Sunday 31 July 2016

Once in a blue moon.....

A year ago today, there was a blue moon. According to google, this is something that occurs roughly every two to three years. A year ago today, I also found out that I had got the temporary Rovers pitch side job and was being sent to the FA St George's Park for training; I took the photo of the moon when I got home that night. 

It was a strange twist of fate, an opportunity that presented itself, and changed a little bit of my life forever. After I finished working for Rovers, I started helping out at my local non league team, something I never would have had the confidence to do before.  I bloody love non league football - the games in random towns I've never heard of before (today I've been to a cup final in Wadebridge - we won), with raffles for obscure prizes such as steaks and ham, and dogs on the terraces. Where we use horse bandages because it's cheaper than the human equivalent, and the same people volunteer in six different roles so that clubs can run and games get played.  It has amazed me just how much time people are willing to give up for their local club and community and it has genuinely been such a privilege to have been part of it. I still get a buzz going through the "Players and Officials only" gate and wonder just quite how I got here.

A year ago, I never would have thought I would have given up my season ticket on the west enclosure to strap ankles in the South West Peninsula league but I wouldn't change anything.

Below are some of my favourite pictures of the past year, some of the places I've been and the people I've met because of my once in a blue moon chance. Thanks to everyone who has been part of it.

Big thanks to everyone who took these photos - mostly "borrowed" from facebook.

Sunday 3 January 2016

My Amazing August

Anyone who has known me for a while will know about my football obsession, which started at the beginning of the 1986/87 season, when my Dad took me to the opening league game of the season following Bristol Rovers move to Twerton Park. I was nine years old. As I got older, my love for the game increased, and Dad and I would traipse around the far corners of England to follow our team.  This is me, aged 12 at Wembley at the final of the Leyland Daf Cup in the days when out national stadium still had some character.

As I got older, and my peers were spending their pocket money on make up and Just Seventeen, I was saving my pennies to buy Match magazine and Pro Cards. My bedroom walls were not filled with posters of the latest boy band but of newspaper clippings of the famous 2nd May 1990, and the cup replay at Anfield. At around 14, after pestering the poor bloke in the Young Pirates room for most of the season, I became the first female ball boy at the club.

As a socially awkward teenager with little in common with the other girls at school, football games became an important focus of my life, somewhere I could go and be part of something, to celebrate the wins over City and despair at getting knocked out in the first round of the cup. Where my messy hair and lack of style didn't matter as long as was able to understand the offside rule. It is a time I look back on with fondness. I remember at about 15 years old expressing annoyance that I could never be a footballer because I was a girl; I have zero sporting ability so my gender would have had no bearing on this whatsoever. My mum told me that I would have to be the physio instead.

Fast forward nearly twenty years, with my life on the verge of collapse, I decided that a physio was just what I was going to be. At the time, I was spending my week in a backpackers hostel in Birmingham, a city where I knew nobody working as a temp, and studying Biology at night school, studying by torch light in my bunk bed. My subsequent physio degree was the hardest thing I've ever done; I am not a straight A student or a scientist and the course took me to the edge of my sanity as I struggled to keep up with the coursework and work enough hours at Asda to pay my bills. Every exam, and every essay was a struggle which took every ounce of strength that I could find.

At the end of July, two years after graduation, I'm browsing on Facebook, when an advert for a temporary matchday physio pops up on the Rovers page. Encouraged by my Gas Girls friends, I submitted an application and twenty four hours later, following the Phil Kite testimonial, I'm behind the scenes, in the physio room. This is me and my Mum with Phil on that night.I'd just found out that I'd got the job, which explains my extremely happy face.

 Within four days, I'm at the FA Training HQ in Burton, mixing with various Premier League physios and doctors on the Advanced Resuscitation and Emergency Aid Course, in preparation for being pitch side. For me, it was an opportunity beyond anything that I could have dreamed of, eating lunch with the men (and it was almost exclusively men) who keep some of the world's most famous footballers fit to play. They are the unsung heroes of the game, many with a huge amount of experience, yet they made me welcome as part of their exclusive group.

The following Saturday,  having had a lovely chat on the phone with DC to finalise the arrangements, I'm at the Mem, getting issued my kit by Steve Yates - the same Steve Yates that I'd seen in Rovers promotion season in 1990. As far as I know, I am the first female to be named on the team sheet. There was a moment, in the tunnel just as I emerged onto the pitch behind the team where you can feel the anticipation and excitement of the crowd at being back in the league, where anything seems possible. I can't put into words how much that one moment meant to me, like a lifetime of dreams all coming together. Several of the players were making their league debut that day too, and it was a privilege to walk alongside them. This is me, just before kick-off of that game on the bench.

I was privileged to be able to remain in the dressing room for some of the team talks, and while it wouldn't be professional to comment on what was said, I was inspired by the way that DC speaks to the players; how he motivates them to be the best that they can be. I have seen numerous managers come and go over the past 30 years, but in my view not since the Gerry Francis reign in the 1990s has there been someone that brings the passion  into the club as much as  the current Gaffer.

I did come in for some criticism from some fellow supporters for not running more quickly across the pitch - I feel that I must point out that I was wearing moulded boots for the first time in my life, carrying a reasonably heavy bag on a wet pitch in front of over 5000 people. I am capable of moving faster than I did that night, but didn't want to end up on my arse on my pitch debut. 

And so it came to an end, as I knew it would. August 2015 has been the most bizarre month of my life to date. I don't know where I go from here; I have made some great contacts and have a qualification that could help take me places that I didn't think I could go. Having been back on the terraces for a couple of games, I know life will never be quite the same again.

Monday 18 August 2014

Two half marathons and wobbly bums

So I've been quiet over the last few months, as I was secretly planning to attempt my first marathon this autumn. Chris, the coach at Lliswerry had very kindly put together a training plan which was going well, and I had taken my long run distance Sunday run up to 15 miles by the end of June. Then my injury curse struck again, initially shin splints, followed by a hamstring strain, then an almighty chest infection requiring antibiotics and steroids to clear it up. I ended up having to miss thunder run and the training plan was abandoned for six weeks. So the marathon plans are put on hold for another year....

It's not all doom and gloom though. The chest infection has cleared up, and I went out for a slow run yesterday and easily managed 7 miles at marathon pace. So not to do things the easy way, today I have signed up for the Cardiff half marathon in just under seven weeks, and the Exeter half in nine; I figured that I might as well make the most of the training and get two races in. 

And in an attempt to shift the extra few pounds that have taken up residence on my backside over my enforced layoff, I decided tonight to go along to an exercise class at the local leisure centre. I mistakenly thought that a class entitled "legs, bums and tums" would be full of slightly chubby women in their 50s gently bobbing up and down in time to some Abba music. In fact, I was the oldest person there by at least a decade and the fattest by at least two dress sizes. The class involved far too much bending my legs in directions that they are just not designed to go, and scary lunges and squats while waving weights above my head. Within two hours I am having to side step down the stairs crab-style, which is always the sign of a good workout and I feel like I have done something.

I have also signed up to a four week challenge on the dietbet website. This concept involves paying $30 into the pot, having your weight verified online, and then re-verified after 4 weeks. There is also a useful section where people can share their experience with the rest of the group, all a little too American for my tastes; lots of high fiving and good jobbing, but strangely supportive at the same time.  Everyone who has lost 5% of their starting weight in the specified time period gets a share of the pot. Quite possibly the only thing that will stop me stuffing my mouth full of chocolate on a daily basis is the thought of missing out on some bonus cash, so I'm hoping that the challenge will help me along the way a little.

I'll try to keep this more updated than I have been as I get back into training again, and I'll end with another motivational quote:


Monday 28 April 2014

Pain in Plymouth

I've struggled with training over the past few months, starting with my arm in a plaster cast throughout February, and two injuries - one to each leg which have kept me on enforced rest for three of the last six weeks. However, my place and hotel was booked for the Plymouth Half, so I decided to travel down with my Dad as planned. 

If anyone is thinking of doing the Plymouth Half, I can highly recommend the Holiday Inn. From the outside, it looks like a dated concrete monstrosity. However, it was very convenient, being located 200m from the start/finish line, and they kindly agreed to extend our check-out time by three hours so that we could have a shower after the race.

I had been popping painkillers and spent hours with oddly positioned freezer blocks in the days prior to the race in the hope that the niggle in my right hip might go away. And fortunately yesterday morning, I woke up feeling fine. I'd taken my breakfast with me, so we were able to have a lie in and just stroll down to the start with 15 minutes to go.

My good friend of twenty years, Lucas Meagor was also running and we met up briefly before the start. I have not seen him for several years, as he now lives in Hull, and me in Devon, so our short but unexpected catch up was nice. Lucas has taken part in a number of crazy running and cycling adventures over the years; please visit his website here to read more about him.

So with my stomach full of shredded wheat, Dad and I headed off to the start line, joining in near the back, and within a couple of minutes we were off. It took us around 6 minutes to cross the start line, and another five minutes or so before the crowd thinned out and we were able to start moving at a reasonable pace. We kept up a fairly good speed for the first couple of miles, although I don't understand why, if a person needs to walk in the first mile they start in the middle of the field. Take your brand new trainers and shiny designer gear to the very back, as you get in way of everyone else!

I more or less stayed with Dad until the second water station. Dad has managed to perfect the 'drinking on the run' technique, whereas I have to stop and walk otherwise I choke, so after this point he was making faster progress then me. The rain then started to come down just as I reached the first of a series of inclines, and it was at this point I wondered whether my lack of consistent training might mean that I would not make it to the end.

The mile markers passed by far too slowly. By mile 8, I could feel a blister forming on my left foot, and by mile 10 every muscle in my body was screaming at me to stop.  However, there is an out and back section at this point where I was able to see the runners a mile or so ahead of me coming in the other direction. Ahead of me was a brave girl whose t-shirt announced that she had the lung condition cystic fibrosis, and a chap with a below knee prosthesis; seeing them stopped the voice of self pity in my head and made me determined to get to the finish. 

I was very pleased to pass the 12 mile marker as the crowd then got bigger and cheered everyone on to the finish. The course planners had cruelly decided that the last third of a mile needed to be uphill onto the Hoe to cross the finish line, where my pace dropped to a shameful 14mm. Still the end was in sight, and it was with great relief that I crossed the finish line. The official photos show me looking exhausted, and unlike the Cardiff half I would not have been unable to have gone any faster, or run another 50 metres. 

Hobbling back to the hotel through the race village, I was approached by a student of Plymouth University, and asked if I would like to have my feet checked by the podiatry students in their marquee. Removing my trainers revealed a fetching blood blister down the inside of my left foot, which they kindly cleaned and dressed for me. Unfortunately this meant that I was unable to get my shoe back on, and the kind receptionist at the hotel who had extended our stay gave me a pair of slippers from the health club to save me having to walk to the car with bare feet.

I woke up today with possibly the worst DOMS pain in my quads that I have ever had, which caused some amusement for my 91 year old patient this afternoon, when I was unable to demonstrate how to do a mini squat. A colleague kindly burst and redressed the blister for me so I am able to wear shoes to work again - one of the few perks of working in the NHS, the Government may have withheld our 1% payrise again, but they'll never stop us helping each other out. 

The half marathon itself was well organised at all stages, with the water in pouches rather than bottles, which I think makes them easier to drink. The crowd was friendly and supportive, with lots of friendly locals handing out much needed jelly babies and noisy vocal support. The route itself was a nice mix of city streets and country parks and although I cursed at the time, an interesting variety of flat and incline. This one may become a regular fixture for Dad and I. 

My chip time was a less than impressive 2:31:34, and Dad came in 6 minutes faster than me, but I am so pleased that I stuck with it, when the easier option would have been to given up and been driven to
the end. I'm not quite sure what my next challenge will be at the moment; getting off the loo is difficult enough at the moment. But pain is temporary and triumph is forever!

Monday 10 March 2014

Choose your words carefully.

The euphoria of finishing the Cardiff half lasted for a few days. My medal was proudly taken to show to colleagues and friends, and the t-shirt worn at every opportunity. I then made the small error of engaging in conversation with an ex about the experience. I mentioned that I had felt that I had  a little more energy left inside me at the end, and that perhaps next time, I would be able to go a little faster, with a longer term aim of running a half in 2 hours 10 minutes.  He told me that I should expect to be disappointed if I tried to go faster, as Cardiff is an “easy half” and I would be unlikely to beat the time that I had achieved.  

I’ve not had anything other than positivity from everyone else that I encountered, but this one comment rather took the wind out of my sails, and I have struggled to get back into training with any real enthusiasm. Put this together with two chest infections requiring steroid inhalers, and my right arm in a plaster cast along with moving house, and it has been a difficult few months.

Mind you, the more I think about it, that particular chap has a special talent for managing to piss on the party. In the last six months or so,  I have relocated my entire life to Devon, where I have a job that I love, and a cute little terraced house which makes me happy. He recently enquired how things were going, so I told him in much the same way as I have stated above. Most normal, rational people have just been happy for me, appreciating the five years of hard work it has taken me to get to this point.

 His response?  “Doesn’t it make you want children?” 

Yes, why not point out the one “failing” that I have in his eyes, and virtually the only thing that I can do very little about in my present circumstances, and use it to take the edge of my happiness.  I despair about the men that I meet;  I don’t know I manage to find them, but that’s a whole separate blog. I’m just grateful that he is my ex, and I’m not stuck married to one of the many men that I have encountered with all the sensitivity and finesse of a gorilla eating a banana.

Anyway, I have been inspired by the fabulous Lliswerrians completing the Newport half, and having read all the reports on facebook, had wished I was there. I have also found a lovely running club not too far away from where I am living now and have enjoyed a couple of training sessions. With this is mind I have signed up to do the Plymouth half on 27th April, and have just done my first proper week of a 8 week training plan. My dad has also agreed to run it with me and not wanting to let him down, I'll stick with it. 

I’ll end with the lesson learned from my recent experiences; choose your words carefully, and be kind. If you cannot be kind, be quiet. 

Thanks for reading. As always, I am touched that you do.

Sunday 6 October 2013

I did it!

I've not posted much lately, I was a bit worried that having signed up for another half, that if I got injured and had to pull out I would look like a wuss and I couldn't be having that. It has also been a crazy few months for me, as I've graduated from university, and got a fab new job in Devon. However, all summer I have been keeping up with the training, mostly along the coastal paths around Woolacombe and the Tarka trail in preparation for today's Cardiff Marathon.

Well, I finished it. And here's proof:

It was almost perfect conditions, perhaps a little too warm but otherwise a lovely day. We nearly missed the start having not anticipated all the road closures, and having to leave our bags with mum to hand in. They had also closed the portaloos at the start with 20 minutes to go, which meant a rather undignified squat behind a wheelie bin; made worse by another similarly positioned girl, pointing out the CCTV camera behind us - apologies to whoever has a recording of my naked arse.

For some crazy reason the race organisers had not put me in the slowest pen at the start, so I went off a little bit too fast to begin with, but other than that I stuck to my race plan, which was to keep as close to 11mm as I could, picking up a bit an the end if I had the energy.

Some mild irritations from around the course - the spitting and nose clearing still makes want to heave, the gel sachets being discarded so that there is gel all over the road making everyone's trainer squeak, and people with headphones oblivious to the other 18,999 people on the course. Grrrrr.

I can't really complain though, as it actually wasn't as much of a struggle as I had anticipated, and I could probably have gone a little bit faster. And other than the horrendous hill at 12 miles (which is actually more like a slope when doing 3 miles!) I didn't have to walk any of it. I'm glad that I did enough training, and the words of coach Chris were on my mind throughout the race; that the miles of training are like putting pennies in the bank that you get out on race day - I don't think I really appreciated what that meant until today.

The support from all of Lliswerry Runners was awesome -  always a friendly word from those that ran past me, cheering from many places around the course, the trumpet at 11 miles and the hugs of celebration at the end. It really is the most amazing club, which is why I made the 150 mile round trip for the AGM last week, and will continue to come back for training sessions and events if I can. A massive congratulations to all who ran today; there were some incredible times both from the more elite club members, and those who tend to plod along at the back like me. 

So what's next? Well, my dad also ran today, and beat me on chip time by 23 seconds, averaged out in the official results as being 1 second per mile quicker. Of course, I can joke that I took it easy today as I didn't want to embarrass him by coming in much faster, but in fact he ran really well today and deserved to come in at a better time than me. I'm determined to try harder next time though, so watch out!  

Watch this space for the next running challenge, I'm sure it won't be too long.....

Until then, I leave you with my motivational quote of the day. Thank you so much for reading. 

Sunday 12 May 2013

Sore from the Sorbrook

Inspired by friends from the running club who have been taking parts in all kinds of amazing events, I woke up this morning with the "fabulous" idea of going along to the Sorbrook 10k. Now bearing in mind that I haven't run more than 5 miles on the flat for around 3 months due to various university commitments, this may not have been the wisest idea that I have ever had.

However, I didn't really have time to think about it too much as I am not really a morning person, so popped over the Spar for some cornflakes and bananas before heading out to register. I'd looked at the results from last year, and knew that I was going to come in pretty much last, so decided to start near the back and stay there - previously I have got caught up in the middle of the pack and gone off too fast, only to pay for it later. 

I'd forgotten just how far 10k actually is when I can't stop and have a rest. And how much I hate hills. The route was lovely and scenic, up a couple of small mountains and then around a reservoir, although I was too busy concentrating on being able to breathe and not falling over my feet. I was right at the back, so the ambulance that needs to follow the back runners was twenty metres from my arse most of the way round, and the whiff of diesel fumes so close by was a distraction from the otherwise beautiful environment. I made it round in one piece though, only stopping to walk up the hills; otherwise I ran the whole way, even managing a little sprint at the end. And I wasn't last either and there was free cake at the end. So all things considered, quite a nice morning out.

Looking back, as much as it was painful at the time, I have got a huge sense of satisfaction that I got round. It was great being part of the Lliswerry gang again as well.  I'm hoping to do the Rose Inn 4 mile run on Tuesday if my legs aren't too sore. Just need to make a plan and stick to it now.

Today's motivational quote is quite apt considering the course route this morning: