Week in Review – An Easy Week

Despite treating last weekend’s half marathon as a training run rather than a race, I still felt it worthwhile to cut back my training in the week afterwards since I had jumped up my mileage a little in order to take part. Yes, I recently ran a marathon so have all that training “in the bank” but I still prefer a sensible build up in mileage to help avoid injuries. In this post I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my post-race recovery and training.

Last week‘s race, unusually, was on a Saturday so I’d already enjoyed a rest day on the Sunday. Here’s how the rest of my week went:

Mondayswim sports massage
Tuesday – rest
Wednesday – 4 miles
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 10 miles

I actually fully intended going for a swim on Monday as I find getting in the water after a long or hard run really useful. Unfortunately I was too late getting away from work and needed to nip home to check the cat had enough food so didn’t quite have enough time to squeeze in a swim before my sports massage. I have a sports massage every month as part of my strategy to help me recover and to spot any issues before they become problems. I was really pleased to find that my legs were in pretty good shape and they felt even better after Katie had massaged them. Thanks Katie 🙂

Tuesday was a complete rest. If I’m honest, I would have been OK to train but I had a commitment to meet a friend for coffee after work and the logistics of that meant there was no time for a workout. Since it was a nice evening, I took a short walk when I got back before settling down to eat and relax.

By Wednesday things were back on track, but rather than go for another set of hill reps, Steve advised sticking to a simple run. No particular pace, but around 4 miles. I decided just to let my body tell me how it wanted to run and while I felt a little sluggish at the start, by the end of my 4 miles I was feeling much better.

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Thursday remains by far my favourite workout of the week. I feel such a difference in my body (strength, flexibility, movement) after a year of Ashtanga yoga and I still notice improvements all the time. The class covers about half the Ashtanga primary series, led by a teacher, so we don’t do exactly the same sequence every time. This week we did a posture we haven’t done for a while (I’m still not great with all the Sanskrit names!). It’s quite a tricky one and I was able to get much closer to being able to do the full posture than I’ve ever been before. I was quite amazed as I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

It was another rest day on Friday. I had initially wondered about fitting in a swim here, but the cat was due a checkup with the vet (you’ll remember she’s pretty old for a cat and with an age-related health condition) and Friday was the most convenient. They were running a bit behind due to an emergency so while the cat quietly seethed in her basket, I enjoyed watching the other pets in the waiting room, my favourites being the cutest little sausage dog I’ve ever seen and the the tiny turtle with an infection (absolutely no idea how they could tell!). It was a positive visit as there was no need for further medication or tests and she’s even put on a little weight! Once home, I headed out for a walk since I had been sitting around for a while then it was time to head out to eat. According to Facebook, Steve and I have now been friends for 9 years so we marked the occasion with a delicious steak dinner. I’m so glad steak was on as a special that night as I was really craving it!

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On Saturday the cat decided to give me one of her famous early wake up calls, so I wasn’t sure how I would perform at parkrun. As soon as we got underway my legs decided they wanted to run fast and I was waiting for the rest of my body to mount a protest, but I managed to not only sustain my pace but actually get a little quicker with each mile to complete the Royal Flush Negative Split and finish with a time of 23:49 (7:51, 7:46, 7:40 and the last nubbin at 6:43 pace!). That means the three parkruns I have done since Paris have been progressively faster – 24:15, 24:05 and 23:49. In actual fact my fastest this year is 23:39, so it looks like I’m not too far away from that and hopefully I can improve on that time over the summer. Saturday was also a pretty wet day so I didn’t look my finest when I finished!

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No Hatha yoga for me this week as I had an appointment, but I plan to go on Monday instead. It will be a lovely way to end my Monday.

My four-legged friend provided another early alarm call on Sunday, but I took my time getting ready for my run. I had 10 miles on my plan and have made a decision about my training for the next few weeks. Through the winter I was running slowly on Sunday mornings to build endurance, however now that endurance is in place I need to work a little more on my pace. I won’t run any more than half marathon distance before heading off on my summer holiday, so it seems that the best way to use those runs to capitalise on my endurance base is to run them a bit faster. On this run I was aiming to run at or faster than marathon pace, with the target of completing 10 miles in 1:30 or less (approx 4 hour marathon pace which is 9:09 per mile). I also included hills towards the end as I know that’s what I can expect at the Loch Ness marathon. Despite Mother Nature providing yet another free shower, I was well within target with 10 miles in 1:28 and an 8:53 per mile average. Perfect! Hopefully this approach will help develop my pace in the next few weeks then when I return from my holiday I’m going to use my long runs in a different way, a bit more like fartlek-type runs.

IMG_1938The rest of the day was spent relaxing. We had a chicken to cook and guess who took it upon herself to act as guard? Shame she can’t have any due to her dietary restrictions!

IMG_1942All in all, I think my decision to have an easier week definitely paid off in my performance over the weekend. I’m feeling excited now about the weeks ahead and am already visualising my finish at Loch Ness. Now to make it happen…

How do you like to recover from an event?
What are you training for just now?

Race Report – Loch Leven Half Marathon

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been in a hurry to sign up for a half marathon at this point in the year: not only did I know that I wouldn’t quite have worked my way back up to the distance again in my post-marathon training, but on this particular occasion I was going to a concert the night before. Not what you’d call ideal race preparation, but having been lucky enough to win a place in this race through the parkrun points competition last year, I figured I could take it easy round the 13.1 miles safe in the knowledge that my endurance base was up to the job – it’s funny how a month after a marathon you can just turn up and run a half marathon without any particular difficulty!

Actually, the last time I ran this race (in 2010, pre-blog) I did something similar: Paris marathon in April (my first marathon and hampered by injury during training) then the Loch Leven half marathon around a month later. At that point the course was very slightly different (minor alterations to the start and finish as well as a stretch which now takes place on the trail which opened more recently) but the bulk of the route remains much as it was.

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To be honest, I was a bit of a bad blogger this time. I left out some kit on Friday night (the race was 11am Saturday) but changed my mind about some of it when I saw the weather on Saturday morning. Being quite tired from my late night, I neglected to take a pre-race “flat runner” photo before I put it all on – oops! – but I opted for Nike twin shorts, a short sleeved Tech T-shirt, lightweight gilet, 2XU calf sleeves and my Adidas Ultra Boosts. On the drive through to Kinross, about half an hour down the road, I began to wonder if I should have brought my “emergency hat”!!

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Registration for the race takes place at the high school and we were able to park right across the street. We collected our numbers and race T-shirts then headed back to the car to sort ourselves out before returning to the school for a quick toilet stop. The start was about a mile from registration so we had to leave plenty of time to walk/jog there (they were transporting bags etc back to the start but we headed to the start line ready to run).

We chatted to one or two others en route to the start and once there I decided to have one last toilet stop before the race began – I had just enough time to join the short queue, nip in and line up at the start before the gun went off.

The race itself was quite nice. An undulating route around the perimeter of the loch with some hills in the second half. I gave myself the first mile to settle into a comfortable pace then switched on the latest edition of Marathon Talk to listen to and got a real surprise about 3 miles in when I heard my name mentioned in the “Rate Your Run” section!

I followed my usual strategy of a gel at 5 miles and 10 miles, but to try and avoid the slump I often experience around the 10 mile mark I decided to count DOWN the miles from the start, which psychologically made a difference.

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Running at a comfortable pace rather than racing meant that when I reached the steepest hill around 8 or 9 miles, I had plenty of energy left to start overtaking people who had gone out hard and for a good while I was passing other runners. Only a few overtook me in the last mile, which was on the trail, as I had developed a blister under my toe which was a bit nippy when I landed on it!

I also found time to pose for the photographer I spotted on a nice downhill stretch. Looks like I’m having fun (and doing a phenomenal balance manoeuvre!).

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Photo by Gordon Donnachie

[Source]

I wasn’t 100% sure where on the school grounds the finish line would be, but I also knew that since this was a smallish race (471 finishers – I was position 322, 97th out of 200 females and 43rd out of 94 in my category) my watch had been pretty much in line with the mile markers so I could trust how much there still was to go. Coming off the trail and around the final bend I began to speed up a bit to finish in 2:01:55. It would have been great to run just sub-2, but the second half was just a little too hilly for that. Still, I’m really pleased to run so close to 2 hours when I was tired and taking it easy as that means I wasn’t much slower than the pace I will need to run a sub-4 marathon and I still have plenty of time capitalise on my current form.

Once over the line I was handed my medal, a bottle of water and was able to collect a snack (there were bananas and that Scottish staple the caramel wafer). There was also a tent nearby where you could key in your number and get an immediate printout of your chip time, which was really good.

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I milled around taking selfies and chatting to folk until I was able to find Steve as he had my bag with warm clothing for the drive home. As soon as I’d sorted that out, we headed back to the car to get home for some food.

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Overall this was a great race. Well organised by Kinross Road Runners and with a lovely route (thankfully we were spared the midge cloud which had been in the news!), gender-specific tech T-shirt and nice medal. Definitely worth entering if you ever get the chance.
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Week in Review – A Cheeky Half!

Another week, another week in review! As ever, linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to bring you my weekly roundup.

From the title of this post you might have worked out that there was a half marathon in there, but here’s how the rest of my week looked:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Loch Leven half marathon
Sunday – rest

At this point I’m in a bit of an odd place training-wise. The furthest I’ve run since Paris is 8 miles, but still have decent fitness from my marathon training cycle. I’m looking forward to capitalising on this over the summer, but right now am amused by having sufficient fitness to complete a half marathon without any specific training. Just another reason to be grateful for marathon training!

I began my week, as ever, in the pool. I’m really enjoying my Monday swims lately as I’m beginning to feel a bit more confidence in the water and can find a rhythm more quickly. What I need to work on is having more continuous swimming i.e. not stopping between lengths. It will come!

On Tuesday I was a bit pushed for time but still managed to squeeze in a set of intervals on the bike at the gym. No time for any mobility work or anything this week though as I had plans with my sister. We were seeing the second instalment of the trilogy of First World War plays which began last year with The 306: Dawn. This year was The 306: Day and where last year the focus was on the stories of some of the 306 men who were executed for cowardice, deception and mutiny, this year the focus was on the women at home. Three of the women were connected to characters from the first instalment and some of the same music was woven through to give greater impact, so while you could have watched it in isolation without having seen last year’s production, it was definitely more powerful if you had. Dawn had me in tears, but Day had me torn between tears and anger as I felt driven to start a revolution 100 years too late as I watched the way women were treated for standing up for themselves and the men in their lives. Shocking that this was seen as acceptable and I’m so glad there has been progress since then.

I was a little distracted during the performance as I recognised the male actor who appeared but couldn’t quite figure it out. Checking the programme he had a Casualty credit (but then most UK actors do!) and I thought he might have been a regular. It was only afterwards that I was able to look him up and remembered exactly who he was!

fullsizeoutput_1e00Wednesday was a repeat of the same hill reps from last week. It felt tougher this week and I’m still not sure if I was a bit sluggish or if it was because every time I turned to run up the hill I found myself running straight into a headwind. Tough, but I know it will make me stronger and hill training is definitely going to be key in preparing for the Loch Ness marathon which is an “undulating” course with a hill at 18 miles, exactly when you don’t want it!

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IMG_1845On Thursday I enjoyed a fantastic Ashtanga yoga class. It’s been about a year now since I began my yoga journey and every week I love it more. This week was special because a lovely lady who used to be a regular at the class returned as an observer as she is just finishing her yoga teacher training course. Having an extra instructor meant more opportunity to be adjusted, not because of issues in how I approached a posture, but to help me move more deeply into it. It was so nice to see her and at the end of the class she commented on how much progress she could see in my practice, which is really good to hear.

Then it was Friday, perhaps the most exciting day of the week. Not because it was scheduled as a rest day, but because the reason for that rest was a trip to Glasgow to see TAKE THAT live in concert! I’ve been looking forward to this for ages and as usual they didn’t disappoint. The band is renowned for the theatricality of their live shows and this one fetaured a cast of dancers and acrobats performing in the round with a set that changed levels and with props that flew around the stage and awesome lighting effects. I was on my feet throughout belting out every song and loving every moment.

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The thing about a concert, though, is that it’s inevitably a late night and heading through after work meant we only had time for food at the venue (pizza with a base apparently made of cardboard!). None of this is particularly ideal preparation for a half marathon, but that was the prep I had so on Saturday morning, after less than 7 hours sleep, I was off to Kinross for my race. Anticipating that I wouldn’t be at my finest, I had decided in advance to simply treat this as a training run with a medal and just take it easy rather than racing. This turned out to be a good strategy and I was pleased to find that even when at less than my best I was able to finish in just a little beyond 2 hours and feeling comfortable. I’ll write more about my experience of this race in a separate post, but I enjoyed it.

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Post-race we grabbed some food then had a relaxing afternoon of napping and reading before treating ourselves to a takeaway since we knew Sunday would be a rest day to allow our bodies to recover from a late night and a race. I even pushed the barrel out and had a Saturday night bath with Epsom salts, bubbles, a running magazine and a glass of wine. Lovely!

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It was nice going to bed on Saturday night and not setting an alarm (little chance of sleeping in anyway when you have a cat!) and waking when her majesty demanded food. It was then an easy day of coffee, food shopping (usually done on a Saturday) and a visit to my parents (there was cake again!). This must be what the non-runners do with their Sundays! It was nice, but I think I would get bored of this after a couple of weeks and be desperate for something different.

In the week ahead I’ll probably ease off training a little for a lighter week to make sure I recover well, then I’ll be back to my preparations for Loch Ness. September will be here before I know it!

How is your training going?
Any exciting events in your life?

Tunes on Tuesday – Could it be Magic

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

Could it be Magic – Take That

It was only a matter of time before a Take That track made its way into Tunes on Tuesday. There are actually a few in my playlist, but I’ve picked this track today because I do have a story to tell around it.

For my readers not in the UK, Take That is a pop group formed waaaay back in 1990. I guess you could say they were one of the 90s “boy bands” and were created out of a desire to emulate groups like New Kids on the Block in the US. The band split in early 1996 while I was in my final year of high school and teenagers around the country were bereft – there was even a telephone helpline set up to help fans deal with the announcement! 10 years later, in 2006, the band reformed for a reunion tour and have continued to produce new material (and tour) ever since. To date, they are the most successful “boy band” (more of a “man band” now lol!) in UK chart history.

Basically, I’m old enough to to have loved Take That the first time around, but never got a chance to see them live until 2009 when Steve surprised me with concert tickets. In fact, the video above is taken from that tour. If you had told my teenage self that one day the band would get back together and I’d still be getting to see them live at my age then I’d have laughed in your face!

The song I’ve picked today is their cover of the Barry Manilow classic Could It Be Magic, the track which gave them their first big success. Not only is it a great song, but it has gained its place here thanks to the last time I saw then tour back in 2015.

The day after the concert, perhaps not feeling my most rested, I took part in the Tayside Challenge, a cycle event which I was using as a warm up for the Etape Caledonia the following week. My head was, unsurprisingly, still full of Take That songs so it was a bit like having my own playlist as I pedalled, but without the inconvenience of earphones (something I never use when cycling as I’m so conscious of safety). I was cycling with a friend, but at one point I was alone on a downhill stretch. We had been talking about the concert so as I swept down the hill, enjoying the sense of freedom, I began singing away to myself. Loudly. The song I picked? Could It Be Magic. I was having a great time, so it was only marginally embarrassing when another cyclist overtook me, no doubt having heard me singing to myself like an absolute madwoman! Oops!

The song itself featured on Take That’s first album which was released in 1992 (yes, I am that old!) so this year they are celebrating their 25th anniversary. The original lineup of 5 may now be reduced to 3, but my favourite (Gary Barlow) is still there and what better way could they have found to celebrate than to go out on tour? So on Friday of this week I’ll be heading through to Glasgow to see my “boys” performing live for the 4th time. Frankly, I can’t wait!

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

Week In Review – Oops, I Did It Again!

With running back on the agenda again this week was all about returning all my workouts to their usual intensity and moving on from the lighter workouts of late. I’m linking up again with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my training week.

My post-marathon recovery involved a gradual progression from complete rest, to light cross training, to easy running and now my regular training schedule. Here’s how that looked for this week:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun + Hatha yoga
Sunday – 8 miles

Monday was a bank holiday and the schools were off too so I was able to have a leisurely start to the day. Steve had an early client so I was unsupervised which, as it turns out, is perhaps not the best idea. First I did this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 08.37.05Yup, that’s my ballot entry in for the London Marathon. Again. The odds are pretty slim for getting a place, but you’ve got to be in it to win it!

But I wasn’t done at that. Next, I did this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 08.53.35I can now announce that I have entered the 2017 Loch Ness Marathon which takes place at the end of September. This will be my third time entering this race, and hopefully this time I will FINALLY reach the start line. My quest for a sub-4 time is back on (although perhaps after the weekend’s events in Monza I should call it #Breaking4 lol!).

It’s ok, I stopped there before I got carried away entering races! The rest of my day was spent catching up on some household chores before heading to the pool for a swim. I really enjoyed being in the water again and felt that I was swimming well. Unfortunately it was busy so I kept having to stop at the end of my lengths to allow those ahead of me to get further up the pool before I could start my next length. Still, I’m pleased with how my swims have felt lately.

I rounded off my day with a last-minute opportunity to watch a private screening of a play I saw wth my sister last year. It was part of the 14-18 Now project which is marking 100 years since WW1 and we are seeing the second instalment in a few days. When we saw the play last year we had to travel to a converted barn outside the city and the play itself was incredibly emotional. As soon as the screening started all those emotions came flooding back, the lump in the back of my throat formed and I was in tears by the end. At least there was popcorn!

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Tuesday was my first time back to the bike reps at the gym. The last time I did this was in the week before the marathon and since then I’ve had a couple of half hour cycles so I was unsure about how this would feel. Steve had me stick with the same work/rest intervals as my last cycle of these and kept the intensity level the same, simply dropping back to 10 reps to basically repeat the last cycle before considering how best to progress this. My legs felt weary from the re-introduction of running, but I soon got into the way of it and completed the workout feeling quite strong so I must have retained some of the gains from all the reps I’ve completed over the last few months.

When I was finished on the bike I did some stretching and mobility work before heading to the hot tub to relax before walking home. I’m really enjoying having so much daylight as it makes me feel like I have so much more time to enjoy my evenings.

IMG_1708Wednesday also had me switching from a light workout to a more intense session as I headed back to my “favourite” hill for some reps. I have been using the lampposts on this hill for my reps, most recently I was completing decreasing reps to each successive lamppost (i.e. 5 to one, 4 to the next, and so on). To progress this, we cut out the first two lampposts and focused on the reps to the last three. I have to say, it felt tough at first but just like with the bike reps my body soon remembered how to do it. The weirdest thing was not running the reps in the dark. Instead it was sunny, warm (for Scotland in May) and I had shorts on rather than base layers and gloves 🙂

IMG_1724On Thursday we had the local council elections and it was another sunny day so when I got back from work (it was an inservice day so no pupils and a different venue meant I was a bit earlier) I got changed and took a walk to the polling station. Civic duty done, it was off to Ashtanga yoga where I enjoyed another great class. It’s coming up to a year since I first went to this class and I can’t believe the difference it has made to my body. Every week I notice something different, even when working through the same sequence of postures.

I finished the work week with a PT session at Steve’s studio. It was the usual mobility work which I know is key in keeping my body moving as it should and helping to prevent injury. I then had a short walk to enjoy the last of the evening sunshine before going out to eat.

IMG_1766Saturday was, of course, parkrun day. I began my day with the results of the Breaking2 run – I can’t believe how close Kipchoge came to running under 2 hours! I also began my day with a bit of a scratchy throat and feeling a bit below par, however I was fairly sure this was the result of not sleeping enough recently and not drinking enough over the couple of days before, so still wanted to go to parkrun as that often sorts me out. I didn’t expect to run overly well and did feel the run was tough, yet I still finished 10 seconds quicker than last week so that’s a positive sign that my fitness levels are returning to where they were in the weeks before the marathon, at least when it comes to shorter distances.
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My Hatha yoga class re-started this week and it was great to stretch out and centre myself after the run. I really think it makes a difference to my recovery before my longer run on Sundays. My other excitement was the arrival of the tab to put on my Paris marathon medal so the back of it is now complete. It wasn’t the time I wanted it to say, but I remain proud of my achievement as I know how much training went into it and how tough it was on the day.

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IMG_1825Sunday was another sunny day – May in Scotland can be beautiful – and I had 8 miles on my schedule so donned my shorts and shades to head out into the sunshine. I hadn’t really paid attention to my splits last week as I was running relatively easy, and only noticed at the end of this run that something was a bit off. I knew I had been running fairly briskly on the flat and downhill sections, so was surprised by the average pace that flashed up on my screen when I pressed stop. Turned out I still had the autopause feature off from racing in Paris and I usually have it on when I’m out on a training run as I often have to stop to cross roads and don’t like the watch ticking away while I’m not moving. I’ve rectified that now!

IMG_1816And with that, another week of training comes to a close. Overall I feel pretty good and can sense my body getting back into the groove of regular training again. It still feels a little tough to hit faster paces or begin more intense training, but that’s to be expected coming off a marathon and having some time out. Now I officially have a target to aim for again it will help me to focus and build on the fitness I’ve already gained this year. Bring it on!

Did you enter the London marathon ballot?
What is your next target event?

Breaking2

Ever since Nike announced that they were going to attempt to break 2 hours in the marathon, I’ve been obsessed with the idea. Can it be done? Can a human being really run as fast as that? Information has been drip-fed to us for weeks now about what is going into this high profile attempt, and it seems the time has finally come. On Saturday 6th May Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese will try to make history at the race track in Monza, Italy.

So what is the formula for success? I thought I’d pull together some of the articles I’ve found on the topic that’s dividing the running world:

Shoes
The athletes will be wearing the new, specially-engineered Nike Zoom Vaporfly which features a carbon-fibre plate designed to increase efficiency. Unsurprisingly the shoe has been the focus of much attention and has caused a great deal of debate.

Fuel
In order to maintain the required pace, the athletes will have to fuel differently so they can consume more carbs than they are accustomed to in order to increase the supply of glycogen to their muscles. This has the potential to lead to GI issues – not what anyone wants when the world is watching!

Pacing
Not just as simple as “run as fast as you can”, the pacing strategy will have to be carefully worked out to give the greatest chance of success. This article makes some predictions about how the event will unfold as well as digging into some of the science behind the pacing.

Preparations
A few weeks ago there was a test run over half marathon distance which allowed everyone involved to see how things had progressed and evaluate whether or not they had to make any changes – a bit like testing out all your marathon kit on one of your long runs! While there were some positives, there were also a number of questions raised.

But Can It Be Done?
That’s the question that is dividing the experts. Some studies have suggested it is possible, but those writing for most media outlets have expressed doubts. Personally I think it’s going to be a really exciting attempt, and you have to admire those involved for having a go. It would be amazing if one of these athletes (experts think Kipchoge the most likely) breaks two hours, and the optimist in me would love to see this happen. The realist in me isn’t sure if we’re quite there yet, but does want to believe it’s possible…one day!

It seems that everything “controllable” has been planned out, so it now comes down to the “uncontrollables” – conditions and the performance of the athletes on the day. Whatever the outcome, the process has certainly got the running world talking and I for one can’t wait to see how it all pans out.

If you want to follow along then Runner’s World has the information here.

What do you think: is a sub-2 marathon possible?
What are your predictions for this attempt?

Preparing For Your First Ever Race

There’s been a lot of talk around here about marathons lately, and while I’ll always find them a big deal, I’m conscious that some of my readers are at a very different stage in their running journey and might be turning their attention to racing for the first time. Perhaps it’s a charity 5k (mine was), perhaps a local 10k, or perhaps you’re going all-out and running a half or full marathon. Whatever you’re preparing for, I thought I would share some tips to help make your race day as smooth as possible.

Your first ever race is bound to bring with it both excitement and nerves. You’ve spent weeks putting in the miles to get your body prepared, but in order to vanquish any pre-races stress and prepare your mind, it’s worth taking a bit of extra time to plan the details which will see you to the start line relaxed and ready to enjoy the experience. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Read your race pack…then read it again! Make sure you’re quite clear on all the arrangements, from transport and parking to the facilities along the route. Check directions, double-check the start time and remember to check the finish line instructions too, including what you can expect to receive (medal, T-shirt, banana, etc) so you don’t miss out on any well-earned treats.

  1. Sleep is always good, but in the days before a race getting plenty of rest will help you to feel energised on the big day. I often find it hard to sleep the night before longer races, but if I’ve slept well in the preceding days then I know I’ll be ok.

 

  1. Eat well. The night before a race is probably not the time to have a spicy curry or try something new which might see you racing for the loo mid-race! Best to stick to whatever has worked well for you in training. And remember to stay hydrated too!

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  1. Lay out your race kit the night before. Check the weather forecast but be ready for any eventuality – layers can be easily added or removed when needed. Stick with tried and tested kit that has worked for you in training and avoid anything new as a race is not the time you want to find out that your trainers rub or your shorts chafe! Make sure you have your race number and/or timing chip and it’s worth packing a bin bag or old top to provide an extra layer when you’re waiting to start which can be thrown away when you’re ready to run (I buy cheap disposable ponchos for this and keep them in my race bag). Remember essentials like safety pins, gels and water bottle. I’d pack some extra tissues too – those portable toilets can run out of paper quickly at a busy race! And speaking of portable toilets, I usually keep some hand sanitiser in my race bag too.

  1. Check your tech. If you plan to use a running watch, make sure it’s charged up and set as you want it. If you like to run with music (and it’s allowed at your race), create your playlist and charge up your phone/mp3 player. Remember to pack your earphones (fully charged if, like me, you like wireless ones!).

 

  1. Plan for afterwards. Just because you’re finished running, it doesn’t mean your day is over. I usually pack a bag with a change of clothes (including spare socks!) or some warm layers, a snack and some extra water, especially if I have a longish journey home. If you are meeting supporters after the race, make sure you plan where to meet them, as finish areas can be crowded. Many races have designated meeting points so agree on yours before the race and you’ll appreciate it afterwards when you’re tired.

  1. Arrive early. If you’re anything like me you’ll feel much more relaxed if you’re there in plenty of time – nobody wants to add an extra couple of kilometres to their race with a last-minute sprint to the start line!

 

  1. Use the loos! The queues can get very long very quickly, so make a trip to the toilet your first port of call, especially if you’ve been hydrating en route. If it’s a busy race and the queues are long, get straight back in the queue when you come out – by the time you get to the front you’ll probably want to go again anyway.

  1. Remember to soak up the atmosphere. You may be feeling nervous, but this is supposed to be a fun experience and you want to have positive memories of your first race. I was on edge before mine, but lots of people reassured me and gave me encouragement, which helped me to enjoy the event. Breathe deeply, keep calm, and remember why you signed up in the first place.

Finishing my first 10k

  1. When the starting gun goes off, reign in the pace. It’s easy to get carried away and go out too fast, but better to save that energy for later on – a sprint finish is far more impressive than a sprint start!

There’s no other feeling like crossing the finish line for the first time, so if your first race is approaching, remember that this is an experience to enjoy. Taking the time to plan the details will not only help you to get the most out of your day, but to finish with a smile on your face ready to sign up to your next event.

Happy racing!
The Running Princess

Week in Review – The Joy of Running!

As April comes to a close I can hardly believe our trip to Paris happened in the same month – it feels like ages ago! So long ago, in fact, that I’ve had my two weeks off running so this past week I was ready to lace up my running shoes again and get back out there. As usual, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for my week in review.

Ever since watching the London marathon last week, I’ve been absolutely desperate to run again, particularly since that race showed me everything I love about marathons in one morning. I was glued to the TV coverage and wanted nothing more than to be on those streets running 26.2 miles, a sure sign that I was mentally and physically recovered and ready to run again. That meant planning a week that included my usual frequency of running, but without any particular pressure when it came to pace.

Mondayswim walk
Tuesday – easy cycle + swim
Wednesday – easy run
Thursday – walk
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – longer run

As you can see, the week began with a pretty easy day workout-wise. This wasn’t really my intention, however a later finish at work followed by some errands on the way home meant that time had marched on and while I could have gone to the pool, I would have been a bit rushed and I prefer to have my swim then take my time relaxing in the hot tub and sauna, so I decided to simply move my swim to Tuesday since I would be at the gym anyway.

Tuesday was another easy cycle at the gym as I didn’t want to leap into harder workouts just yet, but it was interesting to compare my workout data to last week. I cycled for the same amount of time and with more or less the same effort level, but covered a greater distance, which tells me that my recovery has progressed as I was able to work harder without really realising it. After my cycle I did a little stretching and mobility work before heading down to the pool for 20 lengths. I really enjoyed my swim as the pool was quiet and I felt really in control of my stroke, settling into my rhythm much more quickly.

Wednesday brought much excitement as it was finally time to run! I was quite amused to find that it took a bit more thought to get organised for my run than usual as I had been out of the routine for a couple of weeks, but once I was out the door my legs immediately remembered what they had to do. I decided to run a loop I like which is about 3.5 miles long, including a short uphill climb and delightfully long downhill blast. My plan was to take it relatively easy, to run to feel and just let my body do whatever it wanted to do. I must have been like a coiled spring ready to be set loose as my legs wanted to turn over fairly quickly and I probably ran a little faster than I should at this stage, but it just felt so good to be out in the fresh air and running that I didn’t try to hold back.

IMG_1584There was further excitement when I got home and opened up my copy of Women’s Running which had been delivered. Tina’s write up of the Paris marathon weekend was included so I flipped straight to that and saw the selfie Tina took of the two of us after the Breakfast Run. I finally made it into a running magazine lol! 🙂

78141BE0-3868-40F6-A4E1-D81BAA660633Thursday ended up being another rest day as there was no Ashtanga yoga class this week (my teacher was away for a family wedding and the usual cover teacher wasn’t available). I took a short walk for a bit of air after work then enjoyed a quiet evening at home. It had been a strange day as our senior pupils had their last day in school before their exams and I received the most thoughtful gift from a pupil I had worked wth closely over the last year or two. She had taken the time to produce a beautiful drawing of my cats (and as a tortoiseshell cat, my elderly lady is NOT easy to draw!) as well as a new mug since she had been witness to last term’s Great Mug Disaster. And some chocolate. You can never go wrong with chocolate! In all honesty I never expect my pupils to give me gifts, but this was such a surprise and so thoughtful that I was close to tears. Moments like this remind me of the impact I can have on young people’s lives. Hopefully a positive one!

IMG_1594On Friday, I had a PT session with Steve. Previously these had been on Thursdays, leaving Friday as a complete rest, however he told me the other week that he would have to change this due to a new commitment on a Thursday (those pesky paying clients haha!). This was a little frustrating as I felt we had established a workout week that works for me and I wasn’t sure how to tweak this without upsetting the balance, but in the end we decided that since those sessions are mainly mobility work rather than a high intensity workout, it would be ok to move the session to a Friday. The last time I had a PT session was the day before we left for Paris so I felt a bit out of the way of it, however we did work I was used to, targeting hip and upper back mobility using both that high-tech piece of kit the broom handle and the “giant maraca” that is the core momentum trainer!

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IMG_1603Saturday is parkrun day, and while I have been there as a volunteer over the last couple of weeks, nothing is quite like running 5k on a Saturday morning. The last time I ran was the 1st of April and I was a pacer then, so it’s been a while since I’ve run a 5k in my own way. It’s also been a while since I ran on our main course as we used the alternative course for a few weeks to allow the grass section to firm up and recover a bit. My plan was not to have a plan, just to see what my legs wanted to do and run comfortably hard without pushing too much. Given the time off I expected something in the region of 24:30-25:00, more likely nearer to 25 minutes, but as soon as we started my legs just wanted to go! Conscious that I hadn’t been running for a bit and my legs would have lost some conditioning I did ease off a bit, but still managed to not only finish in 24:15, but managed a Royal Flush Negative Split (each mile faster than the one before) which can be quite tricky when the grass, which can slow you down, is in the middle mile! 8:01, 7:58, 7:45(!) and the last 0.1 nubbin at 6:55 pace! It’s funny how the endurance work for a marathon, coupled with fresh legs, can result in a better-than-expected time.

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IMG_1641Of course I paid for my speed a little with slightly tight calves, but nothing to be worried about. My legs will soon regain their conditioning as I ease back into training. Clearly I’m needing to do some yoga to stretch out, so I’m glad Hatha yoga starts again next week.

After a couple of lazy Sundays, this week it was back to the normal routine of heading out for a run. I decided that 10k would be about right and worked out a route on some familiar roads. It was a nice sunny morning but I spent the first part of the run convinced I had forgotten something as it was so strange to be out on a Sunday morning without my hydration pack and gels that I had needed for my 18 and 20 mile runs! I took it at an easy pace and felt nice and comfortable, like I could go on which is always a good way to finish a Sunday run. Since it was my first longer sun since Paris, I thought it only right that my finishers’ top got an outing!

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IMG_1682And “only” running 10k meant there seemed to be plenty of day left to run a few errands and catch up with some blogging. Lovely!

How has your training been this week?

The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Training Talk Part 3

During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…

Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:

  • Remember that it’s only you who really cares
    This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
    And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.fullsizeoutput_1cf9
  • Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
    In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
    All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.

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  • What did you do that actually surprised you?
    By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.

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The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:

What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again. 

Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…IMG_1388