In Case of Emergency

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My favourite part of racing is registering. Months in advance, I love to complete online registration. Just a few clicks and some typing, and I’m giddy with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. If only I always felt the same after the race!

Every race requests details of medical conditions and a contact number in the event of an emergency. Now this is a detail I’ve been quite blasé about; whether he’s racing with me or not, I type in my husband’s name and phone number. I recently signed up for my first race in Australia. It’s in August and as I don’t possess a crystal ball, I’ve no idea what my husband’s phone number will be come race day. So I provided his Malaysian number knowing full well that by then this line will dead. In addition he’s running too so he won’t be carrying his phone anyway. I felt a slight tinge of bad conscience but really, what are the chances that anyone will need to call an emergency number on my behalf?

All this irresponsible form-filling lit up like an Emergency beacon last Sunday at Borneo International Marathon. Hanging out after the race, I saw a member of my running club who had trained really hard for his first marathon, being stretchered into the back of an ambulance. He had collapsed at the 41km mark. When I saw him he was unconscious and quite frankly looked dead. I remembered writing my husband’s number on the back of my bib in the space allocated to Emergency Contact but I couldn’t tell if my friend had done the same as he lay in the ambulance, paramedics urgently settling him for the siren-blazing ride to the hospital. I don’t know his wife but knew that she was staying at a hotel. Though the ambulance crew assured me that they would contact her, they couldn’t confirm that they had her number. I got the name of the hospital and rushed to retrieve my phone from the baggage area, found the hotel phone number and called her. She had already been contacted and was getting ready to head to the hospital. I still don’t know if the race people called her based on the information my friend had provided at registration, or if he had a number on the backside of his bib. (Bib swappers take note!!!) Either way, at least his wife was contacted very quickly. My friend was unconscious for four hours and luckily has made a ‘full recovery’ from heat exhaustion after four days in hospital.

My friend Lorna's pretty pink ID bracelet
My friend Lorna’s pretty pink ID bracelet

The shock of seeing him unconscious aside, the incident brought home the importance of these emergency contacts we provide. That day, my husband was nowhere nearby.  He was an still in bed, on an entirely different land mass, almost three hours flight away. He didn’t have a phone number for any friend I was with on Sunday. In fact, I don’t think he really knew who I was hanging with on Borneo. And my friends were racing, their phones stowed away in the baggage area. So, I wondered who should I have had as my emergency contact? Who would have ensured that I received the best possible care? Who would have hovered anxiously over my comatose body urging me to wake up. I suspect that given my circumstances that day – no one!

Several of my running buddies wear ID bracelets which provide essential information in case of emergency. I have held off buying one because again I don’t have contact details that will still be valid in a month’s time. However, once we get our new phone numbers, I vow to buy bracelets for both my husband, who cycles, and myself. Of course, even if I wear my bracelet, calling the number on it could be a waste of time.

Next weekend I plan to run the NM Galaxy 15km. My husband, it turns out, will be on a plane to South Korea as I curse the hills of Bukit Tunku. Until last Sunday, I’d have just shrugged and said, ‘Ah well, what are the chances of me collapsing at the race? After all, I’ve vowed to take it easy and not push hard.’  After the incident at Borneo Marathon, I’ve had a wake up call. Now, I need to find a friend, who isn’t running next Sunday, but who is prepared to take a call on my behalf – just in case.

How seriously do you consider the emergency contact information you provide at racing events? Do you wear a safety bracelet on training runs? If your partner races too, who can be contacted if one of you falls?

Lessons Learned While Running

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For the past two days I’ve been more Angry Runner than Expat Runner, thought technically I guess I’ve been an Angry Expat Runner. I think I gained some insight into how my seven-year-old son feels when he doesn’t get to play on the iPad and he is frustrated that he has no control over a situation. So I’ve been a Childish Angry Expat Runner then.

The source of my frustration? I had a lousy race on Sunday, the kind of race that renders all your training redundant, the sort of race that make you actually hate running (a first for me), the sort of race that leaves you wanting to scream like a seven-year-old: “It’s – not – fair!’ No kids, the world isn’t fair, but mommy lives such a pampered life that she usually does get treated fairly, gets to feel in control sometimes, and usually does get her way.

With my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat - in the heat!
The night before the race, with my friend Joanne who ran her first full marathon at Borneo. What an amazing feat anywhere – in the heat it’s doubly amazing!

At Borneo International Half Marathon I most certainly did not get my way. I had great first 8 kilometres. The best I’ve ever had in a race. After two days rest, my legs were ready to go, my often-sore foot felt great, and I hit my target pace from the start line and felt strong and able to keep to it. I had managed to keep my nerves at bay too. I started to think that this might be my race. This might the one in which I break the 1:50 barrier and perhaps even make it to the podium.

Oh how fast things changed. A little heart flutter then the nausea hit. What?! No! Nausea and I are not strangers in races. Indeed in May/June last year we were bedfellows. During a half marathon and a 16km, I did 8-10 great kilometres, before what can be best described as puke syndrome hit. Puke syndrome feels like morning sickness. Yeah, try run through that! I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. At least I thought I figured out that it was gels causing the problem. I dropped my pre-race oatmeal too in case that made me feel sick. I ran on sports drinks alone. And I thought it worked. Sure, the 12km I did in January caused a nausea issue at 10km but wasn’t that caused by the salt capsule I swallowed at the last drink station? I thought so for months. Then there was the MWM Half Marathon. No nausea there. The lack of nausea alone made the run a triumph. Only three weeks ago, I did a PB in 39 degrees C at Putrajaya Half Ironman. No nausea despite the midday sun. I had put this niggling nausea issue behind me. I could run on Acclerade and a sip of something at the odd water station and I was finally going to be able to reap the rewards of my training.

I thought I was prepared...
I thought I was prepared…

Wrong! I can see that my pace at Borneo was only marginally faster in the first 8km than at Putrajaya so it wasn’t a case of going off too fast. The big differences were: I had breakfast several hours before Putrajaya; for Borneo I was up at 2:30 am and basically ran on a few ginger cookies at 5 am. Though the temp at Putrajaya was a good 10-14 degrees C higher than at Borneo, the humidity at 67% was 22% lower. The humidity (89% at the start) and lack of food were probably the dream killers. On Sunday, I was running so well, that I didn’t want to break my stride to take any 100Plus at a water station. Add a few sips of Accelerade, one Gu Chew, a crazy early start, mild dehydration before the start, and 8 sweaty, though blissful, kilometres together and what did I get? Puke syndrome. Except there was nothing in my stomach so I couldn’t in fact puke or eat or drink – just suffer the urge to vomit for the next few hours. I know no one else who suffers from puke syndrome, certainly none of the four women who passed me as I jog-walked through the last five km of the race, the four women who took the top five spots together with the winner who was in a different pace league altogether. Certainly no one else I know here in KL. I am unique but not in a good way. Unique in a way that forced me to change my running mantra from ‘I love to Run’ to a far slower ‘I must not give up’. What I really, really wanted to do was lie down on the side of the road in a foetal position until the nausea passed. I saw my PB and podium position slip away before my eyes but there was nothing I could do as much as I kept trying to move forward. It was a miserable, miserable feeling that had nothing to do with running as I know it.

I limped over the line sixth, in a personal worst (PW!) time that was almost the same as my first half marathon in Oct 2012 before I’d ever heard the words tempo, threshold or speed training. I may have felt like I’d come so far travelling to Kota Kinabalu on Saturday, but really by Sunday lunchtime, back at the airport, I felt like I’d gone nowhere and it hadn’t felt very pleasant either. All my training had been useless. My legs were fresh enough yesterday to do a 7km run as if it was just a normal Monday after a sunday 21km long run. In fact, I have done LSDs faster than I ran Borneo Half Marathon!

I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.
I won Rm150 and a pair of 2XU calf sleeves. I spent the money on my consolation proboscis monkey and kids t-shirts at the airport.

Anyway, that’s the story. I am almost over it. This morning I figured out why this episode of puke syndrome pissed me off so much more than the others. It’s because this time it robbed me of an opportunity to stand on a podium grinning while holding a fake cardboard cheque. It’s the kind of thing you really normally only get to see top runners do but in Malaysia, where walking for much of a race can still get you sixth place, such a thing was within my reach. And again no big deal. It’s only a photo op. So what if slower runners than me got their moment in the spotlight this past weekend. Why should I begrudge them their piece of cardboard?!

It’s because I realised this morning that too much of my self-esteem is wrapped up in running achievements. I’ve come to rely on running for external validation. I want people to think I’m good at something and to respect my hard work – which is supposed to pay off, right? Well this time it didn’t – and dammit I did work hard! As clichéed as it is to say, I realise that you learn more from failure than you do from success. I learned that I need to diversify my ego-boosting endeavours. Or as I try to teach my children, learn to be happy in my own skin and not rely on external validation from others to bolster my self-esteem. The other lesson is that some times things are just not within your control, and as my family enters a phase of tumultuous change, it’s easy to feel the ground shifting beneath our feet. I thought I could rely on running to get me through the next few months of not knowing where our home will be, who our friends will be, how we will feel in our new lives in Perth, and for the past two days, I felt that running had let me down.

But guess where I figured all this out? Why out running of course. I left the house this morning at 6:30 am an angry, frustrated runner who felt they had not got their due, but 10km later (in 92% humidity) I felt the metaphorical clouds clear. Running hadn’t let me down after all I realised. I had let myself down by placing too much of my self-worth on the outcome of a race. But I’m 43-years-old godammit, not seven, so I’ve got to be better than that. It shouldn’t matter what strangers think. I have good supportive friends whose opinions I value and who’ve been very forthcoming in offering their commiserations, suggestions and advice on what went wrong on Sunday. Emotional lesson learned. Now if only I could find a solution to puke syndrome (besides moving to Perth which may sort the whole thing out anyway)!

My friend KK, who'd did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?
My friend KK, who’d did the full marathon, took this photo of my monkey and me in Kota Kinabalu airport. Did someone say weary?

P.S. For anyone who arrived here looking for information on Borneo International Marathon, I do apologise for this bout of naval-gazing. For what it’s worth, the early start not withstanding, the event seemed very well run, the race flagged off on time, the route was mostly flat except for a couple of challenging long hills, and the traffic was well controlled. There were plenty of portaloos en route and the water stations provided water and 100 Plus in paper cups. Near the end, where the half marathon and marathon routes merged, there were also bananas and watermelons on offer. The finish line was inside Likas Stadium which if you had a good race was probably a great way to finish. I stayed at Horizon Hotel which was 10 minutes by taxi from the start point outside the stadium. The service was excellent, the room was very inexpensive when booked months in advance through Agoda.com, and my carbo-loading lunch on Saturday was delicious. A taxi to Kota Kinabalu Airport, which is very bright and modern, cost Rm 30 and took around 15-20 minutes.

If Only Guinea Pigs Could Fly

Tigerphoto Last Sunday night, I sat down and did something I’d been procrastinating over for weeks. I made a poster advertising our four guinea pigs for adoption. And I cried. Guinea Pigs can’t fly, even on commercial airplanes, so we can’t take them with us to Australia. We’ve had Tiger, Dexter, Hermione and Grace for between two and a half and three years. It’s a bit complicated how we ended up with four in three separate cages but a Twitter feed description of the story would go something like: Two boys, one death, one boy, new friend, friend is a girl, lucky discovery before pregnancy, two more new friends, now two pairs, boys fight, separate, girls live happily ever after together. I put a few copies of the Guinea_Pigs poster in the trunk of my car with the weak intention of placing them on noticeboards at my children’s school. I hated the idea of advertising our little pets to total strangers. At physiotherapy, I told Akmal about my tale of projected loss and woe. ‘I’ll take one,’ he said as he released my posterior tibialis. ‘You will?’ Talk about making a girl happy on a Monday morning! Then Diana, a lovely lady with three children, who works at the clinic said she’d take one. I promised pictures. On Friday, at my 50th physio session since September, Diana was very excited about the guineas and agreed to take the pair of girls. An hour of so later, she Whatsapped me to ask if Dexter was still available as another physio wanted to take him.

GP PosterSo I didn’t need the poster, the animals are going to people whom I know will care for them, and all because I suffered a PTT injury which still niggles especially after hill workouts. Ain’t life funny. I haven’t handed over the animals yet but am very, very relieved that this major emotional hurdle has, if not been breached, well at least approached with a minimum chance of upset. I hope. In other news, I received an email from Garmin Malaysia today in response to my query about sponsorship – back in January. Yes, they’d like to sponsor me with a custom-made run top for racing and a watch, in return for reviewing their products and wearing the top and publishing photos of me wearing it on my blog. They suggest I get a Forerunner 620 from them, Aarrgh! My husband bought me a new Forerunner 620 four weeks ago for my birthday – and I love it. And I’m leaving Malaysia. But I hope I can still work something out. I have four races in Malaysia over the next six weeks, all of which I will write about, and during which I will used my Garmin watch. And I’m not going to stop racing when I get to Australia. I’m just going to be a lot further down the pack. But I plan to still write about my experiences. This is another reason why it sucks to move about. Good things  – and friendships too by the way – always materialise as you’re heading for the exit!

NM Galaxy Race 12km- Secret Results & Phantom Prizes

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Apology posted on Facebook by the organisers of the NM Galaxy Race Series 12km run which took place this past Sunday at Lake Titiwangsa.

If you ran the race, you’re very much aware of the NM Galaxy 12km run’s deficiencies – lighting, toilets, loudspeaker, legible distance markers, inaccurate route distance, not to mention the endurance event that was race bib collection! Plenty of people have been voicing complaints and suggestions on these issues, an others, on the NM Galaxy Facebook page so if you didn’t run, but are considering joining the next NM Galaxy race in May – there is a planned series of four races with interconnecting medals – or you’re just curious with some time on your hands, pop over there and have a look. (By the way, I’m sick to death of people going on Facebook after races – not just yesterday’s event, it seems to happen after every race here – complaining about goody bags. You sign up for a race to run for goodness sake, not to get free mouthwash samples and cartons of Milo.) That said, most of the online complaints have been very valid. And to give credit where it’s due, the organisers have not been defensive in their response. In fact, they’ve been downright apologetic promising to do better next time (very like a child who knows they’ve done wrong).

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NM Galaxy 12 km (11.5km) route recorded on my Garmin watch.

My biggest reservation in signing up for this race was the route along a very busy highway, Jalan Tun Razak, in the centre of Kuala Lumpur. However, thanks to traffic police and placement of cones, I felt pretty safe throughout the race on a route that proved to be very pleasant with only a few small inclines. I imagine though that as traffic got heavier, this was not the case for all runners. The route doubled back on itself twice which meant that there were runners running on either side of the central reservation which was actually nice as people could cheer friends along when they passed in opposite directions. (And thank you to the people who shouted ‘Go Expat Runner’ – you really spurred me on to keep going).

Now, cheating is unacceptable but a route with two u-turns does lend itself to such behaviour for the deviants who engage in it. At the first u-turn there were volunteers writing down bib numbers of the leading runners, and at the second there was a timing mat. I really hope there weren’t any participants taking shortcuts and then collecting Finisher Medals. At the end of the day, such people are cheating themselves as much as undermining the efforts of the folk who push their limits to complete a race. And to the person on Strava who only ran 8km of the route? Maybe you weren’t registered and just went along for the ride. Hopefully you didn’t collect medal. I’m looking forward to your response 🙂

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Is this the finish line? Confidence in the organisation being a bit low, and my watch being 500m short of 12km, I had to ask.

Back to me. Since coming back from my PTT injury, I’ve aspired to run a 10 or 12 km race at 5 min/km pace and on Sunday I managed 4.58min/km so I am really, really pleased. I’ve come a long way from the person who moaned and complained and cursed their way around a route as I’ve realised that a positive mental attitude when you’re hurting is everything. I can’t blame the shin splints I suffered for the first 3 km or the side stitch I had for the final 8km on the organiser unfortunately; these were all my own fault, but I managed to run through them thankfully. However, the debacle at the finish certainly was the organisers’ fault, and as no one has yet to mention it on Facebook, I would like to suggest improvements here.

Now I know it took a bit of effort to figure out the event rules, regulations and prize details, as no handbook was provided at bib collection, but being a pedant, I had searched out this information on the event’s Facebook page. Clearly, the lady operating the laptop with the timing information at the finish line had not read the handbook. Or maybe she didn’t like the look of me, or perhaps she’s always rude. Whatever. It is the norm here to place tags around the necks of the placed athletes who cross the line. It hasn’t happened to me often, but when it does, I tend to cry. There were no tears this time, because there were no tags. I knew that there weren’t a lot of women in front of me so I thought I might have been placed but I was only guessing. So I approached the laptop lady to politely ask if she could check my placing. I suggested that place tags at the finish line would be useful but was told quite definitively that this is too confusing. Huh? I was certainly confused.

Laptop lady initially refused to check my placing but I explained that I wanted to know whether I could go home or not, so she relented and tapped her keyboard to check. She showed me four fingers. ‘Fourth?’ I clarified. ‘Yes, but I don’t know how many prizes there are,’ she said dismissively. Thanks to the fact that there were several races on Sunday, and some of the ladies who are faster than me took their chances with other events, I had come 4th place in the Women’s Veteran Category. I’d read the information so I knew this meant some sort of prize. I think I came 5th or 6th overall, but as the organiser is so secretive about the results, I can’t tell you that for a fact. Again, I’m only guessing.

Mea Culpa picture posted on Facebook by the NM Galaxy Race Series organisers.
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Two hours after I crossed the finish line, two hours in which no information was provided to participants and no placings were posted, two hours of listening to dodgy music and the results of some prize draw (in Malay so I can’t tell you if I won anything or not, or indeed whether I had even entered), and five hours after I’d got out of bed to come to the event, I was called to the stage to collect my Rm150 prize.

Except it wasn’t my prize; it was a letter telling me to go to some other part of KL to collect my prize! Yes, I ran for 57 minutes on Sunday, faster than it took to collect my bib, way, way faster than it took to not collect my prize, and no doubt faster than it will take me to drive across town and back to find the organisers office to get 150 Rm. God help me but if they give me a cheque that requires that I queue up in the bank, I will lose my cool altogether.

Having started this post endeavouring to keep calm and carry on as they say, I’ve ended up ranting after all. And only because I won something. I know, poor me! Time for a run.

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On the home stretch, running, which is what it is all about.

At the end of the day, no one was hurt that I know of, and the NM Galaxy race series is a welcome addition to the local racing scene. The more people who are encouraged to run and train, the healthier, stronger (and happier) this nation will become. Yes folks, I really do believe that running is that powerful! I personally had a great run and am grateful to the volunteers as always who gave up their time to facilitate that. I’m sure the lighting, toilets, distance markers, start-line loudspeaker, start-line chaos, protracted bib collection, over-sized t-shirts, finish-line logistics, and unpleasant demeanour of stressed personnel at the start and finish line, and other issues now being aired online, will be improved for the next race, a 15km, on May 18. They had better be, as I’ve already signed up!

Race photo links:

Maszuari Muhamad

Running Malaysia Magazine

RFF Team

UPDATE: Tuesday evening: The results of the NM Galaxy 12km Run are now on the event’s Facebook page here.

Cambodia here I come

Almost three months after my PTT injury, I am finally going to do a Half Marathon this weekend. Sure I trained all summer before my pace came to an abrupt halt and sure I’ve only managed one 21 km training run since, so I’m in nothing near the shape I thought I’d be in when I signed up back in April, but there is still much to be excited about because the race is the Angkor Wat Half Marathon. I’m thinking of this as more of an ‘experience’ race than an ‘achievement’ race; I know it will be a special experience, not least because it’s my first trip child-free with my husband since July 2008, our second in over 12 years.

family Angkor

We were lucky enough to have a family holiday in Cambodia around New Year 2012/2013. We visited many temples including Angkor Wat which dates from the 12th century and is the oldest religious monument in the world. Back then my husband and I decided that we’d return for the race, a very popular event amongst running expats in KL. In fact the first time I heard about it was three years ago while eavesdropping on a conversation between a friend and a lady who had just returned from the Angkor Wat race. I was truely flummoxed as to why anyone would want to travel to another country to get up before dawn on a Sunday morning to run 21 km. I still very distinctly remember how my pre-running mind boggled. And here I am now – packing.

Today is a day for logistics and final planning (for my kids). My nerves are in shreds at the thought of leaving them even though I know they will be in very safe and capable hands. I won’t really start thinking about the race until tomorrow on the two hour flight to Siem Reap on which I will meet up with an old friend, from my Aberdeen work days, who nowImage lives in Jakarta. When she did the Singapore Half Marathon two years ago I was in awe, never dreaming that it might be something that I too would be capable of. Yes, and here I am – packing.

I had my last pre-race session with Akmal, my physio, yesterday and I’m very happy that my foot is now in great shape. My new Brooks Adrenaline trainers feel very comfortable while offering arch support too.

I’m really going to try and run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon with gratitude, gratitude for the fact that I get to participate in a unique running event in a beautiful country that most people will never get to see in their lifetime, gratitude that I can run pain-free, and gratitude for all the familiar and unfamiliar faces, smiling, possibly grimacing at times, that I’ll see on Sunday morning under the rising Cambodian sun.

I’ll keep you posted.

Reclaiming My Runner’s Joy

Last night, after a nine (9!!) week break, I returned to my running club. It was the best evening I’ve had, well, in nine weeks (not counting of course my nights on the sofa watching Breaking Bad).

It was made all the more enjoyable by the fact that despite what I thought were ominous pains in my foot last week, the foot didn’t hurt (while I ran). Funnily enough, it was sore beforehand, when I arrived at Lake Gardens for the running clinic. An hour poised over the brake (mostly the brake) and the accelerator of a car on what in light traffic is a 12-minute journey is bound to make anyone’s foot complain. Right?

Last week, having found Nemo and discovered a rare Irish fish in the sea off the Gili Islands in Indonesia (see photos), I ran 7 km at 5min/km pace on the hotel treadmill. I didn’t ice the foot afterwards as I was too lazy to walk to the bar and ask for some. My foot really hurt. Despite rolling my arch several times a day on a tennis ball and being really attentive to my running form, it hurt. I worried, and dispensed with any intention of running again last week.

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Clownfish off the Gili Islands, Indonesia.

Now while, the downside of living in Kuala Lumpur may be the traffic, one of the many upsides is affordable healthcare. It costs me Rm85 (27 USD/ 20 Euros) for a physiotherapy session that often lasts an hour. On my return from Indonesia, I went for my rehab session expecting bad news. But there was none.

The amazing Akmal released the tension in my arch and toes, and spend a lot of time stretching out my calves and hips. There was no re-injury, just scar tissue which he will continue to work on over the coming weeks while I diligently do my prescribed exercises at home. Ok, well maybe not diligently but sometimes, when I remember, at least. He recommends I see him three times a week. On a per-week basis that’s cheaper than a facial (even in Kuala Lumpur). Sure, it makes me high maintenance, but given the fact that I never actually have facials (or manicures or massages), and that physiotherapy is in fact maintenance, I’m happy to oblige. One woman’s rehab is another’s pampering.

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Irish Buttfish (who appears to be trying to run?!)

So back to last night’s running clinic. We did 8 x 500s, the same exercise we did nine weeks ago. As expected, I’d lost fitness, so my average 500 m time dropped from 1.59 mins to 2.03 but still. I was happy! I managed to complete the 8 ‘sprints’. I had a lot of fun with the other runners. I got great advice on pulling my shoulders back and keeping my chin up when I run. My foot felt fine and I experienced a real post-run high which I can only describe as joyous.

I’m thinking of running the 2XU Compression 15 km race on Sunday as I need to get in a long training run and that’s about as long as I should be doing at this stage of recovery. There will be no PB but after an unplanned five month break from racing, it’s time to be brace and pin on a bib. (And get up at some Godforsaken hour to eat breakfast, drive and find a parking space, go to the loo, to be ready for the start whistle at 6 AM).

As a competitive person, who daily has unrealistic expectations of herself, my instinct is not to run when I’m not at my peak fitness but the rational side of me knows that there is still a lot to be gained from participating even when a PB is out of the question. The atmosphere at races here is always very positive and the race is an opportunity to catch up with a lot of runners I haven’t seen in ages. The route is very hilly so it will be an excellent training opportunity. If I have to run 15 km anyway, I may as well do it in company. And, at the end of the day, even competitive old me has to remember that running isn’t always about racing, even when you’re racing.

On Sunday, I’m going to try run joyously, and celebrate the fact that after injury, just being able to run is a gift. A finisher’s medal will of course make the ‘comeback’ all the sweeter.