Monday, 2 November 2015

My Plums

(No, not them ones!)

Wednesdays.  Ha, I can even sense myself grinning from ear to ear now at the thought.  No matter whether its rain or shine, Wednesdays means Plums.  For the unaware, the ‘Plums’ are the nutty, fun ‘punnet’ of Plumstead Runners.

I joined the Plums way back in early 2013.  A couple of months before I signed up for the East London Half Marathon.  I was bored with cycling and needed a new focus.  I needed a regular ‘social’ escape from the reality of living alone and being a weekend Dad.  It was slowly dawning on me that although I’d enjoyed the previous two and a bit years of cycling, it was getting to the point where club politics and snobbery got in the way of just going for a bike ride with my club mates who had quickly become friends.

Searching for ‘local running clubs’ brought up a number of clubs but the nearest to my flat in Welling was Plumstead Runners.  Its strange what a perception you get from a club website.  It looked serious.  Proper dead serious.  It almost put me off.  Thankfully, I made the decision to drop the Plums a line by email, introducing myself and copying some links to the Garmin records I keep, to prove I was the standard I said I was.  A middle-aged plodder who wanted to run a bit more, get a bit better and make a few new friends in the process.

It didn’t take long before I got a reply.  Come down on Wednesday night it said.  Not this week as it was the AGM but feel free to come the week after.  Wednesday came and I couldn’t wait.  I quickly headed home to get changed and I jumped on the bus down to the club.  Unbeknown to me, Ernie was sitting opposite.

My heart was thumping as I opened the changing room door.  ‘Hello’, I said cheerily but anxiously and the nervousness in my voice must have given the game away.  ‘Ah, you must be John?’ said Graham, introducing himself.  ‘Looking forward to tonight?’, he asked.  As I said yes, everyone was turning around, smiling and began introducing themselves.  Jim, Paul, Eddie and Francis said hello and came over and shook my hand.  Ernie turned around and said ‘ah, you’re the one who sent all that internet stuff, aren’t you?  We’re old school as you’ve probably guessed already’.  ‘Ha, yes, that’s me!’  All of a sudden, a jolly fellow walked in.  It was Robin.  Big smile on his face, cracking jokes, full of fun, taking the p*ss out of someone or other.  I felt at home.  The club enthuses friendliness.

Almost 3 years later, it’s still the case.

Wednesday's are now a firm fixture in the diary...

As it happens, through life, my circumstances have changed.  I actually live nearer to Petts Wood Runners HQ now than I lived to the Plums when I lived in Welling.  When I moved to Petts Wood permanently, I have to admit I ran with PWR once.  I didn’t enjoy it.  It just wasn’t the Plums.  The Plums are full of ‘banter’.  No matter who you’re running with, there’s plenty of chat.  It has always been the case since I walked in through the changing room doors almost 3 years ago.  It could be weeks or months since you’ve seen someone but you pick up exactly where you left off before.

I’ve made some firm friends.  I’ve spent many a mile running, chatting about running and also putting the world to rights at the same time.  Whether it’s our football teams, love life, ex-wives, child maintenance, different types of running shoes, the last race, work and careers, you name it, there’s a good few of us with an awful lot of us with a huge amount in common.  

At the same time, I feel incredibly guilty because I haven’t spent as much time as I really should have done towards the back of the group and as a result, I feel I don’t really know those running behind me as well as I should.  Yes, I will get to each junction, loop back , pick up the last runner and give them some encouragement and then head back to the front again but how much do I know them?  I recognise the faces, I smile.  They smile back.  The next time I’m feeling knackered, I’ll stay at the back and I’ll make an effort to speak to everyone.

I owe a huge debt to the Plums.  I walked into that changing room a mere novice and now I sit here a little more experienced, proudly with 5 marathons behind me, all in the space of 53 weeks.  Blimey, did I really do that?  It seems surreal.  It would never have been possible without the encouragement and advice of the more experienced members at the club.  If it wasn’t for Paul, I would still be running my long runs at around what was my half marathon pace.  No wonder my energy levels were crashing and my legs were burning!  It may have taken me a while to catch on but I did eventually take that advice on board.  I’m a slow learner.

It has taken my a good few years to get my head around the mechanics of the club run.  Each group runs the same route.  The faster runners will get to a junction, loop back and pick up the last runner so all the runners regroup at that junction.  That way, everyone feels part of the group.  Its a little bit of genius when you think about it.  I used to stop and take a breather.  I still do but less so, only when I really need to.  I treat the runs like intervals now.  Run to the junction fairly hard then on the return, let the legs relax, let the HR settle back down and literally run the pick up leg as the recovery and then when you've reached the last runner, you can push a little harder again.  It really helps the legs.  Pushing harder, getting that heart rate up into the realms of the lactate threshold (those of you on Garmin Connect or Strava, thats your HR Zone 4), the point where your muscles fill up with lactic acid may hurt and your legs will be sore the next day but it will help you get stronger and faster.  The old saying 'no pain no gain' could not be more true.  So if you was wondering why I do the occasional blast to the front, now you know. (If you want to read about the science of Lactic Acid, read this really great article on the Serpentine Running Club website here!)

No matter what stupid questions I’ve had, someone has always known the answer and have been more than happy to give their opinion or share their advice from their own personal experience.  There is no snobbery.  I came into running from cycling, where the levels of snobbery are overpowering.  I was a proud cyclist yet now I look at my somewhat expensive bike in the corner of our utility room and shake my head.  The amount of money I spent on that bike in the space of 3 years was ridiculous.  It would buy me 30 pairs of Brooks Glycerin’s at the full RRP.  I'd fallen into the trap.  'Oh yes, let’s buy another pair of expensive wheels.  That’ll make me go faster.' The ‘law of diminishing returns’ was all too prevalent.  It was all about the bike for far too long.  Thankfully, one icy early spring day saw me dump the bike for my running shoes and that was the end of the flirtation with the world of Sir Bradley Wiggins wannabe’s.  It wasn’t about the bike, its about the engine powering the bike.  The engine was my heart and lungs.  Running was going to take me to the next level yet it was so much more down to earth.  No faff.  No bullsh*t.

It doesn’t matter what running shoes you wear.  It doesn’t matter what running top you wear (unless its my orange Paris Marathon ‘Fluorescent Flame’ shirt which Robin is absolutely adamant is pink haha!)  The Plums have been there and done it.  

There is a healthy mutual respect in the group and there is plenty of inspiration and positivity no matter what direction you look in.  Gina has run an absolutely incredible amount of marathons, levels beyond the imagination.  Paul and Richard have ran marathon times recently I can only dream of, despite training being disrupted by injury niggles.  Gary Witt defies medical science and the docs by racking up more marathons than the number of good knees that he has.  Watching Guy run should be an inspiration for all at his age.  I've never quite seen a man attract as much female attention as he does when he runs through Danson Park.  The man is a legend.  Lee Walker has now completed two marathons, his last being last weekend on the back of minimal training.  I draw a whole heap of inspiration from Dave Tyler and Lee Edwards.  You really couldn't wish to meet two nicer blokes in all honesty.  Both of them have come into running from a similar direction as me, very overweight and unfit.  Both of them have come on leaps and bounds since they joined the club at the beginning of last year.  To see what they have achieved and what they are capable of now is a real eye opener.  Seeing the likes of some of our newer runners like Sam and Stephanie improving week by week is great to see too.  Take my old mate Nicola, for example.  I'd been on and on at her for months about joining the Plums.  She eventually signed up, ran just over 5 miles on her first club run, ran 10k the next and then only a few days later, she ran her furthest ever distance of 10 miles in the club handicap race.  A few weeks later, she was finishing the Great South Run in a respectable time, all in the space of a few weeks.  I'm dead proud of her, as I am of everyone that pulls on a Plums vest for a training run or race

No matter whether you can run a marathon in 3:30 or you’re struggling to crack 65 minutes for a 10k, you'll be welcome through them doors like I was almost 3 years ago.  Your Wednesday's will never be the same again and the club run will become a firm fixture in your diary.  

Roll on this Wednesday.  It's Meeting Night and the long awaited draw for the club's VLM places.  I will have my fingers crossed.  My 2016 Spring Marathon will either be London (please God,smile nicely on me) or my back up, Rotterdam a few weeks beforehand at the beginning of April.

[Disclaimer:  if you say you can run 10k in 65 minutes, makes sure you can actually run 10k in 65 minutes in real life rather than 'running' it on a Wii.  That really doesn't count and someone might blow a fuse :)]

Come on you Plums!

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