An Awesome April

Looking back at my March roundup, I’m struck by how long it seems since I wrote that post. It may only have been 4 short weeks, but so much has been crammed into those weeks that somehow it seems much longer.

As April began, things were a little uncertain. I had a marathon to run, but hadn’t actually run for about a month due to an injury. I knew I would be able to complete the marathon, but didn’t actually know how that injury would hold up or how mobile I would be afterwards. I’ll admit, I was a bit scared and my fears did cloud some of my Paris experience this time. I found it hard to feel excited about the race and every time someone asked me if I was looking forward to it, I really wasn’t sure how to answer. In the first week or so of the month I worked hard to re-build strength in my leg and went for some very short runs to see how it felt. I did absolutely everything I could think of to prepare my body for the event, given the gap in my training.

If you’ve been reading my recent posts, then you’ll know that things did go well in Paris. My leg felt comfortable during the fantastic Breakfast Run and presented very little in the way of problems during the marathon itself. I reset my goal from a sub-4 hour finish, to simply getting round in one piece and having fun. My only really issue was a lack of specific conditioning (long bike rides aren’t quite the same as long runs for marathon preparation!) but I completed the race, enjoyed my day and made some new friends along the way. As an added bonus, I could still walk afterwards! What’s not to like?

Of course going to Paris, regardless of injury, was always going to be my April highlight. I just LOVE Paris and getting the chance to run there is simply fantastic. But since getting back, rather than suffer the post-marathon blues, I’ve had a jam-packed month of exciting things to do.

As part of my recovery, I treated myself to a pampering spa pedicure and Steve took me away for a night at the beautiful Knock Castle near Crieff. We also spent an evening as guests at the Macmillan ball in Dundee and heard lots of inspiring stories from supporters of this wonderful charity.

 

But around all that fun, I also began to reintroduce some training. After a very easy week immediately after the marathon, I soon got back out on my bike, continued my work to rebuild the strength in my leg after the muscle strain, did some swimming and even went back to Metafit. My training for the remainder of April certainly wasn’t as full-on as it was before the marathon, but it began to re-establish my routine and maintain some fitness. It was nice to have some time away from running to allow my leg to recover without pressure and I enjoyed my cycling, but as we head into May I’m itching to lace up my trainers again and get back out there. All the work I’ve been doing with Steve has made a massive difference and there’s definitely much more strength in the muscle than before. My physio said I would know when it was ready for a run again, and where before I was hesitant, now I’m keen to get out there and try a short run to see how it feels. Fingers crossed it’s all good and I can get back to some regular running again.

All-in-all, April has been a great month. I may not have met my ultimate goal of a sub-4 marathon time (yet) but I had a wonderful trip to Paris, completed my seventh (!) marathon and had a lot of fun. Oh, and I made some additions to my bling collection:

 

At the top, my medal from the Easter virtual race I took part in (run, swim or cycle any distance in the first 7 days of April). In the middle, the medal from a rather unique virtual event. A bride and groom planned to run 5k on their wedding day and wanted as many people as possible to join them by running 5k that same day. That day turned out to be the day of the Paris Breakfast Run, so I signed up and not only had a lovely time running around Paris, I earned a rather nice horseshoe medal for my efforts! At the bottom, of course, my treasured Paris marathon medal. A weighty piece of bling that I absolutely love.

So as I say goodbye to April, I’m saying both goodbye and thank you for a brilliant month. Paris, pampering and preening. Perfect. Let’s hope May shapes up to be just as good…

How was your April?
What are you looking forward to in May?

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Getting the Recovery Right

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I love to keep things organised: I make lists, I forward plan and I can be a bit of a creature of habit. Perhaps this is why I LOVE training plans. A training plan tells me exactly what I have to do every day, and if I stick to it then at the end I get to celebrate all that training with the “victory lap” of a race. The problem is, since that training plan has been geared towards one specific event, it ends on race day. Then what? I could easily start a new plan, even without a specific event to train for, but in actual fact what’s more important is to have effective recovery from that event before looking to the next target. After making mistakes in my post-marathon recovery last year (and getting injured as a result) this year I’m taking my recovery VERY seriously, in fact it is currently the focus of my training plan. Right now, I’m enjoying a recovery plan.

Last year, I executed a near-perfect marathon training plan and got my race just about spot on. I was on cloud nine, had recovered well throughout training and seemed to recover quickly from the race itself. Rather than wanting to hang up my trainers for the foreseeable future, I was feeling great and desperate to run again. Within a week of the race, I was back pounding the pavements again and, inevitably, not long after I got injured. Although I felt good, my body wasn’t yet ready for the stresses of running so did the only thing it could to force me to rest. Perhaps if I had taken a bit longer to recover, I would have avoided that injury and in turn avoided a frustrating 5 month period when I couldn’t run at all. Who knows.

So what about this year? My training may not have gone quite to plan, and my race expectations may have been adjusted, but right from the start I had a clear recovery plan in place. REGARDLESS of how I felt after the Paris Marathon, I was having a minimum of two weeks off running. “Minimum” meant that if everything felt great, I could try an easy run after that fortnight had passed, but if there was any lingering issue, I had the option to extend that lay-off to help ensure my return to running would be for the long term. But that doesn’t mean my recovery plan was for a minimum of two weeks sitting on the sofa stuffing my face! I knew that within a few days of the marathon my legs would feel like my own again and I would be keen to get some kind of exercise. I also knew that this would be a mistake. And that’s where having a plan becomes really important so that even the rest has a clear purpose and goal to it.

My recovery began as soon as I crossed the finish line in Paris. One moment I was doing the “Mobot” for the camera (this seemed like a good idea in my marathon-addled brain!), the next I was thinking about my post-race nutrition and re-hydration.

Official race photo

When I was handed a bottle of water I asked for, and was given, a second one. I struggle to eat immediately after a long run, especially when it’s warm, but I knew I needed something in me to replace lost energy and start the recovery process, so I grabbed a couple of those delicious orange segments I had been enjoying out on the course. I kept myself moving, resisting the temptation to sit at the side of the road and allow the polarised emotions of finishing a marathon to engulf me, as I knew I had to keep my legs moving. I sipped on one of my bottles of water while I walked, then as soon as I met Steve I used the second one to make up my recovery shake with the mixer bottle and sachet of powder I had in my bag. I continued to drink this as we shuffled around taking photos and on the way back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I made up a bottle of electrolyte drink and headed for the bath with my drink and a packet of crisps, which served the twin purposes of replacing the salts I had lost in sweating and giving me something to inhale quickly as soon as the post-race hunger kicked in! The bath eased my legs and when I emerged it was straight on with the compression socks then I stretched out on the hotel bed to relax and catch up on messages.

For me, post-marathon recovery is about striking a balance between what the body needs to kick-start the recovery process, and treating myself after not just the efforts of the race, but all the weeks of training that led up to it. I initially focused on important things like hydration and recovery products, but I also indulged in some treats that I wouldn’t normally have, such as my meal later that evening:

For the remainder of the week once we were home, I knew it would be important to try and keep moving, but to focus on gentle exercise that wouldn’t tire me out too much (nothing like a marathon to take you from “super-fit” to “unable to climb stairs without getting out of breath” in one morning!). In week one of my recovery, my plan was that I could walk and I could swim, both of which I did. Signing up to the 5×50 challenge was useful here as I knew I needed to be active for 30 minutes each day, and 30 minutes was probably about enough for recovery exercise. I also made sure to have a sports massage towards the end of the week to further help the recovery process. I kept hydrated, ate healthily and found nice ways to treat myself such as a spa pedicure:

There was also another treat in store the weekend after the marathon when, after we volunteered at parkrun in the morning, Steve took me to Knock Castle for the night. We spent the Saturday afternoon enjoying the pool and steam room, I had a lovely bath (because the room had a bath with feet!) and we enjoyed a delicious meal. It was really good to have a rare night away where neither of us had to get up and take part in an event We also enjoyed the even rarer treat of not having to go out and train on Sunday morning!

So if week one of my recovery was gentle exercise and some little treats, what about week two?

In week two, I was back at work and therefore back in a “normal” routine. In week two, I was also allowing a bit more exercise (so long as it wasn’t running!). One gorgeous, warm evening I got out on my bike for an hour; another evening I headed to the studio to do some work on stretching and strengthening my quad muscle which was still grumbling a bit after the marathon (although I remain astounded that it posed no problems during the race itself). I re-assessed my “minimum” of two weeks without running and decided that it would need to be three to four weeks to allow my quad sufficient time to heal. It’s made a remarkable improvement, but before running again I want to be sure that I’ve rebuilt enough strength for it to cope, allowing me to begin training properly again.

There was another little treat at the end of week two as we were invited to the Macmillan ball in Dundee as a mark of appreciation for all the fundraising we have done. It was a lovely evening, but also a stark reminder of why we chose to fundraise in the first place as we saw evidence of the support and care Macmillan provides and listened to the stories of those who have survived cancer and are incredibly grateful for Macmillan. This princess definitely enjoys the chance to put on a posh frock, although I would have been much happier in a pair of running shoes than a pair of heels!

After my two week recovery plan, I’m feeling great and if it wasn’t for my reservations about my quad, I’d be starting to gradually reintroduce running again. Instead, I’m going to listen carefully to my body and wait. But just because I’m not running, doesn’t mean I don’t have a continued plan to move from recovery to training. I’ll finish week two of my recovery with a long Sunday morning cycle (somehow fitted in around watching TV coverage of the London marathon!). Next week, I’ll look to reintroduce the pattern of my training from before the marathon, replacing running with cycling. I’ll also continue to work hard on the exercises I’ve been doing to strengthen my quad muscle, which so far is responding really well.

Oh, and just to make sure I’ve got a “carrot” to motivate me through those exercises and get back to running again soon, I bought myself a little post-marathon treat. It’s ok, Steve knows! 🙂

What’s your recovery plan after a goal race?
What’s your favourite post-race treat?

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A Weekend in Paris Part 3 – Marathon de Paris 2015

If you’ve been keeping up with my training this year, then you’ll already know that after a promising start, things went a bit wrong in the final weeks. Preparing for a marathon with a strained quad muscle is hardly ideal, but I did everything I could to get my body ready for the race – I stretched, I strengthened and I maintained my fitness as well as I could with cycling and swimming. Arriving in Paris I was nervous, but a comfortable run in Saturday morning’s Breakfast Run gave me the confidence to know that I could finish the race without causing any damage, I just had to be sensible in my approach. At the beginning of the year I was aiming for a sub-4 hour time, now I was out to run comfortably, enjoy the race and reach the finish line in one piece!

With that new goal in mind, I actually slept quite well the night before the race and woke up ready to face the challenge ahead. I managed some breakfast at the hotel, but after that the familiar pre-marathon sick feeling made an appearance. A marathon may “just” be another long Sunday run, but on a regular Sunday I simply get up, hydrate, eat my porridge and head out the door just as soon as I’m ready. With a marathon, there’s the logistics of getting to the start, bag check, queuing for toilets and waiting to start to contend with as well. I knew I would feel much better once I was on my way so after double-checking my kit what seemed a million times, we set off to walk up to the Arc de Triomphe and the start of the race.

It was still reasonably early for a Sunday morning and at first the streets were quiet, but as we got nearer to the Arc de Triomphe it seemed like runners were appearing from every side street, converging on the same destination as us. I even saw one guy arriving on his bicycle, race number already attached to his top, and briefly wondered if he intended returning home in the same way. I’m not sure I’d be able to swing my leg around to get on my bike after a marathon, let alone pedal, so if he did then I’m really impressed!

By the time we reached the Place Charles de Gaulle, there were runners everywhere you looked: some excited, others nervous; some stopping to take photos, others really focused. We continued on down to Avenue Foch, which operates a “one-way” system for runners before the race, to drop off our bags. It was mobbed already and there was a big screen showing tv coverage of the race.

I parted with my bag, was wished “bonne course” by the cheerful volunteer, and headed off for the next most important stop: the toilet queue! The queues were moving very slowly in Avenue Foch, so we decided to join a queue at one of the banks of portaloos up by the Arc de Triomphe. Not often this is your view while queuing for a portaloo!

After that, it was time to join my start pen. My recollection from last year was that getting in was quite tricky since it was so crowded. People climb barriers and risk injury before even starting to run, just to get into their designated pen, but there’s really no need as the race is chip timed so where/when you start won’t make a huge difference. Last year I was in the 4 hour pen which was particularly difficult to get into, but this year I had oped for 3h45 and although a sub-4 time was no longer even imaginable for me, I didn’t change my pen and was pleased as I was able to get straight in and there was plenty of room. I still had to wait for a bit as the starts split in two lengthways and one side starts while the other is cleared of any debris such as throwaway clothing. I stood towards the left and the right hand side was started. Again, lots of people were impatient and started to move and switch sides, but with experience I knew to stay put and wait my turn. That gave me a chance to take a couple of photos:

While this was going on, the announcers were whipping everyone on the Champs Élysées into a frenzy, and before I knew it we were counting down (in French) to our start. Amid whoops, cheers, music and shouts of “Paris est à vous” (Paris is yours), we were off!

Official race photo

Down the Champs Élysées towards the Place de la Concorde, veer left and carry on along rue de Rivoli towards the Bastille. Streets I know well and now lined with supporters shouting out to all the runners. My quad felt fine, dimly tight, like a little whisper, but nothing to worry about. I wasn’t going to push it though as I knew the lack of running in the final weeks of training could be a problem in the later miles and didn’t want to use up all my energy early on. Instead, I focused on taking in the atmosphere and soaking up the shouts and cheers from the crowd. I also had one earphone in and had my iPod on shuffle. Sometimes I think that device is a bit too clever. I may have created the playlist, but the iPod decides when to play the tracks and as I passed the Louvre, home of the Mona Lisa, it chose this:

As I grabbed a bottle of water at 5k, a photographer wearing a pink “presse” tabard leapt in front of me and snapped a photo. Maybe I was in a French newspaper or something, who knows!

Next it was the Macmillan cheer point at the Bastille then on up the only real incline in the race towards the Bois de Vincennes where we run a roughly 10k loop. In the past I have enjoyed this section, but this year found it tough. My legs already felt a little weary and the temperature was creeping up. I needed crowds and sights to carry me along, and I had to wait until later in the loop, alongside the Chateau de Vincennes, for those crowds. Nevertheless, my race plan was to keep comfortable which meant stopping at the refreshment stands for water, walking to take a gel every 5 miles and taking additional walk breaks if needed. I actually stopped for a minute or so in the Bois de Vincennes to adjust my shoe as the lacing felt a little tight. In the past, a stop would have bothered me, but not this time.

Eventually, we emerged from the Bois and back onto the city streets. By now, I had it in mind that I really wanted to be at the 15 mile mark and heading onto the banks of the Seine. I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower, hear the cheering of the crowds from the bridges above and be well on my way to the “disco tunnel” with single figure mileage left to run (I had been counting down the miles from the start – 7 miles is the first highlight as it’s the first time there are less than 20 miles to go, then 17 miles as there are only 9 left!). So fixated was I on the Eiffel Tower, that when I caught a distant glimpse of it through the buildings around the 12 mile mark, I just about wept. Marathons certainly are emotional events!

I ran on to the halfway mark (just the same again to go!) and decided to take a short walk break. It didn’t last long though as I got so much encouragement from the crowds and other runners to keep going. Reaching the other side of the Bastille at around the 14 mile mark, I ran wide to get a big cheer from the the Macmillan team who had moved to that part of the course now. A few minutes later, I got my wish and was heading down to the banks of the Seine. Notre Dame was to my left and I knew the Eiffel Tower would soon be in sight.

Once more, my iPod came up trumps just at the point when I needed a boost by choosing  my favourite running track, the one that stayed with me through my 2010 Paris marathon training and never fails to make me feel strong:

Official race photo

Somewhere along here, the photographers were waiting and I was ready to pose!

Official race photo

I had reached the part of the race I was most looking forward to and next up was what is officially known as the Tuileries tunnel, but after last year, I think of as the “Disco Tunnel”. The crowds end and all you can hear is the heavy breathing and equally heavy steps of those around you. 10 miles left to go, the back of the race broken but still just a little bit too much left. This could be a terrible slog, but organisers do what they can to lift the mood in this half mile stretch. Last year, there were DJs and strobe lights, this year it was laser lights and big screens blaring music and showing some of the “animations” (mainly samba bands) out on the course. I was feeling warm so took advantage of the chance to walk a bit, get a good drink and try to cool down.

My iPod thought this would be an ideal time to play the iconic London marathon theme, music which to this day still fills me with emotion and brings a lump to my throat. Thanks iPod!

Once out of the tunnel, the noise is incredible as the crowds once more line the route. This is quite a popular place to watch the race from as we see the Luxor Obelisk and the Place de la Concorde off to the right, followed by the Grand Palais, while to the left it’s the banks of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower…at last! Remembering that the route got a little squeezed around here at the water station, I saw no harm in stopping for a quick mid-race selfie!

It was at this water station that I decided to start enjoying a “running buffet” and grabbed an orange quarter. I tried this after the finish last year and it was really refreshing so I sucked out the delicious juice and carefully discarded the rest (the water stations get really slippy thanks to all the oranges and bananas!).

From this point on, I knew I would likely need some more walk breaks in order to get round comfortably. No point in pushing my body into something it was not ideally conditioned for as this would have a detrimental effect on my recovery. Of course by now, everyone around me was fading fast and lots of others were slowing significantly or stopping to walk. We were approaching the 30km mark and The Wall:

Photo: Shirley Smith

But no wall for me. I was tired and undertrained, but I was moving and going to finish this marathon!

By the time I reached the 20 mile mark, my quad felt marginally tighter so I decided to stretch it out, quite literally at the 20 mile mark as I used the marker for balance! This was also an ideal time for a gel while walking a little, but I was soon caught by a fellow Macmillan runner named Dave whom I had met the night before at the pasta party. He encouraged me to run with him and we kept each other going through the next 5k, past Roland Garros in the Bois de Boulogne towards the final Macmillan cheer point, however with 5k to go I needed one last gel while Dave knew that if he stopped, he’d never move again so I told him to go on. After all, there was just a parkrun left to go!

It was really warm by this point so I stopped at a refreshment table to dip my hands in the icy water. As I did so, a lovely volunteer with a powerful hose asked if I wanted my legs hosed down. I have to say, the impromptu ice bath was quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever experienced whilst running. My legs genuinely felt refreshed and I was able to start running again straight away. That final 10k slog through the Bois de Boulogne has been described as a “death march” and it’s certainly not my favourite part of the race so keeping going is tough. The crowds tend to be a bit thinner and the scenery is not so gripping while you plod out those final miles on weary legs. Fortunately, there were a couple of things to entertain me now I was on my own again.

First of all, there were messages from one of the sponsors along the ground, in both French and English, saying things like we were all heroes and encouraging us to the finish. Second of all, there was the group handing out samples of wine towards the end of the race (I passed on this and stuck to my “running buffet” of orange segments!). Finally, there was a photo op.

In the weeks before the race, we were invited to sign up with one of the sponsors via Facebook. All runners would have their photo taken at 41km and this photo would be automatically posted to our Facebook pages. Immediately after signing up, I realised that this was potentially a mistake as I would likely end up with a hideous photo of me screwing up my face and looking awful, however the forthcoming cameras were well signposted and I made sure to be not only running, but posing, and by the time I returned to the hotel, all of my friends had been commenting on these 2 photos on my timeline:

Posing done, all that was left was to finish the race. Being familiar with the course, I knew that I wouldn’t see the Arc de Triomphe until I was just beyond the 26 mile marker, but still I was anxiously looking out for it as I emerged from the Bois de Boulogne, picking up the pace and enjoying the cheers and encouragement from the now abundant crowd. I mustered everything I had left, and “sprinted” to the line, arms aloft:

Official race photo

I had done it. And at 4:43:39, comfortably under 5 hours despite the injury. Having expected to be around 4:45 – 5 hours, I was definitely pleased with that!

I fought back the usual wave of emotions, trying not to cry whilst surrounded by strangers in a foreign country, and instead focused on gathering up all my post-race goodies: tech T-shirt, the all-important medal, water and some more orange segments from a veritable fruit salad on offer!

While I was shuffling through the finish area to met Steve, some friends were at the top of the Arc de Triomphe and snapped a photo of the scene below on Avenue Foch:

Photo: Shirley Smith

An incredible sight and the finish line is way off in the distance, not really visible unless you happen to know where it is.

Once reunited with Steve (and my bag which I’d run a 26.2 mile loop to retrieve!) it was time for the obligatory post-race photos and general posing (as far as our rapidly seizing up bodies would allow!):

After which it was time to shuffle back to the hotel where we had these beauties waiting for us:

We made a special trip to Bertie’s Cupcakery the day before as I was desperate to try the cupcakes after reading about them on the DC Rainmaker blog and they certainly didn’t disappoint. The two on the left are salted caramel, top right is Nutella and bottom right pistachio. I highly recommend a trip over there! These made for a wonderful post-race treat and helped keep us going until we were ready to go out and eat.

So that was marathon number seven. Perhaps not the performance I had hoped for, but the best I could ever have expected under the circumstances. I’m pleased that I was able to run, able to enjoy my time in Paris and able to finish in one piece. The Paris marathon remains very special to me for various reasons and I know this won’t be the last chance I ever have to run in Paris.

À bientôt Paris ❤

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A Weekend in Paris Part 2 – Breakfast Run

Back in the pre-blog year of 2010 when I ran my first Paris marathon, I spent my Saturday morning at the expo, with no idea of the Breakfast Run taking place on the streets of Paris at the same time. Fast forward to 2013 and I read this post by fellow Scottish runner/blogger Red Wine Runner and I knew that when I returned to Paris in 2014, the Breakfast Run would be a “Must Do” event in my race weekend plans. That event turned out to be a real highlight of the weekend (which is saying something when that same weekend featured an incredible city marathon) so of course I wanted to do it again in 2015. Here’s my report on the event and a few lots of photos…

Entries for the Breakfast Run open around February and if I recall correctly, there are around 3000 places, all of which are sold. The great thing about the Breakfast Run is that you don’t have to be running the marathon to take part, it’s open to all, so friends and family can enjoy something of the marathon weekend atmosphere. It’s also a bargain at just 7 euros (around £5GBP/$7.50USD). For that you get a tech T-shirt (which you must wear to access the course), 5k on closed roads which include the area around the Eiffel Tower, and post-run refreshments (croissants, bananas, coffee, water). There’s an amazing atmosphere as nobody is really “racing”, it’s more about the shared experience and a little bit of fancy dress to represent your country.

Since breakfast was included at our hotel, we did have something to eat around 7am (yoghurt, pastries, juice and coffee) before donning our kilts and heading up towards Avenue Foch (the start line for the Breakfast Run is also the finish line of the marathon so it’s a great opportunity to check out the finish area ahead of the big day). Of course we couldn’t resist some photos of the spectacular Arc de Triomphe standing in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle. For me, the entire marathon weekend is centred around this landmark as it is behind the start line and when visible again, you know you have only a couple of hundred metres of the marathon to go.

Walking around the Arc, we were joined by a multitude of other runners, all decked out in the same tops as us. Some were in regular running gear, others had embraced the invitation to represent their country. All were excited.

We headed around to Avenue Foch (pronounced to rhyme with “posh”) and, as is traditional, joined the queue for the portaloos. As we waited our turn, I listened to all the different voices – French, American, Australian, English – and marvelled at the diversity of cultures all united by running. Everyone nodded and smiled at one another, strangers spoke to each other and those from the same country greeted each other effusively. In fact, as we left the toilets and walked towards the start line, someone jogged up behind us and a familiar accent called out, “awrite folks, gaun yersels!” which, for those not attuned to the idiosyncrasies of Scottish vernacular, is a friendly greeting followed by an encouragement. Standing in the middle of a typically wide Parisian avenue, this amused me.

Joining the throngs at the start line, we found ourselves with a few minutes to wait as the race didn’t start on time (I didn’t expect it to, we were in France and experience has taught me that the French are fairly laid back about this bit!). This gave me a chance to take a few more photos:

At last we got underway. I had remained concerned about how my quad would feel, but actually it seemed quite settled so I was able to jog comfortably around the course (nobody’s in any great hurry at this event) and take some photos. The first half of the race winds through the streets towards the Trocadéro and our first view of the Eiffel Tower. There’s music playing from a race vehicle ahead and everybody is in good spirits, chatting to one another and soaking up the atmosphere.

Unsurprisingly, most of the runners stop at this point to take photos. There’s some work being done at the Trocadéro right now (you can see the wooden hoarding to the left of the photo above) which limits the view a little, but the Tower is still a stunning sight.

After this, the route follows the road downhill around the Trocadéro, providing further views of the tower before we find ourselves by the Seine and crossing the Pont d’Iéna towards the tower itself.

Crossing the Pont d’Iéna towards the Eiffel Tower is without doubt my favourite part of this race. It’s usually a very busy bridge linking the Trocadéro on one side of the river to the Eiffel Tower on the other, and having the chance to run across it without traffic and take in the incredible view is simply amazing, so of course this is another part of the route where most people stop for photos.

Photo from Marathon de Paris on facebook

Finally, we run around to the other side of the Champ de Mars to finish by the École Militaire. Last year there was a finish gantry, but this year there were just some flags to mark the finish line so I was a little taken by surprise!

Remembering from last year how difficult it was to get to the refreshment tables (the one part of this event which needs some improvement) we joined the crowds flowing towards breakfast. I actually wasn’t hungry so only wanted some water and coffee, but Steve managed to grab a croissant (which is more than we managed last year!). Volunteers were trying to impose some order and stop people taking more than their fair share, but they were largely being ignored, as was the woman who repeatedly shouted through a loud hailer for us to “allez au fond des ravitaillements” (basically to keep on going to the end of the refreshment tables). Oh well, c’est la vie!

Soon enough, though, I was able to have a seat and sip my coffee while enjoying a quite wonderful view:

Suitably refreshed, we set off to walk across the Champ de Mars back towards the tower and up to the Trocadéro to take some photos before jumping on the metro back to our hotel.

At this point, we were approached by a guy who asked us, as the only other people he had spotted in kilts, if he could have a photo with us. We agreed and then forgot all about it until he got in touch via this blog’s Facebook page to share the photo and ask how we got on in the marathon. It was nice to be able to chat with him and so weird to discover we had been “recognised” whilst away!

Photo from Martyn Balmont

We stopped again for photos in the Champ de Mars:

While taking the above selfie, a nice Scottish couple came over and offered to take a picture of both of us. We then chatted with them for a minute or two before bumping into another runner from Perth that Steve knew. I honestly don’t know how he manages to bump into somebody he knows EVERYWHERE we go in the world!

We did eventually make it back to the Trocadéro and fought through the crowds for a couple of photos:

And finally reached the metro, where there was a “subtle” hint that that there might be a big race about to take place!

Safely back at our hotel to plan the rest of the day, I was able to take a moment to reflect on my morning. Once more, I thoroughly enjoyed the Breakfast Run and would definitely recommend it. If you happen to be around Paris on marathon weekend, sign up. You won’t regret it.

Next time: The marathon itself!

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The Road to Paris – Week 13

Thirteen, a number surrounded by superstition. I’m not generally superstitious, tending to believe we make our own luck, but week 13 of training has certainly brought with it a variety of fortune!

First of all, I’m not even pretending to follow my training plan any more. I’m not exactly making it up as I go along, but neither have I firmly decided what to do instead of my running sessions and am making that decision on a day-to-day basis. Here’s what happened this week:

Monday – swim/sauna
Tuesday – 8 miles hilly 30 mins elliptical plus swim/sauna
Wednesday – conditioning
Thursday – cadence drills swim/sauna
Friday – Metafit plus 30 min test run
Saturday – Parkrun rest/walking
Sunday – 10 miles 20 mile cycle

As you can see, I ended up swimming 3 times this week, which has really helped me in terms of improving my front crawl. Since my 5×50 commitment requires 30 minutes of activity per day, I stayed in the pool a little longer on Monday and therefore swam a few more lengths. On Tuesday I simply fancied a few lengths after the elliptical and on Thursday I just couldn’t decide what to do with myself. School finished for two weeks and I came home both jubilant that a tough term was over and also mentally exhausted from that demanding term. I had considered a short bike ride since the evenings are lighter now the clocks have changed, but sat down for a little too long when I got home and instead opted for another half hour swim. During this session I decided that I feel comfortable enough with how I’ve been doing to start playing around a little with my breathing rhythm to try and find what’s going to suit me best and make it easier to swim for longer (I’m certain the reason I’m struggling with my “water fitness” is due to my breathing technique). I’ll have to wait and see in the coming weeks what difference that’s going to make. I might also sign up for another lesson or two to try and develop my technique and make sure I’m not falling into any bad habits!

Like last week, I headed to the gym on Tuesday to jump on the treadmill and see how my leg felt. Last week I knew after a couple of steps that running was definitely not on the agenda, but this week there was a big improvement. I could still feel a little bit from the offending muscle, but it was barely noticeable. Still, I decided not to push things (don’t do anything stupid!) and simply allowed myself a minute on the machine to enjoy the feeling of my body running again before going to the elliptical instead for some non-impact cardio.

But even with the decision to use the elliptical rather than run, I just couldn’t shake the idea that running might be just about possible again, so after further strength and conditioning work with Steve on Wednesday, I decided to take advantage of my day off on Friday to head out for a little test run. I’ll admit, I did have a battle with The Fear before finally getting out the door, but went ahead with the knowledge that if my body wasn’t ready yet, I could simply go for a walk instead. As it turned out, my leg felt ok. I was dimly aware of a mild tightness, but nothing major so decided to keep going and see what happened, again ready to stop at any time if things worsened. There was no change, even when I had to stop at crossings and start running again, and I ended up running for 30 minutes without particular issue. The most notable thing that happened was whilst crossing a bridge over the river. I had worn a cap and thin gloves as it looked chilly and like it was likely to rain at any time. Running across the bridge I felt something drop onto my right hand and at first thought it was starting to rain, but then realised a bird had “got me” from above. Yuk! Thank goodness for the gloves (which were swiftly removed, inside out, and carried home to wash!). Some people say that having something like this happen is good luck, so fingers crossed for something nice happening.

I was also able to use this run to count towards the Easter Virtual race I had entered, which required participants to run, cycle or swim any distance between the 1st and the 8th of April. The medals were sent out in advance to avoid delays with post over the holiday weekend, so when I got back from my run I was able to open up the package and enjoy this cute little chap:

However as the day went on I felt perhaps my luck wasn’t changing for the better after all. While my leg had been fine during and immediately after my run, later in the day I became more aware of the tightness in my muscle again. I wasn’t sure how I would feel at Metafit, but there were no problems at all and my leg actually felt better, only to feel a bit worse again later. This was still the case on Saturday morning so I decided to once more skip Parkrun in favour of some stretching and self-massage on my quads. This actually helped a great deal, however I’ll be going carefully in the week ahead before I get to Paris to make sure I give my body the best possible chance of healing. I don’t think I’ve set my recovery back, but I do need to be careful and make sure I’m pro-active in helping that recovery in the coming days. This partly means going through a range of exercises designed to strengthen the muscle and help it re-adapt to the way it should move when I’m running.

So with being careful and pro-active in mind, I first of all asked Steve to do some deep massage on the muscle to release some of the grittiness and tension (post-massage bruises ahoy!), and I also decided that Sunday should be another cycle. Continuing to use the principle that my cycling distance should be roughly double my planned running distance, I settled on the same hilly 20 mile route as last week (but without having to head out quite so sharp).

Sunday morning was beautiful and much milder than of late, so I decided to try the new 3/4 length compression bib tights I just bought. I was really pleased with them as I was much more comfortable in the saddle! I was also pleased that my leg felt much stronger and I was able to get a lot more power on the hills, resulting in better climbing and a faster overall pace (but I’m still a big wimp on the steeper downhill sections!). Since it was such a nice day, I once more stopped at one of the higher points on my route to take a couple of photos:

By the time I got home, I felt much better. I had been feeling quite negative about Paris and worried about how my leg would feel, but the marked improvement from the day before and added strength (along with a welcome hit of sunshine and endorphins!) worked wonders.

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And with that, the week came to a close with a mixture of good and bad luck. It’s good that my leg was able to tolerate a run, but bad that there was a little discomfort afterwards. It’s good that I enjoyed my cycle and felt stronger, but bad that I wasn’t able to manage another short run just yet. It’s definitely bad that I encountered that bird, but you never know, it might lead to good luck! I’ll just have to wait and see…

Are you superstitious about the number 13?
Have you ever had any “interesting” encounters with a bird or any other wildlife whilst out training?

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A Mediocre March

I think it’s safe to say that this month the wheels well and truly came off my marathon training. I had issues with nutrition, energy and ultimately injury as well as a brief flirtation with illness.  It would be easy to feel really down and have concerns about what’s going to happen when I line up on that start line in Paris in less than 2 weeks, but then I remind myself that I know the challenge ahead, I know I can finish and I know it’s perfectly normal to arrive at the start line feeling nervous. Indeed, a good number of the runners will likely have suffered some kind of setback due to illness or injury. It’s the rare marathon training plan that ticks by without any problems, so the important thing is how you deal with them and recover. As Martin Yelling often points out, in order to finish a marathon, you have to reach the start line!

And so rather than dwelling on the negatives, I’m taking the positives from this past month: I understand why the issues happened and how to make adjustments to avoid similar problems again; I was able to continue training in the pool and on my bike, maintaining my fitness, making me feel much better about the cycling events I have coming up and making some improvements in my quest to learn the front crawl; and my injury has improved greatly so I’m confident it will be fine for the marathon (so long as I don’t do anything stupid!). Things could definitely be worse!

 

The month actually started out ok. Well, almost. I completed an 18 mile run, albeit under tricky circumstances, enjoyed my cadence drills in daylight after weeks of darkness and I nailed my Jantastic time target at Parkrun (I set it as 5k in 24:30 and ran 24:27. Near perfect!). Since then my muscle strain has resulted in lots of stretching, strength work and quality time in the saddle. I may have lost some consistency, but I know the cycling will have helped maintain my fitness and the extra rest should hopefully mean I feel fresher on race day. I’m simply going to take this as an extended taper and trust in the training already done and my previous experience of marathon running to see me to the finish.

 

Perhaps one of my biggest frustrations is in missing out on my 100% Jantastic record thanks to being unable to run in the final two weeks of the challenge (and yes, I played my joker). Having hoped to finish with a score of 100, I actually ended up with 86.9. I’m disappointed, but have to be pleased with my achievements throughout 10 of the 12 weeks the challenge lasted. Besides, there’s always next year! Right now, my priority is to make sure my muscle is properly healed ready for the marathon. It has already progressed hugely and I know I am close to being able to run again, but I’m not taking any chances. If I have to swim, cycle and cross train my way through what remains of my taper then I will do, but I WILL be running in Paris next month.

Yes, although my training in March has been less than ideal, remaining positive is still crucial in making sure I’m mentally prepared for 26.2 miles. And so I’m seeing the end of this month not as the end of one of my toughest months of training, but as the start of the next chapter: a new month, a new season and a new challenge in 5×50. April is set to bring with it lighter evenings, a return to running and, of course, that all-important marathon.

Paris, here I come…!

 

How was your March training?
What are your goals for the weeks ahead?

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A New Challenge: 5×50

Like many others, I find having a clear goal to work towards the best motivation there is. I have my planned events for this year’s fundraising challenge, and throughout the first 3 months of this year I have also been taking part in Jantastic. The final two weeks of Jantastic may not have gone my way, but I’ve really enjoyed the evolving targets that formed the challenge as well as the community spirit (and competition!) involved. With Jantastic finishing this weekend, I was looking for something else to help motivate me throughout the next few weeks. Enter 5×50

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5×50 came about in 2012 after a group of friends took on a running streak inspired by the now annual Marcothon. Their enjoyment of this was shared with others, eventually resulting in around 5000 participants from 43 countries taking part in the first official challenge in September 2012 with the common goal of getting people fit and active. Collectively they raised £75,000 for charity and in the years since over 15,000 people have taken part and raised over £210,000 for charity.

If truth be told, I have come across this challenge before, however in previous years the requirement has been to cover 5k per day for 50 days. For me, this was never really an option as it came at a time of year when I would be tapering towards and resting after a marathon. But as the challenge continues to evolve and take account of feedback, this year it requires either 5k per day (e.g. running, walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, etc) or 30 minutes of activity per day (any of the previously noted activities plus exercise classes, etc, so basically anything that gets you moving). Even in my post-marathon recovery I’m likely to want to walk or swim for a short time, so this is a much more achievable goal for me this year.

I know others who have taken part in this challenge before and from what I’ve heard it definitely lives up to its aim of getting the inactive active and the fit even fitter over the course of the 50 days. It’s open to all ages and fitness levels, with the simple commitment of just 30 minutes of activity every day for 50 days and can be taken on as an individual, group or team. Since it takes around 21 days to make (or break) a habit and we are constantly surrounded by news stories telling us that our sedentary lifestyles are putting us at risk of ill-health, what better way to get people moving and make sport a bigger part of everyone’s lives? After 50 days participants should be feeling fitter and creating a positive habit to maintain a healthier lifestyle. And like Jantastic, there is support via the event website and social media where participants can encourage each other to keep going and provide help and advice throughout the challenge. It might even stimulate a bit of healthy competition!

Another attraction for me is the fact that 5×50 is a charity event, something else it has in common with Jantastic. Previously, organisers have partnered with Comic Relief/Sport Relief, however this year they have decided to support 5 charities: Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, CHILDREN 1ST, SAMH, Guide Dogs and my own chosen charity, Macmillan Cancer Support. Participants pay a minimum £5 donation to sign up then have the option to create a fundraising page to raise money for one of the aforementioned partner charities (or another cause close to their hearts). Every penny raised will be split equally between the 5 charities and can make a massive difference to the lives of others:

  • £5 could pay for 9 copies of The Cancer Guide. This Macmillan booklet can help someone recently diagnosed with cancer, and their families, understand more about cancer, its treatment, and the help available.
  • Every £5 spent on the Macmillan benefits advice services helps people affected by cancer claim £95 in benefits they are entitled to.
  • Every £5 spent on the Macmillan phone service could lead to cancer support specialists helping people affected by cancer claim £165 in benefits they are entitled to.

So its fifty days to fitness, friendship and the feel-good factor of doing something to help others. Fantastic!

 

Fancy joining in? Then there’s still time to sign up here, but hurry – the challenge kicks off tomorrow (29th March)!

 

Have you taken part in 5×50 before or are you going to take part this year?
Have you come across any similar challenge events?

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