Friday Finds – 18th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Hello! I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend. This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I would share some articles addressing the ideas of fitness and mental health. If you find this in any way difficult, then I understand if you choose not to read on.

Many of us already know the physical and mental health benefits of running such as relieving stress and providing a natural “high” from endorphins. For anyone who has suffered depression, Women’s Running has summed up some of the ways running can help.

Cycling can be equally beneficial – it certainly helped me to feel better when I was unable to run for an extended period a few years ago – and for similar reasons. This next article also contains some valuable (UK-based) links for anyone who might want to seek some further help.

Taking it to a more personal level, Fast Running published this very honest piece from Irish athlete Kevin Dooney who opens up about his own mental health struggles and the importance of talking to someone.

A positive story comes from runner Dawn Nisbet who became well-known following a picture of her taking part in her local parkrun. Here, she discusses how running has helped her mental wellbeing.

And to finish with some new research, it seems that lifting weights is particularly beneficial to our mental health. Sounds like a good reason to remember that strength training!

Whether your mental health is good or you are struggling with something right now, I hope something in here is useful to you.

The Running Princess

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When You Wish Upon A Star: A Magical Announcement…

Now that my spring goal race is in the past, my thoughts inevitably turn to what’s next. No longer do I race for the sake of it, preferring to make races work for me rather than shoehorn them into my schedule, but I do like to have both a spring and autumn goal to work towards. Spring is usually a marathon, but in the autumn anything goes – another marathon, a half marathon, going for speed over a shorter distance – the possibilities are endless.

But this autumn is going to be special. Those of you who know me in real life, or follow my Facebook page (and if you don’t, feel free to join the conversation) may already know why as I’m so excited about it…

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday (I’ll keep which one to myself!) and that was one of the drivers behind my decision to make this The Year of Me!!! I wanted this year to be about the processes, not the outcomes; to add positive habits and value to my life; to have exciting experiences. And that’s exactly what this autumn will bring.

By some miracle Steve managed to pick up on my subtle hinting (i.e. tagging him incessantly in relevant posts and sending informative emails about what I would like to do to mark my special birthday 😂) and, due to some questions of logistics, he recently revealed to me what we will be doing…

I’M GOING TO DISNEYLAND PARIS TO RUN THE HALF MARATHON!!!

Yup, shouty capitals because I just excitedly shouted that at you. The number one item on my running bucket list has long been to take part in a Run DIsney event. My sister and both of my parents have taken part in events at WDW in Florida but I have never been able to as they all fall during term time, one of the drawbacks of being a teacher. So when I heard a couple of years ago that there was to be an event at Disneyland Paris I knew it would be my chance to fulfill that dream. For the last couple of years we were committed to the Loch Ness marathon on that same weekend, but this year it’s finally going to happen. (Did you really think I was going to go a whole year without running in/near Paris???).

Greetings from 2005!

Despite the fact that I have a Florida trip coming up in just a few weeks, I’m already thinking ahead to DLP. I have visited there once before but it was waaaaay back in 2005 in what I now refer to as “another life” and I know it has changed a great deal since then. We have a package which includes our race bibs, accommodation, park entry and race photos. It will be a whirlwind visit as we’ll be flying over on Friday evening and returning Sunday evening to fit in with work (a random Disney weekend in the middle of term!) but I know I can make the most of it and will be tapping my sister for tips on must-do attractions since she has visited more recently and, as a former WDW and DCL cast member, is bound to have some good advice! As for the race itself, Steve has grand plans to be competitive and is hoping for a good time. Me? I fully intend running a half marathon personal worst as I’ll be stopping for lots of photo ops, enjoying the scenery and soaking up the atmosphere. I’m fairly certain it’s the kind of thing that will make me want to cry tears of joy as I run along Main Street and round by the castle. It actually gives me goosebumps just thinking about it and there are sure to be A LOT of photos – I’m even thinking it’s time to purchase that Go Pro I’ve been wondering about…

I’ll be doing THIS!!!

The weekend will begin with a visit to the Run Disney Expo to collect our race packs and spend a fortune on stuff (oh the stuff I’m going to want – best start saving now!) but for the moment the most important consideration is to sort out my costume. Much like wearing ears in a Disney theme park is a rule, there’s absolutely no way on this Earth I’ll be taking part in a Run DIsney event without dressing as one of my favourite characters. I already have some ideas but will keep the details under wraps for now. Instead, I will leave you with a video which gives a taster of what’s in store for my greatest birthday gift EVER!! (Life goal = meeting a tracksuit-clad Mickey Mouse).

Have a magical rest of your day!

Have you (or would you like to) taken part in a Run Disney event?
Any Run Disney or DLP tips for me?

Week In Review – Getting Restless

Experience has taught me that my “sweet spot” for effective post-marathon recovery is to take two full weeks off (well if it’s good enough for the elites, it’s good enough for me, right?) but I always find the second week tricky. By the time I’m a week on from the race my legs are feeling back to normal, with the difficulty of negotiating stairs just a few days previously now a dim and distant memory, but I know that there’s more to recovery than having my legs feel good. So in the second week I really am fighting the desire to get out there. I get restless and fidgety, even with adding a bit of light cross-training and activity into the week, and would compare it a little bit to that point in the taper where you feel like a coiled spring, ready to unleash your energies on the race (but without the maranoia and constant certainty that the world is determined to make you ill or injured!). Sounds good, but without a race to look forward to, its not always easy to remember WHY I’m not running and quickly get fed up of the time off I was quite keen to have when feeling tired from all the training. Some people are never happy!

Thankfully, I had a fairly busy week to keep me distracted, but by the time the weekend rolled around I was definitely champing at the bit to run which is always a positive sign of a good recovery.

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – easy cycle @ the gym
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – rest
Sunday – rest

It was good to get back to yoga again this week and catch up with some of my SUP yoga pals from the Saturday before. I felt back to “normal” so no need to be looking for adaptations or easier variations this time, although with the option to do so if I found I was wearier than I thought! As always a good class and I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially after my day off work for the UK bank holiday.

Qgl4+kFJTT6gcbqn2NC1VwOn Tuesday it was back to work and I packed my gym kit for a visit to the gym on my way home. Usually this is for intervals on the bike, but I knew better than to do something like that just yet. Instead, a gentle 30 minute bike “warm up” whilst reading my Kindle book, followed by a 10 minute hot tub session then an indefinite sauna recovery😂 . The basic idea was to get my legs turning again, without impact, and to get some endorphins. On days like that it’s always a bit of a disappointment to reach the end of the workout, but it felt good to be active.

Wednesday was a rest day out of necessity. Ordinarily I might have returned to the bike or gone for a swim, but this was the night Steve and I were going to see Skid Row Marathon. The cinema here wasn’t showing it so we had to go to Dundee, about 20 miles away. Not that big a deal but it meant that I was straight home from work for something to eat then away soon after (packing our own cinema snacks of course, because they cost HOW MUCH at the cinema?!?!)

CBerC1vOSXe1BhyaB6abegWe actually bumped into quite a lot of people we knew and I was amused by the conversations I could hear around me as we waited for the film to start as it was near-enough all running-related. You don’t get that on your average cinema trip! The film itself was incredible and a few words here really can’t do it justice, so I wrote a separate post which you can read here.

IMG_6565I don’t tweet much but did take to twitter to discuss this film and ACTUAL Dame Kelly Holmes liked my tweet! Yes I did squeal when I saw that!

Screen Shot 2018-05-11 at 21.29.25On Thursday I had my favourite non-running session of the week, my Ashtanga yoga class. This week I was able to fully embrace it again, working more deeply into postures, moving into ‘Wheel’ for my back bend and choosing to work a little more on my headstand, supported by my lovely teacher. There were only 3 of us and all regulars, which I always like as it means we don’t have so many pauses to demonstrate postures and we can practice more of the Ashtanga sequence. I would love to be able to work in headstand unsupported, so my next goal is to add that into some of my home practice until I feel more confident.

I had another rest day on Friday as it was time to get my nails done. My lovely gold sparkly polish had seen me through my orchestral performance and my marathon, but it was starting to suffer a bit. I had no idea what polish I wanted, but opted for some more sparkle so it was a purple glitter over some black polish. I get my nails done by a friend who also runs so it’s always great to have a bit of time to catch up with her and have a good chat when I go round. Plus, fresh gel polish always makes me feel much more “together” as my nails grow really fast so slightly chipped and overgrown nails is never a good look!

8ExgqdioTlC%GoYil5v+0gSaturday was beautiful. The sun was out and it had a bit of warmth in it. Perfect running conditions and I was glad I had committed to volunteering at parkrun otherwise I might have ended up running (and going far too hard) before the end of my self-imposed break. I know it wouldn’t have been too big a deal, but I’m a stickler for sensibly following my plans!

mW0NfeWnSWm6Op4RSStXqwI was barcode scanning again so took up my same position at the end of the funnel and enjoyed chatting to the other volunteers, some park users I know and, of course, the runners. Parkrunners are generally encouraged to volunteer twice a year to keep things running smoothly, so I always sign up for my 2 in the weeks right after a marathon (plus I volunteer as a pacer as often as I can). So important to get involved and it helps create a balance between using the run as part of my training and helping with the smooth running of the event.

1vf2yjeWR5Cpy%CCRtyA%gI had toyed with the idea of walking to the gym on Sunday morning and having a cycle, but when I woke up it was pouring so I decided to take advantage of the fact that I had no training commitments to instead read a bit of my book in bed then have a leisurely morning getting showered and organised. Steve went out for a run (he has a triathlon and half Ironman to get ready for!) then when he got back we went out for our coffee before lunch as I wanted to visit my parents, mainly my mum, in the afternoon. By a weird quirk of dates, my mum is always away in the US when it’s Mothers’ Day here in the UK, then is here when it’s US Mothers’ Day. Gah! My sister and I have therefore fallen into the habit of presenting her with the requisite card and gift on the US date, but in the UK, since that’s when we’re all in one place! It’s a bit confusing but it works. As it turned out, we timed it perfectly for a refreshment – iced tea and a slice of cake (yes, that is a Disney plate!)

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Now I’m ready to get back into a more regular training routine, but will keep the sessions fairly easy for another week or two.

What’s your recovery strategy?
Did you get to see Skid Row Marathon?

PS Are you following me on Facebook? Blog updates, training updates and right now I’m sharing some archive posts on #ThrowbackThursday.

Documentary Film Review – Skid Row Marathon

IMG_6565I don’t normally include reviews of films, but after seeing a screening of Skid Row Marathon earlier this week I feel inspired to share a few thoughts.

I first heard about this film last year on the Marathon Talk podcast as host Martin Yelling had been instrumental in bringing the film to the UK for a screening in London. Sadly that was a bit too far for us to travel, but we were both really keen to see it so when we heard that selected cinemas around the country would be showing a one-off screening this month, we made sure to get tickets.

The film follows four runners from LA’s Skid Row who, under the guidance of criminal court judge Craig Mitchell, rise from the streets to run marathons around the world. We see them battle their demons, form friendships and, ultimately, find dignity as they strive to fulfil their potential.

Those of us who run already know how empowering running can be, how life-changing. I know for me running, and marathon running in particular, changed everything I previously believed about myself and made me stronger (both mentally and physically) and more confident: if I can run a marathon, I can do anything.

When Judge Craig Mitchell was approached by a defendant he had previously sentenced and invited to visit the Midnight Mission, a homeless shelter which was helping him back on his feet, he decided to start a running club. The judge hoped that by getting these people running, he could help them to get their lives back on track through applying the lessons learned from running to their personal lives. The premise is simple: stay clean and out of prison, and Judge Mitchell will take his runners around the world to take part in marathons. Indeed we are shown scenes of him calling contacts to raise the massive amount of funds required for this undertaking. The fact that so many are willing to support the endeavour is truly heart-warming.

The runners followed throughout the film have all been homeless, were former addicts and one had committed murder in his youth and served many years in prison. One of the incredible things about the way filmmakers Mark and Gabriele Hayes have put this film together is that we ultimately side with the runners. We want them to succeed in their goals and can see the difference being part of the Midnight Runners (the name of the running group) has made to them. If we were being honest, would we really say that we would feel that way had we been told of their past history separately to the running? Sadly I suspect we would not, we would cast judgments and assume they had no potential. Yet a theme which was prominent in this film was that no single act defines a person and that everyone deserves a second chance. This was certainly true of the runners featured in the film and is a lesson we should all embrace.

Yes, this is a film about running, but not the physical act of running, this is about the transformative power of running and the psychological battles. When former addicts are faced with a challenge, do they have the strength to spur themselves on or will they be defeated? Finding the inner strength and community support to make the right decision is what sparks change and gives them new hope.

Sitting in the cinema I truly ran the gamut of emotions: I cried, I was shocked and I even laughed as there were light-hearted moments which, in a cinema full of runners, generated a lot of laughs e.g. runners smoking or vaping before and after runs, or the scene where two of the runners were getting vaccinations ahead of travel to Africa and were told to stay away from the monkeys – their reactions were priceless!! But at the end of the film, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe how inspiring, uplifting and empowering the film had been. I found what Judge Mitchell had done extraordinary and was both moved and humbled by the scenes of the runners taking part in marathons for the first time. For one-time addicts and homeless people to be running marathons in Africa and Italy was amazing. It was a real reminder that everyone has goodness within them, and that the act of running wields powers of redemption, empowerment and transformation.

In addition to the main film we were also treated to a 10-minute short focusing on that transformative power of running and featuring running luminaries such as Jo Pavey, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, Vassos Alexander and, of course, Martin Yelling talking about what running means to them, how it has shaped their lives and provided inspiration. It was a wonderful start to the evening and the short film ended with a fantastic poem written and performed by Molly Case which you can listen to on her website.

Sadly this was a one-time screening, but hopefully the film will become more widely available soon. If you have seen it, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you haven’t, I really hope you get the chance to. It’s the sort of film that everyone should get the chance to see.

You can read more about Skid Row Marathon here.

The Versatile Blogger Award

Having never been nominated for any blog awards before, I’m honoured to have started 2018 with two nominations. Back in January I was nominated for the Liebster Award and now, the Versatile Blogger Award. Awesome!

So I’ll start by thanking Debra at Away in Autumn for her lovely nomination. I hadn’t come across this particular award before and her nomination also introduced me to her blog which I have enjoyed taking a look at. Thanks Debra. It’s always so nice to hear that others get enjoyment from my posts.

The Versatile Blogger Award was created to celebrate blogs who have unique content, strong writing, and beautiful images or photographs. There are 3 rules: thank the person who has nominated you and share the link to their blog (as a courtesy), share 7 facts about yourself, and nominate ten blogs you love.

So here are my 7 facts:

  1. I only took up running in my late 20s. Until 2009 I believed anything over 5k was too far for me and that only superhumans could run marathons. After 11 marathons, I’ve definitely changed my mind!
  2. I learned to play the violin at school and took it up again a few years ago as I wanted to join a local orchestra.
  3. I read every single day and have always done so.
  4. My favourite book is “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.
  5. I am a high school English teacher, but originally went to university to study languages. I have always found more logic in words than numbers.
  6. I don’t have a full range of motion in my left elbow following a childhood fracture. I’ve lived more of my life with it like that than without and have learned to adapt.
  7. I love drinking tea.

And now the blogs I would like to nominate:

Running on Espresso
Tri.Runner.Ella
Adventures By Linsey
Early Bird Runner
Tartan Jogger
Maria Runs
The Right Fits
My Anxiety Matters
Anna The Apple
Moving to New Zealand

I encourage you to check them out if you haven’t already.

Friday Finds – 11th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

Welcome to the weekend! If you had Monday off work for the UK bank holiday then hopefully this has been a nice short week for you, so let’s kick off this shiny new weekend with a bit of reading:

This week I had the privilege of going to a screening of the inspiring documentary film Skid Row Marathon. If you are a listener of the Marathon Talk podcast (I was mentioned – twice! – in episode 434…) then you have no doubt heard host Martin Yelling talking about this film at length, and now I fully understand why. Having been captivated by the film and the individual stories within it, I was drawn to this article from The Guardian, which references the film as a lead-in to discussing how running really can change people’s lives for the better. It’s worth a read.

Moving to another marathon, it was announced this week that the London marathon has once again beaten its own world record for the number of people entering the ballot for the next race. An increase of over 7% in a ballot where the odds were certainly not in your favour is not encouraging as an individual looking for a place, however the statistics relating to the types of people who have entered the ballot are certainly interesting. Of particular note, the number of female applicants:

This year’s edition of the London marathon remains in my news feeds due to the record temperatures and sad death of a participant. It was clearly a tough day out there and according to Derek Murphy of Marathon investigation, it looks like a number of runners may have cheated by cutting the course. I find it fascinating how Murphy works all of this out and the evidence he produces has helped catch out a number of marathon cheats in the past. Here’s his report on London:

Upon entering a marathon (or any other race distance) for the first time, a common fear is to come last. But how bad would that actually be? You would still have covered the distance, put in your best effort and (hopefully) enjoyed the experience. With that in mind, I found this next piece interesting as the writer completely re-thought his attitude towards finishing at the back of the pack.

And finally, it’s common knowledge that I’ve become quite the fan of yoga and am fascinated (often bemused!) by the assorted variations of yoga that can be found now, such as kitten yoga, goat yoga and Harry Potter yoga. But pizza yoga? Turns out it’s just a fun video, but I must admit if someone advertised a pizza yoga class, I would probably go. Yum-aste!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

The Year Of Me!!! – April Update

Another month gone in what is shaping up to be an awesome Year of Me! 2018 is all about the process rather than the outcome and how I can add value to my life. I’m checking in each month to keep myself accountable and see how I’m getting on, so here’s how things went in April.

1.Run 1000km (621 miles)
Another successful month of running, culminating in the Stirling marathon. I did rearrange things a bit one weekend so I could watch the London marathon on tv, but I still completed all my runs. I finished on 127 miles for the month and 377 for the year so I’m over half way there. That said, May will be a lot lighter on miles as I’m taking a couple of weeks off and when I start running again it will be pretty low mileage so it’s good to have a bit of a cushion built up.

2.Commit to a minimum of 5 minutes of yoga on at least 5 days of the week
Still loving this one and feeling strong from regular yoga. Despite not having one of my classes to go to for a couple of weeks during the school holidays (it’s a term-time class) I kept up my home practice and easily fell into a daily routine using my favourite Yoga with Adriene videos.

3.Read at least 30 books
I’m doing so much better with this one than last year. Thanks to getting involved in some online reading groups (and my new-found school holiday habit of starting the day reading in bed with a cup of tea!) I’m still ahead of schedule with this one and still managing to find time to read more often. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and have been loving filling my mind with adventures and interesting facts.

4.Be in bed by 10pm at least 3 times per week
I was so good at this in the week before the marathon, heading to bed as soon as the “bedtime” function on my phone told me it was time for bed. I’m not always quite so diligent, nor am I keeping any kind of record, but I’m certain I’m getting to bed by 10pm quite often as it has become a great way to maximise my reading time.

5.Watch at least one Ted/Ted X talk per week
It has become my habit to watch a talk at the weekend, however part of my routine during the school holidays was to watch one every day. I loved this and only wish I had time to do this more often as for every one I watched I think I saved about 3 more to my list for the future!

6.LIsten to at least 8 podcast episodes per week
There’s nothing like the peak weeks of marathon training to provide a chance to listen to lots of podcasts. I’m pretty much all caught up on episodes of my favourites now and have a few random episodes of other ones downloaded to give them a try. I feel like I learn so much from podcasts and you never know when that knowledge might come in handy!

7.Respond to at least one WordPress prompt per month
Another photo prompt this month as I published my response to Rise/Set.

8.Be more mindful in my phone/social media use
It’s difficult to judge this one. Having time off work inevitably meant I used my phone more, and of course I used it a lot in my post-marathon euphoria, but the rest of the time I am being more careful about mindless use of my phone. I’m trying to be really present and focused if I’m watching tv, rather than getting sucked into a pointless scroll and missing things. I’m also trying not to pick up my phone so much when I’m with other people as I know it actually really annoys me to see groups of people “together” but all sitting silently staring at their own screens. The phone (and social media) has a place, but I don’t want it to replace actually living life and experiencing the world. Right now, this is probably still the one I need to be a  bit more conscious of.

Overall, I’m still pretty happy with how things are going. I’m creating positive habits and definitely feel like I’m adding value to my life through the routines I’m creating. The Year of Me is going well!

How are you getting on with your goals for this year?
Do you prefer to read fiction or non-fiction?

Week In Review – Recovery and Having Some Fun!

The first few days after a marathon are always pretty interesting, what with tricky considerations like negotiating stairs and rising from a chair without making the same kind of sounds you remember your grandparents making. For me, it’s generally a week of doing very little and eating lots and this week pretty much unfolded like that (but with a bit of fun planned at the end):

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – rest
Wednesday – sports massage
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – SUP yoga
Sunday – rest

As you can see, lots of yoga and lots of rest. The ideal recovery week!

On Monday I wasn’t feeling too bad and a number of people commented on how well I was walking (although this was invariably whilst walking on a flat surface as going down stairs was definitely interesting!). I still wanted to go to my Hatha yoga class as I knew a bit of movement and stretching would be good, but at the same time I left my ego at the door and chose all the easiest options for each posture as both my legs and my core were pretty weary. As ever it was a great class and I definitely felt better afterwards.

And there was one other important thing I did on Monday, because when you’re sore from one marathon the logical thing to do is enter the ballot for another one, right?

fullsizeoutput_252fOf course Tuesday brought with it Tuesday Legs. I got away from work in good time and headed to the gym to sit in the hot tub and sauna for a bit to unwind then when I got home I found a Yoga with Adriene video titled ‘Yoga for Tired Legs’. It was just what I needed!

Things were beginning to improve on Wednesday and there were hints of having my own legs back under me, but I was still very much looking forward to my sports massage that evening. I do this regularly which means my massage therapist can spot any knots or potential problems and she was surprised to find that my legs were in ok shape. Yes, there were some tight spots, but nothing unexpected for right after a marathon so that was good news and the massage made a difference to my recovery.

G%d9BXAiSrGZfr1z3hWt4wI also got home that evening to find the most lovely surprise from my charity:

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I love how they put my photo in it. Such a nice surprise.

By Thursday I was definitely feeling much more myself. I had been sleeping well and was much more mobile. Despite that, I knew I still wasn’t up to tackling Ashtanga yoga at the level I usually would so checked my ego at the door once more and stuck to easier variations and skipped the headstand as I didn’t feel ready for that yet. Again, yoga helped me to feel so much better so it was worth going.

Friday was when things started to get a bit more exciting. I took a complete rest day as I had plans with my mum and my sister. Another of the pro couples from Strictly Come Dancing (my favourite TV show) were coming to Perth with their show celebrating Fred Astaire. Since my sister works at the venue she managed to score us signed programmes which was a bonus.

wzK2FgYfRWa8x408AlO5xAWe booked in to have dinner before the show – chicken strips followed by the gourmet burger for me. I had fully intended to have the chocolate fudge cake as well but there wasn’t enough time before the show. Sad times 🙁

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qvwcS0kYRkORw9jO+5L0DgThe show itself was amazing with lots of incredible dancers, singers and costumes. I could have sat watching them all night – a great way to start the long weekend.

And then it was Saturday. Parkrunday. No running for me just yet so I had put my name down to volunteer and was on barcode scanning duties. Incidentally, someone has knitted little cases for our scanners since I last did this job! I can only assume the scanners were getting cold.

VgmT%l9uTKy5w2Sz%ZcJPg
fWFGtPjpRamnC0m0Z8j2YwI love barcode scanning because I get to talk to the runners right after they’ve finished, and as well as asking about their run I had lots of people asking me about Stirling, which was lovely.

After parkrun I headed off to try something new – SUP yoga. This is something I’ve been really keen to try for a while, but also something a bit out of my comfort zone. Yoga I love, but I’ve very little experience of any water-based activities. But the teacher was my friend who teaches the Monday night Hatha class and there was a group which included several people I already knew all heading down to the local activity centre for the class (the first of a block of 4 which I have booked) so this was the ideal opportunity.

Everything was provided for us – boards, paddles, wetsuits and buoyancy aids – so all we had to do was turn up with a towel and change of clothes for afterwards. We got sorted out with equipment and were given some instructions about how to position ourselves on the board and how to paddle. We then got set up on the water (an enclosed, shallow “pond”) and had a chance to get used to paddling (in a kneeling position) for a bit before making our way to the line which had been set up across the water for us to attach our boards to for the class.

IMG_6551
IMG_6550For this first week we stuck to postures in a kneeling, seated or lying position – child’s pose, cat/cow, kneeling lunge, kneeling warrior, seated forward fold, etc. It was really good and I surprised myself by not falling in the water having, fully expected to be the Bridget Jones of the group (yes, even wrestling myself into a wetsuit was a source of some concern, but this passed without incident). Before I knew it we were paddling back in and heading off to get changed.

IMG_6556
IMG_6555There’s a nice cafe at the activity centre so we all stayed for some food afterwards and a good chat about what we had just done. We were all buzzing and can’t wait for the next session in a couple of weeks.

IMG_6545
VhupV3RIRJCXOZIhoDs+zAI’ll admit to needing an afternoon nap after all that outdoors excitement! The rest of the day was restful after that.

Steve and I have made a tradition out of going out for breakfast on the first Sunday after a marathon as a kind of reward for all those weeks of hard work – after all, it’s now May and we’ve been out running every Sunday this year! We went to our favourite place for a cooked breakfast and polished off this delicious selection:

87yfmB1QT52YElkWKC9sagWe then claimed our free drink at Starbucks (thank you Fitness Rewards) and since it was a nice day it was time for the first frappuccino of the year. It tasted like summer!

TKTPt%pPQICYgs4PqDnyJwWe then had a nice relaxing afternoon. The day felt so long without a run to fit in and was a nice way to round off the week.

Have you/would you try SUP yoga?
What would be your ideal day “off” training?

Race Report – The Stirling Scottish Marathon 2018

If you’ve been following along with my training since the beginning of the year you will probably know that I didn’t specify a time goal for this race. I was tired of constantly putting pressure on myself to achieve a time and then coming nowhere near it for a variety of reasons including injuries, weather and, for my last marathon, the stress of a very poorly cat and an emergency visit to the vet the day before. This time I wanted to enjoy the process (it is The Year Of Me after all) so my goal was simply to train as well as I could and then do my best on the day. That meant adapting to the circumstances and adjusting as I went rather than burning myself out chasing a time.

But I’m a runner. I had lots of data from my training so had an idea of where I might be and the last thing I wanted was to not do myself justice. And so I set myself “standards” rather than specific goals, benchmarks I could consider once I had a finish time rather than an extra pressure on the day. I wanted to have fun, to enjoy the race I had spent time training for rather than limp across the line ready to chuck my trainers in the bin.

  • With a PB of 4:05:07 from way back in 2014 (and I’m not getting any younger!), my “unicorns are smiling on me creating rainbows in the sky” 🦄 🌈 goal had to be a PB. And if the stars really aligned 🌟 a sub-4 has long been my ultimate goal. I didn’t honestly think this was realistic just yet.
  • Since setting that PB the absolute closest I’ve come is my time of 4:18:10 from my last race – the Loch Ness marathon in September. Everything else has been in the 4:30/4:40 region so my B goal 🏅 was to beat that time. This was the one I thought was most realistic and anticipated something between 4:10 and 4:15.
  • Finally, my “the wheels have totally come off and everything has gone to 💩” goal was to finish smiling. I was going to be running on a beautiful route and I do love marathons, so why would I want to make myself miserable? I knew I could finish, so just had to make sure that whatever happened I chose to enjoy it.

Within all of that I had one sub-goal: no walking other than to take my gels (it just works better for me to walk for a moment then carry on running). In the past I’ve lost the mental battle a bit and allowed myself to walk in the latter stages of the race, especially once I knew my time goals had gone. This time I wanted to eliminate that and run my best time, whatever that may be. I knew I needed to keep my pace under control at the start so I would have a bit of energy for later then dig deep in the latter miles to the finish. To help me with all this, I changed the settings on my watch so I could see my average pace and make sure I kept it steady at the start. My basic plan was to keep it steady to 20 then see how I felt (wiped out, obviously, but if there was anything left to push on then I was going to try and push on).
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Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 19.30.43The night before I got my kit organised. Since I was fundraising I had my charity vest and paired it with my favourite Under Armour running skirt that I usually save for marathons as well as a couple of special extras. I had ordered a pair of bespoke trainer tags from Lucy Locket Loves, one featuring my blog name and one with the name of my 2018 charity challenge Miles for Morven. I had also ordered a beautiful silk wrap from Run Bling by Nicky Lopez. I had asked her to engrave it with Miles for Morven and add some paw prints and I was so delighted with it. I wanted to keep my reason for running close by and have something to inspire me simply by glancing down at my wrist during the race.

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S1a70fuwSTK66ERWetx1MgRace day dawned and the weather was exactly as expected from my stalking of the forecast all week: dry and cool. Perfect. All my kit was ready so I got up, had my porridge, got dressed then had a second bowl of porridge just to make sure I was well fuelled. After a quick coffee we hit the road for the half hour drive to Stirling.

jeZ6wZPYSi+Ht3H1I3DK4QWe parked in the event car park (basically some empty land) with Stirling Castle in the background and walked from there to the start area. This was well set up with lots of toilets and the baggage buses. I actually got straight into a toilet (unheard of!) then reluctantly removed my layers, put my bag on the bus and, since there were now queues, waited to get into the toilet again.

We had to make our way a short distance from there to the actual start line where one of those god-awful mass warmups was underway. We were both in the red (front) wave and there were officials shouting at everyone to get into the pens, but sadly they didn’t actually tell us HOW (this is my one quibble with the setup). There was no obvious way to get in and lots of people waiting so we did what many others were doing and scaled the barriers! I’m not a fan of doing this since I’m terrified of hurting myself right before the race is due to start, but I took my time and as I turned to step into the start pen, I felt the steady hands of another runner help guide me safely there. Runners are nice like that.

By this time it suddenly dawned on me that we were getting underway. I hadn’t switched my Garmin on and still had my throwaway top on (it was cold and I knew these were being collected for charity) but I miraculously got it all sorted out just as the countdown began – no hanging around at this race!

Despite all that I didn’t feel stressed or worried (although I did miss out on a start line selfie). I was calm and ready to settle into my pace, soaking up the atmosphere through those first few miles when everyone is in high spirits and there are conversations going on around you.

I settled into a comfortable pace, holding back so I wouldn’t go too fast and use up all my energy. I was steady and enjoying the first few miles, legs feeling good. We passed by the entrance to Blair Drummond Safari Park at the 4 mile mark, where we were greeted by this fun cheer squad:

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Photo from Blair Drummond Safari Park on Facebook

The next landmark was Doune Castle which is generally known for being used as a film location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as, more recently, Game of Thrones. I did catch a glimpse of the castle and it looked really pretty.

Through Doune the crowd support was brilliant and I was still feeling good. I remember laughing at a sign saying, “If you collapse I will pause your Garmin” before heading back out onto the country roads towards Dunblane. There was a bit of a climb in this section, then a glorious downhill stretch through Dunblane (where Andy Murray grew up). I had really wanted to see the gold postbox that marked “Our Andy’s” Olympic gold, but I missed it. Steve thought there were people standing around it hence why I didn’t see it even though I was looking.

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I can’t remember where this was, but I really like the photo.

From Dunblane we followed the road towards Bridge of Allan and there was another nice downhill stretch before things levelled out. I was still averaging around 9:05 per mile and felt comfortable. The temperature was ideal, I was happy with my electrolyte drink and my gels (I actually didn’t use any of the on-course drinks or gels), there was a nice mix of sections with great crowd support and quiet sections where I could just enjoy the scenery and think my own thoughts (I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck, but hadn’t yet bothered to listen to anything even as I went through halfway). It was simply a lovely Sunday morning run.

On the other side of Bridge of Allan is the University of Stirling where my sister studied for her degree. The route took us on a loop around the campus, starting with a bit of an uphill slog before a nice downhill run back out. That uphill felt tough, but as I left the campus and rejoined the road at around 16.5 miles I was doing ok and knew I would get my next gel at 20 miles so that was my target. It’s funny how these things become quite exciting during a marathon and I find myself strangely looking forward to the next gel, especially the double espresso one with caffeine I take at mile 15 – like having a mid-race coffee!

About a mile later, things felt a little harder but I was prepared for the mental battle this time. I had thought that I might put a podcast on when things felt tough, but instead I did something different. I had said that I was running this one for Morven and that when things felt hard I would remember my reason for running, the funds I had raised and the people who had supported me. My thoughts turned inevitably to Morven and I felt like I was drawing on her and the strength she had when battling illness in her last year. I know it’s hard for people who have never had a pet to understand, but Morven and I had a very strong bond so there was a lot of emotion tied up in this for me. As I ran, I developed a positive mantra which I kept repeating to myself in time with my foot strike and it helped to keep my cadence up. Before I knew it I was another mile in and gaining on a runner I knew from parkrun. I kept the mantra going until I took my gel at mile 20 then decided that I needed to get outside of my head for a bit. The weather had changed and it was raining so it was finally time to start my podcast to see me through the last 10k.

IMG_5348By this point, of course, I had no real clue where I was geographically. There was a sort of loop that we ran that took in some kind of bike path then we rejoined the main road and I remember a corner where there was lots of crowd support and I got a boost from a runner I know from a social media group giving me a shout. Since I had no on-course support with me, it was so nice at one or two points along the route to see people I knew and to get a shout from them to cheer me on.

From here, the road was on a slight incline. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been too bad but at this stage in a marathon it felt quite tough. I spotted a race photographer so made sure to try and look like I was still running strong for the photos I would see later!

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Trying not to look like I’m dying (and probably doing a better job than the guy beside me!)

I always break the last 10k into “2 parkruns” with an extra gel in between. I opted to take my last gel at 23 miles then told myself I just had to keep moving forward through the last parkrun to the end. My average pace had been stubbornly drifting outside of my PB pace, but not too much so I was feeling confident that I could comfortably achieve my B goal by some margin.

At last the route brought me into Stirling and the final stretch to the finish. My legs were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle but I was still running. The hardest part was through the centre of Stirling (which reminded me very much of Inverness) as there were cobbles. People often express concern about the cobbles in Paris but I’ve never been bothered by those as they are actually pretty smooth and even. In contrast, the cobbles of Stirling were uneven and there were big ruts in some sections that made it difficult for weary legs, but I knew I had to be close to the finish as my watch had been fairly accurate to the course signage throughout and I was trusting that information.

Steve’s cousin had told us she would be at a cheer point for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau not far before the 26 mile mark and I spotted her leaping out to give me a big cheer as I turned a corner to be faced with what looked like a mountain. Yes, someone thought a 600m uphill finish would be the perfect grand finale to the route! I was willing my legs to move faster but I think the Central Governor had taken over long before and was refusing to let me go any quicker until an actual finish gantry was in sight. I could hear everyone around me react to seeing the hill and we were all exchanging a few words and groans about it. I had stopped my podcast when I got into Stirling as there was a lot of crowd noise and that meant I could soak up the atmosphere in the final sections of the race.

As I got closer to the finish I began to spot some familiar faces from Perth in the crowds and got a few shouts then, praise be! The finish gantry! The Central Governor relinquished control and my legs began to move again. As I ran into the finishing straight the opening bars of the YMCA began to play over the loudspeaker and hilariously both the girl ahead and I saw fit to join in with the actions as we ran along. I could hear a roar from the crowd each time we flung our arms up into the ‘Y’ and I just loved that atmosphere as I ran to the finish.

20x30-SSMC3090Crossing the line I had the usual wave of emotions, but managed to keep it together as I exchanged a few words with the girl who had been ahead of me as I had been using her as a kind of pacer for the last part of the race. I was grinning ear to ear from a great race and keen to get my official time as I knew it would be a few seconds faster than my watch.

I was handed my goody bag which contained my T-shirt, medal and assorted other bits and pieces, including a packet of spaghetti!?!

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jR1NmIv%R5+J7jGWZKh59gSteve was waiting at the end of the finish funnel and he had already collected my bag from the bus so I didn’t have to shuffle across the field to get it. The sun was shining so I fished my disposable poncho from my bag and spread it on the ground so I could sit down, have my recovery drink and gather my thoughts. I even managed to get up again all by myself (thank you yoga!) to get a couple of photos.

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YDBkbIBmRMW9SVArj30AGAAnd that official time? In case you’ve somehow missed my shrieking about it in my last Week in Review or all over social media, it was 4:05:40. A mere 33 seconds outside of my PB, making it officially my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and well inside that B goal I had set myself. I’d say that’s a good morning’s work. One or two people have asked if I’m disappointed not to get a PB and my honest answer is no. This race was never about a PB, it was about a process. It was about seeing how I would run when I listened to my body and removed the pressure of time. To run that time whilst still enjoying the race and never feeling like I was really struggling or that I couldn’t do it is testament to the training I have done and the approach I took. I also met my sub-goal of no walking other than to take my gels whereas in the past I would have taken walk breaks as soon as I realised the chance of meeting my A goal was gone. When I reflect, I truly believe that in many ways this is my best performance ever even if it isn’t my fastest result. It doesn’t always have to be about the time on the clock, but it should be about the time you have.

fullsizeoutput_252cOverall I really loved this race. I used to only want to run big city marathons but this was a wonderful experience for me and I would happily sign up to this race again in the future. It’s well-organised, has a fantastic route, great support and, crucially, is close to home. I do love the opportunity to travel for a race, but nothing beats home comforts when you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles.

Stirling marathon: you were great.

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Friday Finds – 4th May

Friday Finds is a regular feature in which I collate and share interesting articles and posts on running/health/fitness which I’ve read recently. Some might be inspiring, some might be scientific, some might provoke debate. All are things I’ve found in some way thought-provoking.

May the fourth be with you! (I’m not much of a Star Wars fan but I always love that joke!). It’s a bank holiday weekend here in the UK so if you have an extra day off then I hope you have something great planned. Personally, I’ll be enjoying the downtime after last weekend’s marathon. But to get the weekend started, here are some bits and pieces for your reading pleasure…

Being less than a week on from a marathon (race report coming this weekend!) I found this first article particularly interesting. On Monday and Tuesday, walking was definitely “interesting”, especially stairs, and I could feel every one of those 26.2 miles in my legs. Today, my legs feel just about back to normal and already the memory of those sore, tight muscles is fading, so I read with interest this explanation of why we soon forget the pain and discomfort of the race. What really stands out to me is the reference to the “episodic” nature of our race memories and that is certainly true for me – for all of my marathons I can remember particular moments clearly whilst there are other parts of the course lost to the mists of time. Even from Sunday there are no doubt details missing, yet I have incredibly strong memories of particular parts of the course where I got a shout from someone I knew or a landmark stood out. The human brain truly is a wonderful thing!

Also of interest is this next piece about marathon running and colds. The received wisdom has always been that hard workouts can lower the immune system and marathon runners often report getting colds soon after their race. But according to some latest research, this is not necessarily true. If you feel like you often get ill after a marathon or tough race/workout then this might be worth a look.

One of the things that I believe helped me to run well this time was working on my mental strength. I knew my legs could carry me 26.2 miles but wanted to make sure my mind wouldn’t give up before the finish. In this article we learn a bit more about this from US elite Deena Kastor, whose book I am currently reading. I’ll write a review for the blog once I’m done, but I would DEFINITELY recommend it from what I’ve read so far. Here are some insights:

I was also pleased this week to read the confirmation of what we runners pretty much knew already – running makes us happier. Research amongst users of parkrun and Strava (two of my favourite things!) reveals that those who run regularly score themselves higher on the happiness scale than the general population. What’s particularly interesting is that the social aspect of parkrun and sharing runs on Strava contributes to this greater happiness. As a massive parkrun fan, I can definitely see how that would happen as I always look forward to my Saturday morning parkrun fix.

And finally, if you’re always looking for the perfect food to fuel your adventures, perhaps a peanut butter and jelly (jam here in the UK) sandwich is worth a try. Based on this article, it’s the perfect fuel and there’s perhaps something in that as Scottish cyclist Graeme Obree famously set records after fuelling with his favourite jam sandwiches! One to consider…?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess