19 June

Roller Derby + Half Marathon = !?!?!?!?!?!

Janey, Watson and Gilbertson after the half marathon

Did you get involved in roller derby without much of an athletic background? Did derby become your slippery slope/gateway drug to actually using that gym you have a membership to? Do you struggle to fit in a rest day amongst your training days and cross-training days? Check, check, and check: this was already me. How to complicate things further? Sign up for a half-marathon!

What possessed me to do such a thing? I had been consciously trying to improve and develop my derby play, partly through increasing my physical strength (not one of my natural, erm, strengths), which is how I was getting more invested in cross-training. I was also stalling somewhat in terms of my derby career, not having been rostered on the A team for nearly a year at that point. All the advice to stay focused on your progression regardless of your position on your team is wise. What the advice doesn’t really tell you is what happens if you’re still progressing, still improving, and that’s not reflected in increased track time or a position on your league’s A team. In my case, this was due to everyone on the team improving their play, and the arrival of some awesome transfer skaters. So I needed a new goal that wasn’t derby-related, and turning to my cross-training seemed like a healthy focus.

I’d started getting more into running because 1) it was something I’d done off and on over the last decade and a bit; 2) I’d been inspired by Margaret Webb’s book Older, Faster, Stronger; 3) I did Roller Derby Athletics’ Rocktober cardio challenge in 2016 (and got an honourable mention! WHAT?!); 4) leading directly to my finally, many months after having registered and got a bar code and everything, starting parkrun. For the uninitiated amongst you, parkrun is a weekly Saturday morning 5k run held at locations all over the UK (and beyond—my hometown recently launched one of Canada’s few parkruns!). It’s free, volunteer-run, and with a bar code you get sent your time every week, as well as a full table of results, so you can see how everyone has done that day, as well as their age category. So Saturday mornings became about running, and Saturday afternoons geeking out over the results. Every week I would identify a new parkrun hero, usually a woman a few decades older than me running several minutes faster than me.

parkrun also gives you the opportunity of tracking your progress in a totally objective way. Running is deliciously simple in comparison with roller derby. You ran faster this week or you ran slower. Or so I thought. I would also endlessly wonder about things like, did the cold/hot/icy/muddy conditions affect my time? Was I slower this week because of where I’m at in my monthly cycle? Should I have a rest day the day before or fit in another hill training session? Did I rehydrate sufficiently after last night’s cocktails? You get the picture… But similar to tracking your progress in achieving 27/5, working on improving a 5k run time does give you the sense of undisputed results.

I wanted to run a 27-minute parkrun (having started at 32:19), and it took me more than a year to get there. Just to complicate matters, I had challenged myself to run four 27-minute or better consecutive parkruns at my local (hilly) course, Forest Rec. I finally did it in December 2017. So, lest a great hole open up in my life where my newly achieved running goal used to be, I signed up for the half-marathon in Manchester in May.

At this stage, I had never run further than 8k at once. I was going to have to run a whole lot more, and I was going to have to do it on a regular basis in order to complete 21.1k in Manchester. There are lots of training plans out there. Mine was derived from the book Run Less, Run Faster, which works on the principle of three training runs per week: speedwork, a tempo run, and a long run. Realistically, I couldn’t fit in any more runs than the three I already did each week, so it seemed ideal. It also specifies which pace you should be running at based on your 5k time and what event you are training for. I spent the month of January gradually increasing my long run distance so that the first long run of the half-marathon plan, 12.5k, wasn’t such a shock to the system, and then started the 16-week training plan. (Turns out my system was shocked anyway, in the form of pain around my right ankle and inner calf. This is why we have physios, and mine sorted me out to the point where I had no pain on race day.) I adjusted the plan in the book somewhat: there were a number of long runs in excess of the half-marathon distance, which I capped at 20k, not wanting to overtrain, either for the half-marathon, or for roller derby.

So running gradually shifted from being a cross-training activity to a primary training activity, while I was still playing derby, cycling, swimming, doing strength training at the gym, and doing Pilates. I had envisioned relaxing a bit on the derby front a month or so prior to race day, but some unexpected long-haul travel for work meant I had to hit every practice I could to maintain our league’s attendance requirements. So add some jet lag into the mix of what my body was negotiating.

Finally, after nearly four months, and just a week after I flew home from New Zealand (!!!), race day arrived, and my teammates Gilbertson and Watson came with me to Manchester in support. In a recent episode of my brilliant friend Hannah McGregor’s podcast, I mentioned how appropriate Rainy City’s name is; on race day there was some karmic retribution in just how dry, hot, and cloudless Manchester was. I’d signed up for a 2:10-2:15 finish when I registered for the run. According to the pace tables in Run Less, Run Faster, I had been training for just under a 2:04 finish. But it was such a hot day that runners were warned not to chase a PB (and hey, with my first half-marathon, I could only ever achieve a personal best, right?). I was hoping to be faster than that 2:10 I signed up for, and saved enough for a sprint finish at the end to come in at 2:08:48, a result I was pleased with, and an effort I recovered from relatively quickly.

After I’d finished, Gilbertson’s husband, Arry, an amazingly fast runner who did the 10k in Manchester a few hours later when the temperature was even higher, asked me when I would run my next half-marathon. My reply: probably after I retire from derby. I’m so glad I trained for the half, and especially that I enjoyed myself on the day. But it was a tricky balancing act over the course of four months. And as much as I loved the simplicity of running, it also led me back to greater appreciation of derby: if you run slower than you wanted to, you’ve just run slower. But so many things happen in a bout. Maybe one jam didn’t go so well, but the next jam you did something brilliant. Maybe your efforts at offence weren’t what you had hoped, but you did some killer D. Maybe you let the opposing jammer through right off the jam line, but your tripod was so strong on her scoring pass that she had to call it off at zero points. There are so many different kinds of victory in roller derby, not just what ends up on the scoreboard.

So, for the moment, I’m going to enjoy making running my cross-training again. Although I’m starting to get very interested in the idea of a triathlon. Watch this space…

Janey Canuckle, #67