When I heard there was going to be a UKRunChat training weekend in Eastbourne, I confess I was more than a little excited.
I couldn’t go to the inaugural UKRunChat training weekend in Anglesey and was quite envious of the tweets and photos I saw from the people who did go – despite the somewhat ‘Welsh’ weather. Here was one I definitely could attend!
Howard, the driving force behind the training weekends, soon enlisted my help, as both a local to the area and as a runner, along with a couple of others, to help him with some of the arrangements. Of course, these things take time in the planning, so I had a long time to wait for, and look forward to, the weekend.
My main contribution in the run up to the weekend was providing some local contacts and planning various running routes, but as the weekend drew near, I somehow found myself volunteering (?) to lead a couple of runs, including one to the local parkrun on Saturday morning. I therefore am writing this blog from a slightly different perspective.
Anyone who knows me (or has met me for at least 10 minutes) will tell you I am a chatterbox. I can talk about anything. At length. I also tend to get on with people (hopefully they get on with me too) and come across as a confident person. However, anyone who knows me really well will actually know that I am not always as confident as I appear. In the final few days before the UKRunChat posse descended upon Eastbourne, I found myself beginning to get nervous. I was still excited, of course and looking forward to showing off my home town, but what if I couldn’t recognise the people I follow from Twitter? What if I didn’t like them? What if they didn’t like me? What if I couldn’t remember everyone’s names? What if I am too slow to lead the runs, or we arrived too late to the start of parkrun? What if the weather was horrid and Eastbourne, ‘The Sunshine Coast’, didn’t live up to its name? What if my niggles prevented me from running?
Friday soon came round and I managed to sneak out of work at 3pm (I had originally booked the day off, but a mix up resulted in me allowing a colleague to have the day off instead). Any nerves were soon set aside as I set about working out what I would need with me the next day and baking my ‘rocket fuel for runners’ and ‘perfect recovery choc truffles’ for the UKRunChat bake-off.
Before I knew it, it was time to head into Eastbourne’s Old Town and the Lamb Inn pub to meet up with everyone. Howard was there, of course, to introduce people and within a very short space of time I knew I didn’t have to worry – everyone seemed very nice and I managed to memorise everyone’s names before Howard employed his not inconsiderable skills in persuasion to get everyone to head back to the youth hostel before it got too late. Now, I didn’t go back to the youth hostel as, being local, I had opted to stay at home at night, and I did see a few tweets in the run up to the weekend mentioning Pimms and Gin, so I can’t make any promises that anyone had an early night ….
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, much to my relief, and I made my way to the youth hostel for 7.30am to find out who I would be leading on the 4.5 mile run to Eastbourne parkrun. Most of the group were in the bright and airy, communal dining and living area finishing up breakfast when I arrived and I had a chance to have a nose at the kitchen too, which seemed clean and well-equipped.
Annabeth and Rachel opted to run with me to parkrun, picking John (another local) up on the way past his house, whilst the others drove or got lifts there. It was a nice, gentle run and I didn’t need to worry about my pace being too slow, as we were all content to just chat and enjoy the run. My test-run of the route a fortnight earlier paid off, with us arriving in perfect time at parkrun, where we were soon joined by the last of the team and had time to pose for a few photos.
The UKRunchat group at Eastbourne parkrun
Eastbourne parkrun were having their highly popular ‘pacer day’, which is held on the first parkrun of every month, where regular runners volunteer to pace parkrun at times ranging from sub 19 to sub 32 minutes. They were also aiming to break the previous attendance record of 227 runners, so being a regular parkrunner (63 times now) at Eastbourne, I let them know to expect us! There were a few running clubs represented at parkrun that day, including the Polegate Plodders, Eastbourne Rovers Athletics Club and Run Wednesdays, but the UKRunChat team definitely gave the loudest cheer when the Run Director, Mike, gave us a shout out at the start. I am glad to say, we also helped tipped the numbers over to 233 and helped set a new record for Eastbourne – when I started running at Eastbourne in December 2013, we often had just 50.
Running to parkrun before running parkrun was a new experience for me. I had considered doing this when I was marathon training, to incorporate parkrun into my longer runs, but never did it – I felt that if I didn’t time it right and I had a break in-between runs, it wouldn’t count somehow. I have now done it and achieved …..a personal worst! Actually, I thought it was a personal worst, but on looking at my records it turns out I did manage a time 12 seconds slower once … but only when I deliberately ran it as slowly as I could to avoid a niggle becoming an injury!
Some of my fellow UKRunChatters fared much better than me, with a few achieving personal records. There were also a few first timers amongst us and it was lovely to hear Sherie and Toni saying afterwards how much they enjoyed the experience and that they will both be checking out their local parkruns the following Saturday. Be warned ladies – parkrun is addictive!
After dragging myself over the finish line, I saw the welcome sight of my lovely boyfriend waiting with my electrolyte drink and mountain bike (together with a bacon, sausage and egg baguette for good measure!). After a few more group photos, we split into three groups: the first were getting lifts back to the youth hostel, the second were running my 6 mile route back, accompanied by one of the local runners, John, and the third were running my 10 mile (ish) route back with me leading them on the bike.
Stopping for a quick group photo mid-way on the 10 mile route back from parkrun to the youth hostel
As I had hoped, the 10 mile run back made an impression on my little band of four, taking in the impressive views in the Sovereign Harbour Marina Village, the Martello towers, the seafront and the Eastbourne pier with the South Downs rising majestically behind it in the distance. The glorious sunshine made the sea sparkle and there were lots of photo opportunities along the way – I believe David may have filled his entire iPhone with images to show his daughter at home (thanks to David for letting me use some of them in this blog).
Crossing the locks at Sovereign Harbour Marina – photos by @DavidNFLF1
I managed to lead from the bicycle, flaunting all of the no-cycling rules along sections of the seafront (sshh, don’t tell anyone) and narrowly avoiding mowing down each of the runners just the once at various points in the process. Apart from learning that it is pretty much impossible to cycle on a pebble beach and I can’t ride up hills, I think the bike was quite successful (although if I had read the manual for my new car, it may have taken me slightly less time to work out how to drop the seats to put the bike in after we got back). The feedback I got was that it was nice to just enjoy the run without navigating or worrying about getting lost (sorry Annabeth for losing you for a short while, we thought you were just super-speedy!).
Annabeth and I on Eastbourne seafront (don’t laugh at my helmet!) – photo by @DavidNFLF1
We made it back to the youth hostel two hours later and were greeted with sausage and bacon rolls all ready and waiting for us – perfect. There were time for people to shower and a group of us risked more sunburn by sitting on the grass area out the front. Bex, however, got to work under her professional guise as @therapy2fit giving sports massages to those who wanted (or needed) one on the massage table set up inside the youth hostel’s communal lounge.
At 2pm Amrit Singh, the Kundalini Yoga teacher arrived to run the next session. Amrit was recommended to Howard by my boyfriend, Neill, who had been to one of Amrit’s yoga and meditation sessions at the Wellbeing Centre in Eastbourne ( Yoga With Amrit Singh
). I was really pleased to see that everyone decided to join in for the session, which took place on the raised grass area to one side of the hostel in the dappled sunshine. I think it is fair to say the session wasn’t quite what everyone (anyone?) expected, as Kundalini yoga is a very specific type of yoga, designed to work with the body and mind equally, using breathing techniques and postures to release all stress in readiness for meditation.
Yoga in the sunshine with Amrit – it’s tough, but someone’s gotta do it! (Actually, don’t be fooled by the photos – it was quite taxing!).
For the second part of the session, Amrit asked everyone to move inside the youth hostel and sit in a tight circle, cross legged. He then ran through a short, 11 minute, meditation session with chanting. Again, this was not something expected, but everyone joined in, even if they weren’t quite ready to chant, “Ang sang wahe guru”, out loud. I could see a few of the group felt a bit self-conscious at the start, but after a while they appeared to relax into it. In fact, it was interesting afterwards to hear some of the people who looked most self-conscious at the start, saying how much they enjoyed the meditation (and how surprised they were by that). Others may not have been convinced, saying we could have been mistaken for some weird cult by casual observers, but they were open to the new experience and prepared to join in, and I have a lot of respect for that.
After the session, it was time for the much talked about, long awaiting UKRunChat Bake-Off. Three of the group who hadn’t baked (and weren’t gluten-free or vegan) were enlisted to be the judges and had the simply dreadful task of sampling each of the cakes and decided which to award first, second and third place to. The process was undertaken in a very scientific manner, which the judges taking the bakes outside and scoring each one for aesthetic quality and taste, before combining the scores to find the winners. While the rest of the group waited, impatiently, for the results inside, the tension was almost palpable. I’m telling you, you could have cut the air with a knife!
Sherie, Bozenka and David plating-up ready to judge the UKRunChat Bake-Off – photo by @DavidNFLF1
Finally, or after just a few minutes depending upon your perception, the results were in, with my choc truffles and Jenni’s Pimms cake achieving joint 3rd place, David’s medal cupcakes getting a solid 2nd place and (drum roll please) …. 1st place going to Rachel’s Nanimos, which are vegan and a Canadian recipe – and apparently almost pure sugar!
Amrit was asked to present the award to Rachel for her winning cake and then whilst the group recovered from the sugar rush followed by a sugar crash, Howard and a couple of others dropped Amrit off and picked up some supplies.
Soon it was time for Annabeth’s session, a workshop in Mindful Running. We made our way down to the local recreation park, where Annabeth led us through some techniques similar to those used in meditation to become aware of our bodies and our environment. She explained that we too often race through life without stopping to think about how we are feeling or about our surroundings. We were then given tasks to do whilst running laps of the park and gathered back together after each lap to discuss the experience. For example, we had to count how many steps we took on each full breath in and out, or concentrate on the sounds we could hear, or how our bodies are feeling.
This was quite interesting, as it focussed the mind on one thing and gave you a task to do other than just running. Some of the techniques I was familiar with, for example counting the steps to breaths, as I have done that before simply as a way of getting through tougher or less interesting parts of a run, or as a method of drowning out the ‘I can’t do this, this is too difficult’ thoughts running through my head when there is no physical basis for them.
I think everyone in the group enjoyed the workshop, although we all took something different away from it. For example, Amy found that if she tried to concentrate on what she could smell as she was running, it messed up her breathing and Jenni found that if she concentrated on how her body was feeling, everything hurt! Anna, however, found concentrating on counting how many times her left foot hit the ground made it easier to keep going when she wanted to stop. I learnt that not everyone can tense one glute at a time - who knew?!
Annabeth finished off her session by taking us through some stretches, followed by some breathing exercises to leave us all feeling happy and relaxed.
And hungry. By then I was very, very hungry. Or should that be rungry? So after we strolled back up to the youth hostel, I left everyone to their lasagne (which smelled delicious, by the way) and made my way home for a Chinese takeaway with my boyfriend, followed by a much needed sleep after such a busy day!
Before I knew it, the alarm was beckoning back from the land of nod so I could head back to the youth hostel for the part of the weekend I had been most looking forward to – the Sunday morning group run. The reason I was looking forward to this the most was because it was one of my favourite 6 miles-ish trail runs on the South Downs and I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.
When I arrived, everyone was ready and waiting out in the sunshine outside the youth hostel, so we set off straight away. Now the first thing anyone learns about the Downs, is that to get to them you first have to go UP (never has anything been so mis-named), so I started by apologising that we would have to go up the road alongside the hostel, which is a 12% hill, for approximately a third of a mile to reach the start of the trail. This was met with the usual attitude I have come to expect from the UKRunChat weekenders …. a positive, ‘it can be the warm-up’ and off we went.
As I expected, most of the group were blown away by the stunning Sussex Downs countryside, with the far reaching views across Eastbourne town to the sea in one direction, to the Seven Sisters white cliffs and lighthouse to the sea in another and with rolling green fields as far as the eye can see. We ran as a group, but inevitably there were some who were quicker than others who ran ahead a bit and some who stopped to take photos then catch up again, so we stopped to regroup at various points along the way. This gave us a chance to take more photos and for me to give quick instructions on the route up to the next re-grouping point, so I didn’t lose anyone.
Trail running on the South Downs and a re-grouping point/photo stop – no idea what I am pointing at! Photo by @DavidNFLF1
We bumped into three ladies from “Run Wednesdays”, one of the running clubs who were at the parkrun, also out for a trail run. They recognised us from parkrun and stopped for a chat and a group photo, before heading off in a different (hillier) direction to us. Who says us southerners aren’t friendly?
The final part of the trail run (and the last hill climb) takes you through the Downs Golf Course, with signs warning you of ‘danger’ due to flying golf balls, but at least you get a good laugh at some of the ridiculous outfits worn by the golfers – as Sherie commented, “pink trousers, on a middle-aged man. Why?!?”, or words to that effect!
I think everyone enjoyed the trail run, although Gill commented that the hills were challenging enough at a walk and both her and Sherie said they needed to add hill training into their running in future!
Dodging the golf balls
A quick breakfast in the sunshine, showers and packing, another group photo and there was nothing left but for everyone to head off with memories of a fab weekend; runs ran, new experiences had, cake eaten, friends made, photos taken…
A final group photo outside the youth hostel before everyone headed for home
… when can you all come back and do it again?