So You Want To Start Running…?

Perhaps you watched the Boston or London marathons on TV this week. Perhaps you have friends who have been encouraging you to join them for a run. Perhaps your children enjoy Junior parkrun and you’d like to set them a good example. Whatever your reason, at this time of year there are often many people who make the decision to start running.

For me, it was the spring of 2005 and the loss of my grandmother to cancer. I wanted to do something to make a difference for others, and having never run or done anything sporty before in my life, signing up to a charity 5k seemed like a great challenge.

The problem was, I knew nothing about running and had no idea how to get started. I was lucky that I had a PE teacher friend to help me, but not everyone is so fortunate. So if you’re feeling inspired to begin your running journey, today I’m sharing my tips to help make it a bit easier.

NB Remember I’m not a running coach. These tips are simply based on my own experiences and things I wish I’d known when I started.

  • Get fitted for some proper running shoes. Running shoes should be bigger than your usual shoe size to avoid pinching and blisters. It can be confusing seeing rows and rows of different brands and shoe types, but the most important thing is that they feel comfortable. You shouldn’t feel like they need to be “broken in”. If the shoe doesn’t feel good when you try it on, then it’s not the one for you (even if it is a bargain!). Ideally you should be able to try them on before you buy and have a run either in/outside the shop or on a treadmill. Running in the wrong shoes is definitely a mistake I made and it took me a long time to backtrack and find a shoe that suited me.

  • Ladies, your other essential pieces of kit is a sports bra. This is vital no matter what size you are as there are no muscles in this area, only very delicate ligaments which stretch easily through exercise. A good supportive sports bra will keep things in check and help prevent pain when exercising. Again, there are lots of different brands and styles so try a few on to see what feels most comfortable for your size and shape. Just make sure it’s a sports bra designed for high impact activity to give you the best support.

 

  • There’s no need to kit yourself out in expensive clothing right from the start. The most important thing is that you wear something you feel comfortable in. I know I’ve changed how I dress to run over the years as my confidence has grown and if running becomes part of your life then buying some new kit could be something to look forward to. Wicking fabrics are great at moving moisture away from your skin and if you do want some new gear then there are plenty of budget buys available. Check out High Street retailers and discount supermarket chains.

  • If you don’t want to go it alone then find a friend to run with you or consider looking out for a beginners’ group to join. There are plenty of friendly groups running programmes to take you from zero to 5k in a few weeks and many people have success with smartphone apps doing the same thing. Here in Scotland a JogScotland group might be useful. I did almost all of my early running by myself, but it would have been nice to have company. Even just having a friend alongside you to chat can make it much more manageable and can be a good way to have a good old catch up.

 

  • Keep it simple. If you sprint off then you’ll be out of breath in no time. I DEFINITELY made this mistake and it’s a common one when often our only experience of running is sprints in PE at school, or we’re used to high intensity classes and are chasing that same feeling. Instead, focus on how you feel. You should be able to hold a conversation and speak in sentences rather than gasped words. At this stage, time and distance aren’t important. Lay the foundations and get comfortable with your running first.

 

  • It’s ok to be “slow”. Speed is all relative. A new runner might look at my paces and think I’m fast, but my average pace is naught but a warmup for an elite athlete! Even if you feel like you’re moving only slightly faster than a walk, you’re still on your way. Find your rhythm and stick with it. As you get fitter, your pace will naturally quicken with the same effort level. Run your own run and forget about what anyone else is doing.

 

  • Be consistent. Unsurprisingly, going for a run then leaving it for weeks before you try again won’t lead to much improvement. Put your runs in your diary as you would any other commitment and stick to it. I run 3 times per week and 3-4 runs per week is about average. A good pattern might be to run every other day, being sure to leave rest days in between to allow your body to recover and get stronger. If anything feels sore, back off and consider seeking advice from a physio.

 

  • Set yourself targets. I started running in a local park and was using run-walk intervals. I used to aim to increase the length of my run intervals and decrease the walk breaks each time, until eventually I reached the huge milestone of one lap of the park (about 1.5 miles). I was so thrilled you’d have thought I’d run a marathon! I suggest targets like the next lamppost, a certain amount of time, a lap of the park, and so on. Ultimately you might aim to complete your local parkrun – a great place for a beginner to find like-minded people and a supportive, welcoming community.

  • Avoid getting bogged down in detail. You don’t need to be in head-to-toe lycra or wearing a massively expensive running watch. There’s plenty of time for that in the future if you want it. All you need is that pair of running shoes and some comfortable clothes. If you must know your time/distance/pace then there are plenty of free smartphone apps available.

 

  • Remember it’s supposed to be fun! Exercise isn’t a way of punishing yourself for something, it’s an expression of what our bodies can do. Take your time, run your run and enjoy being out in the fresh air improving your fitness. Running benefits not only your physical health but your mental health too. It clears your head and helps sharpen your mind. If you’re not enjoying your run then the chances are you’re running too fast. Ease off the pace, stand tall and repeat a positive message like  “I CAN do this”.

If you are at the beginning of your running journey, welcome. I hope you find everything you want on the roads and trails. Do stop by and keep me up to date with your progress.

What is your reason to run?
Any other tips for beginners or questions to ask?

London Lore

This has been a great week for marathon fans with Boston on Monday and now the London marathon to round it all off. Here in the UK, London is THE big marathon event of the year with around 40,000 lucky ones taking part (those ballot odds just get tougher and tougher) and another 3 million or so watching at home. I may have only started running in my late 20s, but the London marathon has definitely always been a part of my life. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t spend the morning watching the TV coverage – little did I know that one day I would not only run, but actually enter a marathon. And if you’d told me that one day I would be one of those bobbing heads on the TV screen on a Sunday morning in April I’d have laughed in your face. But in 2011, that happened, and now every year I feel the same stab of envy as I sit at home when really I’d like to be on that start line.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

As this post is published, I will no doubt be getting comfortable with a cup of tea and some tissues, for as soon as that iconic theme tune starts I’ll feel the sting of tears in my eyes as the memories come rushing back. They won’t be tears of sadness, but of the emotions attached to the race and the distance, triggered by that music. I’ll watch the pre-event build up with all those emotive profiles of everyday people running for great causes; I’ll watch the elites battle it out for glory and marvel at how fast they’re moving; and I’ll still be there watching as someone dressed as a rhino is interviewed on Tower Bridge. Frankly, I’ll be watching for longer than it would take me to actually run the race!

And unsurprisingly, as soon as the Boston marathon articles began to fizzle out from my news feeds, the London marathon articles began to get more and more frequent. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting ones that caught my eye for a Sunday morning, London-focused version of Friday Finds. Let’s call it Sunday Stories 🙂

For those wondering about what it takes to run the London marathon, this piece from Kate Carter at The Guardian (fun fact: I was listening to a podcast featuring her when I finished the Paris marathon a couple of weeks ago!) goes into the detail and explains why London is such a special event. I know she’s aiming for a sub-3 hour time this year so fingers crossed she reaches her goal.

For those interested in some of the figures behind entry to the race and its history, this next piece breaks down some of the numbers and different options for entering. Debate surrounding entry to London resurfaces every year both when the ballot opens and when the results are sent out, but it remains a difficult topic with no easy solution that will please everyone.

Up at the sharp end, world records have been set at London – indeed the women’s marathon record was set there and has remained unbroken since 2003. For those who enjoy the competition of watching those who are the best in the business going for glory, this preview of the contenders from Sports Illustrated could be of use. There’s a lot of interest surrounding the men’s marathon world record this year so it will be exciting to watch and see if any of this year’s field can lower the mark a little further.

In that elite field I will be particularly interested in watching the performance of one of my favourite athletes, Jo Pavey. Pavey has run the London marathon on one previous occasion, the same year as me in fact, but she was a little quicker with a time of 2:28:24! Jo Pavey is an inspiring athlete who is a great example of making things work around family commitments, and despite being older than many of her competitors she can still deliver world class performances. In this article, she also talks of the 2007 World Championships and the medal she will finally be awarded a decade later.

For many runners, regardless of pace, Strava is an integral part of training and the activity tracking site recently released data about those training for the London marathon. They also did this for Boston (included in this post) so the real stat geeks among us can compare how two very different fields prepare for the demands of 26.2 miles. Exactly the kind of running geekery I enjoy!

And finally, the London marathon has become synonymous not only with charity fundraising, but with world records. No, not Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, but records like the fastest marathon dressed as a superhero or the fastest marathon dribbling a ball. Check out this video for some of the highlights over the last decade.

To those running, the very vest of luck. You can read my tips for marathons here, but my best advice is to relax and enjoy it. Soon, you’ll have a medal to wear with pride and a memory that will never fade.

In 2017 the London marathon charity of the year is Heads Together, spearheaded by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry who want to increase conversations around mental health. As part of this drive to raise awareness, the BBC challenged ten people with different mental health issues to run the marathon. The first part of the two-part documentary following their progress aired on Thursday and if you are able to access it, I highly recommend watching it.

Tips for Marathon Success

It’s spring marathon season, and whether you’re lucky enough to have a place in London or are heading to one of the other fantastic marathons here in the UK or abroad, you might be starting to feel a bit nervous. There are plenty of articles out there offering hints and tips to help make your first (or second, or third…) marathon a success, and after 9 marathons I have a few of my own to share…

  • Get your name printed on your running top. Having people call your name and encourage you as you run is a great motivator. When I finished my first marathon (Paris, 2010) I couldn’t understand why the French volunteers were calling to me by name to hand me my medal, etc. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my race number haha!
  • The day before the race try to visit the finishing line. Know what the last 200m or so looks like. Visualise how you want to finish the race and hold onto that as you run to create the finish you want. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s always something left for a big finish. I’ll always remember turning the final corner in London and seeing the finish line ahead of me. Amazing!
  • When you arrive at the start area on race day join the queue for the toilets. When you come out of the toilet, get straight back in the queue. By the time you get to the front of the queue you’ll be pleased you did! There will likely be some toilets along the route, but if you’re nervous then I definitely recommend multiple visits before you start running!

  • Mentally break the race down into manageable chunks e.g. by distance (not 26.2 miles but a half marathon and 2x 10k, or 4x 5 miles and 2 parkruns, etc) or by landmarks. In London I remember this being to Tower Bridge (halfway) then to Canary Wharf, Big Ben and so on. I tend to divide both by distance (I take a gel every 5 miles plus an extra with 5k to go so I run 4x 5 miles plus 2 parkruns) and by landmarks, which in Paris are the Bastille, Bois de Vincennes, halfway mark, Eiffel Tower, etc. Mentally it’s much more manageable.

  • If you have supporters with you, make sure you know where they’re going to be (and that they know what you’re wearing). It can be tricky to spot each other in a crowd, so think about how to make this a bit easier e.g. tracking apps offered by your marathon, getting your supporters to text you a photo of where they’re standing, using signs or visible objects such as balloons to make it easier to spot someone. It’s an incredible mental boost to see a familiar face in the crowd so you want to do what you can to find each other (especially if you opt to give your support crew extra gels/drinks/blister plasters!). Usually Steve is running, but he was a spectator when I ran in London and I knew he would be at Tower Bridge which is notoriously busy. I felt quite down when I thought I had missed him so it was great when I then spotted him waving to me.

  • As you near the finish, regardless of how you feel, scrape your hair off your face, wipe your mouth and nose then smile – you’re getting your photo taken!

  • Be prepared to experience every emotion imaginable in the space of a few seconds as you cross the finish line – you’ve just achieved something amazing so it’s ok to cry! (Wearing sunglasses is great to cover this up and make you look fresh as a daisy! I ALWAYS wear my sunglasses for a marathon).

  • If you need it, take time to reflect on your experience before meeting your supporters. Most finish areas have plenty of space and are restricted to runners only, but if you sit down remember you might need someone to help you get up again! Your legs will feel like they’ve been put on backwards for a day or two after the race – this is normal!

  • Plan in advance where you’re going to meet your supporters and stick to the plan. After the effort you’ve put in it may be the only thing you can focus on as you shuffle along. Making a phone call may not always be possible to communicate any changes so it’s important to know where you’re heading. Remember there could be tens of thousands of people, so “I’ll be by the toilets” might be a little vague and your mind won’t be at its sharpest. Most races will have a reunion area so arrange to meet by letter X or Z or whatever works for you. We usually have a backup plan as well in case that doesn’t work.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience. You’re running a marathon and that’s something amazing. Be sure to celebrate afterwards. And remember – nobody cares about your time except for you.

Whatever marathon you’re running, good luck!

Friday Finds – 21st April

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

At this time year there are always loads of running-related articles around: from coverage of the Boston and London marathons (as well as the countless other spring marathons taking place around the world) to advice on how to get started/run your first race/get faster that come hand in hand with the improving weather. As a result, there are plenty of articles and stories for me to share with you today, covering a wide range of topics…

I’m going to begin with some positive news surrounding parkrun. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you may remember my outrage when Little Stoke parkrun closed after the parish council wanted to charge for the use of the park every week, a move which flew in the face of parkrun’s message of being free forever. But last weekend it emerged that the government is to consult on proposed legislation which would ban councils in England from charging volunteer communities (such as parkrun, a not-for-profit organisation) offering free weekly events in public parks. Parkrun is a fantastic community doing great things to motivate more and more people to exercise regularly, so I for one will be pleased to see such legislation put in place.

For those who enjoy cycling (something I really should do more often as I always love it when I do) then the results of a University of Glasgow study published this week provide some good news. The five year study suggests that those who cycle to work cut their risk of death from causes such as cancer and heart disease by over 40%. Great news for those with an active commute, but as ever the downside to this is that the infrastructure for cyclists in this country needs to be improved in order to tempt more people away from 4 wheels and on to 2!

Also published this week were the results of an interesting study into how “contagious” our exercise habits are. Factoring in our propensity to befriend those who are like us, the study looked instead at a network of worldwide participants and analysed a wealth of data to show that, when it comes to running, friends do influence each other. This seemed particularly pronounced when there was a degree of competitiveness involved, and gender differences were noted too. The article mentions that the researchers now plan to look at how this applies to other forms of exercise, and I think it would be really interesting to compare the results.

Something I’m becoming more interested in is the mental side of training and how a strong mind can help improve performance. Part of my preparation for a race, particularly a marathon, is visualising how I want to finish and using long runs to develop strategies to overcome negative thinking. This next article explains a little more about why building mental strength is important, and how we might begin to do that.

And finally, you may remember back in November I included an article about Harry Potter yoga…well now there’s some video! I think my favourite thing about the whole concept is the “Downward Dumbledore” and now I really want to have a go at this. Any takers?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

7 For 2017 – Quarterly Review

At the start of this year I set my 7 goals for 2017 and at the end of March we were already one quarter of the way through 2017! But am I a quarter of the way towards achieving my goals? Today I want to check in with them and see what progress I’ve made.

1. Set some new race PBs
I’ve only raced twice so far in 2017 and achieved a PB at one of those races (the Inverness Half Marathon) so I guess that’s a 50% record. My main target when it came to this goal was a new marathon PB, but the hot conditions in Paris put paid to that one. Watch this space for my future plans as this is one goal I’m not ready to let go of yet!
My second target was to finally better my 2012 half marathon PB which I achieved in Inverness. I wanted to get a bit closer to 1:52:XX and with !:53:03 I came pretty close over a hilly course, so that’s definitely a big tick!
Finally I thought I might have a go at breaking 50 minutes for 10k. That one is more of a summer/autumn goal when I tend to enter more 10k races so that will be on the backburner for now.
Progress: 1/3 achieved

IMG_72602. Run my 100th parkrun
To achieve this I simply need to be consistent in participating in parkrun every Saturday. So far, this has happened. I missed one parkrun while I was in Paris (I did the Breakfast Run instead) and am currently taking a couple of weeks off to recover post-marathon so am missing a further two, but with 73 parkruns under my belt now I still have a little leeway there to achieve 100 by the end of the year so long as I can continue to be healthy and injury-free. Fingers crossed!
Progress: On Track 

IMG_72953. Maintain my Step Goal Streak
At the end of 2016 I had a step goal streak on my activity tracker of 6 months straight, so my goal for 2017 was to take that initially to 12 months, but to ideally take at least 10,000 steps per day for the full year. As I write this I’m on day 292 so am closing in on the milestone of 300. Getting my steps has become habit for me now and I incorporate extra walks into my day which really make me feel better, so this one is currently looking good.
Progress: On Track

4. Read at least 30 books
I have this one set as a challenge in Goodreads so I can keep a close eye on how I’m getting on. In 2016 I managed 27 books (but one of them, rather ambitiously, was War and Peace!) so 30 should be do-able when I consider I’m likely to read several books during my relaxing summer holiday. At the moment I’ve read 8, which Goodreads tells me is 27% of my total and puts me comfortably ahead of the quarter-way mark.
Progress: On Track

5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
This was one I knew I had to really work on as I’m a natural night owl but have to rise quite early in the morning. During marathon training I got better and better at getting to bed early, and I’m trying to be a bit more conscious of going to bed when I feel tired rather than sitting downstairs longer for no good reason. On Saturdays I’ve become used to an afternoon nap, and I even had a short nap after one of my long runs as I felt too weary to eat! What I learned in this last marathon training cycle is to prioritise rest and early nights much sooner in the process. For the first month or so I was quite busy but since my runs were still fairly short, I felt ok. When the accumulated training load started to take effect, I really noticed the difference in how tired I felt. Next time I’ll make sure I’m well-rested from the start.
Progress: Much improved 

6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
Perhaps the one I’ve done least about. I have continued with my two yoga classes per week and not only have I noticed the difference in my flexibility and strength from this, but my Ashtanga teacher commented that she could see the difference in the way my body moves. Both of these are really positive for my running. Unfortunately I’ve not done quite as much outside of these classes as I would like. I’m still to work through my Hit Reset book from Jasyoga, but I have incorporated one or two things from the associated videos into my post-run routine, most notably lying with my legs up the wall for 10-15 minutes which I am convinced is making a difference to my recovery. I also include some mobility work in this routine and my gym routine, however I’d still like to find a place for more frequent yoga practice in my day to day life. Perhaps now my marathon training cycle is complete I can turn my attention to this one.
Progress: Working on it!

IMG_13287. Blog more consistently
To develop from my 2016 postaweek commitment, in 2017 my aim was to write at least one post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. So far, this has gone well. Friday Finds has actually gone out on time every week and I have published a Week in Review every Monday. Many weeks have seen other posts go out too, so to date I’ve met my goal on this one and still have plenty of things up my sleeve which I’d love to write about. I have gained some new followers along the way (hello to you all!) and since I’m fond of statistics, it will be interesting to look at my stats at the end of the year and see how they compare to 2016.
Progress: On Track 

IMG_1461When I sat down to write this post I wasn’t actually sure I’d made much progress towards my goals at all, but writing it all down has given me a great opportunity to reflect and realise that I have. Several of my goals require long-term commitment, and that commitment is there. I’ll check in with them again in the summer to see how things are going.

How are you getting on with your goals for 2017?
Any book recommendations or topics you would like me to cover in a post?

Week in Review – The Importance of Recovery

Look around any social media running group in the days after a marathon and you’ll find loads of people asking questions about when they should run again. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that. Just like training plans, recovery plans should be tailored to suit the individual: some people will be good to go after a few days, others respond better to at least a couple of weeks. Notice I said recovery plan. The thing about most training plans is that they stop on race day, but having a plan in place to recover properly and return to running when your body is ready is just as important, if not more so when thinking about future races. Those people asking the questions have no doubt followed some kind of training plan to get ready for their race, but not planned their recovery and are left feeling lost. I’ve decided to continue my week in review posts while I’m in my recovery phase to share what works for me. As with previous weeks I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL.

In the first couple of days after a marathon there’s no way I would want to go for a run as I’m still sore and tired, but by the end of the week I’m usually feeling a lot better and it would be easy at this stage to get carried away and get straight back to training. I’ve learned the hard way that this doesn’t work for me: while my legs may feel better, my CV system is still recovering and the stress of running increases the chance of picking up an injury. A marathon takes weeks, or even months, of preparation and the body needs a chance to recover properly afterwards. Over my last two or three marathon training cycles I’ve found a recovery strategy that works for me, and in the first week post-race my activity is limited to walking and yoga (with plenty of time spent with my feet up and enjoying some treats!). Here’s how my first recovery week looked:

Monday – walking in Paris then travel home
Tuesday – walk
Wednesday – walk
Thursday – walk + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – walk
Saturday – parkrun volunteer + walk
Sunday – walk

Spot the pattern? 😉

I awoke on Monday feeling really not too bad. My legs were weary of course, but nothing felt particularly problematic other than the huge blister I had picked up on my right foot! Once I had this dressed, my walking wasn’t too bad. Ok so stairs felt a bit tricky, but they were still do-able and the more I moved around the better I felt.

After breakfast we finished packing and set off towards the Champs Élysées where we took some photos and had a walk down to the Adidas store for a browse before heading for our favourite cafe.

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Sadly the next thing we had to do was get the train to the airport for our flight home. As usual, the departure lounge was filled with a mixture of slightly sore runners and families who had clearly been to Disneyland Paris. We had a snack (again!), chatted to some other runners we know then got on our flight. Then it was home via the Chinese takeaway for a quick dinner before heading to bed.

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On Tuesday morning I had an appointment with my hairdresser so the easiest thing to do seemed to be to walk there and back. That served the dual purpose of keeping me moving and making sure I still got my 10,000 steps for the day since I have the goal of maintaining my step goal streak this year!

Wednesday was similar. I had an appointment in town so opted to walk there since it was quite a nice day. I quite like ditching the car during school holidays and getting around on foot as much as possible. Steve met me after my appointment for a lunch date as he had bought an Itison voucher for a restaurant we hadn’t been to in a long time – 2 courses and a glass of wine for a good price. I had a yummy Parma pizza followed by a crêpe with Nutella and strawberry. I can confirm it was delicious and made me feel a little bit like I was still in Paris!

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The remainder of Wednesday was fairly leisurely, but rounded off with a Skype call to be interviewed for the Tough Girl Daily podcast. It was really nice chatting to Sarah but I was just so relieved that the technology worked as we had originally scheduled the call for Tuesday but had some issues. I do love technology, but it can be a real pain when it doesn’t work!

Thursday was another beautiful day, so after a fairly relaxed morning I headed out for a walk in the afternoon. Despite living in a fairly residential part of town, there are still a number of paths and trails which are great for running and walking and I have enjoyed exploring these since we moved into our house last year. On this occasion I spotted a path I hadn’t explored before so, not being in any rush, I followed it through some trees along by a stream until it emerged into a housing development. The rest of my walk was on familiar routes, but it was nice to add something new into the mix.

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In the evening I had my Ashtanga yoga class which I was looking forward to as I knew I would feel great after a good stretch. I did notice my body a little tight at first, but by the end of the class my mobility felt almost back to normal which was a good sign. I opted to walk to yoga then met Steve afterwards as our friend Linda had promised us a takeaway and beer on the house when we got back from Paris (she has one of the longest established Chinese restaurants in the area – it’s been in the same family for three generations). This gave us a chance to try out our new novelty chopsticks which I bought at Pylones in the Carrousel du Louvre. They’ll stick an Eiffel Tower on anything these days (and the chances are I’ll buy it lol!).

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On Friday morning I had one last errand – to get my front tyres changed on my car (oh the glamour!). I dropped the car off at the garage then walked into town whilst listening to the Tough Girl Daily podcast episode which had come out that morning and featured my interview (I wanted to listen to it before I got carried away and shared it with the world, just in case!). You can find out more and listen here.

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I met Steve for a coffee then ran a few errands in town before going back for my car. I then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon before we headed out to eat. This week we were treating my parents to a meal at our usual Friday night haunt as a thank you for looking after my cat while we were away. Ordinarily I simply bring them back a gift (which I still did) but since the cat’s needs were a little more complex this time with some medications she’s been on, I wanted to make sure we showed our appreciation.

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I know I’ve mentioned my cat’s health a few times recently as for a time she wasn’t well at all due to some side effects of a chronic health condition she has developed. To be honest, I was preparing myself for the end, but thanks to some new medication, she’s doing brilliantly. She was a transformed cat when I got back from Paris which is great news! Lots of you have asked after her in your comments, so thank you.

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My standard blogging setup!

On Saturday I was on the roster to volunteer at parkrun. Putting my name down in advance ensures I don’t get carried away and decide to run, which I think could have happened otherwise since I was feeling good from the rest, yoga and walks. I was a barcode scanner which is one of my favourite jobs and it was a lovely morning.

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After parkrun Steve and I headed off to meet his brother for a coffee. Steve does this every Saturday but since I’m usually at yoga I miss out. No yoga during the school holidays meant I could invite myself along for a cup of tea and a bacon croissant. Yum!

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Checking social media over my tea, I found a few people had tagged me in a post from the Edinburgh Marathon Festival. Turned out one of the pictures of me from the weekend in 2015 when I ran the 5k and 10k on Saturday followed by the half marathon and final relay leg on Sunday had been used in their Easter weekend post. Seeing that photo brought back great memories of that weekend and reminded me of all the things I love about running. Up until then I had no desire to run just yet, but after seeing that picture I could feel my mind starting to turn its attention to getting back out there again soon. That’s why recovery time is so important – it’s not just about making sure your body is ready to run again, but that your mind is too. The mental aspect of the sport is often much more important than the physical.

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Sunday marked the final chapter of our first post-marathon week. Steve went for a run since he has an event much sooner than me. While he got showered and changed I walked into town and he drove down to meet me when he was ready. The reason for this was our traditional “one week on” celebration of a marathon – breakfast out! We headed to our favourite cafe for a cooked breakfast then went for our usual Sunday coffee before heading home – me on foot to ensure I got my 10,000 steps!

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Yes, we ate it all. No, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty!

For me, this was a great recovery week – I kept moving, I stretched my body and I enjoyed some treats as well as spending time with family. During marathon training it’s easy to deny yourself treats or neglect friends/family. The post-marathon recovery period is a great time to address this. Your body isn’t going to lose a huge amount of fitness, in fact it will thank you for the time off when you return to running. When the time is right, that running will feel enjoyable rather than the chore it could be if you try to run too soon. I’m not claiming to be an expert in anything more than my own body, but if you’re struggling to work out what to do in the days after a marathon then perhaps my approach will help in some way. Whatever you do, take at least a few days off and be kind to yourself.

In my second recovery week I’ll return to work which will reinstate some routine and I’ll increase my “training” to include some light cross training (swimming and cycling at a low intensity) in addition to walking and yoga. Watch out for my post detailing how that goes.

If you’d like to read more about my recovery strategies in previous marathon cycles, then here are some links:

What is your recovery strategy?
What is your favourite post-race treat?

Marathon Monday

Right now it’s Monday morning. All my social media, blog and news feeds have been filling up all weekend with posts from Boston and articles about the Boston marathon. Me? I’m going back to work for the start of the new term and even though it’s really only been a week since I ran a marathon, I’m still feeling just a teeny weeny bit envious of everyone who will go left on Hereford, right on Boylston today. So this morning I thought I’d bring you a post dedicated to some of the articles I’ve found on the Boston marathon recently. Think of it as a kind of Monday Morning extra edition of Friday Finds for this Marathon Monday…

There’s something special about the Boston marathon, it’s a kind of holy grail of events thanks partly to the need to run a qualifying time (BQ) to get in. But that’s not the only reason it’s such a special race, and in this article from Competitor, Toni Reavis explores some of the reasons why.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into putting on a race like Boston, then this article from Women’s Running might help. It includes stats from the 2016 race that reveal just how much is needed, from the safety pins to the volunteers and everything else in between. Some of the numbers are incredible!

And for the stat fans (like me) this next article reveals some further insights about Boston marathon participants based on data provided by Strava. Given the need for runners to qualify for this race, I would be interested to compare this data to the stats from another race with a more “diverse” field.

This year’s race is particularly special as it marks 50 years since Kathrine Switzer first ran. Pictures of that event have become iconic in representing the fight for women’s inclusion in distance running. This year, Switzer will once more toe the line to celebrate the progress that has been made. If it wasn’t for her, then women like me wouldn’t be able to run marathons today, and that deserves celebration. Here are two articles I’ve come across which cover this pivotal moment:

It might be a little late for those running today, but it’s still interesting to learn a little more about what the elites eat during race week. I know in the days before a marathon I think very carefully about what I consume to make sure I avoid any potential difficulties, but some of these answers might surprise you!

And finally, this year’s male and female winners will find themselves the recipients of a bonus prize. No, not money or a trophy, but a name. That’s right, a name. Two guide dog puppies, expected to be born on Marathon Monday, will be named after the champions. What’s more, it is hoped that the pups will ultimately become running partners for their handlers. I think that’s fantastic.

Good luck to everyone racing in Boston today. Please stop by and share your stories afterwards.
The Running Princess

Tough Girl

Back in the summer of 2015 I spotted a tweet from double Olympian and Commonwealth Games medallist Liz Yelling sharing a link to a new podcast she had been interviewed for. Thinking it sounded interesting, I downloaded the podcast and loved it. I immediately subscribed and downloaded the handful of previous episodes so I could catch up. I was hooked and have remained a huge fan ever since. What was that podcast? The Tough Girl Podcast hosted by Sarah Williams (I wrote a bit about this in my Podcast Picks post last summer).

Everything Sarah wants to achieve through her podcast, website and social media channels really speaks to me. Her core aim is to motivate and inspire women and girls, to provide positive role models of women pushing boundaries and taking on challenges. Whether that’s running, cycling, swimming or something completely different like climbing, rowing or powerlifting, the chances are there’s a podcast episode to suit you. Nor does it matter how old you are – Sarah has interviewed guests from 17 to 70 – and age should never be a barrier to trying something new. These are the very things I feel passionate about. So many women are put off participating in sport or taking on challenges for a variety of reasons, and I want to try and help break down those barriers, perhaps even be a positive role model, and show that we can all do ANYTHING we put our minds to. For me, this podcast was perfect and listening to all the incredible women on it made me feel part of something special.

Such was my passion for Sarah’s mission, I found myself getting more and more involved. First, I became part of a team of volunteers helping her with some of her social media commitments (you can follow her Facebook page here and female listeners can become part of the Tough Girl Tribe, a closed group of supportive and like-minded women). More recently, I decided to financially help support the podcast by making a monthly contribution through Patreon. For me, this was important as Sarah puts so much time and effort into everything she does and produces some fantastic free content. Support on Patreon is really the only way she can earn an income from that work right now, and while the content is free there are all sorts of costs involved in producing a quality podcast, maintaining a website and so on. I get value from the podcast and wanted to do my bit to help out.

A week ago I was lying on the floor of my Paris hotel room with my legs up the wall to start my post-marathon recovery. I’ve done this after every long run this year and like to use the time to catch up on social media posts. On marathon days there are always loads, but one in particular caught my eye. One of the awesome members of the Tough Girl Tribe had put up a post inviting other members to write positive, inspiring messages for me to read after the race. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed one from Sarah asking me if I would like to be a guest on her daily podcast, a short daily update she has been producing to help keep her accountable during the preparations for her next challenge. I have been listening to these podcasts and been struck by how honest and real Sarah has been – not every day can be completely positive, regardless of what social media might have us believe, and sometimes we have to acknowledge our struggles and be honest about how we are feeling. It was listening to these episodes that motivated me to become a patron of the show.

I’ve never been on a podcast, nor have I vlogged or shared video/audio content of myself on any social media platform, but I agreed to the podcast interview as I thought it was a great opportunity to discuss my running and perhaps inspire someone else to give it a go. I feel like I know Sarah having listened to all her podcasts and having a previous conversation with her, so I knew it would feel like a chat between friends. The interview took place via Skype on Wednesday and the episode went live on Friday morning (I got a bit over-excited and shared it just about everywhere!). It’s not long, only around 15 minutes, but I’d love for you to have a listen. If you don’t already subscribe to the Tough Girl Podcast (or Daily Podcast) then I highly recommend it. I listened to the latest instalment of 7 Women 7 Challenges during the Paris Marathon as I wanted to be inspired by the awesome women involved and their words will forever be linked in my mind with different parts of that day.

I was delighted to be interviewed and so wanted to share it with you today. You can access the show notes for the episode and listen via Libsyn here (or if you prefer to use your favourite podcast directory, search for Tough Girl Daily Podcast). Alternatively, you can listen via the YouTube link below. I hope you enjoy it.

If you’d like to find out more about Sarah Williams, check out this interview she did for another blogger or visit her website.

And remember: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Friday Finds – 14th April

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

I can hardly believe that this time last week I was in Paris getting ready to run the marathon and now I’m back home trying to type this with my cat draped across my arm! What a difference a week makes! Still, it’s the Easter holiday weekend here in the UK, so whatever you’re doing I hope you have fun. Let’s kick it off with a little bit of light reading…

One of the stories I included last week surrounded the Tehran marathon and the disappointing news that female entrants had been told they would not be allowed to run the marathon course. Instead, they were offered the chance to run on an indoor track. I continued to follow this story while I was away last weekend and was thrilled to see many women stand up to this order either by creating their own route or, in a couple of notable cases, running the official route alongside the men anyway. I do love to hear of people standing up for what they believe in, particularly when it comes to equal opportunities for all.

There have been many studies in recent years looking at the connection between exercise and life expectancy. This week, details of a new study emerged which suggested running to be much more powerful than other forms of activity at increasing life expectancy, with an average of 3 years added to a runner’s life. Apparently 1 hour of running can add 7 hours to someone’s life (and not because that run feels like it takes 7 hours lol!). That seems as good as reason as any to lace up and get out there!

For those of us who like to race, water stations can present a bit of a difficulty. Cups can be awkward to drink from on the move (I usually manage to choke!) and while bottles are much easier, they’re not the most environmentally friendly. Step forward the new edible bottle you may have seen shared on social media this week. I watched a video on this product that showed people simply popping this edible bubble of fluid in their mouths, and the creators believe it could be used successfully at races. The article here suggests it will be piloted at the London marathon, so if anyone is running it I’d love to know if they get a chance to try this out.

In a week when science delivered the news of the increased life expectancy in runners and the edible water bubble, perhaps one of its best achievements was in working out just why shoelaces come undone. We’ve all been there, tied them nice and tight then looked down mid-run to see a lace flapping about with every stride. It all comes down to inertial forces it seems, and while some knots might be better than others, sadly no definitive solution has been suggested. Science, get on that one next!

And finally, we’ve all seen those pictures of Strava art and marvelled at the time and planning involved in creating a simple outline or forming a few words, but this week two runners from Cardiff definitely won the prize for the best Strava art ever…a Welsh dragon! The advance planning and 8 hours of running involved certainly reveal their dedication and I’d love to see if runners from the rest of the home nations have a go at something similar. Any takers…?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

If you’ve read my previous posts on my trip to Paris last weekend (if not you can catch up here and here) then you’ll know it was a pretty busy weekend. And if you read my week in review then you’ll also know that marathon day didn’t entirely go to plan. In this post, you’ll learn a bit more about what happened.

IMG_1376Like any marathoner, in the days preceding the race I developed an obsession with checking the weather forecast for Sunday. The pattern went a bit like this:

Day 1 – Sunday = hot
Day 2 – Sunday = hotter
Day 3 – Sunday = hotter still…

And so on. Not the best conditions for this poor Scot who trained through the rains and winds of winter, with temperatures peaking around 12C (low 50s F). Everyone I spoke to over race weekend said the same: It’s going to be hot. Keep hydrated. I’ll probably take it easy…

Take it easy? But I put in weeks and weeks of training to get a sub-4, I wrote about it all over my blog and actually confessed to my goal whenever someone asked. Here it was looking like that goal was drifting away before the race had even begun.

So I reset my goal.

Instead of fighting to hit my paces, I would start out comfortably and just see what happened. If it became obvious that a sub-4 was out of the question, then I would just enter another race and try again. With that settled in my mind, it became much easier to head into race day without massive pressure to perform.

Race day began, of course, with an early alarm call. We knew that the hotel would serve breakfast from 6:30 and wanted to be down there as early as possible to give us plenty of time to finish getting ready before walking over to Avenue Foch, which we had realised we could reach really quickly from where we were.

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As we walked up to drop off our bags, it was already clear that it was going to be a warm day. Normally I would wear a long sleeved top, or at the very least some arm warmers, and feel slightly cool walking to the race, but not this time. This time I was wearing exactly what I would wear to run, with no extras. And I felt perfectly comfortable. Just how warm was it going to get? And when?

Like last year, there was a security check to enter the runners’ area. First our race numbers were checked, then a bag check, but this was fairly quick and we had expected it anyway. We both dropped off our bags, took a couple of photos and headed for the toilet queues before walking the short distance to the Champs Élysées (where there was a second check of race numbers) and the access points for each wave. Since I had hoped for a sub-4 time I was in the 3:45 wave and Steve was in the 3:15, so after one final selfie we parted ways to join the crowds trying to access the start area (this happens every year and my advice is just expect it and go with it – you’ll get in fine as the waves start to move forward).

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Once inside the start area I had a bit of space to take in my surroundings and snap a couple of pictures. I then decided I’d best have one last toilet stop (you know how it is – as soon as you think about nipping to the loo you immediately HAVE to go!) so joined a short queue. Unfortunately as I waited the 4 hour group was walked forward, engulfing the area I was standing in, which meant an inevitable delay to my start time as I would miss my wave heading out. I did manage to squeeze my way to the front of this wave, but in addition to the wave starts, Paris also splits the waves into the left and right hand sides of the road and staggers their starts. This allows volunteers to clear any discarded clothing/bottles/pre-marathon debris from the road. My group was walked forwards to the start line, then the right hand side was set off first and it seemed to take forever. At one point I wondered if all 57,000 entrants were being allowed through in this one group! A few people stared to climb over the barriers into this wave, but it seemed more sensible just to wait it out. The race is chip timed so there is no need to worry. Experience of this event has taught me just to be patient around the start and go with the flow.

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Eventually, we were underway. I had decided to listen to podcasts during the race to give me something to focus on, but didn’t start the first one immediately to give me a chance to monitor my pace and settle in to my rhythm. I waited until after the first mile to press play when I felt that I had adjusted into a suitable pace.

For the first 5k along to the Bastille, everything was ticking along nicely. I was right on my target pace and was managing to run in the shade at the side of the road. This continued until the 5 mile mark when I took my first gel, but by the time I hit 10k and the Bois de Vincennes it was starting to feel bit harder. The course had been narrow at points which had slowed me down, there were some short inclines and all of a sudden the sun was beating down with no real respite.

My second gel at 10 miles gave me a lift, as did the cheer point from one of my favourite groups the Paris Frontrunners, part of an international LGBT running organisation. The gentlemen of the group, in drag, cheering us on and waving pompoms always makes me smile and gives renewed energy for the next part of the course.

But by the time I reached half way I was beginning to flag. I already knew I was off pace for a sub-4, but now a PB was slipping away as well. At first this worried me, not because of my desire for a PB, but because it was feeling hard much sooner than it should. Having spoken to others after the race, I felt much better as everyone described reaching a point (somewhere between 13-18 miles) at which they just thought, “nope,” and switched their attention to simply getting to the end. Thinking about the relative paces of these runners and the times they began the race, I think everyone came up against this at roughly the same time of day, towards the later part of the morning and what is effectively the hottest part of the day. But when you’re mid-race and alone (or as alone as you can be when surrounded by tens of thousands of others having the same struggle!) it’s hard to know that.

What I remember is of having a very strange experience: my legs weren’t sore, nothing was tight or off, it was just getting more and more difficult to get my legs to move. I described it to Steve as being like wading through treacle and he said he felt something similar. Presumably the heat (I think it rose to about 24C/mid 70s F rapidly and there was no shade other than the tunnels along the quai) was sucking all the energy away as our bodies were having to work so much harder to keep us cool. I noted my heart rate was higher than it had been on training runs where I was running quicker and knew that this race was just going to be about completing the distance healthily.

The further I ran, the more I saw people who were struggling – people at the side of the road clearly in a bad way, people on stretchers and the sounds of ambulance sirens. I would imagine most of this was caused by dehydration and was glad I had opted to fill my hydration pack right up with an electrolyte drink. I also picked up water at each aid station to take a sip and pour water down my back. And as for the hoses – what sweet relief! They were icy cold and each run through would elicit an involuntary noise, but it was so worth it!

At mile 18 beyond the Eiffel Tower I took a cup of that delightful pink Isostar drink that I believe to be rocket fuel. I always run well after that, but sadly it doesn’t last all the way to the end!

One thing I did find interesting was that despite the need for walking breaks to cool down and taking my time at aid stations collecting a sugar lump and orange segment, I was constantly surrounded by the same people, always looking at the same running tops. Clearly everyone was having the same battle that day in Paris. And despite my perception of not running well/taking lots of walk breaks, when I watched my race video I was doing something resembling decent running in every single part. It just goes to show how your perception can be skewed by the tough moments!

There was a slight change to the final miles this year, meaning the run through the Bois de Boulogne was a little different. I knew my watch was about 0.2ish of a mile ahead of the mile markers, so just kept trusting the information I was seeing, knowing that the end would finally come. Finally passing the 26 mile sign at the roundabout outside the Bois de Boulogne is the sign that the finish line is near, and that’s where I found my extra spurt to take me to the end – I even made a valiant effort to race Superman, but he got me right at the end!

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Finally crossing the line and stopping my watch, I fully expected the usual wave of emotion and tears that accompany the end of a marathon…but they didn’t come. On reflection, I think my reframing the event as a long training run meant that despite my relief at being able to stop running once and for all, that same rush wasn’t there. I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do on this occasion, and was simply using this run as a stepping stone towards running an autumn race. The fact that I didn’t wake up feeling like my legs were on backwards was further testament to this: the race felt tough, but I clearly didn’t work all-out otherwise my legs would have felt much worse.

As I moved through the finish area collecting my T-shirt, medal and refreshments (I opted for water, another banana, an apple and enjoyed an orange segment on the move) I noticed lots of people seeking medical attention, more than I think I’ve noticed before, and felt glad once again to have reached the finish line without any ill-effects.

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Reclaimed bag in hand, I went to find Steve who was waiting for me at the agreed spot having had a very similar race experience to me. I got myself sorted out then we joined the queue for some photos. Isostar France had set up a couple of backdrops and were advertising free photos which would be published on their Facebook page. We got a photo together at one backdrop then went to the other for individual photos. We then shuffled off to take photos next to the rather apt “I made it” backdrop before our short walk back to the hotel (and the “Everest” that was the stairs to our room!).

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The first thing I did was lie with my legs up the wall for a good 10-15 minutes which really made me feel better. It was then time for a shower, change and catch up on social media posts before heading out to meet some others for some food. We opted for a nearby pub which we had been to before as we had spotted this encouraging sign the day before:

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We then rounded off our day with a short walk along to the Tocadéro to watch the Eiffel Tower as it was lit up with sparkling lights.

 

This marathon may not have been what I wanted it to be, but I’m not letting it get me down. There are some things you can control on race day – clothing, nutrition, attitude – and some you can’t, weather being one of the most obvious. Could I have pushed to run faster? Maybe, but I would probably not have made it to the end of the race and would be facing a lengthy recovery period before I could run again. By making the decision to ease off and simply complete the race, I know I’m in a strong position to train through the summer and enter an autumn marathon to have another go at breaking that 4 hour mark. A marathon is a strange beast: training can go absolutely perfectly yet anything can happen on the day. Much as I love Paris, this simply wasn’t the time for me to reach my goal. Next time, things might be very different. At the end of the day, with 4:32:07 I still ran a respectable time, even though my perception of it was that I performed badly. That tells me there’s much more in me and a faster time IS possible. Besides, I just had a weekend in Paris. What’s not to like about that?