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A new challenge

October 14, 2010
running track Umm Suqeim

The running track after the sun has risen

When I opened my front door at 5.30 this morning it felt like I was stepping into a kitchen where a Christmas pudding had been steaming for several hours. It was pitch black and I could see some stars twinkling overhead. In the short time it took to walk to the running track the stars had vanished but I was thankful that it was still dark so no-one could see my rather pathetic attempts at running. However figures appeared in the distance and I realised I was not alone. I set off on the track which was gleaming with moisture from the humidity.  I was determined to do four laps this time although this seemed a very daunting task.

The birth of this blog

Rewinding for a moment, to why I set up this blog.  It was because I took on a challenge, well two actually; to become fit enough to successfully hike for five days along the Lebanon Mountain Trail and to raise a considerable amount for children’s charities.  I succeeded in both with the support of many, many people including my fellow challengers, friends, family and sponsors, Gulf for Good and the readers of this blog.  When you know that you are accountable to even one reader it acts as a spur, to keep going, to not give up.

Finding a time-efficient, inexpensive way to keep fit

The rewards for completing these challenges were many fold and I have documented the incredible privilege of visiting the charities in Lebanon.  On a personal front, the increased fitness really made a difference to how I looked and felt.  I had much more energy and was a lot happier. I managed to keep this fitness throughout my two months in the UK through a lot of hiking and walks and was determined to find a way that fitted into my busy schedule back in Dubai.

Taking my first steps into RUNNING

3km in Dubai marathon

Barely out of a walk in the 3km Dubai Marathon 2007

I have NEVER been a runner.  I look aghast at people who tell me, ‘you start to forget about running and go into a zone’.  I simply don’t believe this will ever happen to me.  I don’t think I ever ran a cross-country trail at school  and I didn’t manage to run non stop in the 3km fun run of the Dubai Marathon a few years ago even though my eight year old daughter did.  However, there I was at the beginning of September at the start of the running track with my two daughters at 6 in the morning to see if I could run all the way round once.  I surprised myself and, after a rest in the middle, did it twice. I still didn’t like it though.

Yes you can do it

It was then I realised I needed a goal if this was to continue and after a few more sessions of managing two laps (in high humidity and temperature) I wondered about setting myself the target of entering the 10km in the Dubai Marathon in January.  I raised this as a question to my friends via Facebook and there was an overwhelming deluge of comments ‘of course you can Sally.’ It was really touching, and there was no turning back.

So there I was, taking baby steps in my training, gradually increasing what I did, starting to believe I could do it and then disaster struck or rather strep throat struck and I was stopped in my tracks for almost two weeks without training.  It was as though my batteries had run out.  I hadn’t even run 3 km yet and the leap to 10km seemed insurmountable if starting from scratch all over again.

How ‘Bangs and a bun’ got me going again with ‘Blood, sweat and tears’

Then I happened upon some inspiration.  I read the account of Muireann’s bid to run a half marathon, someone who had all the same feelings and issues as I did but succeeded.  It was like the Hallelujah chorus was playing all of a sudden.  I set my alarm for 5.30am and had an early night. And guess what, the next day I did four laps for the first time, which I think is equivalent to just over 3 km.  This is probably the most I have ever run without stopping in my life.

Will you be my virtual coach?

So here I am again, asking you to come along with me through the trials and tribulations of my training. Could you be there every painful step of the way of my 10k attempt?  I hope you will, because knowing you’re there gives me a huge incentive not to let you down (and not to slope off when the going gets tough). Would that be OK?

Supporters at the Dubai Marathon

Supporters (for the elite Ethiopians)

Part Two:

I wrote this far too late after the Dubai Marathon to publish on its own, so here’s the ending of this story.

21.01.11. Emotions overwhelmed me as the crowd started to move forward towards the start of the 10km in the Dubai Marathon 2011.  I was apprehensive, feeling a bit hemmed in and claustraphobic – the start area had been chaotic – but I took a deep breath and was very calm.  The music switched to We are family by Sister Sledge and my lower lip wobbled.  My sister was ulitmately responsible for making me believe that I could actually run this distance and our special song made me feel very sentimental.  I resisted the urge to get caught up in the general charge and broke into a very gentle pace, happy to let people overtake me (although some set off at a walk!).

I plugged my headphones in my ears – I’d saved the podcast of the Archers Omnibus edition specially – and settled in to try to achieve my goal.  This was to run all the way without stopping for my first ever 10km race, hopefully without any serious injury or lasting pain.

There have been a few milestones along the way to get me to this point.  Where did it all start?

Qaddisha valley path

Enjoying the Qaddisha valley path

May 2010 – Training for and completing a five day trek in on the Lebanon mountain trail.  I loved the extra level of fitness I’d achieved and the confidence that achieving this physical challenge gave me.

Hearing that my sister, who like me, eschewed running like a contagious tropical disease, had run 10km in the Great Northern Run.  If she could do it, I could do it….possibly?

July 2010 – Lots of hikes across the English countryside including one mad moment where I ran across a field in hiking boots with a rucksack.

Early September 2010 – Running not once, but twice round a jogging track (0.6 km each circuit) in high temperatures and humidity.  Started a training diary on the advice of encouraging friends on Facebook.

Friday 15th October 2010 – First time running round Safa Park 3.4 km.  Woo hoo!

Sunday 31st October – Picked up the training plan a friend gave me early on which I had almost binned.  It started from a point that at the time seemed unattainable, 4km.  This gave me a structure, a purpose and a goal every time.

Sunday 7th November – Did 8 circuits round and round and round the running track.  Finally understood why people said I needed to vary my route!  Thought about heading out on the road.

Tuesday 16th November Ran about 5.5km on the roads and rather enjoyed it.  I’m a nosey person and I like to look into people’s gardens and investigate new streets.  Running meant I went to new areas and saw many more things than when walking my dogs.

New trainers

Ran even further – I was on a high, on a roll, I ruled the world.  I knew I could do it!

Huge work-load, Christmas and illness drove me to rock-bottom with no energy.  I didn’t run for over three weeks.

Wednesday 12th January –  Major panic that I wasn’t prepared plus nagging pain in my hip lead to investment in super-duper new shoes (Nike air-max) .  Felt like I was walking on air but could I run?

Thursday 13th January – Friends urged me to join them for three circuits of Safa Park.  What did I have to lose?  I arrived with my heart in my brand new trainers and drove home 1 1/2 hours later, elated, knowing that, save unexpected disasters, I could do it.

Me with my medal

With my medal

Friday 21st January 2011 – Here I was, actually taking part in the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon 10km, time chip tied professionally into my laces, joining the throng.  My pace was very steady, had great words of encouragement from Safa Park buddy Jen at about 7 km, and kept going.  I kept being leap-frogged by people who would run for sections then stop panting to recover and walk.  This wasn’t my strategy.  As we got near the turning to Media City the streets were lined with cheering people.  I had loads of energy and started to run, stretching out my legs, a huge smile on my face.  Coming in over the finish line was a blur, the Ethiopian fans a block of colour and motion in the stands, the railings lined with photographers.

Random things I learned:

  • Have a plan and try to stick to it
  • Share your goal – making it public helps
  • The support from friends and family on Facebook, Twitter and ‘real life’ is what kept me going. People are so generous.
  • A good pair of shoes matters
  • Acheiving your goal is a wonderful feeling.
9 Comments
  1. October 14, 2010 10:23 am

    Well done Sally. When’s your next run? Which running track is that? It looks like a good one 🙂 Keep up the good work. Px

  2. Anna permalink
    October 14, 2010 11:04 am

    It’s great to hear what you’re doing Sally. I also really want to keep up my fitness, but find it so hard to fit in, especially with the nights drawing in, and winter hibernation/lazyitus. For me, I just have to keep going, doing whatever little bit I can, whenever, so it doesn’t fall by the wayside. I keep my running shoes in the boot of the car just in case! As I say, you will spur me on – you have humidity, I have dark and rain! I must admit though, it would take alot for me to get up at 5.30 now!
    I know you’re going to do it – and I know that you know you’re going to do it! – Well done and enjoy! x

  3. October 14, 2010 12:53 pm

    Thanks Anna and P. The running track is on Al Thanya street, the same side as Emirates International school. There are no distance markers so I used an online tool to measure it. It is a nice surface though – good for my old joints!
    I’m not sure I would run in the rain Anna.

  4. Michelle permalink
    October 14, 2010 9:02 pm

    Well done Sally, you are fantastic.

  5. Tricia Evans permalink
    October 15, 2010 6:34 am

    Good for you Sally…I HATE jogging too, & will do almost anything else but! But I’m very impressed at your approach to this. x

    • October 15, 2010 10:11 am

      Thank you Tricia, Tanja and Michelle – your comments mean a lot and helped get me all the way round Safa Park this morning without stopping. Woo hoo – another milestone. Tanja your advice is really helpful too – I’m going to put my training into my diary right now.

  6. November 12, 2010 3:17 pm

    Hi Sally – how on earth did Linkdin know that I knew you? (big brother is watching everything!). Well done on the running – with those legs you should be a natural in no time! It’s bloody hard with the climate in Dubai, I remember. In fact it’s always bloody hard – I’ve just signed up for the Edinburgh marathon next year, start training in January and feel quite sick at the thought (haven’t run really since doing a half marathon last year!). I won’t tell you that you’ll start loving it – I haven’t yet but I have had occasional sublime moments where my legs suddenly go into overdrive, as if they’re running of they’re own accord and I’m just sat on top, enjoying the ride, and the dramatic increase in fitness levels that come from running I’ve discovered with no other sport. I recently read Haruki Morakami’s ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ which is lovely. Good luck, I’ll try and follow when I can and love to Flea and Borence (as I call them)
    Becca (Georgia, Tiger and Indi’s ex-nanny)

    • November 12, 2010 4:01 pm

      Maybe I uploaded all my e-mails – I can’t remember! Anyway really glad to hear from you and so interesting to see your blogs too. I just cannot imagine that ‘legs taking over’ sensation ever happening to me but I have heard many people say it. I just think I’m not doing a far enough distance yet, however I am convinced of the power of increased fitness in a short space of time with running. I even went for a run last night after a very tough week – am I started to be converted? The book sounds very interesting – will have to get hold of it. Good luck with the Edinburgh marathon – I am in awe. I’ve just broken the 5 km mark!

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