If I were The Overlord: Queen of the World, I would insist that every single race included disco tunnels, fairy lights, sexy cheering boys and lashings of gin. Someone at Nike HQ must have been making notes in my brain, because We Own The Night didn’t miss a trick.

Had it not been for the pre-race fun on Twitter and Instagram, admittedly the shitty weather might have persuaded me to stay in bed. But the runner girls of London were in an excitable mood. Having spent the day busily swapping race kit photos and chattering away online, I was thoroughly overexcited by the time I hit the park. As you can see by my race attire, I was ready for some serious running.


Running is a serious business

Despite the crappy weather the race village was laid out like a mini festival and it looked ace. After dropping my bag off and popping into the hospitality tent to catch up with my friends, I got involved with the warm-up, taken by the lovely Geoff Bagshaw from Equinox. Geoff is an excellent trainer, the sweetest man alive, and the perfect choice to lead the masses.

Although many of my girlfriends were taking part, I really wanted to just enjoy the night and not beast myself, so I chose my run buddies carefully. I was delighted to run with my friend Ruth Hooper, an old school Run Dem Crew girlfriend who has since relocated to Amsterdam to do cool things for Nike women, and my gorgeous lady friend Bangs.

Rhal and Ruthie

Rhal and Ruthie

We were lucky enough to sneak up to the front, and so cheered on by the dulcet tones of our MC the inimitable Charlie Dark, we set off. As with almost every race I’ve ever done, it’s impossible not to get sucked in and start too fast, which we did. But within five minutes of running, it was obvious this was basically my dream race, sent down from the heavens on unicorn horseback and served up on a glimmering bed of disco joy.

I used to live right by Victoria Park and did all my first marathon training around that little patch of green, but for one night only the park had undergone a glittering transformation. Concrete paths were replaced by illuminated disco tunnels (heaven), ginormous light up KM markers, and woods of glowing fluorescent mushrooms beneath a thousand twinkling stars.


Disco mushrooms in Victoria Park

Ordinarily I’m not wild about the concept of gender specific activities, but I get it now. There was an electric atmosphere of female solidarity throughout the night. It felt like all 10,000 runners were in it together as we ran through the magical disco wonderland.

Although the disco tunnels were arguably the most exciting thing I’ve ever had the pleasure to run through in my entire life, the best part of the race was definitely at 7K. The sexy boys from Run Dem Crew were out in full force to support their girls, and they did them proud. If you ever need a vocal pick me up, enter a race that includes an RDC cheer section. You could hear their supportive cheers echoing through the park for miles; those boys really know how to make a girl feel like pulling up her sequin hotpants and running for the stars.

I stole this off Instagram sorry about that

I stole this off Instagram sorry about that

Next up we ran past the discolicious Josey Rebelle who had her own private party booth and stopped off for a quick dance, before hot-footing it to the finish line. After two laps of the park which seemed to glide by in a sea of twinkly lights, we ran holding hands across the finish line to the cheering crowds, and I felt like Chaka Khan beneath a million twinkling disco stars in Studio 54 heaven.

After crossing the finish line we were handed our Alex Monroe finisher’s necklace, and headed off to the hospitality tent, where they fed us delicious wholefood, popcorn and lashings of gin. I then proceeded to get plastered in the company of sexy friends, and even got to meet the marathon champion of the world, the mighty Paula Radcliffe.


Disco Paula puts the Rad in Radcliffe

But before the close of the night, I had one more run to do. At about 10pm I realised, pissed as a fart, that I had forgotten to pick up my bag. The last leftover bag in the tent, I raced across the park and was greeted by my final finish line of the day, three little bag guys cheering me on so they could close the tent and go home. Luckily they didn’t seem remotely bothered about having to wait for an hour in the freezing cold for me to hurry up and collect my bag. Sorry dudes. You made my night.

The event was impeccably organised, everything looked beautiful, and I loved the course. I can’t fault We Own The Night; it was a perfectly organised slice of disco sex heaven. If I were Queen of the World, I would insist that all races were exactly like it and every week we’d all be forced to have a huge disco run with hugs and cheers and vats of gin. Minus the night bus home in gold sequin hotpants; that was a bit dodgy.

The year 2013 went tits up in Rhal-land and turned out to be one of the toughest, most painful and yet necessary years of my life. After battling with poverty, injury, isolation, heartbreak and relocating from Scotland back to the greatest city in the world, although I learned a lot about myself, something has to change. As the year of hard knocks draws to a close, it’s time to sort my shit out and make some plans.

Early adventurer

Early adventurer

Returning to London has been bittersweet. I am so happy to be close to my friends and family and ecstatic to be back running after months of injury. But I’m also haunted by a sense of failure, sad to leave some special people behind and frustrated at reaching this point in my life (34.5) with no fucking clue what’s going on.

I always assumed I’d have a house, husband, career and gaggle of chubby babies by now. The truth is, the most expensive thing I possess is a pink BMX and my wardrobe consists largely of £3.99 H&M Lycra miniskirts. I live off hummus and I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent next month. To that end, I’ve decided to write a plan of my hopes and aspirations for the year ahead. Behold the launch of the official year of Rhalou. I hereby give you all permission to remind me to stick to the plan if July rolls around and I’m still slogging out in budget Lycra and licking hummus instead of making something of my life.

Get a job
Okay I admit it, I suck at freelancing. I’m a woman of routine. I like being in an office every day, wearing actual clothes and interacting with interesting people. I’ve been freelance for 18 months now, which basically means I’ve lived in pyjamas for over a year. In 2014 I would like to get a well-paid, exciting, challenging and fulfilling job with a progressive company where my writing and editing skills are put to good use. I would also like to earn enough money to get taxis home from the pub instead of shuffling drunkenly on to the bloody night bus at 4am every Sunday.

Get ripped
After taking time out due to injury it’s been a long slow climb back to fitness, but in a funny way rediscovering running has been like falling in love all over again. All the clichés about coming back stronger are true. When you get knocked back, if you’ve got true grit you come back fighting and this time I’m determined to get it right. I don’t give a rat’s arse about speed, PBs or elusive ultra fitness. I run because I want to be healthy, happy and look good in hotpants. I’m determined not to get injured again, and to that end I’ve taken up yoga, returned to the weight’s room and I refuse to run faster than the speed of conversation until I am ready. Watch this space.

Seek out adventure
Moving to the Scottish mountains was a baptism of fire. I absolutely loved the wilderness, but at the same time I realised I need friends, pubs, H&M and Starbucks to sustain me as a human being. Even the most beautiful, ethereal and majestic countryside in the world sucks arse if you’ve got no one to share it with, so I came home. I haven’t turned my back on the mountains though. Since being back in the city I’ve realised I need both in my life. I want to be a city girl who buggers off to the wilderness for a mountain fix every few weeks. Who fancies a road trip?

Write that book
Despite trying to write one since I was six, I have never finished a book (in my own name). Aside from the whole moving to the Scottish mountains episode, there are some cool stories I should probably tell you. There was that time I lived in a commune, or when I climbed the fence at Glastonbury when I was only 14, or the gay millionaire my granny married, or that time I was an extra in a porn film about zombies. Please remind me to write that book.

Be content
I’ve been cursed with an adventurous streak which compels me to shake up my entire life every couple of years and turn everything on its head. I’ve walked away from countless friends, jobs, homes, relationships and pets without so much as a backward glance. This may sound fun and reckless, but it doesn’t get me any closer to living the conventional dream and having a stable income so I can pay for those elusive late-night taxis. In 2014 I will learn to cherish what I already have; loyal and brilliant friends, a family that loves me, a city to call my home and legs that can run and run and run.

For runners, athletes, foot models or anyone who makes good use of their limbs, injury is like a dirty black cloud. It haunts you, gently goading you with unexpected shin splints or sore toes like droplets of rain, while you do your upmost to avoid the downpour. Every day you stretch, worry, wriggle and try to stay in optimum condition to avoid any damage that might prevent you from hitting the streets.

With most new runners, as your obsession gradually begins to consume your every waking thought, so does your health. You start cancelling big nights out on the piss with your mates in favour of cosy nights in front of the telly, so you don’t suffer on your morning run.

Before long, body preservation reaches a crescendo. Despite your other half’s protestations, you start rubbing exotic oils that smell like old ladies into your sore limbs and sleeping in compression gear that makes you look like a giant Lycra sausage. But like it or not, pounding the pavements in excess comes with its drawbacks and if you don’t take good care of yourself, runners are prone to injury.

running is sexy

When I first discovered running, I thought I was invincible. I annoyed the shit out of the Women’s Running gang, as while they all struggled with various aches and pains, I glided smugly from 5K to 28-miles without so much as a blister. Running meant so much to me; it slowly began to shape my entire life. But being a bit of a party animal, I tried to maintain my former life and balance partying like a rock star with an ever-increasing training regime.

A burgeoning obsession with speed also silently began to take over, and runs stopped being about enjoyment and more about punishment. I was so desperate to hit targets and keep up with the fast kids that I forgot why I started running in the first place. Despite starting to feel exhausted, I continued to power on regardless and unsurprisingly my lack of insurance in my legs eventually took its toll.

At the Edinburgh Marathon 2012 I tore a muscle in my leg. I kept on running (okay limping, like a miserable old trout) because I was a fool and determined to finish. This happened two weeks before I moved to Scotland to start a new life in the Borders. Needless to say, moving to the mountains without a working leg was a real bitch. Plus finding a decent physiotherapist in the wilderness was a whole new challenge.

I eventually found a lovely massage therapist who rubbed racing greyhounds on the side. He was very nice, but told me to stop doing any exercise, at all. I quickly became stagnant, lost 100 per cent of my fitness and my muscles turned into burnt steak. I was living in the most beautiful corner of the world and I sat on my arse watching it through a window.

Seeing my friends pursue their running dreams on Twitter was torturous. I badly wanted to be out running, but I was terrified of further injuring myself. One of the reasons I relocated to Scotland was to focus on endurance as opposed to the increasing obsession with speed. And where I was living, short runs weren’t an option. You either set off for a 20 miler in the mountains, or not at all. It was hard to take half measures. I tried several times but repeatedly tore the muscle and eventually resigned myself to hiking.

For reasons unrelated to running, after 15 months I came home. I suspect not being able to run didn’t help, but that’s life. Being injured taught me some valuable lessons that I will never forget. You can’t ever take what you have for granted and if you do, the universe will drop kick you in the nuts to remind you. Also, stop giving a rat’s arse about speed.6a01053637118a970c012876dab28e970c-800wiSince moving back to London in September, I’ve been under the pneumatic thumbs of Mr Simon Lamb, a highly-skilled sports massage therapist who views the body holistically. He’s not a cloud head; the man has thumbs of granite and pummels me to within an inch of my life. But he understands the emotional aspects of running. My brain is part of my body, it’s inside my head. It’s a vital tool in my running, my injury and my recovery. It turns out that, now my torn muscle has recovered, there is no reason why I can’t run again. My body just needed a bit of love. And the one person who wasn’t giving it the love it needed; was me.

Now I’m back running with my old friends Run Dem Crew and skipping around Hampstead Heath at a speed slightly slower than a sausage dog and I couldn’t be happier. I’m glad I got drop kicked by the running gods. It made me realise why I fell in love with running in the first place. I don’t run for PBs or to keep up with the cool kids. I don’t give a shit about distance or speed or punishing myself in gruelling regimes that impact negatively on the rest of my life. I run because it makes me feel good. And then I go and have a nice cold beer and a (veggie) sausage.

Hello and thanks for reading what I hope will be the first of many blogs about running, disco, rogue chickens, romance, moonlight and my adventures in the hills.

After nearly three years, several hundred miles, a dozen halves, two wholes and one ultra marathon, I’m sad to announce that, as of next week, I’ll be stepping down as Online Editor at Women’s Running magazine. It’s been an amazing journey, I’ve made some great friends along the way and I’ll be very sad to leave. But due to a series of events that led me to one rather handsome ultra runner, I’ve decided to quit the rat race and emigrate to a little cottage in rural Scotland…

Like most good stories, this one begins with a girl and a boy and a bit of romance. But to set the scene, I probably need to go back a little further. Back to the days before running and carbo loading and compression gear consumed my life. Bear with me; this may take a while…

It all started long ago in a little city called London. I was living in a house with a boy. Not THE boy I might add, but another boy, who it turned out wasn’t destined to be the boy for me. But ever the optimist, at the time I thought maybe he was. I was slogging away for peanuts editing Penthouse Forum magazine at a grimy publishing house in East London, believing my destiny was spread-eagled (teehee) before me and all I had to do was hang on.

I spent my days penning articles on S&M, interviewing adult babies and reviewing saucy porn films, and my nights pretending to be happy with the wrong boy. Having been estranged from my Dad for nearly 20 years, I suspect I was lacking decent male role models. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that perhaps I deserved more than this boy was capable of giving.

Fortunately Lady Fate knew that my fortunes lay elsewhere. So she decided to step in and clear the decks for me in a very painful, dramatic but ultimately necessary fashion, so that I could start all over again (if only I’d seen it this way at the time).

As with all good life changing events, in a trilogy of drama I lost my boyfriend, my job and my house in the same week. They do say bad luck comes in threes. Homeless, jobless, dumped and utterly distraught, I relied on the kindness of friends while pondering the impossibility of my utterly fucked up life. But then, just when I needed it the most, a little thing called running came into my life…

At this point I should probably make a confession. Before the whole running epiphany started, I wasn’t remotely interested in fitness. I’d spent thirty years veering between chubby, skinny or depressed depending on the state of my love life. The only thing I hated more than running, was my fat arse (go figure). But then one day, a particularly awful day when I had no idea what the hell I was doing with my life or where my next meal was coming from, a friend told me about a job on a new running magazine, and that’s when everything changed.

To prepare for the job interview, two days before, I tentatively took up running. I say running, I hobbled round the block a few times, hated every second of it and showed up at the interview swearing blind that I was an avid runner with a bright future on the magazine. Against the odds I got the job, so I was forced to keep on pretending to be a runner.

At around this time I also lost an important uncle to cancer and a much-loved granny to old age. Struggling to comprehend the shitty cards I’d been dealt, I decided to focus all of my energies on pretending to be good at running. Right through the deepest darkest winter I plodded around the park, gradually building up strength, stamina, and mental determination. I ran through the stresses of house hunting, heartache, bereavement and injury. I would not advise the last one. I had a particularly nasty arm operation following a run in with my bicycle and a black cab, and tried to continue running with my arm in a sling. (Turns out you actually need all of your limbs to run. Who knew?)

It didn’t happen over night, but I gradually fought the sweat, the tears and some rather persistent shin splints to become a runner. Despite what I told my boss, I wasn’t immediately a die hard fan; running can be tough going for the best of us, and I found it particularly rough on my spindly knees (and don’t get me started on the dodgy shoulder) but I kept on going and every week I got a little bit faster and grew a little bit stronger. I ran through the rain, I ran in the dark, I ran weighed down by tears and bone heavy with sadness, regret and fear. But even during my darkest hour when I didn’t know what life was going to throw at me next, I kept on running.

I have a lot to thank the open road for. I shared my heart with the sky every night and whispered my problems to my pounding feet, until gradually, one step at a time, my fears began to dissipate. And to my surprise, when I’d told my story to the road a hundred times until even the trees were dog tired of hearing it, I was left with nothing but boundless energy and miles of unchartered territory ahead.

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that these profound running moments all occurred within the 5K circumference of Victoria Park. Running can be an amazing, life-changing, moving meditation, capable of healing all of life’s woes, but it’s still bloody hard. The big miles didn’t come until much later.

But what did happen quite quickly was the impact running had on every other aspect of my life. I discovered that if I was running well, everything else in my life seemed to fall into place. Before long I had a nice flat, a great group of friends and a job involving writing about my new favourite hobby all day long.

As is the case for most runners, my regular plod round the park soon got tedious, so the pursuit of running events took over and within a year I’d conquered my first marathon. Many people complain about the arduous side of marathon training, but I discovered that I respond really well to structure, plus I often need an excuse to hit the road, so I set about signing up to every race that came my way.

But running can be a solitary sport and as most of my friends were party kids, when my miles began to increase, I started to get lonely. But then one night I met Run Dem Crew, a collective of East London runners who take to the streets en masse every Tuesday night, and my fate was sealed. The first time I ran with the crew, I felt like I’d come home. Run Dem Crew really shaped my running, and my favourite hobby quickly blossomed into a love affair. It’s more of a family than a running club and I feel blessed to have met and ran with so many amazing and inspirational people.

After a summer of running fun, that September I was due to review The Great Scottish Run for Women’s Running magazine. It was an important weekend for more than one reason. I was also going to stay with my Dad, who lives in The Scottish Borders and was just out of hospital after having a heart bypass operation. We were in the very early stages of rebuilding our fragile relationship after twenty years apart, and I was nervous about seeing him.

And then when I least expected it, I met an interesting gentleman (let’s call him Ultraboy) and once again everything suddenly changed. It’s funny how when life finally feels complete, someone can suddenly appear and knock you off your feet. Ultraboy (an ultrarunner, funnily enough) also lives in The Borders, and kindly offered to pace me round the half marathon. At the time I didn’t realise that in run world ‘can I pace you?’ is the new ‘can I take you out?’

I boldly accepted, and so on a perfect summer’s day in early September, we went on our first date, a half marathon around the streets of Glasgow. I figured if he still fancied me after 13.1 miles of sweat, he had to be a keeper, and I was right.

After nearly a year of running up and down the country, we figured it was time to leap into the void, so I’ve decided to follow my heart, escape the rat race and take on The Borders! The only problem being, I’m a die-hard London girl with no clue about country life and our nearest neighbour is a chicken coop. So will this city chick survive in the wilderness? Watch this space…