British Transplant Games: Liverpool 2016

11 August 2016, 13:14

Two weekends ago I travelled up to Liverpool to compete in my fourth British Transplant Games for King’s College Hospital, the hospital where I had my bone marrow transplant seven years ago. The Transplant Games are open to bone marrow and organ transplantees of any age, in a wide variety of sports and activities, and it truly is such an inspiring weekend of sport, community, and the life-saving power of transplants.

In years past I’ve done dedicated track and speedwork in preparation for the games, but this year has just been so… disrupted (between being ill for Jan-Mar, then going straight into marathon training for Transylvania then straight into distance cycling for Dunwich…) that I didn’t get a chance to do any speedwork. I did finally get on the track two days before the Games, but prior to that, the last time I set foot on a track was in Argentina!!

So I was really not feeling prepared this year, and just approaching it as a benchmark, and if I won some medals, fine. But my heart wasn’t really in it, and I kinda felt like I was just going through the motions, if I’m honest. I was most looking forward to seeing so many friends from around the country that I only see once a year!

Mini Marathon


My first event is always the Mini Marathon on Saturday night. It’s 5km for men, and 3km for women (don’t even get me started!!), either on roads or park paths somewhere in the host city, and this year it was a simple out & back route along the docks in Liverpool, which was nice. The Donor Run takes place at the same time, and is open to the public, but to avoid a dangerous scrum with serious competitors getting tangled up in fun runners in tutus (see Bolton in 2014), the transplant athletes set off from the front, with separate Donor Run waves behind.

Immediately from the starting gun there was a lady that was quite a way in front of me – I’d never seen her before, but I couldn’t close the gap at all, and mentally I’d already started thinking “oh well, I guess I’m not taking my [1st lady] trophy back home this year, but she looks younger so maybe I’ll still get gold for the 30-39 age category…” which made me not push quite as hard. Then I heard a spectator shout “Go Nadia!” and realised that she wasn’t far behind and I couldn’t quite give up yet, so I pulled up my socks (metaphorically) and kept pushing until I was over the line.

So no one was more surprised than me to hear the words “Congratulations, first lady!” – turns out the lady who went off like a shot wasn’t a transplant athlete but was a fun runner doing the 5k who just pushed her way up with the transplantees to be at the front! So thank you, speedy lady, as you definitely made me run harder than I would’ve otherwise!

The second surprising thing said to me as I crossed the line was “As first lady, you get to release the doves!” RELEASE THE DOVES?!? This was definitely a first for me! I’ve never been asked to release doves before!

BTG 16 - doves release
Releasing the doves

But yes, the first 3km male finisher and I opened the basket and… actually they were quite content to sit in there until we gave them a little prompting and they flew away!

BTG 16 - Me and Ruth
With my friend Ruth, who’d run ultras on the two previous weekends(!) and took bronze in the Mini Marathon (and Gold in the Race Walk!)

With the Mini Marathon out of the way, I felt a bit more relaxed and able to enjoy the King’s team meal afterwards on Saturday night, ready for the shorter track races, which are all on the Sunday – yes, five track races in one day!

1500m


The 1500m is my favourite of the track races – not just because I’m a distance runner and it’s the longest, but because you get to employ some tactics and mind games. I find with the shorter races a lot of it is just technique and brute strength, and I personally like not having to stay in lane, too!

Last year was the first year that I’ve had the chance to race against my “nemesis”, Orla, but she was coming off a foot injury last year and wasn’t at peak performance. With me not at my best this year, it was always going to make for an interesting race!

BTG 16 - 1500m pack (Roger Spicer)
Photo credit: Roger Spicer

With the 1500m, you’ve got a few options when it comes to the lane – naturally, you want to gravitate to Lane 1 since it’s the shortest distance, but this can mean that you get trapped in when there are several runners in a pack. But since it was just me and Orla up at the front, I chose to run on her shoulder in Lane 2, making sure she knew I was there and she couldn’t take it easy, even though it meant I was running further on the curves.

BTG 16 - 1500m chase (Orla Smyth)
Photo courtesy of Orla Smyth

I usually like to turn the screw and up the pace in the third lap, but this year I upped the pace, but she matched it and I just couldn’t get around her. So I stayed with her and played the only card I had left – the sprint finish. Now, for all my medals and trophies and marathon times, I am terrible at sprint finishes – I always get left for dead at Run dem Crew when we sprint it home, and I didn’t really want to leave it to a risky finish.

But since it was the only option I had left, as we rounded into the last 100m, I gave everything I could and hoped she wouldn’t notice until it was too late – and by some luck, that’s exactly what happened!

BTG 16 - 1500m finish (Roger Spicer)
The finishing sprint!! Photo credit: Roger Spicer

Had she noticed earlier how much I’d cranked up the speed, I know she could’ve won it, but it was the surprise I needed to cross over the line just ahead, taking gold and giving the crowd a great show, too.

200m


I had a few hours break before my next race (thankfully!) but the 200m is my least favourite distance – it’s my weakest event (I don’t even do it at the World Transplant Games) and oftentimes the fast 100m sprinter ladies come up to run it, with them in blocks and me just trying to hold on. And it absolutely wrecks me for the rest of the day, moreso than the longer races. But I’d promised my team captain I’d do it if it was a guaranteed medal (and therefore points for King’s) so I asked the officials for the starting list and… there were just three of us in my 30-39 age category, so it looked like I was running it!

I didn’t know the other two ladies but I assumed this was because they were sprinters so I’d mentally resigned myself to bronze, but to my astonishment, I’d ended up crossing the line first for a gold!

BTG 16 - 200m (Dave Medcroft)
Sprinting the 200m! Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

Even stranger is that I raced it in the exact same time as last year, but it got me the gold instead of the bronze, which goes to show that it’s as much about your opponents as it is your performance sometimes.

400m


I had about an hour break before my next race, and for some reason there were loads of women in my age category signed up for the 400m, enough that they had to schedule two separate time trials! As it turned out, there were a few no-shows so they managed to squeeze us all into one final, but I’d be up against Orla and I knew this was not only her strongest event, but also that she’d run half as many races as me in the past 24 hours.

BTG 16 - post race (Roger Spicer)
In the finish area. Photo credit: Roger Spicer

I pushed it hard, but Orla came round in an inside lane and took the lead and maintained it, thoroughly deserving her gold and leaving me with the silver. Which, looking at the strong finishes from across the other 8 lanes, is no mean feat in itself.

800


And, no less than a half hour after the 400m (literally not even enough time to get my medal), I got to do it all over again… twice around! There weren’t as many of us on the starting line as the 400m, but frankly I was knackered. So when Orla took off like a shot I thought “There is no way she can maintain that pace for the whole 800m” and resolved to keep steadily at it and close the distance over the two laps. But respect to her, she did maintain that pace, and I never did manage to close that gap.

BTG 16 - 800m (Dave Medcroft)
Orla deserved that gold! Photo credit: Dave Medcroft

But I kept true to myself, too, and maintained my pace, earning myself a second silver for my collection! It wasn’t until afterwards that I compared my times to previous years, and it was interesting to note how consistent my times were compared to previous British Games (where I’d been equally knackered at the end of the day – my Argentina times were way faster thanks to the extra training and rest days!). My 800m time was actually 2 seconds faster than last year’s time, and my 400m was 1 second faster, so again, it’s really down to your competitors as much as it is your own times!

4×100m team relay


And again, I had less than a half hour’s rest before the final event of the day, which is always the team 4×100 relays. Now, I always put my name down in advance to help out the team, but I always try to wriggle out of actually doing it because a) I’m freaking exhausted at this point of the day, b) I am not a sprinter and hate competing the 100m distance, and c) oh god the baton and the little lines and I can only hand off within certain lines, aaahhh!

But we’d had some injuries this year and so a few regulars couldn’t do it, and I agreed to run it if I could be in the first position and therefore only have to do one baton handoff, ha! There were so many teams competing this year that they had to run three separate heats (as time trials) to decide the winners, and Team King’s did amazingly well – coming second place in the first heat so we then had a nail-biting wait watching the other two heats hoping we’d be fast enough to cling on to a silver or bronze.

As it turned out, we were awarded silver on the podium, but after some protests that the winning team was comprised of athletes from mixed hospitals and therefore ineligible for medals, we were eventually awarded gold!! In all my years for competing for King’s, we’ve never won gold at the relay so this was a huge deal for us, and completely unexpected!

BTG 16 - all the medals
With all the medals!

So all in all, I ended up with four golds, two silvers, and the right to retain my trophy for another year. Not bad for feeling woefully unprepared, especially if you consider that, in June and July, I’ve run an (ultra) marathon through Transylvania, cycled 120 miles overnight, and won medals in six separate track events! Which is quite a range.

British Transplant Games, 30-31 July
3km “mini marathon”, 12:18 – gold & trophy
1500m, 5:48 – gold
800m, 2:56 – silver
400m, 1:13 – silver
200m, 0:32 – gold
4×100m team relay – gold

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Comment [1]

...and now World Record Holder, too!

7 September 2015, 22:03

In my last post I told you all about my first race of the World Transplant Games, but it’s been over a week now and I’ve been too busy relaxing and recuperating in Iguazu and Buenos Aires to tell you all about my final two days on the track – shame on me! The upside, however, is that I’ve got some great photos to share now that I’m home, though I’ve still not entirely mentally processed the results!

My four track events were nicely split up onto two days – the 1500m and 400m on Friday, and the 800m and 4×400m women’s relay on Saturday afternoon. Having had Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to recover from the road race was also a good thing, especially since I’d tripped before the race and given myself a stiff and sore knee to contend with too.

Friday morning was uncharacteristically cold and windy down at the track, with everyone in the stands huddling under blankets and heavy coats. Since the forecast was warm, I didn’t bring my Team GB sweatshirt and only had my tracksuit over my running vest and shorts – James was freezing, too, so he went out in search of somewhere to buy a sweatshirt or two, and came back two hours later with some, plus gloves and scarves, too – by which point the sun had finally emerged and the Team GB sports therapy unit had already warmed up my muscles with a dolphin rub down, plus loosened up my knee nicely, ready to race. But the wind was still fierce, especially around the back straight, and while watching Ruth win gold in the ladies Race Walk, I watched in horror as a wheelie bin by the stands blew over! And that was in the sheltered side of the track!

So I wasn’t expecting much in the 1500m, but I hit the start line with the other ladies and immediately made a move for the lead and the inside lane. Truth be told, I was really on my own for the whole race, and ran it more like a time trial than the fun strategy game I had with my “nemesis” in Newcastle a few weeks earlier. And every time I ran the back straight and I ran into the wind, it was so tough it felt like I was running uphill, and I could feel my pace hit a brick wall. So by the time I crossed the finish line, I was so convinced that I ran a slow time that I went through the medal ceremony feeling pleased with my gold, but disappointed I didn’t get a good crack at the world record. That is, until about a half hour after the race, when I went to check the official times, noted it down in my “Times to Beat” file on my phone (into which I’d noted my times from the last two British Transplant Games, the winning time from the last World Transplant Games, and the World Record time). Even writing it down, the penny still hadn’t dropped – it wasn’t until someone else on the British team asked what my time was that I actually looked at the line above it in my file and saw that, at 5:36.41, I’d beaten the world record by 1 second!! And that was even with the fierce wind!!

800m podium

So having had my two best events out of the way and performed better than I had dreamed, I was feeling really relaxed going into the 400m later that afternoon. In the British Games, I run the 200m, but I’m really not as fast across the shorter distances, so I opted to drop it and go for higher quality performances at the World games, but this meant the 400m would now be my shortest, and therefore most brutally fast event. The gun went off, and I basically sprinted this, again dealing with the strong headwind around the back straight finishing first for another gold in 1:09.57 – taking a full 5 seconds off my PB from any of the British games, and only 1 second away from another World Record (damn you, wind!!).

I was initially annoyed that both of my events on the following day were in the late afternoon and only 30 minutes apart(!), but then I’d realised this would allow us to have the first lie-in of our entire trip. So we did just that, and took a taxi to the track from the Games hotel around lunchtime, giving me plenty of time to warm up – only it was hot and sunny and I had to put on sunscreen! I’d say it was the complete opposite to Friday’s weather, but no – that headwind around the back straight was still there, and so again, in the 800m, it was like I was running uphill both times I came around there. I was hoping to have a bit of an opportunity to race with some strategy, but the three other ladies in my age category all pulled out, so I was guaranteed a gold even if I walked it round which of course I’d never do – where’s the fun in that!? So instead I raced the 18-29 year olds, and came in first in 2:42.23, feeling like I’d properly earned it! The 800m is probably the distance I run most often in my track training sessions, and oftentimes I struggle to come in under 3 minutes in practice, so I was really pleased with my time, even if it was essentially just a time trial.

Handing the baton to Emma

I barely had time to collect my medal on the lonely podium before it was time to meet with my teammates for the women’s 4×400m relay – the last event of the day. We had some troubles fielding a team, what with Ruth away playing badminton doubles at the same time, and many of the sprinters unwilling to run a whole 400m, but eventually we pulled a team together… only to find out that none of the other countries did! So for the second time that afternoon, I found myself running unopposed. We tried to persuade the officials to let us “race” against the men, but were denied for some official reason, leaving us with the best view in the house to cheer the GB men on to an extremely close silver finish behind Iran, and then we hit the track all on our own. I persuaded the other ladies (all sprinters) to treat this as a celebration of all our hard work in training, competing, and recovery, as well as the lives we’d been given by our donors, and we did just that. When my turn came, I ran it at “party pace”, with a massive smile on my face, waving the baton to the crowds as they cheered me on. It truly was a victory lap, and the best possible way to complete my first World Transplant Games.

Team GB 4x400m relay team

If you’d like to hear my thoughts about both days of track racing at the end of the second day, you can listen to me speak below:

You can also listen to some of the other Team GB athlete’s stories here

So my total haul for the games was a remarkable six gold medals (four individual and two team), four World Championships, a World Record, and a World’s Best (there are no official world records for the road race due to changing terrain in each host city, but I ran the fastest recorded time of any woman in any year).

Final medal haul

And I got a bouquet of flowers with each gold, so I hope I made the hotel maid (and her mother, sister, friends…) smile, too. It was my first World Transplant Games, and one I’ll always remember – not just for the international friends I made, or the medals I won, or the wonderful people of Argentina, or my chance to finally wear the Team GB vest and represent my country, but because my mom traveled the whole way down from the States and finally got to see me race for the first time. Thanks, Mom.

World Transplant Games, Mar del Plata, Argentina, 23-30 August
5km Road Race, 19:04 – gold, World’s Best time, and team gold
1500m, 5:36.41 – gold and World Record
800m, 2:42.23 – gold
400m, 1:09.57 – gold
4×400m relay – team gold

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Comment [7]

Trained and ready

18 August 2015, 16:31

I will be competing for Great Britain at the World Transplant Games in Argentina next week.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute, because I can hardly believe it myself. I received my Team GB selection email all the way back in August of last year, coincidentally on the same day I’d just run Berlin marathon and had my legs up a wall recovering. The first Team GB training was in November, and in January I started training in earnest for the Games, seeing my coach Barbara at Energy Lab once a fortnight for a brutal series of core and strength workouts that, quite frankly, left me sore for days afterwards in the beginning.

weight lifting

Then, as time progressed, and London marathon came and went, I stayed focused on this, my “A” race for the year. I saw loads of improvement, being able to do 10-20 reps of difficult moves like side planks with leg lifts, or jackknifes, when I’d struggled to do a handful at the start. We pared down my diet post-marathon training, too, aiming to get me as light as possible to gain a few seconds on the track. I’ve lost about 10kg in the past 3-4 months, and, in combination with the regular running and strength training, I could see distinct muscles I’d literally only seen in books before.

Energy Lab - roller plank

I became kinda fixated on this photo of myself doing a roller plank (where you start in a plank with your ankles on the roller, moving up into an inverted V with your toes on the roller), as I could see every single little muscle in my legs, arms and shoulders. Was that really me? I’m not really an athlete, I just play one on the internet, surely? I started to tell people just snippets of the Friday training session I’d had, like the time I’d done 100 squats… while balancing on a Bosu ball… while raising a weighted bar over my head. And just watched their mouths drop lower and lower while I kept quiet about the other 80% of that particular session.

Team GB shorts

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve worked hard. I’ve trained hard for big races before, but never quite to this length of time, or intensity over such a time period. Part of the reason is that track running and speed work really don’t come naturally for me – I’m a distance runner who prefers half- and full-marathons, suddenly faced with performing at an international level in the 400m. I mean, the farthest I’ll be racing in Argentina is the 5km road race, and I haven’t raced anything shorter than a 10km in over 10 years!

track training sprint

If you’re used to distance running, then you likely have a pretty efficient distance running form that will get you through an hour or more of running while using as little effort as possible. Or at least I did – but the past few weeks have been about teaching my legs and body to “un-learn” all those distance tricks and run instead in a way that’s better for speed but feels like I’m running slower, and less coordinated. But I push on, and have faith in my coach that the training will pay off and my body will remember these sessions when I’m toeing the line next week.

Running with the Union Jack

So the Games may be less than a week away, but I’m still hitting the track and trying to lose a second here and a second there in the few days I’ve got left. There’s always room for improvement, even after eight months of dedicated training.

If you’d like to keep up with my progress during the Games, I’ll be posting updates to my Twitter as well as recording audio updates to the Transplant Team GB channel on audioBoom whenever I get a bit of wifi. Or check back here, where new posts will appear below.

My race schedule is 5km road race on Monday 24 August, 1500m & 400m on Friday 28 August, and 800m (& 4×400m relay?) on Saturday 29 August.

I am Melissa Fehr, and I am on Team GB.

Melissa in Tea GB tracksuit

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Comment [4]

British Transplant Games: Newcastle 2015

5 August 2015, 13:28

Five races in under 24 hours is enough to make anyone exhausted just thinking about it, let alone racing it! This is my third year competing for Kings College Hospital alongside other British organ and bone marrow transplantees, and with the World Transplant Games only 3 weeks away, this was a good opportunity for a dress rehearsal (well, not literally as I’ll be wearing Team GB kit in Argentina)!

Melissa before the mini marathon start
Repping Run dem Crew in the sunshine before the Mini Marathon start

First up was the 3km “mini marathon” along the Newcastle Quayside and the Millennium Bridge. I led from the start, and it was pretty smooth sailing, aiming to keep my pace as far under 4min/km as I could manage – til the turnaround point, when I suddenly had to fight my way through the slower runners and walkers (and prams, and dogs…) coming the opposite direction.

Mini Marathon start
The official race start photo, while we still had a free path!

I used a lot of lung power shouting “EXCUSE ME PLEASE!” every five feet like it was the Embankment in tourist season, so I didn’t get the time I wanted, but still managed to be the first across the line (male or female) to earn my first gold medal AND retain the trophy for the first female for another year. Even with the lack of a lead sweep bike for the 3km runners (there was one for the 5km route, but since we turned back before them, the bike was well behind most of the 3km runners), having chip timing and separate start for the competitors and fun runners was a massive safety improvement over last year.

Melissa and John with trophies
Myself and John – overall winners of the ladies’ and men’s Mini Marathon races

Sunday we moved to Gateshead International Stadium for all the track and field events, starting first with the 1500m. This is my favourite of the track events, and the first time in three years that I finally got to race against my NEMESIS – the lady who won all the running events before I came along. The two of us were neck and neck for the first two laps, her in lane 1 and myself in lane 2.

Myself and Orla racing the 1500m
Myself and Orla (my “nemesis”!), neck and neck in the 1500m. Photo: Dave Medcroft

I’d been reading up on 1500m race strategy though, which said that the race is always won in the 3rd lap. So coming into the 3rd I took the psychological step of accelerating so I could move into lane 1 ahead of her, which apparently just killed her off, as she fell off the back after that, finishing in 3rd about 300m behind me.

Nadia and I on the 1500m podium
Nadia and I on the 1500m podium (Orla was seeing a physio and missed it)

Then it was the 200m, which is my weakest event, as I am in no way a sprinter, but I do it anyway to build “character” (and because my team captain says I must run the maximum 5 events!). I was up against sprinter girls in block starts and I swear worked harder for this bronze than I did the next two golds.

I only had about 30min break before the 400m, which saw my legs really shaking as I pushed across the line for another gold, and by the time I got to the 800m race about an hour after that, I was really running on empty. It’s good that I was able to win that one pretty comfortably as I really don’t think I had any fight left in my legs!!

800m podium
800m podium with my BTGBFF Ruth and a visiting American runner

The good news is that I’m racing these same events (minus the 200m, and possibly adding the 4×400m relay) in Argentina spread out over a whole week, so the extra recovery time should really help shave off those extra few seconds. I’m targeting a gold sweep, of course!!

Total medal haul
The obligatory Mister T shot!

(And having finally met my “nemesis”, she is of course, SUPER lovely and we got on so well and had a right laugh the whole weekend. She was only just out of a plaster cast for a foot injury though, so we’re both looking forward to a proper showdown in Liverpool next year. And she laughed the hardest of all when I told her about being my nemesis!!)

Even though we leave for Mar del Plata in 2.5 weeks, there’s incredibly(!) still time to sponsor me for the World Transplant Games if you haven’t done so already – this helps offset my flights, team hotel, competition insurance, and training costs! And likewise, if you’re not already on the organ donor list or the bone marrow database, please, please consider doing so and telling your friends and family about your wishes.

British Transplant Games, 1-2 August
3km “mini marathon”, 12:54 – gold & trophy
1500m, 5:44 – gold
800m, 2:58 – gold
400m, 1:14 – gold
200m, 0:32 – bronze

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Comment [1]

You must respect the spikes

22 July 2015, 15:18 New track spikes

Remember a few weeks ago I told you about the new track spikes I bought? Well, this isn't an issue with these specific spikes, nor how they're suited to my particular feet or gait, but more of a general issue with track spikes that no one ever told me:

You must ease in to running with the spikes (pins) in!*

I've spoken with countless people over the past three weeks, some experts in athletics, others ex-national level athletes, and some coaches and physios, and they've all said the above. Pity no one told me this before I did my warmup, drills, and 4x 800m with my spikes in a few weeks ago, having abruptly ended the session after the 4th when a sharp, shooting pain appeared out of nowhere on the ball of my right foot, just under the big toe joint.

I was smart/experienced enough to stop immediately, unscrew all the pins, and gingerly try another lap with just the plain spikes, but it was clear that nothing, not even going barefoot for a cool down, was going to help the pain. My coach, Barbara, is also a physio, so she had a good poke around the next day and told me to ice, elevate and rest it, but assured me it was not displaying the signs of a stress fracture.

So I grudgingly rested for the week. And the next. I am neither patient, nor good at resting, and it was bad timing that this meant I had to travel all the way out to Coventry for the final Team GB training day, but sit out the actual training. After two weeks of nearly constant, low level pain whenever I stood, walked, or even sat down, my patience was beginning to wear thin, and my ability to cope with stress and sleep properly was also eroding along with my lack of running.

Foot wrapped in tape
Note Barbara's choice of tape to cheer me up, ha!

I saw Barbara again two weeks after the incident, and this time she taped up my foot to hold the tendon a bit more secure - it had hurt the most when I try to raise my big toe (ie: when my foot is behind me while running or walking), so taping it felt a bit like a sports bra for my foot - not holding it rigid, but giving my brain a subtle clue to not bend it quite so much when I walk, and extend my Achilles more instead. To be honest, I've never been a massive believer in kinesio tape, but that day was the first pain-free day I'd had in two weeks, and it gave my foot enough of a break to attempt a short 3km run the following Tuesday.

I can't say that that run was 100% pain-free, but it certainly wasn't an alarm-ringing, "omg you must stop immediately!" sort of pain, either. Considering the detrimental effects Not Running had been having on my stress, anxiety, and sleep levels, I figured it'd be better for me overall to finish the 15min easy run than to stop and feel broken, dejected, and frustrated on a bus instead.

In terms of timing, it's not been great considering I've got the British Transplant Games in Newcastle next weekend (3km road race then 1500m, 800m, 400m, and 200m on the track), and the World Transplant Games in Argentina in four weeks, but now that I'm on the upswing, it feels like both of these are achievable, especially since I've not lost any strength training workouts during my unscheduled rest.

* The consensus seems to be that you should only run the last rep at the end of a session with the spikes (pins) in, and certainly no more than 3-4km even after you've built up over a few weeks. And after a long break (such as winter), you need to build up again. Because, as I can attest, everything feels perfectly fine until it doesn't!

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An update from the track

23 June 2015, 17:06

The World Transplant Games in Argentina are only 60 days away (thanks to the countdown on the official site, I can freak out on a daily basis!), and my training is into the "serious phase". I've been doing a ton of core and strength training since January, and I'm definitely seeing gains now in my core strength - certain exercises I could barely do a few months ago I'm now able to sustain for several minutes, and combined with the strict training diet, I'm seeing defined muscle groups as well.

New track spikes
My new Nike Rival Zoom D spikes, yay!

But as you'd expect for a track meet, I'm doing a lot of work on the track, too! So as a follow-up to my Transplant Story on audioBoom, I recorded a training update from Mile End track the other week, heavy breathing and all!



I've also seen my lap times come down somewhat, but on the particular night I recorded the above, I found a 3min 800m frustratingly out of reach, no matter how hard I tried. But the following week, I was able to hit them no problem at all, and I couldn't quite figure out the reason, until a friend pointed out how hot and humid it had been on the 10x 800m night! A-ha! So let's hope that along with the cool weather in Mar del Plata, it'll be low humidity as well...

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Comment [2]

Get me to the Games!

20 October 2014, 12:37

I think I’ve accepted that I’ll never complete in the Olympic Games. Yes, I think I’m over that particular childhood dream.

But a portion of that dream is about to come true, because I’ve been selected to represent Great Britain in track & field at the World Transplant Games in Argentina next year!!

It still hasn’t quite sunk in yet that next August, I’ll be wearing “Great Britain” across my chest, running around the track on the other side of the world, competing for gold medals and glory, surrounded by other athletes who’s also been saved by life-saving transplants (like my bone marrow transplant 5 years ago). You may recall my performance at the British Transplant Games earlier this year, where I won four golds and a silver on the track, and I’ll be training hard to replicate that success in Argentina.

Melissa running the 1500m

The World Transplant Games are an officially sanctioned IOC event (so my comparison to the Olympic Games isn’t a folly!), with full Opening and Closing Ceremonies, medal podiums, and international competition. But unfortunately the levels of funding are nowhere near its big brother. So in order to actually compete, I need to fundraise to cover the cost of my flights, accommodation, entry fees, kit, coaching, food, and travel to the Team GB training days. This isn’t a holiday – any surplus funds will go towards the Transplant Sport UK Management Team (including physios and coaches) who give up their time to support the team.

If you want to get some goosebumps and see what Plata del Mar, Argentina actually looks like, have a look at the official teaser video for next year’s games:

It goes without saying that the World Transplant Games are my “A” race for 2015. I’m running London marathon again (with a GFA qualification so no fundraising necessary!), as well as the Cambridge half, but these are really just a big warmup for the Games.

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Please help me get to the start line. I’ll do the rest.

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Varied shoes for varied running

18 September 2014, 17:33

I swear I used to be a runner that just owned one pair of running shoes. But somehow over the years I seem to have accumulated a bunch of different pairs, each of which has a different purpose in my training schedule.

New Balance Minimus Road Shoe (10v1, zero drop)


NB Minimus Road
I wear these for… Tempo and Threshold runs, like Run dem Crew. These are extremely light road shoes, and they’re best for anything fast.
What I like: They’re super lightweight, they’ve got a really wide toebox so my toes can splay as wide as they possibly can and still not touch the sides! They’ve also got an integrated tongue on one side so they’re really comfortable with no chafe points.
What I don’t: The sole is designed for the road, but they’ve got crap traction in the rain. My feet also get super sore from the impact if it’s anything longer than 10k (I’m still building my foot strength!).

New Balance Minimus Trail Shoe (1010v2, 4mm drop)


NB Minimus Trail
I wear these for… Summer trail running mostly, though before I got the road-specific pair above, I did all my road mileage in these, including running London marathon.
What I like: Like the other Minimus, these have got a great, wide toe box and the mesh on top keeps my feet nice and cool. There’s more grip to the Vibram soles on these, too, so they’re fine with a bit of Hampstead mud.
What I don’t: If you run on the road too much, the soles really wear down to nothing pretty quickly, and this particular pair had a hard bit of stitching by the forefoot that wore into my right foot for about 6 weeks (a previous pair of the exact same style didn’t have this issue).

Brooks Pure Drift


Brooks Pure Drift
I wear these for… Long distances on the road.
What I like: We bought these specifically because my poor, tender feet were getting overly sore from running anything over 10k on the roads in minimalist shoes. I got black toenails just from the impact forces in London marathon, and we wanted something that was still minimalist, but with some better forefoot cushioning. It took two tries to get the sizing right, but these have also got an adequately-wide toe box. I also love the knobbly laces, which just don’t budge even if they’re only single-knotted.
What I don’t: They’re ever-so-slightly too short for my big toe, which rubs a little bit at the end (but the next bigger size was way too big in the forefoot, making me slide all over the place!). Oh, and the pink. Pitiful (ie: no) choice in colours for women.

Puma Complete Haraka Cross Country Spikes


Puma XC Spikes
I wear these for… Track! Even though I originally bought them for cross country, which it turns out I hate.
What I like: These are lightweight, flashy, and have fantastic traction for the track, even without the spikes in.
What I don’t: My poor toes feel squished together as they’ve not got enough room to splay fully when I land, meaning I tend to get blisters between my toes after long sessions.

UnderArmour SpeedForm XC Trail Shoes


UA Trail Shoes
I wear these for… Winter trail running, when the mud is up to your knees!
What I like: They look totally bonkers, but I love the high tops – they give great ankle support and I’m never worried that I’ll lose a shoe in a bog. They’re also surprisingly lightweight, have a stretchy toebox, and a good, grippy sole.
What I don’t: The sole gets worn down very easily if you have to run on pavements to get to the trails, and they’re an absolute bugger to get on and off when they’re caked in mud!

What about you? How many running-specific shoes do you have? Surely I’m not some crazy outlier here, right?

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British Transplant Games - Bolton 2014

13 August 2014, 11:35

This weekend I competed in my second British Transplant Games, which sees organ and bone marrow transplant patients from all over the UK competing in a variety of sports, showing what we can do when given a second chance at life. The games move around each year, and took place in Bolton over the weekend (you might recall my report from Sheffield last year). Last year I only fancied competing in the two longest distances available, but this year my team captain encouraged me to sign up for the maximum five individual events, so I registered for the 3km “mini marathon”, 1500m, 800m, 400m, 200m, and the mixed relay.

Saturday night’s “Mini Marathon” was my first event, though it’s really four races run at the same time – a 5km “mini marathon” event for male transplant competitors, a 3km “mini marathon” event for female transplant competitors, a 5km “donor run” for anyone, and a 3km “donor run” for anyone. Last year all four races were set off in one massive scrum, which saw us literally tripping over children in the first few hundred metres, and caused a lot of complaints about the safety of the faster and slower runners alike.

So I was pleased when I ran into my friend (and kidney transplantee) Ruth, who then went up to the organisers pre-race to ask what they were doing about the situation this year and if they could please separate out the competitors from the fun runners. The race hasn’t been chip-timed for the past few years, so it’s essential for competitors to be able to run as fast as they possibly can in order to win medals.

Melissa & Ruth pre Mini Marathon
As an aside – Ruth is a total badass who’s also run loads of marathons, including Bacchus full last year, and just ran the Thunder Run a few weeks ago, solo, completing over 90km in 20hrs. Just sayin.

So after some warmups, we all took to the start as a massive scrum, with a few half-hearted comments for all the 5km runners to please go to the front. Facepalm. So Ruth and I wrangled our way up to as close to the front as we could, avoiding the blind, tethered runner, small child, and other fun runners to try and get to a good position, a few rows back behind some dudes who looked fairly fast.

Mini Marathon starting scrum

The first 300m were on the track, and after about 10m of jostling to get around slower runners, then having to pull back to avoid three slower guys running abreast, I clipped the heel of another slower guy ahead of me and I went down. Hard. I’ve run probably 70-80 races in my days, and I have never once fallen in a race. But I fell here, and the track is nowhere near as soft as you’d think – I got massive scrapes on both knees and my right elbow, and half the pins ripped out of my number. I screamed a massive blue streak, Ruth helped me up, and I carried on running. Most of the course was a blur of anger and adrenaline, but I do recall a lovely woodland stretch near the end, then a surprisingly big hill just before rejoining the track for the finish/start line, where I finished as the first lady (fourth overall) in 11:07 to take the gold medal.

Melissa crossing the Mini Marathon finish line

I then headed directly to the paramedics to get cleaned up, where I immediately started a sneezing fit. After describing it to James, we concluded it was my first ever bout of hayfever. Ever. So for the rest of the weekend I was hopped up on antihistamines, going through tissues at an alarming rate, with red nose, red eyes, the works. Yay.

Melissa collecting her Mini Marathon trophy

But I digress – as first lady of any age category, I also earned the Lynn Hindle memorial trophy, which I’m happy to take care of for another year.

Mini Marathon trophy and medals

Saturday may have been dry and lovely, but Sunday’s forecast was for torrential rain for pretty much the entire day, with strong winds as a result of a hurricane remains further south. So, perfect for five track races! Ha. The 1500m was first up, and myself and the other ladies huddled under some gazebos until our start, trying to stay as warm and dry as possible.

Melissa running the 1500m
How much do I love this photo?? Notice the rain drops around my head… I’m also wearing two of my own patterns – the VNA Top & Duathlon Shorts!

I’ve run in the rain enough to mostly be able to block it out (Cophenhagen marathon was good practice there!), but the finishing straight had a helluva headwind, blowing the rain right into my eyes and making for some tough speedwork. I gave it about 90%, knowing that I still had four more races, but I still finished first across the line in 5:49.

Melissa towelling off after 1500m
Towelling off with my official team Kings College Hospital towel after the 1500m race, just like a swimmer!

Even though the track wasn’t as big or nice as Don Valley Stadium last year, and the seating wasn’t under cover, either, the staff on the track this year were superb – incredibly helpful, friendly, and professional, too. There’s nothing like having a lap counter, last lap bell, and officials shouting out your lap times to make a girl feel like Mo Farah (or Jo Pavey!).

There was a massive two hour delay, however, between the end of our race and the medal ceremony, which involved Ruth and I again having to track down race officials, explain to them that they got the medals wrong (medals are awarded by age category, not overall finish position), run back and forth between various race HQs, wait ages longer, finally get an amended result that was still wrong, and finally just write it out ourselves for the poor medal officials to get on with the podium stuff.

The 1500m medal podium

Oh yes, there’s a podium! By this point (midday), though, we were both starving and my 200m race wasn’t until 14:30, so we headed off for a quick lunch, arriving back at 14:00 in what we thought was plenty of time to warm up. …Until one of Ruth’s teammates came past us in the rest area saying “Aren’t you running the 400m? They’re calling your name out on the track!” Uhh??? So we both ran out (hearing my name announced as well) to make it onto the track just in time to run the 400m, which wasn’t scheduled to start for other 90min.

Apparently someone decided to compress the schedule in order to try and get all the races done before the impending bad weather (fair enough, since they had to stop play altogether earlier when winds were so high they were blowing metal barriers onto the track). But they made no announcements in the sports hall before we left, and despite their twitter account making lots of casual tweets, they said nothing about the time changes, which would’ve made us high-tail it back from lunch to compete!

So after running the 400m (and winning it in 1:15) then pleading my case about missing the 200m race and clearly showing I’d made every effort to be aware of the situation, the race officials finally conceded to let me run 200m on my own as a time trial, with my time being slotted in amongst the other runners for rankings. I was fine with that, as I just wanted to be able to compete! I’m really not a sprinter, but I wanted the chance to at least get a time down, so I headed out on the track with another lady (in a different age category) who’d also missed the race, and we ran our 200m, completing mine in 0:36, which earned me a silver after all was said and done!

Due to the approaching dark clouds, all the mixed relays were cancelled, so it was just the final 800m left at the end of the day, and I hit the start line yet again, feeling probably as calm as I’ve ever felt before a race. I especially like the longer races where I don’t have to stay in my lane, so as soon as I can, I tear off to Lane 1 and settle into a crazy fast pace, counting breaths in my head to ward off any thoughts. But as I was running the 800, I could hear the announcer talking about me over the tannoy, saying things like “well, it’s clear she’s a well trained athlete…”, which made me laugh, and make a note to tell Barbara about that one! Even at the end of a long day, I was able to earn gold here, too, in 2:45!

Melissa on the 800m medal podium

So I ended the day again, beaming from the top of a medal podium! My total haul for the weekend ended up being four gold, one silver, and an amazing trophy. This weekend was my “A” Race for the fall, with special emphasis on the 3km and 1500m, so I’m super, super happy with this result!!

Melissa with final medals and trophy

The games this year were also qualifiers for the World Transplant Games in Argentina next year (an IOC event, omg!), so I’ll find out in a few months if my performance was good enough to be invited to join the British Team. For someone who wouldn’t even be alive without her donor, this seems like an unbelievable proposition.

But really, the real wonder is that absolutely everyone competing this weekend wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for the selfless generosity of another person. I think the British Transplant Games are the best possible way to show what can be achieved when someone is given a second chance at life.

Please, please put yourself on the Organ Donor list and discuss this with your family so that they’re aware you want to go on saving lives after you die. And if you’re aged 16-30, please also sign up to the separate Anthony Nolan bone marrow database, which means you could save a life and return to normal after only 3 weeks.

British Transplant Games, 9-10 August
3km “mini marathon”, 11:07 – gold & trophy
1500m, 5:49 – gold
800m, 2:45 – gold
400m, 1:15 – gold
200m, 0:36 – silver

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British Transplant Games - double gold medals

12 September 2013, 17:09

The British Transplant Games are an annual event for all survivors of organ or bone marrow transplant to compete in a variety of sports. I wrote these reviews just after the event in August, but I’m playing a bit of catchup in posting them now.

On Saturday I traveled up to Sheffield from London to compete in my first British Transplant Games, and despite having done specific track training for the past few months, I was absolutely bricking it in the lead-up to the first race.

As a distance runner, I’d signed up to run in their longest events: the 3km “mini marathon” (awwww!) and the 1500m, plus a mixed 400m relay. I was surprised to find on Saturday evening however, that despite training for several months on the track, the “mini marathon” was actually a road race (good thing I didn’t put my spikes in!), that there was a non-transplantee fun run happening at the same time (with no separate start for those of us competing for medals), and that my main rival was out with a stress fracture so the showdown I’d been building up for wasn’t going to happen. Still I set off strong, and by the time I exited the stadium and hit the roads outside Don Valley, I only had a few men ahead of me. I gradually picked off a few more up the unexpected hills, and by the time I re-entered the stadium for the finish, there was only one man ahead! My final time was never recorded (arrgh!), but I was unbelievably chuffed to see I’d come in under 12 minutes, which was more than enough to earn me a gold medal for my age category, plus a trophy for being the first woman across.

BTG 2013 3k finish After the Mini marathon
I was so surprised, I did an unintentional Mo Bot when the commentator told me I came in under 12 minutes!!

Then the next morning was my second race, the women’s 1500m (3.75 laps around the track). This indeed was a true track race, with a gun start and a bell for the final lap! I came out in front in the first 200m and grew the lead over the race, ending up finishing over a full minute ahead of the next finisher! I had to lap a few of the other ladies, which I felt bad about, so I tried to offer encouragement as I went past.

Crossing the 1500m finish line

I also ran in the mixed 400m relay later in the afternoon, but despite making our way through the heats, our team came in 4th in the final. Only one of us had done baton handoffs before, so we practiced just before the race, which was actually quite fun! Everything went smoothly and we all sprinted our hardest, but the other teams were just faster! No shame in that!

Ruth & I on the podium

All in, I was really proud to earn two gold medals for Kings College Hospital (at the games, you compete for your transplant hospital), and proud to wear the Kings tracksuit up on the podium. For the first race, I wore my trusty Nike short shorts and my disco split back top, but for the second race, I threw all caution to the wind and wore my brand-new Jalie shorts & sports bra set since it made me feel that little bit more elite, ha.

Not bad for someone who was a few weeks from death four years ago! It was a truly inspiring weekend of sport, with only points deducted for missing out on a good tussle with my rival. Bring on Bolton 2014.

British Transplant Games, 3km: sub-12minutes, 1500m: 5:45, 17-18 August 2013

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My Magic Mile

2 September 2013, 12:48

I’ve quickly become a regular at our usual Thursday track sessions over the course of this summer, but last week we did something a little different. The Marathon Talk podcast (which is well worth subscribing to!) is hosting the Magic Mile challenge so we decided to take part. As part of this, we listed our usual session details on the Marathon Talk website, effectively opening it up to any non-Run dem Crew runners who wished to take part. I’m pleased to say that we had four new faces come down and join us in addition to a healthy RDC showing, which was enough to run four heats!

To those not familiar with the track, one lap around is 400m exactly. One mile = 1.609 kilometers. Since four laps around the track is just shy of a mile, there’s an extra curved line drawn on the track 9m back from the usual finish line. Everyone starts at that line, then completes four laps.

Melissa on the track
(Special thanks to Murdo for taking this great photo of me coming down the final straight!)

I’m sure some groups could’ve done fancy chip timing or special stopwatches for each person, but we just set the timer going when we yelled “Go!”, then shouted out the various lap times as each runner crossed the finish line, and eventually scrawled every person’s mile time on a notepad.

Having just completed the 1500m in 5:45 a few weekends ago in the British Transplant Games, I figured my mile time would be somewhere around the 6 minute mark, and I’m very pleased to report I ran it in 6:08! Considering my best ever mile time in high school was 8:15, I think it’s safe to say that 34-year-old-me just kicked 16-year-old-me’s ass!

Humility has a way of catching up with you though – since I still had my training plan’s 400m repeats to do, I took a short breather before launching into 400m at breakneck pace, followed by 400m recovery. I was meant to do four or five but after the third I felt this close to puking and had to call it quits. 34-year-old-me has now learned never to eat peanut butter right before track…

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The red rubber ring

23 August 2013, 09:52

When I was in high school, once a year everyone had to run The Mile.

It was a dreaded, horrible event that struck fear into the heart of every teenager at West Perry High, and we’d all decamp for that gym session down to the gravel track that surrounded the football field. The rules were simple – four laps around, and if you didn’t complete it in under 14 minutes, then you’d have to run it again (I’m pretty sure this was set in place so some of my classmates couldn’t actually smoke a cigarette while completing it).

I have a vivid memory one year of attaching myself directly behind an older girl I knew who was an all-season athlete and forcing myself to stay directly behind her for the whole four laps, even though it meant a coughing fit and near hyperventilation on the finish line. I completed The Mile in 8:15 that year, and it was by far the fastest I’d run it during my time in high school.

Fast forward to 2013, when I’d signed up to compete in the British Transplant Games and I was suddenly faced with a track race having not set foot on a track since The dreaded Mile. Even though my running crew ran weekly track sessions, I’d avoided it up until now, thinking that I didn’t have any room in my weekly running schedule for more speedwork, especially since I already ran tempos once a week and had a busy evening social schedule.

Don Valley stadium track

Reluctantly, I realised that I’d have to make time to practice on the track if I had a hope of racing on the track, so I started attending the weekly sessions at Mile End Stadium.

When I first started running, I realised that I liked running on a treadmill because it allowed me to totally switch off my brain and Just Run, and I was assuming that running on the track would provide the same outlet. How wrong I was! On the treadmill, I’d been going at an easy pace, but at the sustained “suicide pace” of the track, my brain felt it necessary to constantly remind me how much the wind was ruining my times, that I was sure I’d be a few seconds faster than the last lap, what lap was I on again?, oh look at those kids over there…. you get the point.

In distance running, my brain is my biggest asset – my thoughts keep me focused and I can set myself apart from the monotony of the distance. But on the track, my brain was hindering my performance and keeping me from pushing the pace like I needed to in order to endure the pain of 7.5 laps around (3000m). My trainer gave me a bit of advice that really helped however, and that was to simply count. She suggested I pick a foot and count that foot’s steps up to 20 and repeat, but in practice I find it easier to count my breaths, 1 to 20, and repeat, over and over until the sprint is done.

It sounds incredibly monotonous, but it really helps me to give my brain a task so it doesn’t wander and let the dark, negative thoughts in that sabotage my times.

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