Why do I run?

Photo booth at London Marathon – our reason the run? we blamed each other…

It’s not a question I ask myself very often, because I miss running so badly when I’m injured that I know I want to do it. But my motivation has changed over time and given the commitment involved in running longer distances I have been thinking carefully about what I want to get from running in 2021.

When – after a glittering career as a junior cross-country runner at country level in the 1980s – I started running again as adult it was initially for health reasons. Before my kids were born I was into road cycling, but the opportunities to go out for long bike rides when you’re breast feeding, or have toddlers and a demanding job, are limited. I’d been fit before having kids but gained weight with both pregnancies so when I started running shortly after my daughter was born it was primarily to get back into shape. I didn’t really enjoy running much at this time. 

I entered the occasional 10km race from time to time to motivate me to train – because without a target to aim for I’d not get around to training (this motivational technique is called ‘accountability’ – holding yourself to account by committing to things). There’s always a lot to do when you have small kids – and you don’t have a lot of spare energy.  And to be honest I could rock up and run 10km without training – which was fortunate as I used to enter races then accidentally forget about them until the number came through a week before and then just turn up! This led to quite a few un-enjoyable 10kms where I tried to keep up with the fast people for the for 5km and then suffered a slow painful next 5km!

Throughout this time my husband Tim was still competing regularly, mainly in triathlons. And – frankly – I used to get a bit frustrated spectating when I’d rather have been competing. But I wasn’t ready to commit to training properly when the kids were so little. Eventually, when they were maybe 3&4, I decided to enter Keswick half marathon – something I’d always wanted to do and I set myself the target of going sub 2:00 hrs in my first race – I think I came in around 1:56. I was also only a few minutes behind Tim – I thought he’d be miles ahead of me.

A year later I stepped up to try my first marathon – Paris in 1993 – it was the year Alex started school. I’d always wanted to run one and even the training felt exciting – each week the long run became longer than I had every run before. And I started losing toenails like a real marathon runner! Again I set myself the target of going sub 4 hrs but told myself once would be enough – I just wanted to do one marathon (famous last words!). Paris was a good choice – a glamourous route around a city I love and know well. And here started my tradition of racing in fabulous places! Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find I was only a few minutes behind Tim – and it occurred to me that maybe I could beat him one day… In terms of motivation my old friend competition was starting to kick in.

Julie didn’t always come out for a LSR in faceprint; but I usually dressed as Wonder Woman…

I didn’t run regularly for a few years then because of work, but when my youngest child started school I met two other mums who sometimes I joined for a run after school drop off: Julie and Miyako. They had entered the York Marathon that autumn and were training for it – it was Miyako’s first marathon and she was nervous. I joined them for some of their long runs and offered tips/ advice from my own experience – long slow training runs are much more fun when you’re chatting to your friends.

Cheering Julie and Miyako on race day I wished I was racing. So next year I entered and raced. I set off a bit too fast and after banging out sub-8 min miles comfortably I suddenly hit a wall at mile 20 – watching my pace drop as my effort increased was galling. I reached my lowest point around mile 24 when someone in a Bat Man costume overtook me and something in me snapped (pride, I think) so I dug in to beat the caped-crusader and realised that it I just kept moving at this pace I’d go sub 3:45. There’s a small hill just before the finish of York marathon and as I sprinted downhill to the line it felt like my legs would fall off – but 3:44 was worth it, and meant I qualified for London… That was a big milestone because it meant I was actually good at this and that I was getting faster. In terms of motivation, this is ‘mastery’ coming into play – the sense of achievement we get from doing something well and improving. 

But before I raced London, I ended up running Paris again. I entered on whim when my friend Marianne entered and I fancied a weekend with her in Paris. That’s another important motivator for me – doing races in nice places and with my friends.

Not Paris – but running with Marianne in Keswick half marathon one year when she was very hungover… so we were taking it steady!

Despite getting burgled during our trip, and having to run a marathon, we had a great weekend away and managed to see the sites and catch up with an old university friend who lives in Lyon. I didn’t take the race very seriously at all – I was there to pace Marianne to a sub 4hr run but managed to lose her in the massive crowd (she’d set off too fast and dropped me – I passed her at some point but didn’t realise). I clocked up a steady 3:45 comfortably – very evenly paced and without hitting a wall this time.

Paris Marathon Expo – we all know why marianne runs… for the sweets!

I had to defer London marathon due to injury, and in the meantime ran York again – this time going sub 3:40 for the first time. By this stage I felt I was becoming a bit of a marathon and half marathon specialist – my times were improving, my confidence growing race by race. I’d use the Hal Higdon training programmes – each time stepping up my training and pushing my ambition. I smashed the Antrobus family half-marathon record and baked a pie with my new PB on to celebrate – sorry Tim (for the record – I currently hold the Antrobus family marathon record too).

Half Marathon PB pie – no idea what was in it!

By the time London came around I was gunning for sub 3:30 but it’s a tough course for a PB – just too many people around – and I’d run a whole extra half-mile by the time I’d crossed the line in 3:37, due to weaving round people. But again a new PB. Not my favourite course – seriously most of the course is dull as dishwasher to run round –  but the support was awesome and I was waving at the crowd and celebrating each mile as they passed.

London Marathon start – my nemesis was Bat Man, Miyako once got beat by a Hot Dog!

A month later I took a whole 4 minutes off my 10km time – I set off at 5km pace and kept going wondering when I’d run out of steam. At around 9km it started to hurt like hell but I just pushed on and was delighted with such a big improvement.

Up until this point everything had been about getting faster and better. But something shifted and my appetite for another 16-week marathon training schedule where success or failure on race day rested on fine-tuning my pace by a few seconds here or there started to wane… And there were only so many road races that appealed – slogging around ring roads of cities and towns in huge groups; queuing for loos at the start; the hassle of turning up a day before to register – none of this appealed. Having to be really careful for weeks leading up to the race and being really beaten up for several weeks after… It started getting boring.

So I got more and more into smaller races and off-road running – this reminded me of the amateur races I’d competed in as a kid. So after doing a few 10km and 15km trail races I entered my first trail Ultra – a 55km loop around the Lakes.

Lakeland Trails Helvellyn 15km one autumn…

I’d even come 3rd in a trail race – my first podium as adult – the year before and I thought maybe I’d be quite good at it, as well as enjoy a weekend away in the Lakes. 

3rd place – Coniston 10km trail race 2016

Increasingly running became about the places I went and the people I went with – both for training runs and events. Tim got into ultra racing and as preparation for his UTMB race we talked my parents into looking after the kids so we could run the CCC route over 3 days as a training race. The next year we ran the TDS course together, again over 3 days. Frankly I’d volunteer to recce any part of the UTMB just for fun – it’s such a great place to visit. And Miyako (and sometimes Marianne) and I had many weekends away racing in the Lakes over the next few years. It was never really about the running – the running was just the medium for getting into the hills with my mates.

I managed my first ultra in 2017 – and to be honest I thought it’d be my last. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel the need to do another. Lots of people around me – including friends/ family – were doing longer and longer races, but I was quite happy doing shorter races. But then achilles tendonitis struck and for 18 months I could do very little anyway.

Support crew – running part of the Hardcore 60 in the dark with Miyako in 2018

When I finally got back to running in 2019 I entered the Montane Lakeland 50, mainly because it took in part of the Lakes I hadn’t yet visited and it seemed a good way to explore new places. It rained almost solidly for the 12 hours it took to complete that course – but I enjoyed it and it never got too hard that I wasn’t having fun. I surprised myself by coming in 20th lady – but I didn’t plan on running any more ultras.

The glamour of ultrarunning – portaloos and bin bags before the start of the Montane 50

The other thing that happened in 2019 – in terms of running – was my Coast-to-Coast. That was probably the most enjoyable run I’ve done and also the biggest challenge – covering 191 miles in 7 days meant averaging 25-30 miles a day. And being solo for most of this time was a challenge too – but one I relished. After that highlight I wasn’t quite sure what to do next in 2020 – ultras didn’t really appeal; a bit of cross country in the autumn and a few fell races maybe. Tim was due to be racing in the Dolomites so I entered a marathon-length trail run as an excuse to tag along  – but then CV19 made sure all races were cancelled.

So quite why I found myself entering the 2021 Montane Lakeland 100 I do not entirely know. I just noticed the lottery for places was open and thought I probably wouldn’t get in – so I decided to have a go. I suspect had there not been a lottery I wouldn’t have entered!

But when I got the email offering me a place I had a gut feeling that I wanted to do it – and so entered. I’m not really sure yet whether I’ll be able to due to recurrent injuries, or whether I want it badly enough to do the training required to make it possible. I suppose with CV19 I have more time than usual as I’m travelling a lot less for work, so it’s as good time to take on a bigger challenge. But there’s also something about the challenge – and the excuse to spend lots of time training in the Lakes – that appeals…

The real reason I often run the Cleveland Way – the fish and chips at Robin Hoods Bay as ‘recovery food’

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