Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Tatton Yule Yomp 10k

Some things are happening. 1.Winter has arrived with a bang and despite the amazing carpet of snow, it is bloody freezing. 2.My post marathon recovery is complete and my legs are feeling good again. 3.I am injury free and looking forward to the inevitable and extravagant festive celebrations.

Having said all this, the past few weeks have been up and down. Something in my mind just hasn't been giving me the extra push that I've been used to in this last year. That's not to say that I'm not enjoying my runs. It's just that it takes an extra level of determination to get out the door. I think that the cold and the looming Yuletide haven't particularly helped. It feels like I'm maintaining my fitness instead of increasing it.

In my preparation for a half marathon on the 2nd of January I decided to do a 10k race. The Tatton Yule Yomp in Knutsford seemed to fit the bill. It was fairly close to home and was on the correct weekend. It was also my first 10k race since high school. Since the marathon I have only been running short distances with the maximum length of my long runs being 11 miles. As a consequence of this I was able to concentrate on upping my pace. I've done plenty of tempo work and interval sessions and confidently ran a sub 50 min 10k on the treadmill. Of course, I knew that a race situation would be different but I was confident that a sub 50 minute race was at least physically possible. As the race day approached I discovered an important and hitherto unknown fact that the race was cross country.

The morning of the race was ice cold and Tatton Park was covered with a freezing mist. I felt slightly stupid getting lost trying to find the race registration especially having two GPS devices in the car. Nevertheless, with a bit of hustle and bustle I managed to get to the start line just in time, fired up and ready to go.

The first mile was tricky. In order to run at my target pace I was forced to weave in and out of the crowds of people. I must have overtaken a couple of hundred people in this first mile. It was frustrating as this portion of the race was mostly downhill. However, I was having fun. As a solitary runner in training I rarely get the chance to run with other people and it is always a pleasure. I enjoy the snippets of conversation and the sense of purpose garnered from hundreds of people moving in one direction.

The second mile was much the same and it was not until the third that I had the space to get into my rhythm. The freezing conditions and nature of the course reminded me of cross country in school. I was taken back to miserable mornings of forced torture where I would struggle through through pits of mud and freezing water. I would often finish close to last and always hated how rubbish I was but never had the conviction to do anything about it. I was always a sprinter in school so forcing me to run anything over 400m was a cruel and unpleasant injustice. I had all the grace of a weightlifter dancing an act out of Swan Lake. While I don't claim to have regained much of that grace I do have renewed sense of determination and a new found tolerance for pain. Also, no one is making me do this except me.

I knew that the second half of the race would require me to push as hard as I could. As a consequence I remember very little of these latter stages. All I knew was that I was very tired and at any moment I would be on the limit of my fitness. On the plus side I was still overtaking people and still going strong. From the wheezing and huffing around me I ascertained that there were people a lot worse off than me. With a mile to go I upped my pace again. This was going to be hard.

My other races have been feats of endurance as opposed to fitness. The marathon and half marathons I have completed were dependent on my leg muscles not giving up and falling off half way round. This 10k business was all about getting enough oxygen into my lungs and not passing out. In that last mile it felt like I was sucking in a gallon of air on every step and with a quarter of a mile to go my vision was starting to cloud. As soon as I saw the finish line 300m away I kicked again. Pushing into the familiar sprint I've come acquainted to at the end of all my runs. I had finished strongly and now all that was left to do was to fight the urge to throw up. Hacking one's guts up whilst someone hands you a medal and a Warburtons festive fruit loaf is hardly dignified.

After a few minutes I calmed down and jogged slowly back to the car. It was nice to still have the use of my legs after a race. It usually takes a good thirty minutes for me to recover from some of my longer endeavours. As I munched on Jaffa Cakes and quaffed hot tea I watched the 3k fun run going by. All that zen running rubbish about kids having great running action is a load of old twaddle. I saw several toddlers who would have been faster if they ran the course backwards. Pretty cute though.

I didn't know what my time was but I was fairly sure I hadn't run a sub 50 min. When the results were published my official time was revealed to be 51:58. I was initially a bit disappointed not to crack 50 minutes but then I looked at the standings. I came 191st out of 652. Not bad for a first 10k. I am pleased because I think, if I was a bit more race smart, I could have gone faster. I ran a huge negative split where my second half was two minutes faster than the first. My biggest mistake was overestimating the field and starting way back at the starting line. This lost me a lot of time. I also wasn't very sharp from the start and it took me way too long to get into a rhythm. Perhaps a longer and more intense warm up would have helped in this regard. All I know is that if I was two and a half minutes quicker I would have made the top 100. That is surely something to aim for.

This has been a great experience and I have learnt a lot more than I expected. In my other races I have just been aiming to finish within a few minutes of my target time. This 10k gave me a taste of competition; a sense that I was running against people not with them. This way is not necessarily better, just different.

Next up is the Central Lancashire New Year Half Marathon where I will be running a lot more slowly. It will be nice to be back in familiar distance territory. You know where you are with a half.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Tread Carefully

The world is cold these days. There is no warmth to be got from these people carefully treading the ice covered streets. Their blank faces are sunk into tightly wound scarves and pulled up hoods. With the festive spirit on the edge of their quiet minds they worry about money and reality tv. No one seems very happy and I can't say that I blame them. The world is indeed a cold place.

These things pop into my head whilst I run past shuffling figures in the grim afternoon light. I am not running towards or from anything. Just a long 10 mile loop in the snow. Long runs are like mini lifetimes. The undulations of my mind are like waves in the solitude. The hard times match the good times. Through the cloud of every breath I am reminded why I love running.

This week has been difficult. The room where I live out most of my life is warm. Warm and forever comfortable. It contains the things that I need for my sanity. Most important of which is the peace and solitude that it contains. Safe in that room it is sometimes difficult to work up the courage to get out the door. My gps finds its satellites and leaves me shivering in the garden, waiting to set out. Once underway, my mind drifts from one thing to another. The hypnotic effect of every stride pounds my mind into submission. The miles slip by and with every passing minute it feels like I've been out in the cold for an age and yet no time at all.

I am held back by laziness. Sometimes it is just too hard to move my body and mind. Why is it easier to do nothing when moving feels so good? Not that it is all bad though. In this last week I have done all the important running; the long slow run and tempo work. I ran a 50 minute 10k on the treadmill in preparation for the race in a fortnight. I am running more strongly than ever and for the time being am not afflicted by the aches and pains of last months efforts.

As I run through the snow I am jolted back into reality as I slip on some ice. With my arms waving like a mad man I regain my balance and save myself the humiliation of sliding along the road on my arse. The ground continually warns me to tread carefully as, for some time now, my thoughts are strewn along these old grey roads. My time in these parts is drawing to a close and soon I must look to new roads to run down. I will miss these roads and their thoughts. I will miss the warmth from solitude that they have given.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Post Snowdon Life

The few days after the marathon I was suffering from very bad delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). I am not used to this as my leg muscles are usually quite fresh after even my long training runs. I am used to this type of muscle soreness after more explosive bouts of exercise such as football or tennis. Just goes to show what those last six miles of a marathon do to the legs. Needless to say, I was hobbling around the house like something out of Dawn Of The Dead and I was even reduced to coming down the stairs on my arse on Sunday afternoon. How do zombies go up and down stairs?!

I suffered quite a bit on the Sunday night. My body’s thermostat was seriously on the blink and I sweated a huge amount. It felt like someone had thrown a bucket of water over me in my sleep. This was quite strange as I didn’t sweat too much during the marathon but my body was more than making up for it that night. After a sleepless night and with legs that didn’t work I was off to work for three days straight. Fun times.

By Wednesday the soreness had subsided and against my better judgement I went out for a little run. I had decided earlier in the week that I wouldn’t do any running at all but I succumbed to the urge and off I went. Just a little one and a half miles at a very slow pace. It’s nice to run without the pressures of a looming marathon. A weight has certainly been lifted from my shoulders and as a result my knee seems to be behaving itself for the time being.

When the immediate marathon preparation was in shambles and it looked like I wouldn’t be making the start line I rather hurriedly signed up for a couple more races. This was largely a rebellious move to ensure that I wouldn’t lose motivation and have my training grind to a halt. It is odd what we do in those darker moments and I suppose everyone copes in slightly different ways. I wanted to make sure that the injury would not stop me moving forward. My goal race is a half marathon at the beginning of January and a preparation 10k in the middle of December. This creates a slightly busier end to the running year than I had anticipated. It also means that I need to create a balance between training for these races and not overtraining in the aftermath of the marathon. I am really looking forward to letting rip on my first 10k though. At last a race where I can rely on my aerobic fitness instead of worrying that my legs might fall off in the last few miles.

I ran eight miles last week and intend to do 15 this week, 25 the next and then up to a maximum of about 35 for a few weeks before the half. I have sorted out my training schedule and will try and follow it in a more disciplined manner than I did before the marathon. I am also keen to do strength work on my legs to try and stop any knee problems recurring. I need to lose a further stone in weight to become a bit more biomechanically efficient. As ever, this means cutting out the sugary treats and concentrating on more veggies. This might be a little tricky over the festive season but we shall see.

I decided to spare no expense and buy my proper marathon photos in which I seem to be pulling a series of desperate and largely inexcusable faces. I either look exhausted, demented or both but 26.2 miles is a pretty good excuse so to hell with it.

I can't remember where this was but I look pretty knackered so I am going to have a wild guess that I am running up a hill. Those other two look pretty fresh though.

In the rain, sprinting like a maniac and looking like I'm pretty happy with the end in sight.

That's the finish line! Right there! Wierd celebrations on the finishing straight. I might try and look a bit more sane in future marathons. That is, if that's an option.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Snowdonia Marathon 2010

The Snowdonia Marathon boasts a spectacular and demanding route which circles Snowdon. It runs from LLanberis over Pen Y Pass; down to Beddgelert then past Waunfawr and back to Llanberis. It is widely regarded as one of the most scenic marathons in the UK. The huge changes in elevation and weather also make it one of the hardest. This year is Snowdonia’s 28th Marathon. It is my first.

I started the year feeling like I had become too comfortable with life. After a hard shift at work I would crack open a few beers and drinking to excess was routine each weekend. My smoking was also a problem. Like every smoker and non-smoker know: smoking is a stupid habit. It was particularly stupid for me because it often made my mild asthma a lot worse. Also, the two habits of drinking and smoking would often go hand in hand. One could not be done without the other. This meant that I wouldn’t smoke too much in the daytime but would more than make up for it in the evenings and weekends. I was quickly putting on more weight than the festive excuses would allow. At the start of 2010 I was two stone overweight and not very happy with the early onset middle aged spread that I was developing. Like many people who start running I was getting depressed at the lack of progression in my life. I really needed to run away from my past and keep moving forward at all costs. Running seemed the only option.

Like most people I was made to run in school. I was quite good in both long distance and sprint but by the time anyone noticed I had discovered smoking, drinking and laziness. From then on I ran occasionally but never kept it up for more than a week. Part of the problem was that whenever I ran I tried to run as quickly as I had done in school. Of course, this just led to me getting too tired too quickly and left me disheartened at my lack of ability. This time I followed a training plan which increased my mileage slowly and sensibly. I immersed myself in books and magazines to learn exactly how complicated it could be putting one foot in front of the other. What I’ve found is that to varying degrees of accuracy everyone who has ever run has an opinion on the best way to do it. This means there is an almost infinite amount of advice on nutrition to running style to fashion. This sea of knowledge seems to exist solely to confuse the novice runner. However, two pieces of advice seemed to stand out, First off, the most important item is a good pair of running shoes which are fitted at a specialist running shop. Secondly, having a goal is very important to help motivate and encourage. With the first one ticked off I went about setting my goals.

Whilst flipping through a running magazine I came across a particular breed of mad men and women. These are the strange and almost superhuman set of creatures known as ultra runners. I was instantly captivated by the crazy feats of endurance that these people put themselves through. How did I not know that there were such things as 100 mile races; or that people ran continuously for 24 hours. These people run through deserts and mountains seemingly impervious to weather conditions. I was captivated by the sense of freedom that these people must feel. I wouldn’t even consider walking a mile to the shops leave alone running these seemingly impossible distances. I suddenly thought that it would be an amazingly simple way to see the countryside. If you could run 100 miles anything could be possible. A very stupid idea slowly started to hatch. I wanted to run an ultra marathon by the summer of 2011 and become an ultra runner.

To accomplish this long term goal I needed to set out a series of stepping stones along the way. One of these (admittedly, rather large) stepping stones was to run a marathon. The Snowdonia Marathon seemed the obvious choice as it was close to home and gave me ten months to prepare. It also provided me an opportunity to run around one of the most beautiful areas in Wales.

In this blog I have detailed the ups and downs of my training and the definite highs of completing two half marathons. Needless to say, I won’t go through it all again here. However, my immediate preparation for the marathon was far from perfect which meant that my confidence was at rock bottom. A month ago I was hoping for a finishing time that was close to four hours but now I considered my odds of just completing the marathon were approximately fifty-fifty. As I sat in my car on a very wet Llanberis morning I was apprehensive but genuinely pleased just to be starting.

The weather was supposed to be quite mild but as I walked to and from the race registration it was clear that it was going to be far from a nice day. Never trust the weatherman. With some last minute changes to my attire, and after 200 trips to the toilet I lined up at the start confident that I was ready for anything. Around me people chatted and it seemed half of them had done the race before and were giving advice to the other half of first timers. “Don’t go all out on the first downhill bit” said one experienced looking fellow. “Everyone walks the hill at mile 22” said another gnarly looking man in a 100 Marathon Club vest. I was more than happy to take these pieces of advice on board as I had very little notion of a race plan of my own. All I wanted to do was to take the first half easy and then see what would happen. I also knew that this was going to be the toughest day of my life. My mental and physical reserves would be tested to their absolute limited. Of course, I tried not think about any of this and, with very little fuss or fanfare, the race began.

I was very aware that the first five miles were going to be a test of my bad knee. If the pain surfaced early on I knew that it would be nearly impossible to get to the end. So, every step was a tentative shuffle into the unknown. Other than that I felt pretty good and was running well whilst deliberately holding back. The climb up to Pen y Pass can only be described as “constant”. It wasn’t particularly steep but the three miles of uphill just went on forever. Half way up someone said “they say you should never look at the white house at the top of Llanberis as it never seems to get any nearer”. Of course, when someone says “don’t look at something” all you can do is look. Thanks to Mr.Stupid, I was now trapped in an optical illusion where the house does indeed get no closer. The persistence is rewarded at the top of the Pass by a glorious view and the promise of several miles of relaxing downhill.

As I started on the long downhill section to Beddgelert I was keen to hold back even though people started streaming past me. A couple of things started to happen on this stretch. Firstly, my knee gave out its first pang of pain. This weighed quite heavy on my mind for a bit and I started to get angry at the thought of pulling out. Then I had a bit of a mental breakthrough. Now this is a bit mad so bare with me. In my mind I spoke to my knee along the lines of: “look, I know you hurt but I am just going to ignore you. I don’t care what you’ve got to say, I am just going ignore you. Do your worst”. And that was that. I was aware of the discomfort throughout the rest of the race but I didn’t pay it any attention until right at the end. It was some kind of Vulcan mind control shit. From that point onwards I didn’t give my knee a second thought.

The second thing to happen was that after my first gel my stomach started throwing loops. On my long training runs I have never really had any problems in the stomach department. The Lucazade gels have always worked for me and I wasn’t really expecting my stomach to start acting up after just six miles. It occurred to me that with all my injuries leading up to the marathon I hadn’t used any gels for six weeks. I had only done short runs and had no need of them. Of course, this meant that my stomach wasn’t used to them and was revolting. In future I might take a gel before every bout of exercise during a taper. Anyway, I struggled with this all the way to mile 15. I won’t go into specifics but let’s just say that whoever was behind me would have got 9 miles worth of gut rot. Sorry about that.

I kept a nice constant pace up until the half way point. I reached 13.1 miles at Beddgelert in two hours and ten minutes which was bang on my target pace. The long hill out of Beddgelert presented me with my hardest mile so far. For some reason I went through a bad patch on mile 15. I think maybe it was just the thought of how far there was left to go. From mile 17 I kept on thinking about what the old codger said at the start: “everyone walks the hill at mile 22”. In truth, I was just looking forward to having a bit of a walk. I was really starting to struggle and decided that I would have two minutes of walking at every mile marker. I had stopped looking at the scenery, my head was down and my pace had dropped considerably. I got really demoralised at this stage and felt trapped between the impulse to stop and the determination to carry on. Luckily I managed to cling on to the latter. At mile 20 I was acutely aware that every step was the longest I had ever run. I just wanted to get to mile 22 where “everyone walks”. I naively thought that it would be easy from that point. A bit of uphill then a fast descent back into Llanberis. How wrong I was.

When I reached the foot of the hill at mile 22 my legs were gone. My feet and muscles were barely functioning and I was reduced to walking for the best part of two miles. I wasn’t alone in doing this. Nearly everyone except the odd nutter was reduced to an uphill shuffle. Halfway up I was passed by a guy still running who looked about 100 years old. I hope I’m that fit when I get to his age. It was also at this point that the weather turned from grim to hellish. Fierce lashings of rain accompanied by rumblings of thunder and lightning made the climb more ominous. I was also aware that running to the top of a high hill in a thunder storm is not the best policy if one wants to keep living. The most depressing thing was how long and steep this hill was. Physically, I should have been more resilient and tried to run but mentally, I couldn’t have given any more at that stage. If I was mentally tougher I would have tried to run for twenty paces then walk for twenty paces. However, in my state it was all I could do to just keep moving forward. The hill just seemed to carry on and on until at last the first signs of glorious, amazing, beautiful downhill trail.

With stiff legs I started to run again. The weather had been damp all the way round: dry with the occasional heavy shower. But by this point the weather had gotten ridiculous and the pathway had turned into a stream. It was useless to try and stay dry and whilst people were going the long way round the puddles I came crashing through with gleeful abandon. I was actually beginning to enjoy this. The path then became so steep that it became difficult to keep my footing. With most people wearing road shoes everyone was slipping and sliding. If there was a Ministry of Silly Runs we would have all been part of it on that slope. It would have been tricky in fell running shoes but in road shoes we might as well have been running on ice. I was now officially having fun.

Once I hit the tarmac my knee suddenly became really painful and on the steep descent my quads were in agony. I was forced to slow down but I didn’t really care because I knew that I was going to make it. At this point the rain shifted up another gear and became insane. Over the last two miles I had been experiencing a proper “runners high” and the further change in the weather got me laughing. It was just ridiculous. It seemed the closer I got to the finish line the worse the weather got. But, I knew I had beaten it. Nothing was going to stop me now. As the road levelled out I kicked on and flew around the last few corners until I saw the finish line. Then I kicked again, sprinting the last fifty meters and across the finish line.

Through the torrential downpour I was greeted by a woman who kindly put a space blanket over my shoulders and told me that we were all mad. I wasn’t going to disagree with her. And I wasn’t going to stop smiling. Now, I am not an overly emotional human being and after hearing stories of people crossing their first marathon finish line I didn’t know what to expect. Wandering away from the finish area, I was caught with a feeling somewhere between sheer relief and happiness. The former made me want to cry and the latter made me want to laugh. The feeling only lasted a second but it felt good. With the emotional moment over I went to find a wall to lean against. My finishing time: 04:48:30. I am pleased that I managed to do it in less than five hours but the time is not really important. I am at peace with just finishing.

There is nothing quite like the calmness that exhaustion provides. As I was congratulated by my family I felt quite far away. I was getting cold and was really appreciative of the hot coffee at the hall. Once I got changed into some dry and warm clothes I started feeling a bit more normal. The organisers and marshals did a stellar job and deserve as much credit as the runners for putting up with some of those conditions. I’m also really thankful of my family who put up with the crazy rain at the finish and who drove me home and fed me steak.

Over the past few days I have been perfecting the zombie walk. It’s very difficult to walk up stairs without bending your legs. I’ve been eating a lot and trying to stay off my feet. I am in a great amount of pain but am constantly reassured by the fact that I am a marathoner. At mile 17 I felt like maybe marathons weren’t for me. Now I’m looking for my next one. I would like to try a flat one in future safe in the knowledge that my time will only get better. At least I know that there is not going to be a harder course than that.

With the breathtaking hills and apocalyptic weather Snowdonia has given me a glimpse of my own frailty and of my own strength. They say you learn something about yourself in those last few miles. I learnt that I really like rain and splashing through puddles. It really was one of the most amazing things I have ever done and I will certainly continue being a marathoner for many years to come.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Marathon News

Did it! I don't think I'll ever walk right again.

Friday, 29 October 2010

1 Day To Go

This is my first video blog to coincide with my first marathon. I'll let others judge my performance in both so sorry if the video is a bit crap. Good song though: Pulse by Sioum.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

2 Days To Go

My legs really ached this morning. Thankfully the dreaded knee was fine and I was looking forward to see how it would cope today. Stage two, if you will. My intention today was to run an easy four miles. I don't want to knacker myself but I also want to challenge the injury a bit to see if it holds up. It is proving to be a fine balance to tread.

The four miles today went pretty well. My legs were a bit stiff but the knee held up. I am aware of a slight bit of discomfort on the outside of the knee but not the acute pain I was feeling last week. Now that I've got through these two test runs1 I feel that I am ready to commit to at least starting the marathon.

I have bought all my pre and post race supplies and nutrition and am ready to have a complete day of rest tomorrow. I am going to the race registration tomorrow to pick up my race number and to scope the place out. This will makes things a bit easier on race morning. Other than that I am going to try and keep off my feet and eat loads of stuff.

I can't believe that I might be able to pull this off. So excited!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Three Days To Go

I have gone seven days without running a single step. This is the longest stretch of time that I have not run since about February and is not the best preparation for my first marathon which is in three days time. Indeed, throughout this week the very idea of running 26.2 miles has has been put firmly to the back of my mind. This is because of the failure of one very important body part: my knee.

I have certainly been climbing the walls in the past week and am surprised how physically reliant I have become on running. My inactivity has given me headaches, sleepless nights, tiredness and more importantly, I have been feeling very down. I am prone to mood swings at the best of times but it has been close to off the charts these past seven days. I can feel my self getting fatter and less fit by the hour. I am almost at the ceiling.

In the fear of some sort of permanent maddness I decided that today was make or break time. I would run a hard four miles and see what happened. The result of this experiment would determine whether I would spend the weekend in bed or running around snowdon.

The results are in and they might actually be good. Apart from a few twinges during the run my knee held up well. It's a bit sore now but much better than it was last week. I don't want to get my hopes up but there is a small chance that I might be able to pull this thing off. I will do another four miles tomorrow at a slower pace. If I am relatively pain free after that then I will race on Saturday. If not, then bed it is.

More to follow.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Update On The Knee

Right. The situation is not good. Here is my week so far.

Friday: 2 miles treadmill/30 mins cycling/30 mins cross trainer. The knee felt alright but felt sore on the treadmill.

Saturday: 0.5 miles treadmill/30 mins cycling/30 mins cross trainer. The knee is alright but the legs are a bit tired.
Sunday: Rest.

Monday: Rest. Did 100 pressups/situps/planks and side planks.

Tuesday: Rest. Legs feel fine.

Wednesday: 3 mile run. My legs felt really good. No tiredness or tightness and it felt really good to be running. I thought that I had got away with it and thought I had won. Injury nil, me one. However, all my hopes faded at about 2 miles and within quarter of a mile I was reduced to walking. Walked the last mile and iced the knee. Felt sorry for myself and ordered a kebab. I can’t run 2.6 miles let alone 26 miles.

Looks like my first marathon will be over before it has begun. I thought that getting to the finish line would be my ultimate achievement after 10 months of training. Now it looks like I won’t even be making the start line. If a race is seen as a test to measure the quality of one’s training then I have failed. In the next couple of weeks I will review exactly what went wrong and how I can avoid any future mistakes.

There is a slim chance that I might still be able to run the marathon. I am going to take a full seven days off from running. Then I will do two miles next Wednesday and then 4 hard miles on the Thursday. If I can do these two runs totally pain free then I will give the marathon a go. If there is any hint of knee trouble I will admit defeat and concentrate on a full recovery.

I am obviously quite upset about this whole situation as I was genuinely excited about running around Snowdon. In order to make sure I get back into training I have signed up for a half marathon in January and a 10k race in December. I want to stay committed to running and feel like I need the motivation to pull me out of my gloom and doom mood.

Bloody knee.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Cracks In The Clouds

Every runner gets injured. Even the ones who say they haven’t probably have and the ones that say they have definitely have. I am probably like everyone in that I go through stages of unrest after an injury has hit. The stages are denial, rage, depression, acceptance and renewed neurotic disequilibrium. Okay, so I got that from a book but it is just about right. Denial: I tried to run 10 miles whilst sort of knowing that my knee was shot. Rage: when I got back to the house I shouted at the dog for getting in my way and got angry at the freezer for hiding the ice. Depression: made myself a massive sympathy lunch which included chewy sweets and two packets of crisps. Acceptance: well I’m writing this blog entry aren’t I? And I don’t know what the last one is but I guess I’ll cover that tomorrow.

Of course, there is another stage to this process. The stage is blind bloody fear at the fact I have my first marathon in two weeks and I can’t even run a mile. Brilliant.

Throughout the year I’ve had a few niggles here and there. In fact the worse lay off through injury was done playing football when I busted my hamstrings. I have had to stop training just through tiredness but not really through injury. Nothing more than a few days. So, I am having a hard time at the moment through little injuries that are stopping me from running. Now, like I’ve said every runner gets injured so I am not going to whine. Sure, I feel annoyed and worried but I am not going to moan and complain. Shit happens.

However, I am going to do some detective work. I want to find out why my legs have been falling apart. I was running well up until a month ago then the wheels came off. So what exactly is wrong?

1. Plantar Faciitis on my left foot that was only getting worse. It went away but then came back after a week and seems to take 3-4 days to clear enough to run on.

2. My knee is a bit buggered. I went for a slow and easy seven mile yesterday which was very relaxing. Afterwards, I noticed a pain on the outside of my left knee which was exaggerated whenever I walked downstairs. Today, I started a 10 mile run and discovered pretty quickly that the knee was fucked. I was reduced to hobbling back through the front door. A sheepish 0.7 of a mile.

3. I have a continuing tightness in my right hamstring and both calf muscles. In fact, pain seems to come and go all over my legs. It isn’t too bad but it does make any running uncomfortable at one stage or other.

Right then, on to the reasons.

1. My last good, strong run was 20 miles. I ran it faster and more comfortably than I expected and it is possible that this just knackered my legs. It is only the second time I have run that far and maybe it just took too much out of me.

2. After that 20 mile run I changed my shoes. My old shoes were quite worn and had covered about 550 miles. With the unused cushioning, the new shoes feel quite different and I can feel that my gait is slightly changed when running in them.

3. The third reason could just be simple overtraining. I have only been doing 3-4 sessions per week but in those sessions I have been working very hard. I might just need to reduce the intensity of my hard sessions.

I would not like to say that there is one particular reason but in all probability a mixture of all three. With a marathon in two weeks I need to sort this out quickly. Two of the problems sort themselves out. I am not doing any more long runs or intense sessions before the marathon. On the shoe front, I am going to start using my old shoes again. I don’t have the time to get my gait analysed and work out if the new shoes are the main source of the problem. I am going to stick with what I know.

With regards to my recuperation I am not going to do any running for the next few days. I will do some gentle cross training and see how I am at the weekend. I have to stay sensible, take each day at a time and try not start climbing up the walls. Rest, ice, compression and elevation seems to be tried and tested. I now have a very cold knee.

I might get a haircut. That should make me lighter on my feet. It is difficult to run sensibly with a massive ginger afro.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Trying Too Hard

Righto. The last month has been...interesting. My last post described in plenty of over the top detail how much pain I found myself in after my long runs. For my last 20 mile run I wanted to avoid hitting wall so I ate like a monster the day before and had a good breakfast. I ran a 02:10:00 half marathon which felt like a breeze. This was where I was expecting my legs to turn into stone. Mile after mile I was waiting and waiting for a pain that never surfaced. This is the first time I have dodged the dreaded wall in my long runs. Sure, the last 5 miles were hard with plenty of aches and pains but I managed a good, consistent pace. I went home feeling very chuffed with myself. Smug, you might say.

The downside is that that was two weeks ago and my body is still recovering. Soon after that 20 miler I developed a bit of plantar fasciitis in my foot. Nothing too painful but it does rear its ugly head every time I run a hard session and seems to get worse as a run progresses. This is a little worrying as I have my first marathon in three weeks. I think it will be alright but did cause me to abort my planned 20 mile run last weekend. When the first five miles is uncomfortable there is no way of getting to mile 20. This was a bit annoying as I wanted to do one last long run before the marathon but shit happens right. I know I can run 20 miles fairly comfortably so I have that confidence in my endurance capability.

I have been working hard on my tempo runs and hill intervals. I am consistently getting faster run after run and am fairly confident that I could pull out a sub 50 minute 10k if needed. I have been using the treadmill to do hill reps. Although I live in quite a hilly area I find the treadmill useful to do long hill running. I am tired though.

I think I might be working a bit too hard. My sessions are very intense and I often have to skip my recovery runs as I’m just too tired to get out there. This is reducing my number of runs to three or four times a week. Although I feel fitter and stronger I am struggling with stiff legs and little niggles. I am getting my key training sessions in but am paying the price a little bit at the moment. I am still a relative novice at running and sometimes it takes an injury or an overwhelming sense of tiredness to remind me of that fact. I am fairly certain I will recover fully for the marathon and am really excited about it but I do feel like it’s time to taper. In future I will try and cut down on the intensity of my sessions slightly. This will give me more energy to fit in a couple more sessions a week. I do need to remind myself of my goals every so often in that I want to increase my volume of low intensity exercise rather than increase the intensity of exercise hence reducing volume.

September was a tricky month. With all sorts of family commitments it was tough to produce consistent training sessions. To make up for this I have been overcompensating by trying to do too much on my hard training days. Nothing I can do about that now but as with all these mistakes it is important for me to recognise them and to learn from them. All the intense, hard training work has been done and I am now almost ready to run my first marathon.

Oh, and new shoes.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Dead Legs

I have found that it is around mile 16 of my training runs that my legs stop working. All the running information in well meant books or glossy magazines does not quite prepare the novice runner for the pain that comes with this failure. As a beginner you are advised that if pain surfaces and slowly gets worse then it is best to stop and take a day off. Indeed, this is a common sign of overtraining or ill health. But what happens when you know that to complete your goal pain is a necessary symptom. In fact, part of the process is to become used to the pain and to overcome the fear of it. My past two long runs have been 18 and 20 miles. They were the longest I have ever run and hurt like hell.

After the Newark half marathon I took around a week to recover properly. I started to focus on tempo work and hill work but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to get out and do the long runs. This is the problem I have with races. The success of completing a long distance race gives my brain an excuse for lethargy. You see, my brain is much cleverer than me. It finds reasons to get my body out of training, from the weather to the type of dinner I had the night before, anything is an excuse. The important thing is that I finally went out and got back to the long training runs and last week did 20 miles. It was the first of my long runs that I decided to do in a loop format of 2.5 miles. This was to include a series of inclines and declines that I knew would be testing and might simulate the challenges of the Snowdon marathon. It would also allow me to have my drink bottles roadside meaning I could run without a backpack.

The first ten miles flew by quickly and I kept a steady pace up to about mile 15. The pain started slowly and was just the aching that comes with being on ones feet for a while. As I progressed the aching became tangible and spread from my feet throughout both my legs. Soon every step was painful and my pace dropped considerably. Each footstep slapped the ground, devoid of grace and smoothness. The last three miles of this training run were by far the most extended physical pain I have ever been through. Even with a warm down, the pain took a half hour to subside. Post run I was curled up on the sofa, rocking like a small child. Teeth gritted and sweaty, the pain left me leaving only exhaustion and hunger.

I have never considered myself as tough person but the physical discomfort on these longer runs has taken me by surprise. I think what I have been encountering is stupidly known as “the wall”. If that was a wall then I’m the next Gebrselassie. More like an ever deepening quagmire filled with acid. Ok, not such a snappy phrase but much more accurate. I have been concentrating so much on my nutrition and hydration during my runs I have been neglecting the rest of my diet. I need to eat more the night before and morning of these runs. This will hopefully minimise my discomfort and exhaustion and if there is one thing I am quite happy to do, it is eating more. At the moment I am alternating between 45 mile and 20 mile weeks to avoid overtraining. My legs are feeling strong and I am feeling fitter than ever.

Yesterday, I went on my first proper fell run. Getting out onto the fells and the mountains has always been an addition I wanted to make to my training. From reading books and watching videos on the matter, fell runners somehow seem tougher and more in touch with their environment than other athletes. They read the terrain and adapt to weather conditions. They are self sufficient and rely on wholesome things like sweet tea and cake to get them through runs. Forget about energy drinks and gels. That stuff’s for weaklings. It just seems a much more pure way for amateur runners to spend their time training. Anyway, I’ve been too much of a wimp to actually get out there on the mountains by myself. I can’t navigate for shit and have a fear of running off a cliff in the middle of fog and howling gales. I can’t get anyone to come with me because everyone thinks it’s a very stupid idea to go running up mountains (or hills or anywhere for that matter). However, I recently got a Garmin GPS device which has given me the confidence to actually get out there. I went for an 8 mile run up Moel Famau which was great fun. Slow on the way up then fast on the way down. I’m going to be doing a lot more of these runs as it was a genuine pleasure to get off the roads.

I’m really enjoying my running at the moment and for the first time ever I look forward to my next run. This is the most important time in my preparation for the Snowdon Marathon. I should be peaking in a few weeks time and I’m feeling good and strong already. There are two points which need to be addressed. First off, I need to tighten up my diet as it’s been a bad month on that front. I know what to do I just need to up the discipline a bit. Secondly, I need to fine tune my race plan in the last couple of long runs. With all this I should be able to avoid such painful long runs and be totally prepared for my first marathon.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Newark Half Marathon

Last Sunday I completed the Newark Half Marathon in a time of 02:02:30. This road race is held in and around the town of Newark-on-Trent on a flat course. I arrived with an hour to spare after a very long drive and got myself ready to run. I had decided to run with a waist pack this time as I wanted to bring my asthma inhaler as I have needed it on long runs in the past with all the pollen in the air. Also, it’s a handy place to keep gels, car keys and money. I also decided to run with my ipod to give me an extra boost. Usually, I don’t like the idea of listening to music in races but I thought I would give it a go. The first surprise on arriving in Newark was the temperature. The weather man had promised a moderate 19 degrees but on stepping out of the car I knew it was going to be a lot hotter.

My fuel before the race had been planned well in advance and on the whole I stuck to it well. My biggest problem last time I raced was an unfortunate and unplanned piss stop at about mile three. This was something I was keen to avoid and so I told myself I would rather be thirsty up until the first drinks station than to need to piss. So I stopped taking in any fluids two hours before the start of the race. Even though it was a hot day I think this worked well and I avoided any unnecessary stops.

I warmed up for ten minutes and did a bit of light stretching. As I stood on the start line I felt the heat of the sun beating down. I hadn’t even started moving and I was already sweating. It was going to be a hot one. We set off and after a bit of inevitable walking at the start due to Newark’s narrow streets I got into my stride. My target for this race had been to run between 8:30 and 8:50 minute miles. This would have given me a better time than my last half and would have given me proof that my training was making me a better runner. However, I hadn’t factored in the temperature and after the first mile my head was telling me that this was an unrealistic pace. However, my heart still wanted to go for it so for the first seven miles I ran at a fair old whack and was on track for a good time.

I got annoyed at mile five. My bloody ipod kept playing the same bloody music and discovered that last time it connected to the brain it decided only to sync one album. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good one album but I was looking forward to a bit of Cloudkicker to muscle me through the last few miles. Never mind.

It was at mile seven that I started to struggle. The heat was too much. I had to ease up. It was difficult to take that my race plan was now in ruins and I was just going to have to keep slogging on.

This is where I am most disappointed. Not at my physical performance but my mental performance. I don’t think I could have gone faster and I am sure I was working as hard as I could. What I should have done is used a bit of common sense to see if I could have overcome the problem. I should have really slowed down for a mile, cooled off and see how I felt then. If I was still too hot then so be it. I would have then forgotten about a PB and just enjoyed the rest of the race. If I was feeling cooler I could have then pushed a little harder in the last few miles. Hindsight is always a useful and humbling thing but I would have liked to think that I could have thought through the problem. Instead, the last six miles were a struggle. With the disappointment of going so slowly and the discomfort of being so damn hot I am just glad that I kept on running.

The last few hundred metres up to the finish were sheer bliss. With my customary sprint finish I managed to move past about ten people and it showed me that there was a lot left in my legs. Immediately after my last race all my leg muscles cramped making me walk funny. After this one they felt strong and if it wasn’t for the conditions I could have kept going for a few more miles. However, the priority at this stage was finding water. I almost had to push through the crowds hazily in search of something to drink. I couldn’t understand why all these people were getting in my way. Couldn’t they see I was dying! Damn them and their fully hydrated enjoyment of the race finish. Joking aside though, I would have probably killed a few people if I hadn’t found myself in possession of a large, cool pint of water. After getting my race my race t-shirt I found another pint of water and went in search of a sit down in the shade. Lovely. All done.

Newark seems like a nice place and complete with castle seems to offer the quaintness of a middle England town with the ever modern presence of Starbucks and the like. The market square and finish area where I was sat seemed a very pleasant place to spend a weekend afternoon especially after a good old 13 mile slog. The flat of Newark and its surrounding area is ideal for a half marathon which lures in runners like myself in search of personal bests. The course itself was pretty plain and uneventful. Pleasant but not surprising. I was a bit annoyed at cars making turns through gaps in the runners even though the roads were obviously closed. A runner in front of me was almost clattered by a right turning car. I also felt uneasy towards the end where there was a stretch of 50mph road that wasn’t coned off. I know that slightly smaller races like this can’t police everything but a few more people manning the traffic and a few more cones on the more dangerous roads should have been implemented.

Apart from the road safety thing the organisers had done a good job. There were plenty of extremely well manned water stations and the support from the locals was really great. I haven’t done many races so I don’t really know what is a standard level of support but it didn’t seem like there was more than a half mile stretch without support. People of all ages clapping and cheering from the road side really put a smile on my face especially towards the end when the rest of me just wanted to lie down in the shade. So, well done to the people of Newark. The people handing out pints of water at the finish area were also a godsend and whilst I would have liked a little medal or memento at the end I do like the t-shirt. Very nice.

As with all these strenuously physical endeavours the feelings of pain and thirst dissipate quickly as time passes by. This blog allows me to reflect on my performance and to try and discover what I’m doing right and wrong in my training and in my race. I always think that racing is an experiment to identify the shortcomings of my training program. With any experiment it is the analysis of the information gathered that is useful not the feelings of disappointment or accomplishment. Being disappointed with my time is meaningless without full consideration of my performance. Considering the conditions, I don’t think I could have run any faster but I am annoyed that I lost focus in the latter half of the race. The feelings of discomfort and tiredness should be treated as data by the brain in order to logically overcome a problem. I forgot this and failed to shrug off the discomfort I felt. I think that working on these sorts of mental strategies in training to deal with things when they go wrong should become more prominent. I would also like to focus more on tempo sessions and to put in race pace sections in my long slow runs. This should give me a greater capacity to maintain a good pace when I am tired. These are definitely things to think about and to work on.

All in all, my fitness and is improving and my weight is dropping. I have really started to manage my diet and have become better at listening to my body to avoid over training. I am keen to avoid the general feeling of exhaustion that I felt for weeks after my last half marathon and so am taking it pretty easy this week. As it happens, I feel pretty fresh and did a seven mile run yesterday which was very pleasant. My legs are still a little stiff so I am definitely not pushing it. Also, one of my toes is a bit sore because of a blood blister underneath the nail. Nothing too bad but I don’t want it to get infected or anything.

I have the Snowdon Marathon in three months and feel that the main areas of training should be tempo work, long hill reps and long distance endurance work. Also, I am going to try and do some off road stuff and possibly run up a few mountains. I like mountains.

Here’s to cooler temperatures and maybe a bit of rain.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Time to go Faster

It’s been a while since I written so let me start by saying that things are a lot better since my last post. I seem to have stopped getting ill then injured, then ill then injured. Because of this six week interruption I had to abandon a couple of shorter races that I had planned. This sucked but I simply wasn’t fit or prepared enough to complete them with any confidence. I think that being completely unsure of how my body is going to react in a race environment is the worst kind preparation.

Anyway, setback over. Since then my running has been going well. I have been ticking all the right training boxes. The speed and hill work is a bit of a chore but I enjoy the longer runs. My long run has been consistently around half marathon distance and my last LSD was at 14 miles, the longest I have ever run. Apart from a few hydration issues (needed to piss half way through) the run went very well. To be perfectly honest, when I got back I could have gone straight out the door for a five mile jog. My aerobic fitness is certainly improving and I seem to go through less physical problems throughout these runs. My other long runs (12-13 miles) were shorter but done in 25-30 degree (Celsius) heat. During these it was just a matter of hydrating well, taking in electrolytes and taking care not to push too hard. In general, I had no problems with the heat and completed the runs with no ill effect. I did start to feel quite cold near the end of one of these hot runs. This was a very strange although not unpleasant feeling in 28 degree heat. This was a sign that my internal thermostat was on the fritz and could have developed into heatstroke had the run been any longer. If this happens again in the heat, especially at longer distances, it would be good to stop running and cool off to avoid any adverse effects. I am pleased with these long runs as I have eliminated any walking and manage to do the distance at a pretty constant pace.

I have started doing core exercises almost every day. This is certainly helping to strengthen my abdominals and hopefully my back as well. I hope that down the line this will help improve my running form. Also, having got my diet under control I have started to lose some weight. Running is increasing my metabolism which is in turn making me very hungry. That coupled with the feeling that I deserved a few treats after training so hard meant that I just started to eat way too much. It’s early days but I think I have a bit more control over it now. This is important as I think that weight loss will have a big impact on my speed, endurance and resistance to injury.

I have to confess that I have missed a few workouts recently. This is due to life and general tiredness getting in the way. I feel guilty for missing them but every so often I have to remind myself that I am not an elite athlete and that the occasional lapse is allowed. I am training well at the moment and am doing three hours a day at the moment focusing on core strength, balance, flexibility, speed, endurance and running form. Having said that I do feel bad for missing workouts and when I feel guilty I make a list. So here’s my list:

If a session is missed then a substantial explanation of the reasons should be recorded in the training log. Whether the reason is tiredness, illness or a lack of motivation it will be invaluable information to avoid missing sessions in the future.
The goal here is to run the Snowdonia marathon in around four hours and to avoid injury and overtraining.

This is a matter of sorting out my diet. The diet log helps me keep my calorie intake down but I still eat too much rubbish. What is needed is a change of attitude towards eating. Food is the fuel for training and I need to select the right fuels to keep my energy levels up. So here are the diet rules:

• Cut out refined sugar
• Cut out overly fatty foods
• Avoid dairy produce
• Avoid red meats
• Increase fruit and vegetable intake

If I keep my calorie intake at about 1900kcal and eat healthily then I should be able to keep my energy levels up whilst still losing weight. The goal here is to lose a stone (6.35kg) by the end of the year. This will significantly increase performance.

Alcohol means a missed workout. Too much alcohol means two missed workouts. This is unacceptable. Drink water. The goal here is to abstain from alcohol until after the marathon.

Within reason, more is better. The average should be eight hours with nine before a long run. The goal here is to ensure no less than seven hours a night as this will affect training.

So, I have the Newark Half Marathon in two weeks and will write more on this next week to explain my goals and to set out a race plan. Just realised that I haven’t included my training schedule on this blog so here it is.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Up & Then Down

I haven’t written anything in a while because it’s all gone to buggery. I don’t like writing when things are like this because it’s just a long rant with me complaining like a small child. I CAN’T RUN! WAAH! I’M RUBBISH AT RUNNING! SOB! So, I’ll try and keep this as short as possible.

After the Leeds Half I quite deservedly spent a week doing very little exercise. Full of enthusiasm, I constructed a new training program and started training again. I expected to be fit and full of energy after my week off. I just wanted to get out and start upping my pace and endurance. For all my confidence my legs just wouldn’t play ball. It felt like I was running in lead shoes. It soon became evident that my legs hadn’t recovered from the race and I sensibly decided to take it easy for the rest of the week. Then, according to Sod’s Law I got a stinking cold. So three weeks from the race and I’d only ran short slow runs and had not been able to train properly.

During this time I started playing five-aside football on a Fridays. I thought that this would help keep my fitness up during my dip in training. Unfortunately, I played a game after my cold abated and tore both hamstrings whilst sprinting for a ball. Fuck! I couldn’t walk right for a week let alone train. This last week I did some gentle runs but my hamstrings felt very tight and I didn’t want to push it. It’s now five weeks since the Leeds Half and I haven’t been able to do much speed work or any long endurance runs at all.

It’s annoying because I feel that my fitness is there but my legs or general health are competing to keep me from training. I’ve tried to keep cross training but there has been an inevitable decline in my fitness. Bum! Also, my diet has been all over the place. It seems I need the daily training sessions to help keep the calorie intake down.

There are things to learn from all of this. Firstly, being pretty new at running I think I have to accept that it’s going to take me slightly longer than expected to recover from races. This should have been accounted for in any training schedule. Secondly, getting ill happens. It’s depressing but that’s life. Thirdly, I don’t think that contact sports like football mix well with my running training. I like playing football but I like running more.

I’m off my feet for the next couple of days which will hopefully mean that my hamstrings will fully recover. Then I’ll go for an easy run to see how the legs are. If all goes well I will finally be able to start a proper training regime for the Snowdonia Marathon. Fingers crossed.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The GDF SUEZ Leeds Half Marathon

As I stood at the start of my first race on a warm Sunday morning in Leeds I had plenty of time to reflect on the past four months...

It was Boxing Day when I went out for a one mile run with my brand new Garmin watch. I struggled to get round and even had a little walk towards the end of it. My heart rate averaged at 87% of its maximum and my pace was very slow. All I could think about was stopping running and with all the will in the world I couldn’t have kept moving. I collapsed on the sofa to motor through about three turkey sandwiches and a tube of Pringles.

Slowly, through January I ran a couple of times a week doing short and slow runs. I struggled on each of them but most importantly, I got better. From the start of February I started taking things a bit more seriously. I set the rather over ambitious goal of running an ultra marathon next year and planned some races this year, the first being the Leeds Half Marathon. I made a training schedule and stuck it on the wall above my bed. I started reading books and magazines about running, taking in every tip and trick. I started to understand and accept that lots of little small steps were the way forward.

By April I started to get ahead of myself. I thought that it would be nice to finish the Half Marathon in less than two hours. This was a bit silly considering I was (still am) overweight, a previous smoker and had never even run more than 10 miles. I tried to get realistic and forget about doing a specific time but the idea had set in. I hoped that it wouldn’t come back to haunt me in the form of a disappointing time.

My fitness progressed steadily and I was only slowed down by a slight hamstring injury for a couple of weeks. I joined a gym and cross trained intensively to strengthen myself against any future injuries. I organised my pre, mid and post race nutrition to perfection. I scheduled the week before the race down to the exact times for my meals. The night before the race I set out my race kit on the floor. I arrived at the start with plenty of time to warm up and soak in the morning sun.

All the hard work and organisational precision had led me to the countdown and start of my first race, The Leeds Half Marathon. It was strange to run with so many people around and took a couple of miles to get used to. However, another matter was pressing. I needed to piss. I had taken a few unscheduled sips of drink 30 minutes before starting and was about to pay the price. Fortunately, there wasn’t a queue for the portaloos and I was able to relieve myself whilst only losing a couple of minutes. Feeling better, I powered through the first couple of hills, head down and arms pumping.

After mile seven I started to get a stitch. I had been running nine minute miles and the pace was starting to get to me. My legs were feeling good but that damn stitch! I tried to relax my breathing and slow my pace slightly and got rid of it by mile 10. However, by then my legs were starting to burn and it was starting to feel like hard hard work. A few people were walking at this stage and I wanted to join them. I resisted but those last three miles were a blur in my mind. I was pushing very hard but still managed to sprint the last 400 metres and must have passed about 50 people in doing so.

As soon as I crossed the finish line every major muscle in my legs cramped up. I grabbed my goody bag and hobbled over to the water station resisting the urge to sit down. After hanging round the finish area for a bit I went straight to McDonalds for my reward: a Big Mac. I still had no idea of my exact time. I knew it was about two hours and three minutes but I was hoping that my chip time would give me a sub two hours. Then came a text from the race organisers: CHIP TIME 01:59:55.

Boy, am I glad I sprinted at the end. What a result!

Needless to say, I have been resting up this last week. I went for a couple of easy runs but my legs felt very heavy and so I didn’t try anything more intense. I am pleased with the race result but even more pleased that it shows my training is working well. There are things to learn from and it was an excellent first race experience. I am working on a new training program with some more races over the next few months. But more on that later.

For now, racing is good, life is good and more importantly, running is good.

Monday, 26 April 2010

What Race Pace?!

I’ve been taking everything a bit serious of late. My training is going well and I ran a total of 34 miles last week. I am now going to decrease my mileage for the Leeds Half. Time to taper. I did a couple of proper hill sessions last week as well. All in all, I feel bloody marvellous and a bit smug that (fingers crossed) everything is going so well.

However, something has been weighing on my mind. When I entered the Leeds Half I decided that my race pace would be about 10 minute miles. This is my first ever race and I have no idea what my race pace for this distance should be. 10 minute miles seemed appropriate for someone who had just started running and just stopped smoking. However, over the last month I got the mad notion in my head that I wanted to complete the half marathon in less than two hours. This would mean more like nine minute miles. I have my doubts that this is even possible for me over 13.1 miles. I don’t want to run my first race and be disappointed with my time.

I need to readjust my goals so that I challenge myself but also enjoy the experience. I am bored of constantly checking my pace and worrying that I’m not quick enough to break two hours. There will be plenty of other races to chase times and PBs. I have to remember that the main goal is to get round and to get round without walking too much. My secondary goal is to finish within 10 minutes of two hours. The faster the better but there’s no pressure to achieve any time. It’s all got a bit serious with speed and hill training. I am still building up a base of fitness and have forgotten that it is the time on my feet which counts most of all at the moment. Fitness comes before speed.

I have to remember that my goal is to run an ultra-marathon next year and not to become super quick at the shorter distances! Distance is the key then the speed will take care of itself. Given the progress I have made in the last three months it will be interesting to see what I can do by the end of the year.

One of the key aspects of training that I have struggled with is nutrition. My running sessions have given me a tremendous appetite which makes it all too easy to indulge in fatty and sugary foods. I have kept my calorie intake at a reasonably constant and low level and have seen the results on my physique. However, I do not eat enough of the right sort of calories. I feel that it is necessary to set up some guidelines that will help me to eat more healthily whilst still making sure I have the energy to run.

These are some criteria for a more healthy diet. Check that the food is either a carbohydrate (the more complex the better); fish or lean meat; fruit or vegetable; or a combination of these. After this, check that the food is low fat and/or low sugar. Finally, make sure that the portion size is not too large (around 300-400 calories). If I think about these points before every meal I should be able to up my intake of fruit and veg whilst lowering my sugar and fat consumption. Let’s see how it goes.

All in all I feel my training is going well and I particularly enjoy the longer distances. I need to be careful not to get caught up in the pace statistics of my training. I am after all, a newbie in the running world. Speed-work will come into play after I have established a proper base of fitness. More than anything, I am going to try and enjoy my half marathon.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I Am Upgrading

I approached this week of training with an equal amount of determination and trepidation. I was determined to increase my mileage and intensity and mildly nervous about the little niggle gremlin in my right hamstring. The main rule for the next few weeks is to train hard and to train sensibly.

My Wednesday run was an easy and most enjoyable 6 miler. The weather was perfect and really reminded me how nice running is when I’m not legging it as fast as I can. When I started this running madness just three months ago I had one speed: flat out. Whatever the mileage, I was struggling at the edge of my fitness just to keep running. Now I have gears. My fitness has improved enough for me to shift up and down these gears in accordance to the conditions and how I’m feeling. This might seem blindingly obvious to running veterans but it’s a new and pleasantly surprising piece in my fitness puzzle. I suppose it’s like a car. I started off with only first gear and now I have cruise control. I am upgrading. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that when the weather is pleasant it’s jolly nice just to go for a good old fashioned jog.

It’s serious now. My Thursday session was an interval workout and my cunning plan was to do this on a treadmill at the gym. I don’t like to use the gym for running. I’m always puzzled by people pounding out the miles on the treadmill and think “the countryside is a quarter of a mile away! Go use it.” However, I am coming round to the fact that the treadmill may have its advantages in some situations. Firstly, for interval work I can run exact distances at an exact speed. Secondly, there are no horrible hills to destroy what would be a perfectly fast interval. These are important for interval work and as I don’t have access to a track, not something I would be able to do outdoors. So, to the gym. I ran three one mile intervals at 7.76mph with a half mile at 6mph either side of each. This totalled five miles at an average pace of approximately 8.28 min/mile. I was pleased with this session as I am really getting a feel for going faster.

Friday: tempo run. This is a weird observation but bear with me for a sec. As I was on the treadmill I noticed how quiet my footsteps were compared with everyone else. With a bit of concentration I was able to run almost silently with just the whine of the treadmill in the background. I think this means I have quite an efficient stride. I’ve never noticed this before but it seems like quite a good thing and something to nurture.

My long run on Saturday went pretty well. I ran 11.16 miles which is the furthest I’ve ever run. I was a little slow but it was fiercely hot and I sweated an absolute bucket. I used the same strategy I used last week which was to run for a mile and then walk for a minute. This is something I want to phase out over the next couple of weeks. My hydration and nutrition was spot on and my only weak point was on a huge steep hill about half way round. My legs just stopped working and I had to take a few minutes walking break. Hills still kill me on the up and the down. My fitness struggles on the way up and my legs hurt on the way down. Must get better.

I pushed a bit hard on my Sunday easy run. I got a bit carried away in the middle of my five miles and ran a six and a half minute mile. Very stupid. I have to train hard but sensible. Being disciplined enough to meet my targets is as important the ability not to exceed them. The recovery runs are as important as the tempo sessions. I must learn to respect that.

I have run 32.5 miles this last week. I have done tempo and interval sessions. I have run a long run, had recovery sessions and done three cross training workouts. More importantly, I have done this with no injuries or niggles. Apart from a few minor notes of caution I am very pleased with this week. I’ve got to keep this momentum and positivity going into the final few weeks before the Leeds Half.

Monday, 12 April 2010

It's Now or Never

Last week was my first week back to full training after being injured. Unfortunately, I had to work an extra shift so my Wednesday run had to be cancelled. On Thursday I ran a race pace 5.72 miles at 9.22 min/mile. This pace was hard work and it felt like I was on the edge of what I’m physically capable of. I am slightly doubtful of whether I could keep it up over a half-marathon. We shall see.

My Friday run was a hill session. I ran slowly for one mile and then ran up and down the hill that I hate three times. I was expecting this to be really hard but it was actually quite easy. Looking back on it I should have done it a few more times. A longer hill might be more effective to my overall fitness.

The Saturday was my long run. I ran round Llyn Brenig, a very nice route of 9.26 miles. My pace was 10.10 min/mile which was approximately what I was aiming for. I ran each mile then walked for a minute which was a nice system for me and allowed me to keep hydrated in the heat. It was about 16 degrees Celsius which is hotter than I’m used to but I drank each mile and consumed 1500ml of water throughout. It was also the first run that I used gels to keep my energy up. The orange Lucazade gels gave me a real boost taken at 30 and 60 minutes and they did not disagree with my stomach in any way. One more will be required for the half-marathon distance. I felt pleasantly tired afterwards but not uncomfortably so. My legs and feet were stiff but that passed by the next day. I am very pleased with this run.

On Sunday I ran an easy 5 miles with my dad. My pace was 10.47 min/mile and was very comfortable. This was an extremely enjoyable recovery run and it was nice to have some company. I cross-trained on Friday and Sunday using the cross trainer and rowing machine at the gym. In addition to this I did some strength training focusing predominantly on the core muscles. I am hoping that this will improve my running form. Overall, it was a very productive week. The next two weeks are vitally important in my preparation for the Leeds Half. I need to control my weight, complete every session with focus and intensity; and avoid any injuries. This is my updated schedule for the last month of training. Here’s hoping it all goes well.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Back On The Road With A Plan

Firstly, I have some good news. Through my recovery running last week I think (touch wood) that my hamstring strain has fully repaired itself. On the downside I think my fitness has suffered a little but it’s important that I motivate myself to build it back up. I am very excited to get back on the road and I don't want to get demoralised by a slight dip in performance. In three months I have gone from struggling to run one mile at 12 min/mile to running eight miles at 9.5 min/mile. I have run a total of 141.07 enjoyable and fullfilling miles. There is nothing to be demoralised about. I have come quite a long way.

I was also going to do a 10k race at about this point in my training but I have decided against it. Due to my injury I have already missed two long runs. These are an important keystone in my preparation and I think it would be a mistake to miss another one in favour of a race. I feel a bit sad at not doing a shorter race but I also feel I need to concentrate on the longer runs before the tapering period in my training. 13.1 miles is still a long way.

My aim is to complete the Leeds Half Marathon in about two hours. To do this I must capitalise on every advantage in the last month of training. As a consequence I will further reduce my calorie intake down to 1300 per day. This is in an effort to lose as much fat as possible before race day. This will be difficult but will be beneficial to my performance.

During my period of rest I have come up with a long run and race plan (see below) that I think might be useful. I know this is a bit obsessive but I do like a good plan.



Normal weather: hydration belt, water, three gels, camera, phone, hat, sunglasses, ipod, map.
Inclement or unpredictable weather: camelback, coat, extra top, water, four gels, camera, phone, hat, gloves, windbreaker, map.


Disposable top, disposable poncho, belt pack, hat, gels, keys, bank card.

Race bag: sports drink, Snickers, trousers, jumper, small towel, disposable poncho, safety pins, marker pen, socks.


In car: complete change of clothes and shoes, two towels, hot drink, sports drink, food, water, deep heat, ibuprofen, blanket, insulating blanket, book.


Note – Piss as often as possible.
T-03.00: Breakfast – muesli & milk/one slice of brown bread with jam/banana or apple/500ml water.
T-02:40: Shave, moisturise and dress according to the weather.
T-02.00: Pack equipment, fill water and pack lunch.
T-00.30: Warm up for 10 minutes and stretch (incorporated into training runs).
T-00.15: Prepare for run.


0600: Get up and shower and shave. 500ml sports drink.
0630: Eat breakfast & water.
0700: Drive to the race. Toilet.
0800: Race registration. Toilet.
0845: Warm up and keep
0900: Last toilet stop
0915: Line up to race.


0-1 miles = 10 min/mile.
1-7 miles = 9.5 min/mile.
8-12 miles = 8.5 min/mile.
12-13.1 miles = 7 min/mile.

Average pace: 8.9 min/mile.
Time: 1 hour and 57 minutes.


Immediately walk/jog for 10 minutes then stretch and take on fluids.
T+00.20: Get warm if possible. Keep moving.
T+00.45: Eat within one hour. Keep moving.
T+01.00: Begin journey home if at a race.