In her May Fast10 blog Holly Page celebrates her return to running with lots of… racing!
Oh those first tentative steps as I told my body that it DID know how to run as I went for the slowest 30 minutes of my life across a sunny Hampstead Heath. I’d packed up the camper van and was on my way to starting my “van life” the Alps; just a few detours to make en route.
The first detour was London where I was giving a talk as part of the Kendal Mountain Festival, the next was my friend’s wedding in Sussex where I took off my running kit, put on a bridesmaid’s dress and had someone make my hair look nice. This all coincided with my official return to running (well, I may have started a few days early…)
Even the slowest of runs seemed to be such an effort for my body; my legs felt like they had run an ultra-marathon each time I went for a 5k jog. The weather was glorious, and it would have been splendid exploring the South Downs way or random German towns I stopped in had I not felt so unbelievably broken!
Once I’d driven as far as Lake Constance (also known as the Bodensee), I decided an excellent challenge would be to follow the cycle path which goes around the lake. At 170 miles, normally people do it over a few days, and by the looks of many of the cyclists I encountered, on e-bikes.
I didn’t have a few days, so I set off early on a freezing morning and pedalled every contrived km of the cycle path, gravel and all. I wondered why I felt so awful at the end; it turns out “man flu” was hitting me full throttle. My head was pounding and my nose was streaming as I necked some bretzels and stocked up on food in a German supermarket before heading over the border into notoriously expensive Switzerland.
That night I lay feverish in my van in a layby close to Zurich airport. I still hadn’t made it to the Alps but now it was time for detour number three.
Keswick Mountain Festival
Adidas Terrex were sponsoring the trail races at Keswick Mountain Festival and I’d been asked to go along for the long weekend. The sun was shining brightly as my bus pulled into Keswick and although all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball with a box of tissues I told myself to go for a little walk because it was too nice to be inside.
So I walked up Skiddaw which was quite a big effort as I was feeling so grim. After 800m+ my body said “no more” and I lay down for a nap, only to be awoken a little later by a hiker who was quite alarmed and thought I’d collapsed.
Walking back down I genuinely did feel like I was going to collapse; very bizarre! I wondered whether it was my body’s way of stopping me from doing too much on the foot fracture, but it turns out everyone had become ill after the previous weekend’s wedding so there must have been something dodgy in all that southern air.
Me being me I had of course signed up for every race. I ignored all the people telling me it was a silly idea to run the 25km just a few days into my return to running. Dosed up on Lemsip and caffeine, I told myself I would just run really slowly, walking up the hills, not letting myself breathe heavily at all so as to help the cold heal itself and not risk the foot.
Back where I feel at home
I LOVED being back in a race environment, even though I wasn’t racing at all. I stopped at all the aid stations and ate Haribo and popcorn, had a chat with people, enjoyed the views. It really was very pleasant indeed and my legs were starting to feel a little less like iron rods than they had on the previous runs.
I’ve grown up racing in the Lake District and across the fells of the North of England where I have been brought up with the idea that sunny days should be spent high in the hills, with lakes in the valleys reserved for rainy days. It always seemed strange to me that people would pay quite expensive entry fees to follow a marked hiking route or short trail race, when surely they could go and do that themselves?
But the more I talked to people, the more I realised that many are afraid of going alone into the mountains and prefer the security of having a guide, or at least some flags to follow. I guess that also if you’ve paid that entry fee, you have the motivation of finishing whereas out on your own, once you’re tired and accountable to nobody, you might just hop on the next bus back to where you started.
Anyway, it was great to see so many people out enjoying the trails, coming back smiling and excited about their next forays onto the trails.
Deutschland to the van and the mountains
After Keswick I had a week in Germany with Adidas staff and got my foot checked again; I was told that by the end of June I can be back at my normal training load – hurrah! Then finally I returned to Zurich airport where I had left my van. Heading further south, my heart did a little flutter as snowy mountains appeared in front of me; although it’s almost June there are still unseasonable amounts of snow!
So van life has now begun; I’ve been washing in rivers, eating meals outside, getting my water from village springs and of course seeking out races. This last weekend I found what I thought was a local mountain race in a village in Switzerland, the Gamperney Berglauf: 9km with 1,000m uphill.
I’m not supposed to resume normal training until the end of June, so I shouldn’t really be racing, but I thought as it was all uphill it would be ok.
Accidentally back on the podium
It turned out to be quite a prestigious event, and also the trial for the German national team. I had no idea how my body would respond but thought I could just walk if I needed to. In the end I ran pretty hard; my legs and lungs were on fire as the hill just kept on going. I stuck with the second woman until seven kilometres but then dropped off.
The final kilometre was ridiculously steep and I was actually quite glad to use different muscles as I power hiked up and up to the finish line. What a feeling of happiness though; this was still only my second week back running after two months off, so to finish third behind the young superstar Sarah Kistner and another super speedy German was fine by me – I’d even have qualified for their national team had I been German!
Normally I hate running uphill and it’s on the downhills where I can usually make up some ground so this race was really positive for me after such a big setback put an end to my season before it had even started!
Racing for pizza
The next day I had to don my crampons to go up a mountain which normally would be clear of snow at this time of year; it really is rather miserable weather in the Alps for May. I will end the month in the Swiss resort of Davos where I’m sleeping in my freezing van in a car park, but have good friends in whose house I can eat, shower and stay warm until the sun returns!
Oh and of course as soon as I arrived in Davos, I found an evening 8km trail race where I won a pizza (hooray!), and I’m already looking forward to another race in Switzerland this weekend. Nothing like a bit of competition to get me back to fitness soon!
These two recent races have given me confidence that I haven’t lost all my fitness as I’d thought, and now it’s just a case of managing the foot to full recovery (still just running once every two days) and not getting overexcited with being able to explore so many new places!
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Holly Page features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2019’ and over the course of the year will share her running journey. You can follow Holly on Twitter and Instagram, while further information about the ‘class of 2019’ can be found here.
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