

(And, by way of a bonus, you can hear my strange, trans-Atlantic, expat accent!)

With London marathon out of the way, I've got a handful of races in May and June, but my mind is firmly on the World Transplant Games, and re-visiting this article has really helped me to remember how far I've come.

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My 2014 Year in Review

29 December 2014, 16:46

2014 Race Photos
I was holding off on posting my roundup of 2014 until the very last day, as I generally can assume I’ll be running over the holidays, when London is blissfully empty and quiet. But some total bint at my husband’s office (who will receive a slap in the face should I ever meet her) slobbered her cold germs all over him at the Christmas party in some faux-cutesy “oh I’m so sick, woe is me” schtick, and surprise, surprise, he caught her cold the next day. Meaning that I, with my impaired immune system, caught it the day after that. My husband recovered after about three days, but I’m on Day 8 now and still haven’t turned the corner, which has totally ruined my Christmas and makes it very unlikely that I’ll be doing any running between here and New Year’s Eve, so I may as well try and look back on the good things that happened this year instead of the crummy, crummy end.

And overall, I had a great year of both racing and running in general! I was, as always, coached by the extremely talented Barbara at Energy Lab, whom I fully credit for both sorting out my gait, training, nutrition, and keeping me injury free for my 11th year running.

Races by Distance:

Let’s start by longest first. In 2014 I ran two marathons, the London Marathon and the Berlin Marathon. Both were completely different in terms of goals and how I felt on the day. London was my big “A Race”, and I was super motivated to get a big PB. Berlin was a lot more laid-back, and I really only wanted to improve my pacing, regardless of what that meant for time. I learn a lot from every single marathon, and what I learned from each of these separately could fill a novel. I’ve got lots to think about entering my training for London marathon 2015.

I also ran two races which were between full and half marathon distance, both put on my the utterly fantastic Events to Live team: The Surrey Spitfire (20 miles) in March and then the Three Molehills (16 miles) race in November. Both of these I ran with friends, and neither were for any particular time. Coincidentally, both were also marked out by exceptional weather – unseasonably warm and sunny for Spitfire, and absolutely chucking it down, monsoon-style for the Molehills.

With halo of medals
Me with my 2014 medals! Image courtesy of Energy Lab

I could’ve sworn I ran more than two half marathons this year, but no, only the Bath Half in March as a lead-up to London marathon, and Run Hackney in June after FOMO hit me hard and I ran it to keep my friend Maja sane. Again, when I compare the two, the one where I really pushed hard to get a new PB was less enjoyable than the one where I kept it casual with friends, but that’s to be expected, really. For me, it’s all about understanding what I want from each race, and accepting that the PB ones are going to hurt!

What with all my other races, I only managed to run Flatline once this year – that’s the 10mile race put on by Energy Lab that’s just 10 repeats up and down Swain’s Lane (otherwise known as the steepest hill in London). It’s a ridiculously hard and trying race, but since you’re passing people at every repeat, you get lots of encouragement and high fives every few minutes, too.

I always seem to find time to squeeze in a 10km race, even if it’s ridiculously close to other, longer races. I ended up running four this year, starting off with the Anthony Nolan Marrowthon in March, which was really just a fun-run for me the day after Flatline. Then in May I ran my favourite ever race, the (Bupa) London 10,000, which I’ve run ever since the very first in 2008 (and I’m signed up to run again in 2015, too). I was still mentally recovering from London marathon during this race this year, and found it challenging to keep going, but I ended up with a new PB without really meaning to, which is always nice. Then, shortly after, I was surprised to enjoy Nike’s We Own The Night despite the overcrowding and poor lap management, and then I didn’t race another 10km until the end of November when I joined 160 other members of Run dem Crew at the Greenwich Park Movember where I came within 30 seconds of my PB despite the sizeable hills and not really pushing myself.

And finally, in a class of their own was my second British Transplant Games up in Bolton where I took gold in the 3km, 1500m, 800m, and 400m, and a silver medal in the 200m. It’s been interesting to switch to training for such shorter distances in between my spring and fall marathons, and I imagine my track work will start even earlier in 2015 in preparation for Argentina!

New PBs!

As mentioned above, I earned myself three shiny new PBs this year!

Yet if I had to pick my favourite race of the year, I think it’d have to be Berlin Marathon. I can’t think about this race and NOT smile – the weather was warm and sunny, the course leafy and interesting with just the right amount of crowds, I had great energy and conversation throughout from my friends Christina and Luis, and having paced it well, we were able to pass everyone in the last 5km on a joyous high.

Personal Highlights

Some other, non-racing personal highlights for me:
  • ExtraMile – Being chosen as one of four inspirational runners leading up to London marathon would’ve been incredible enough, but to meet with the other guys and have my own film crew follow me throughout was just incredible. Seeing my massive face at the London Marathon Expo was a bit surreal though!

  • My FehrTrade Patterns – I released my first two exercise sewing patterns at the very end of 2013, and since then, I’ve released six more, including a freebie and my first menswear pattern, too. I’m also proud that I ran both my marathons wearing shorts I’d designed and sewed myself, and ran most of my races in my own-sewn gear, too.

  • Hampstead Heath trail running – This year has truly turned me into a trail runner. I know Hampstead Heath isn’t the largest or wildest place out there, but it’s somewhere I can go without travelling all day, where I can meet friends, get muddy, and still be back in time for lunch. I’ve run through all seasons on the Heath, and if I haven’t been for a few weeks, I start to get really itchy to return, even if I’m on my own. Some of my favourite runs this year have been on the trails.

  • Run dem Crew Elites – I moved up to the fastest group at Run dem Crew last December, and I’m proud that I persevered through the toughest times and ran with Elites through all of my training phases. It’s really, really not easy knowing that you’ll be dead last even though you’re running at your absolute fastest sprint trying just to keep the leader within sight, and god knows it’d be a lot easier and enjoyable to just always run in a more comfortable group. But no mater how painful, humbling, and, well, “character building”, running with the Elites is, it’s also one of my proudest achievements, and I know that by just being there I’m inspiring others, too.

Total training distance

I track all my training run and distance using the Runmeter app, which posts everything up to DailyMile, so I can tell you that in 2014 I ran 2,136.29km (1,327.43 miles). As you can see, I had some pretty intense training in the leadup to London marathon, so it’s no wonder that paid off with so many PBs!

2014 training mileage

I’ll be changing up the way I record my runs in 2015, however. I joined Strava a few months ago, but I’m not really that keen to use their app. But DailyMile hasn’t been updated or bug-fixed in about two years and is just a ghost town these days, and I wanted to go were all my friends were. I also really noticed in Berlin how much I’d prefer to get constant, on-demand feedback on my pace and heartrate rather than just the “once every km” I was getting with my phone app, so I asked for (and received!) a teal Garmin FR 15 for Christmas, which I’m sure will also affect the way I track my running over the next year.

As we draw into the last few days of 2014, I’d like to wish you all a happy, healthy, and fulfilling 2015 in the year ahead. May all your runs be muddy and your times be PBs!

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My perfect race playlist and an imperfect run

20 February 2014, 12:28

If you missed it, I wrote up a piece for Extra Mile earlier this week talking about how I choose songs for my race playlists and using music as a tool to both motivate, but also to slow you down in those first few miles when you get overexcited! There’s a new competition on the site, too, based around your running playlists, so it’s worth having a look at that, too.

I also had another full day of filming for the Extra Mile project yesterday, too, complete with full makeup and the return of That Wig!

Extra Mile filming

I had a great time joking around with the other guys and the crew, but it’s amazing how tiring just standing around looking pretty can be! I woke up this morning feeling absolutely exhausted, even though yesterday was a Rest Day. I had a 1hr30 tempo run in my plan for this morning, but that seemed hopelessly optimistic (it’s really tough even on my best days!). It was all I could do to drag myself out the door, and I went out thinking I’d maybe do 10km and see how I felt. Well, I felt sloppy & annoyed at everything & demotivated and then it started to rain! So I cut it short at Blackfriars and only ended up running a third of what I should’ve, but when things are going that badly I find it’s best to just cut your losses and live to run another day, as it were.

I’ve resolved to rest hard today to hopefully ensure I don’t get sick, and make up for the lack of rest yesterday. It’s been ages since I had a bad run but good riddance to this one!

How do you cope with a bad run?

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Why I run - in 3 minutes!

14 February 2014, 14:32

I’m so excited today because my second ExtraMile video has just gone live! Watch below to get a glimpse of the moorings where I live, learn about why I’m running the London marathon for Anthony Nolan, and what the deal was with that blue wig in the first video

It was a super cold and rainy day when we filmed it last week (yes, the production team turned this round in a week!), and the pianist they hired in for the day was such a dude – he started playing the songs I mentioned from my running playlist totally off the cuff – Groove is in the Heart, Get Lucky, Hey Ya! We were all working with numb fingers so I’m amazed I look as relaxed as I do!

There’ll be a few more videos coming up between now and 13 April, plus profile videos from the other three amazing Extra Mile runners, too.

Oh, and if I’ve inspired you, please consider donating to my fundraising here, or even better, if you’re aged 16-30, joining the bone marrow donor database here.

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Watch me now!

5 February 2014, 12:11

I talked about the filming for the London Marathon #ExtraMile project a few weeks ago, but I’m pleased to report that both the Extra Mile site and the first video are up now!

I’m one of four runners being followed on our journey through to 13 April, but the site is open to any runners who want to share their story, training, and generally just get a little pick-me-up when it’s cold and grey and you really don’t want to do that run that you know you’re meant to do… Oh, and there are competitions to be won, too, like the first one for £100 to your fundraising target.

Anyway, have a watch of the first teaser video, which features me in a fetching blue wig!

ExtraMile video screengrab

It’s under 2 minutes long, so you can easily have a look while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or even stretching after a run…

If you need further inspiration, read through my friend Chris’s account of the Flatline 10 race I took part in on Saturday. I ran 10 repeats of Swains Lane in 1:28!

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2013: My running year in review

31 December 2013, 14:20

Since I only started this site partway through the year, and didn’t get the opportunity to talk about all the races I’ve done, or reflect on the year at large, this seems like a natural point to do so.

I log all my runs on Dailymile, so it’s easy for me to tell you my yearly total mileage, which was a whopping 1778km (1104 miles), even including the run I did this morning! I’m pretty certain this is the first year ever that I’ve broken 1000 miles, so I’m super proud of that.

Looking back over the year, 2013 did not get off to a good start for me. On the day of the big snowstorm in mid-January, I came down with a very severe case of shingles which interrupted my daily life (not to mention training) with severe pain and up to 6 different painkillers at one point. I eventually found a combination that touched the pain and nerve itching (an itch you can’t ever satisfy), but one of those came along with added risk of heart strain, so even when I could return to running, it was only short, slow, and easy runs.

My first race of the year was meant to be the Paris half in early March, but this was out of the question with my pain medication, so I went along and cheered instead. To keep myself from dying of boredom while I ran the same short, easy runs over and over, I started concentrating on my cadence, which was my first step towards the switch to forefoot running.

East London half

I was only barely back into normal training by the time the East London half rolled around in April, and a combination of factors resulted in this being one of my least pleasant racing experiences to date. In my head, I was a much faster runner than my battered body was able to accomplish, so I set off way too fast and made the second half much, much harder than it should’ve been. That the course was so dull, under supported, poorly organised, and that ran over a sewage treatment plant (I kid you not!) really didn’t help either. The only plus to this race for me was that I ran it with my good friend Murdo, and there were a lot of other Run dem Crew friends running it as well, making for high-five opportunities at the out & back portions.

Copenhagen marathon official photo

By this point I was starting to have some tough conversations with myself about Copenhagen Marathon, which was looming in mid-May. I had just received the blow that my GFA qualification for London marathon was no longer fast enough, and with only 6 weeks of good health to train for Copenhagen, I really needed to decide whether to gamble for a 3:45 finish or set more realistic goals. In the end, I did both – cruising towards target time until midway, when my legs just didn’t have enough training in them to maintain the pace, and I reassessed down, ultimately finishing in 3:52. At the time I was sorely disappointed, but with time I’m actually really pleased with how fast I got around with so little training and even several short walking breaks. It was my only marathon of 2013, but I learned an awful lot from it, and overall it was a great experience.

Through an unfortunate coincidence, I had to fly directly from Copenhagen to the other side of the world and back for a work trip, returning back in London just in time to run the Bupa London 10,000. I wouldn’t recommend running a 10k the week after a marathon to anyone, but I love the Bupa 10k and I’ve run it nearly every year since the first one in 2008, and I pretty much sign up for the next year immediately after the race, so this was booked long before Copenhagen was a twinkle in my eye. My feet were in ribbons after Copenhagen and I knew after a week of travel that I should take it easy, so when a friend asked if I’d pace her to 55min, I jumped at the chance. It was a great way to help someone else achieve their goal while keeping my internal pacing in check – conveniently the desired 10k pace was almost identical to my marathon target pace so it was easy to lock into!

The Color Run

Over the summer I continued to improve on my form little by little, and I entered two short races just for the sheer fun of it – The Color Run (5k) in July, and then the National Lottery Olympic Stadium Run (5 miles) the week after. Both were run with friends and at an easy pace, and both were completely lacking in scenery apart from one crucial piece. On The Color Run, I helped a friend run her first race after a year of battling chronic fatigue syndrome, and the colored powder stops really were genuinely fun, even if we ran through an industrial estate outside those areas. It was a fun run, but super expensive and I feel I’ve “done it” and won’t bother again.

Olympic Stadium Run

On the Olympic Stadium run, the course was just through the as then yet-to-be-opened Olympic park, so the paths were narrow, no spectators were allowed, and we mostly just saw diggers and construction fences until the route finally wound its way through the tunnels underneath the stadium, where we heard the recorded sound of Mo Farah’s epic, Olympic 10,000m win. I had goosebumps by the time we emerged into the stadium itself, finishing on the track for a truly spectacular stadium finish. Of course it’s all wish-fulfillment fantasy stuff, but it was utterly brilliant to be there.

Ruth & I on the podium

My big target races for the end of the year were the 3km and 1500m at the British Transplant Games in August, where I won double gold medals after a hard summer’s training on the track and with some serious calorific deficit to lose any excess baggage pre-race. Again, standing on a podium in a team tracksuit with a gold medal round my neck is another of those big dreams that I never thought would happen to me, and seems almost unreal that it did.

Bacchus - long climb

My final race (and final goal!) for the year was to podium place at the Bacchus half, one of my favourite ever races, and one where the field of only a few hundred runners rather than a few thousand meant I had a chance at placing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the ladies. After a full summer of track training and improving my form, I worked super hard and managed to stay on my forefeet for the entire race, eventually finishing in 3rd place, for my coveted podium spot, prize(!), and a brand new half marathon PB, and on a super hilly course, too.

I promised my husband “no more fall races”, and I kept to that plan, taking a six week break after Bacchus while we traveled through Mexico, working on my leg strength in hotel rooms and climbing lots of Mayan pyramids. Back in London I continued to work on my form with my trainer, and we started training for London marathon in November, just as I found out that I got a ballot place for Berlin marathon (September 2014), as well!

There was still one last major achievement for me in December, however – back in July I said to myself “I want to run with Elites by the end of the year” (Elites being the fastest group at Run dem Crew, and almost entirely comprised of really skinny, tall guys). Elites usually run at about a 6min/mile pace and maintain that for the entire hour run, so this was a big leap in speed for me! On 10 December, I stepped up and ran an entire session with the Elites, and managed to (mostly) keep up with them as well.

Overall, I feel like this year was a big transition year for me. I may not have racked up as many race medals as a lot of my friends, but I feel like I put a lot of quality training time into both improving my form, improving my speeds, and strengthening my body for the future. For the first time since I injured my knee skiing when I was 15, I’ve been able to run without a knee brace, which is almost astonishing to me. I feel like the time and training that I’ve invested into myself in 2013 must surely reap rewards in 2014. Most specifically, I’m hoping the rewards come on 13 April, 2014!


Paris half – DNS
East London half – 1:50:40
Copenhagen marathon – 3:52:37
Bupa London 10,000 – 54:29
The Color Run – ? (not chip timed)
National Lottery Olympic Run – 47:05
British Transplant Games 3km – sub-12:00 (not chip timed)
British Transplant Games 1500m – 5:45
Bacchus half – 1:43

Training Mileage (km)

2013 monthly mileage

Jan – 115
Feb – 28
Mar – 159
April – 141
May – 132
June – 61
July – 230
Aug – 194
Sept – 108
Oct – 77
Nov – 221
Dec – 261

What will 2014 hold? Well, I’m booked up to run the Bath Half in March, London marathon in April, Bupa London 10,000 in May, and Berlin marathon in September, but there are surely going to be a few others added as well, including the British Transplant Games again once registration is open!


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Cross-training in Mexico

17 October 2013, 10:56

No, I haven’t gone quiet or run out of things to say (hardly!) – I’ve been travelling through Mexico for the past three weeks! We started in Mexico City then ate our way through Puebla, Oaxaca, San Cristobal de las Casas, Palenque, Merida, culminating on the beach at Playa del Carmen.

I’d brought some running kit along, but I wasn’t really sure when I’d get an opportunity to run, and it didn’t seem like the wisest idea to head out on my own in unfamiliar cities with added altitude to deal with, too, and besides, I’m on a scheduled break, so I was more concerned about enjoying my holiday! As it turned out, I only got one run in on the very last morning, but having a stinking cold for most of the trip was a major factor, too!

So what kind of cross-training did I get up to while Not Running?

Well, I climbed a lot of pyramids (like these two at Teotihuacan)!
Pyramid climbing

I did more swimming than I have in the past five years combined, including one session at the most stunning natural infinity pool near Oaxaca (Hierve el Agua)!
Hierve el Agua swimming

I did a lot of resting! This was the most scenic of the rests – most of them were aboard coaches…
Resting in Mexico

In addition to the usual crazy amounts of walking you do as a tourist, we also had a guided jungle walk at Palenque that featured terrain that made me want to burst into a run and explore!
Jungle stairs

And finally, as part of my tried-and-tested eastbound jetlag prevention, I went out for a sweltering 5km run along the beach at Playa del Carmen the last morning. Even at 9am in October it was 30+ degrees and full sun and I had to strip down to my bra and shorts!
Playa del Carmen beach run

I’m pleased to report that the change of scenery, food, and training seems to have done me good, plus the added walking mileage in my new barefoot trainers has helped strengthen up my weak feet, too. I curiously stepped on the scale when I got home and to my shock and amazement, I actually lost 2kg! And I did not hold back on the gorgeous Mexican food, cakes, chocolate, mezal, pina colada, etc etc while I was there either… It’s a bit of a mystery.

And finally, I couldn’t resist buying a bottle of this “Runaway” microbrew beer when I saw it!
Runaway beer

Rather tasty served chilled from an ice-filled hotel sink, too (aka “ghetto fridge”)!

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My running story

20 August 2013, 16:21

Like a lot of people, my first introduction to running as an adult was on a gym treadmill. I started when I joined a gym in 2003, running for five minutes before jumping onto other machines and a few weights before my self imposed half hour was up. Around 2006, I started to get serious (and scientific) about weight loss, and I asked a personal trainer at the gym about the best way to use my half hour. His reply? “A half hour running on the treadmill.”

I gradually built up the amount of time I could run on the treadmill over the next nine months, eventually losing over 20kg and becoming much, more more fit as I dropped dress sizes. Those nine months of weight loss and fitness really helped shape my outlook on nutrition, portion size, and exercise ever since, and it was during this time that I had the realisation that running could actually be enjoyable at times!

Shortly after, my husband (then boyfriend) and I bought a large Dutch barge, and we were incredibly fortunate to find a beautiful, welcome mooring on the Thames near Tower Bridge. Over time, I found myself using the gym treadmill less and less, and running along the river ever more, until I eventually let my gym membership lapse altogether.

The wonderful thing about running along the Thames in central London is that you’ve got any number of circular routes with very little traffic and wonderful views. My usual formula is to run along the south bank of the river, cross over a bridge, and return back along the north side to Tower Bridge and home. This means that my running routes end up being named for the bridge I cross over midway through, and these are inextricably linked with their loop distance in my mind – Millenium Bridge is approximately 5km, Westminster 10km, Battersea 20km, and (in the throes of marathon training), Putney is just over 30km!

But for years, I’d only ever run the Westminster Bridge 10km loop, and I’d run this faithfully, three times a week, at the same pace. It was during this phase that I noticed in October 2008 that I was feeling more sluggish than I should, and I had bleeding in the whites of my eyes, which I got checked out by my optician, and then my GP. The short version of this is that my bone marrow was failing, I had incredibly low blood counts, and within the space of a few months, I needed four transfusions every week just to stay alive. The Anthony Nolan Trust sent out a worldwide call and found my anonymous bone marrow donor who saved my life with an emergency transplant in July 2009.

A bone marrow transplant involves an entire week of high dose chemotherapy, but unlike most people, I wasn’t overly concerned about losing my hair – that would grow back in time without any input on my part. But the body I’d worked so hard for over the past several years, and which had deteriorated along with the rest of my health, well, losing that hurt more. I had been the fittest I’d ever been in my life, and I couldn’t see how I could ever get to that place again.

My transplant had been a fairly easy one – no complications, everything went as planned, I successfully fought off boredom in my bubble room, and I didn’t even feel sick from the chemo. I was released early, but the first six months post transplant were just about the worst anyone could have – I was readmitted for blood pressure headaches, then meningitis, a severe liver infection which may have spread to my lungs, and culminated finally in my having to travel to hospital every day for four months to have an IV antifungal.

Eventually, though, at the six month mark things started to brighten – I finally had enough hair to get a pixie cut and ditch the wigs, I started back to work, and I even started running again. Once you’re a runner, it’s painful to watch others out there enjoying what you’re not able to do, and my first run after my transplant was a big, big step for me. I surprised even myself that I was able to run 5km without much trouble, even after 18 months off running and a completely new immune system!

I knew I wanted to mark my first anniversary with something big, so I signed up to run a 10km race within days of my first “rebirthday”. I didn’t come close to my pre-illness PB, but I wasn’t far off, and the memory of my transplant friends who died helped push me to run the whole race. For the next few years, this anniversary 10km run was the only racing I’d do, even though I returned back to running several times a week.

If my transplant was the first major milestone in my running journey, then discovering Run dem Crew was definitely my second. When I started running with the crew in July 2011, the transplant was still very much a defining part of Who I Was, but gradually, as I became a stronger, faster, and more confident runner, I began to see how resilient my body was and that I could move on from it both physically and mentally. Soon I was running comfortably at a pace I couldn’t have sprinted even before I was ill, and I got to know other runners who overcame equally enormous obstacles in life to end up where they were. We were all there to find friendship, comfort, camaraderie, and just have a good time and positive space on Tuesday nights, and I found myself signing up to more races, and eventually, even a marathon.

I can now say, ten years into my running journey, that I’ve experienced highs and lows, been fat and slim, been healthy and sick, and my love of running has endured it all. I am without a doubt, the strongest and fastest I have ever been in my life, and yet still I continue to push myself, and to find new challenges, just to see what I’m capable of achieving. It’s not always easy, but I know I’ve been through worse.

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