Treeathlon

Yesterday I was lucky enough to take part in Trees For Cities’s Treeathlon, which took place in the leafy environs of Battersea Park. It was a gorgeous early autumn, sunny September day, as predicted. Perfect weather to enjoy a 5k run round the park.

I was on the 7.47am train with my excited son, and in Battersea Park station by 8.12am! I never realised it was possible to get there so fast- which pleases me because Battersea Park is ace and Sam is desperate to go back. We met my friend Liz and her daughter there, who were coming along with us to support me and keep Sam company while I ran the race.

The event was well thought-out and impressively organised, with a large corner of the park set aside to accomodate Treeathloners and their friends and families. After registering and collecting my official Treeathlon Marcus Lupfer-designed tshirt (see above) I changed into it using the spacious changing tent provided. I was then able to leave all my ‘gubbins’ behind at the left-luggage tent for a very reasonable £2 donation to Trees For Cities. In the midst of all the ‘operational’ facilities  was The Blue Bus stage, playing cheerful festival-vibe music in between sets from London band Scarletts Roses and my favourite, The Sunshine Swing Band.

A small but perfectly chosen array of food and drink stalls complemented this, with freshly baked pizzas, vegan curry, candy floss on a stick, cocktails and jerk chicken wraps on offer.

At 9.45 the warm up began with Sinitta and flamboyant-is-an-understatement Francis Alejandro Cardoso from Dance Flavourz , who have performed on Britain’s Got Talent (not that I would know) and who led the expectant runners in a warm up. This began to my delight with Sinitta’s ‘So Macho’ and went on to some serious Samba music and movement.

The runners were called to the Start line in Advanced, Intermediate and Beginner sections. I had already decided to stay right at the back, so I missed Alex James from Blur who was apparently starting the race. After doing well with my training over the last eleven weeks I’ve been poorly over the last two and only managed two runs in the last fortnight. But after the support and generosity of friends and family who have sponsored me to the tune of £216 (thank you!) I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Instead I doubled up on my asthma medication and aimed to take it slow and steady like an Ent and see how I got on. If an Ent can walk than so could I if I had to…

I was helped along by the soundtrack in my ears which included Scritti Politti, Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow, Chicks on Speed and Arcade Fire (‘Month of May’ and ‘Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) driving me on for the last 1500 metres) which I’d selected the night before. But really I didn’t need much to spur me on, the atmosphere was fantastic, the enthusiasm palpable and the park is beautiful. We had two laps to run, past lakes with canada geese scudding onto their watery runways; fountains, rose gardens, tennis courts and playgrounds. Past people playing football, lifting free weights, walking dogs, cycling and in-line skating. All while shaded by a glorious canopy of trees.

Liz and the kids were there to cheer me on as I completed the first lap and were there again to meet me at the finish. In the end I managed a personal best of 39 minutes and 52 seconds to run 5km. Not bad going considering I have only run 5km three times! After running I went to choose my sapling and picked a rowan tree. Now I just have to work out where to plant it.

Trees for Cities did a great job of catering for familes, offering all kinds of child-friendly activities. While I was running Sam and Scarlett had their faces painted in exchange for a donation to keep those trees being planted. This was top quality work (see below), and plenty of grown ups were also taking advantage of the face-artistry on site! After the race the kids and I also had a go at hulahooping, and there was sack racing, space hoppers, ‘cutting and sticking’ and drawing on offer too.

As we sat enjoying the band and eating lunch Sam turned to me and said: “I’m really glad you did this today. Was it very hard to do?” Awwww….there were some older children running too, so I told him maybe in a few years he could do it with me if he wanted to.

I absolutely loved the whole experience- all four of us had a great time. I would definitely do it again. This is the start of running for me- I am aiming to keep going and see if I can push my distance up to 10 km over the next few months, once I am better and have handed in my dissertation.

Running For Trees: Week NINE- Running my first 5km in Wales #Treeathlon

On Friday we jumped in the car and drove across the big bridge (always exciting!) to the Welsh valleys to see our wonderful friends Ann and Nic and their fabulous respective families. On Saturday we picnicked in the centre of the amphitheatre at Caerleon, the best preserved Roman amphitheatre in the UK.

It was a beautiful sunny day and for a while we had the place to ourselves, an unexpected delight. The turf covered remains of the walls were great for the kids to climb on and lob frisbees and balls about too. After our feast we headed over to the small-but-perfectly-fascinating museum, where the kids were given a treasure map by a Pirate Lady and had to find clues to be able to open the casket containing a treasure for each of them….Arrrr. I got to try on some replica Roman armour, which was so heavy I couldn’t imagine walking anywhere in it, let alone marching about and fighting in it.

Yesterday morning Nic looked after Sam while I went for my second run of Week Nine, the last week of training in the NHS programme I have been following, ‘Couch Potato to 5k’. Taking my route through the local park, with the mountains at my back, I ran past kids playing rugby, the bandstand and the forest garden, and out through the other side, along the river, to the next village. I jogged past the premises of the local Male Voice Choir, at that point feeling like I had ticked off a lot of stereotypically ‘Welsh’ activities. What struck me though , apart from the river, the glorious amount of green and the breathtaking mountains, was the relaxed traditional ‘Sunday’ vibes in the air. The people walking dogs, ready with smiles and Good Mornings. The kids playing in the well-tended park. Everyone busy doing Sunday stuff.

I was busy running. I discovered on my first run of Week 9 that although I am able to run for 30 minutes without any trouble, I am only running about 4km instead of the 5k I have been working towards. In two weeks I run the Treeathlon for Trees For Cities and I am hoping to improve my speed in that time. With that in mind, yesterday I decided mid-run to see if I could run for 40 minutes and whether that would take me to my goal of 5km. And it did! I ran for 40 minutes with no problems apart from aching legs and when I mapped the run later I found out I was just at 5km! In the next two weeks I will aim to get to 5km in 35 minutes- I have no idea if that’s achievable but I’m going to give it a go.

After my run we had a delicious vegetarian brunch and then took the kids to the park, where a brass band was playing. Home again via the allotments to pick beans and raspberries and then a cup of tea in the garden whilst helping my friend clean the onions she had just dug up, ready for drying out.

My idea of a perfect weekend! I feel very lucky.

I have two weeks left before I run round Battersea Park to raise money for Trees For Cities. I am so close to my target, thanks to the generosity of friends and family. Please help me reach it! My Just Giving page is here.

Running For Trees: Weeks 7 and 8 – The BERLIN edition! #Treeathlon

The training has continued to go well, even though when I plugged myself in to Week Seven’s podcast for the first time I  gulped when I heard the friendly female voice say “This week you will be running for 25 minutes without stopping”. In the end I managed to do just that three times, the last time at 11pm at night. I finished packing for our trip to Berlin and headed out for my first late night run around my estate. I discovered that at 11pm most people’s lights are out, and that the trees overhanging the path create patches of darkness despite the streetlighting, which for some reason I’d never noticed in the same way on coming home from a night out. Running definitely gives you new perceptions on well-known places.

Week Eight has been my best, and most enjoyable week for running- I ran three times, each run for 28 minutes, and I did it in Berlin. Berlin! I ran the same route each time, more or less, while my friend looked after Sam.

What a great way to get a feel for a place. From Falckensteinstrasse, where we were staying in Kreuzberg, I ran down Schlesische Strasse, up to Treptower Park, then back down, across the Oberbaum Bridge and along the East Side Gallery– part of the Berlin Wall which remains standing and is home to some great street art.

Now we are back from a wonderful week away in a city that has captured my heart (sorry London) and I am about to begin my last official week of training on the NHS Couch Potato to 5K schedule, which has got me running and loving it. Then I have one more week before I run in the Trees For Cities Treeathlon on Saturday 15th September. I am raising money for this excellent organisation- please help me reach my target!

Running for Trees: Weeks Five and Six #Treeathlon

If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I would be getting up on a Sunday morning and going for a run around Glastonbury, including a march up  and down the Tor in the middle of that run, I would not have believed them. But that is exactly what I did yesterday morning. My son and I stayed the night in a B&B in town with a friend and her little girl, and whilst my mate minded the kids I was able to go out for 45 minutes of running with a brief stop at my favourite place in the world in between.

We had driven to Glastonbury the day before, on the Saturday, and taken the kids to the free Children’s Day at the Chalice Well which offered all kinds of activities for children to take part in. These included: yoga, tai chi, gamelan workshop, thank you-boat making, face-painting and tree lore amongst many others. And all of which took place in the environs of the peaceful and beautiful Chalice Well gardens. It was a hot, sunny day and the place was packed with families enjoying the surroundings, the cool healing water of the well and the general feel-good vibe. In true Glastonbury style we bumped into friends down from Wales which made it particularly joyful and meant the kids got to experience the gardens as part of a gang. Perfect!

The run yesterday morning was my last of my Week Six training schedule, and I have really started to notice an improvement in my fitness during the last two weeks. In Week Five the length of time I was running suddenly increased and the length of time walking in between the runs decreased. I have managed to complete all the runs successfully so far which has been a real boost to my confidence. I am, however, sure my walking pace is faster than my running! And I am not running 5k in the training runs, although I hope I will have reached that distance by the end of the Week Nine which is the last week of training on the excellent podacst series, Couch Potato to 5K which you can download for free from the NHS.

The Trees For Cities Treeathlon which is what all this training is for,  takes place on Saturday September 15th in Battersea Park, and looks like it will be a really fun day out. After running 5k I will get a chance to take part in a 100m barefoot run. Trees For Cities currently holds a world record for this event! And the third part of the Treeathlon is the opportunity to plant a tree.

As well as commencing Week Seven of running this week I will also word-wrestle with my dissertation and pack for a trip to Berlin, where I hope to continue my training.

Running for Trees – Weeks Three and Four #Treeathlon

I’ve been so busy with my dissertation and my son finishing his first year of school. I have had enough time for five runs in the last two weeks but no time to blog. But here I am at the beginning of Week Five to report back on how it’s going.

Two weeks ago, at the start of Week Three I decided to go for a run in Richmond Park. I was very excited at the prospect of this, Richmond Park is one of my favourite places to be, and I felt like I was moving up a level. Most of my runs have been around the estate I live on, purely for the reason that it is the most practical and time-saving way of training.

I parked at Pembroke Lodge, changed into my running gear and plugged myself in to my ipod, scrolling through the menus as I walked along. I was looking for the Week Three podcast on the excellent NHS Counch Potato to 5K running programme the NHS provides as a free download. I realised I had downloaded every other week except Week Three! What to do next? Go for another Week Two run or live dangerously and skip stright to Week Four? I went for the latter and, feeling slightly daring as I set off, wondered if I would make it.

I decided I would do as much as I could but if it proved too much I would stop and go back to the week before. I needn’t have worried. Running through the Park was a revelation. It was a warmish, cloudy day, wth the sun peeking through the clouds, but still cool enough to wear my comfort-blanket waterproof.

The ground was earthy and soft, springy and pleasant to run on. The rain had held off and there wasn’t much mud around. And anyway, for most of the run I was under the green canopy of the trees, currently in their full-on showing-out summer glory. I felt energised as I jogged along, excited to be running in this beautiful place, and amazed to be keeping up with the Week Four podcast at the beginning of my Week Three of training! In fact I had no problem completing the run which was a great boost to my confidence- I am not as spud-like as I thought I was.

I completed three runs that week but decided to be sensible and continue with the Week Four podcast in Week Four, rather than get too far ahead of myself. On my fifth run the podcast came to an end with the usual five minute walk to warm down but I wasn’t ready to stop. I scrolled through to find something that would keep the pace up (see below) and continued running for another four minutes, even speeding up, purely for the joy of continuing.

I am getting hooked on running, enjoying feeling fitter and accomplishing each small goal towards the 5k target. I am also calmer and my writing is benefitting from the mental time-out which running provides, especially with the current pressure to write my MA dissertation. The combination is a winner and I have already decided that although my first big goal is to run the Treeathlon for Trees in Cities on 15th September, I won’t stop after that.

I hope to go for another run in Richmond Park again soon but until then the estate where I live is just large enough to accommodate a half hour run. It’s a quiet leafy suburb estate, with grass verges, not yet wiped out by parking although sadly diminishing year on year. There are also still plenty of front gardens which have not been paved over or used for parking (again this is happening at a scary rate) which have trees in them. The other day I noted ash, yew, a couple of silver birch and rowen trees amongst others. I think I will try and see how many species I can spot as I continue to run round my estate.

This neatly brings me to the point of the Treeathlon- to raise money for Trees In Cities. What would a city be like without its lungs? Because that is what trees are, and they provide lots of other benefits too. Trees In Cities have lots of information about this very subject here. Each time I run locally I do a circuit which includes a section of the A3, the massive artery road into London right next to where I live. There are no trees on this road, apart from those in people’s front gardens, where they provide a vital screen from the exhaust fumes and constant noise. I run this way on purpose at the moment, especially after the run in Richmond Park, as a meditation and a reminder of what trees do for us. We cannot and must not underestimate their importance.

Trees feature in my writing all the time, they creep in like ents when I think I am writing about something else. I like it that way…

Running For Trees – WEEK TWO #Treeathlon

Last Monday I plugged myself into Week Two of the NHS Couch Potato to 5k podcast. I had managed two out of three of the recommended runs while listening to the Week One podcast the week before. I also swam twice in that week so felt confident about stepping up the pace.

Going from running for one minute to one and a half at a time, with walks for two minutes in between was more difficult than I thought it would be. In the last three years, since passing my driving test, I have probably done less regular exercise than ever before in my life. Before motherhood I was cycling to and from work and also still going clubbing regularly, dancing for hours every week. When my son was a baby I would walk everywhere,  for hours every day, pushing his buggy in the vain hope that he would eventually sleep, which occasionally he did. Now I am becoming a Mum’s Taxi driver, approaching 42 and feeling out of shape. It’s very motivating to have a challenge with a positive focus like the Treeathlon for Trees In Cities to get fit for.

Going running seems to be good for my writing- on my second run of the week I had a Eureka! moment about one of the major themes of the dissertation I am writing, and feel much happier about it as a result.

I completed all three runs in Week Two and went for a swim where I upped my number of lengths from 20 to 24. I can’t wait to start seeing and feeling the difference.

Slow and steady…

Week Three begins tomorrow!