7 For 2017 – Nearly There!

Well hello there October! Where did you sneak up from? It hardly seems like any time since I was setting my goals for 2017 and here we are three quarters of the way through the year. Time to check in and see how I’m doing (you can read my previous updates here and here).

1. Set some new race PBs
This one has been at a bit of a standstill since my success at the Inverness half marathon back in March, and with no race plans for the remainder of 2017, I suspect I’ve done all I can here. My main aim was to set a new marathon PB and beat that 4:05:07 that’s been hanging over me since Paris 2014. Unfortunately it was not to be, although I did make some positive progress. Back in April I was thwarted by the Paris heat, however did manage to run what was then my second fastest marathon time of 4:32:07 (yup, my PB is somewhat of an outlier!). I followed this up at the end of September with another try at the Loch Ness marathon, and while I still didn’t crack that elusive 4 hour mark, I did lower my 2017 performance to 4:18:10 (now my second-fastest). I’m not giving up though, and have already entered a spring marathon to have another try.
I had thought I might have a go at a new 10k PB (sub-50) but have not actually raced a 10k this year. I did, however, come tantalisingly close to my 5k parkrun PB of 23:14 when I ran a 23:19 a couple of weeks before Loch Ness. This was really pleasing as this was also a real outlier in my performance history so it was good to prove to myself that it had not been a fluke, even if the time is two years old! Now onwards into 2018!
Progress: 1/3 achieved; Improving picture

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IMG_39502. Run my 100th parkrun
This goal relies on consistency. I’ve missed very few parkruns this year, mainly planned misses due to post-marathon recovery, and still have enough of a cushion to achieve my 100th run before the end of the year. At present I’ve completed my 93rd, so just 7 more to go. Definitely achievable, perhaps by the start of December.
And my bonus parkrun goal is to achieve my 25 volunteer T-shirt. Thanks to my pacing duties this year I only have one more to go before I have that one all wrapped up.
Progress: On track

IMG_37133. Maintain my step goal streak
Back in July I achieved the first part of this goal – one full year of taking 10,000 steps per day. Now, I’m working on completing the second part of the goal – a calendar year of 10,000 steps per day. I’ve not yet broken my streak (currently at 472 days) so continuing the habit for now should be achievable.
Progress: On track

4. Read at least 30 books
This is now the goal that needs the most attention. I’m tracking my reading on Goodreads this year and, with 19 out of 30 books read, am 4 behind schedule to complete this one. This is an advance on the 25 books I read in 2016 and I did set this goal knowing it would push me. I had hoped the summer might bring me up to speed, but I now need to try and set aside a bit more time for reading. Watch this space!
Progress: Needs Attention

5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
The summer break allowed me to reset a bit on this one, and as soon as term began I made sure to prioritise rest right from the start. This meant trying not to allow my natural night-owl tendencies to take over and stay up too late on week nights, as well as scheduling an afternoon nap into my Saturday routine to help counter the busy week. It’s not always easy to fit in everything I want to do, but I am getting better at this one.
Progress: Much improved

IMG_38546. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
I’m really pleased with this one. Thanks to the Tough Girl 100 challenge I was able to make regular yoga much more of a habit for me, and enjoyed doing so. Things have faltered a bit of late thanks to the time pressures of being away on a trip, but now that I’m getting organised again I’m looking forward to adding some more yoga to my days. My favourite is some bedtime yoga to help me unwind and rest well, helping me with that goal too!
Progress: On track

IMG_41967. Blog more consistently
Another one that’s going well. I wanted to improve on my 2016 pattern by publishing at least one post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. So far, so good. I think I’ve only had one late Friday Finds, but it has gone out every week. I’ve also published a Week in Review post every Monday, as well as many additional posts when I can. I’m trying to use school holidays to work through the ideas in my drafts and have posts scheduled in advance, but it definitely feels much more consistent than last year. Very pleasing.
Progress: On track

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A bit of a mixed bag right now, but then goals are there to be a challenge rather than a guarantee. I’ve definitely made positive progress towards each of these, and will do my best to achieve those I still can. Hard to believe that the next time I write about my goals will be a review at the end of the year! I wonder what I will achieve…?

How are you getting on with your goals for 2017?
What would you still like to achieve this year?

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Friday Finds – 6th October

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.

Happy Friday! It’s the end of term and I’m packing for my school trip to France, but never fear as I managed to put this week’s post together in advance!

This week is a big one in the calendar of runners here in the UK as the results of the London marathon ballot come out. For the majority, it was a rejection as the numbers entering the ballot far outweigh the number of available places, but given this one event has dominated my news feeds and social media this week, I’m going to begin with a potentially controversial article. I’m not sure if the writer is entirely serious in the ideas he puts forward, however the comments below it certainly made my blood boil. I’d love to know what you think:

Ok, so we might not all be troubling the top marathon runners any time soon, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take on a marathon (or marathons) if they make us happy. And what isn’t to love about the Marathon du Medoc – “for drinkers with a running problem”. I always think this sounds like a great event, so enjoyed reading this account of it in Runner’s World.

And speaking of the top marathon runners, have you ever wondered what it would be like to follow their training regime? Matt Fitzgerald decided to find out and became an honorary member of an elite team. Despite sustaining an injury, he is now tapering for the Chicago marathon this weekend and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. In the meantime, this piece is provides some reflection on the process.

Next up, an intriguing suggestion around age groups. While this is a US article and age groups vary a little here in the UK, the origin of this setup is something I’ve never considered, nor is the question at the centre of the article about what would happen if we could choose our age group based on how we felt. In reality I suspect that would cause chaos, but there are certainly days when we feel more energetic than others (and days when we feel like an 80 year old with a walking stick could go faster lol!).

And finally, dogs aren’t usually allowed on the Chicago marathon course, but an exception is being made for Gordon, a paralysed miniature Doberman who will complete the course this Sunday in his owner’s backpack! It’s all part of their fundraising for a an animal charity. I hope they both do really well.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

 

Plan B…

One should always have a Plan B (and C, and D, and E… there are lots more letters in the alphabet!) for when Plan A doesn’t work out. Back in the spring of this year we decided that Plan A for 2018 would be to enter the London Marathon ballot, knowing full well that it was highly unlikely either of us would get in, let alone both (both of us have been fortunate enough to run it in the past, but we still want to go again!). At that point there was no Plan B as it was so far away and we knew we had an autumn marathon to run (I entered the London ballot the same day I submitted my entry for the Loch Ness marathon!).

Cut to the closing miles of the Loch Ness marathon when I was deep in the hurt locker and swearing off marathons for good. You know how it goes – this is stupid; whose great idea was this anyway; I’m never doing this again; 10 is a good number of marathons to stop at; I hate running, etc. So you would think that when this arrived today I would’ve been relieved. Not so.

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You see within a few days of completing that marathon my mind was already turning to the future: what if I tweaked my training a little more? What if I tried a race a little closer to home? Could I go faster? By the end of the week I had already decided on my Plan B – The Stirling Marathon.

And so, within hours of receiving my 6th (yup, 6th – I know some people have even more than that) rejection from London, and less than 10 days after completing my last marathon, I put Plan B into action:

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Why Stirling? A couple of reasons:

  1. They’ve tweaked the course from the inaugural event this year so there is no need for shuttle buses or the bizarre loop system they had at the finish (no way would I remember which loop I was on at that point!).
  2. Stirling is less than 40 miles from where we live, so we can reap the benefits of having our usual pre-long run meal, sleeping in our own bed the night before, eating our usual breakfast at home and, most importantly, getting home again quickly to start the recovery process.

Basically, having tried running a hillier marathon, I now want to try running one practically on my doorstep. It’s high time I added a bit of variety to my marathon list (50% of my 10 marathons have been in Paris!) and I’m looking forward to trying something new. It might even be an option for us to check out the course in advance so we are a bit more familiar with what to expect.

So that’s Plan B. Now there’s just the small matter of making sure I recover well from Loch Ness before enjoying a bit of pressure-free running to build a strong base ahead of ramping up training in the new year. I imagine race day will be here before I know it!

If you’re still considering your Plan B, this post from last year includes a few suggestions for when London says ‘no’.

Have you ever run the London marathon?
What’s your next big goal event?

Race Report – Loch Ness Marathon 2017

Finally. All I can say, is finally!

I first entered the Loch Ness marathon as part of my fundraising challenge in 2014, but injury put paid to my plans that year. Last year I thought it was time to try again…until a hip issue led me to the heartbreaking decision not to run. In 2017 it was third time lucky.

Entering this race is straightforward. I entered back in the spring and it’s first come, first served with no ballots or waiting lists. I received plenty of information in advance via email, although I knew roughly what to expect anyway in terms of collecting my race pack and what the finish area looked like thanks to spectating twice before as well as my experience of running the 10k in 2013.

Since neither of us fancied driving 100+ miles home after a marathon, we opted for the train. This put us in Inverness mid-afternoon with enough time to check in to our hotel and leave our bags before heading over to collect our packs and browse the expo.

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Race day logistics involve a bus trip to the start line, which makes for a pretty early start for a 10am race! Luckily our hotel was really geared up for this. There were signs up at reception telling guests to let staff know that they would be running and therefore looking for an early breakfast, which was at 6:30am. My alarm went off at 5:30am so I could take some fluids on and get into my kit.

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Heading down to breakfast, we expected some porridge, toast and maybe bananas. Instead, the full breakfast was available. Steve opted for sausages, bacon, etc but there was no way I could stomach that so early so stuck to my usual pre-long run staples of toast with nutella and a bowl of porridge. I also took a pastry with me to eat later on (I’ve run the Paris marathon after these so knew it would be ok).

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It was then time for some final preparations before heading to the buses which were on the other side of the park, beyond the finish line. We knew we would be on one of the last buses (it’s quite a fleet to get almost 3000 runners to the start as this is the only way to access the area on race day) and all the race staff we passed were really helpful in making sure we were heading the right way and keeping up a brisk pace. We still ended up in a big queue though!

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The bus journey took around an hour. We were a little slower as our bus struggled to get up the steep hills to the start line, however the weather wasn’t so great at this point and it was better to be on the bus than exposed to the elements, even if I was getting desperate for the toilet!

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Once there, it felt a little bit like being on the edge of the world as the wind whipped up and the rain came down. We got our stuff organised and had a couple of toilet trips (queues for the portable toilets were HUGE but there were plenty of dense trees and bushes to make a “wild pee” an option!

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As late as possible, we put our bags onto the baggage bus and headed to the start area to find a suitable position.

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There was the usual music and an announcer getting everyone in the mood, and then all of a sudden we were being counted down and off. I had expected that heartbeat music so de rigueur at races these days to make things tense, but there was no drawn-out ceremony here which was refreshing.

I have to say, a bit of me could hardly believe I was there. After two failed attempts to make that start line, and a lot of stress caused by my cat being very unwell the day before (the emergency vet visit before we left was not in the plan!) I had hardly dared to let myself believe it would actually happen, but here I was with 26.2 miles standing between me and that finish medal. And those 26.2 miles looked like this:

Net downhill, however the hardest part comes around mile 18, just about the worst possible time when all the joy of the downhill start is a distant memory!

The first 5 miles were brilliant. I was running downhill, feeling fresh and surrounded by beautiful Highland countryside. I actually ran this in silence, enjoying my own thoughts and the atmosphere around me. There’s a short climb in mile 6, but this was around when I took my first energy gel so I was happy to have slowed down. The generally downhill trend continued to about mile 10 and my second gel, and as things levelled out I decided to put a podcast on to give me something else to focus on.

At this point I was 2 or 3 minutes ahead of my splits for a sub-4 time, however it had felt relatively easy thanks to running downhill and my hope was to have that time “in the bank” ready for the hill later on.

The next 7 miles are flattish, but there are some slight inclines and declines along the way, in fact the half way point felt on a slightly upward trajectory. I was still counting down the miles, aware that although numerically I was half way, the received wisdom is that “half way” is really 18 miles as you hit the hill.

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I lost a little time in this section, but was only a minute or two down on where I wanted to be, which would still have bagged me a PB. But then I reached Dores and THAT hill…

Race organisers had included some helpful signs: “slightly steeper bit ahead”, “wee bit hilly” and “keep calm and tame the monster”. Huh. But I trained on hilly routes and tried to include a hill towards the end of my runs. I was ready…or so I thought. I began the plod up what seemed the longest hill in the world, until I realised that I could probably walk just as fast. The hill beat me and I’m not ashamed to say so.

When the top of the hill finally came (after a false summit or two) it was great to point myself downhill again. By now I was way off the pace I wanted, but hoped I might be able to reclaim a bit of ground.

But it was not to be. On reflection, I think the hill was only part of it. The stress of a poorly cat on Saturday had affected my nutrition and hydration plans, not to mention the impact of feeling stress so close to the event. I hadn’t realised quite how much of an impact it had until I needed to tap into some energy that just wasn’t there. I’d had a gel with caffeine at mile 15 (double espresso, yum!) and had two gels left to take – miles 20 and 23.1 – but they just weren’t doing enough. I rallied a bit on some of the downhills, but as soon as it was more level or uphill, even for a short time, I just couldn’t sustain my pace. Still, there was nothing for it but to keep moving forward.

Finally, I was back in Inverness and the finish line was getting closer. Just before mile 25 you can hear the announcer on the opposite side of the river but I was prepared for this. Time for a final push to the line as the crowds thickened and you just HAVE to keep running: past the footbridge that would be a shortcut to the finish, over the main bridge, past the hotel and digging deep to find that last “sprint” to the finish.

Once over the line I needed to take a moment. I wasn’t sure how I felt – well, physically I felt tired and sore and as if I’d just run 26.2 miles, but I wasn’t sure where my emotions were. I leaned against a railing to compose myself then headed around to collect my medal, goody bag (the most Scottish goody bag ever – Baxters soup, Walker’s shortbread, Highland Spring water) and T-shirt before joining Steve who was watching out for me.

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I was soaking wet so opted not to hang around taking photos and instead shuffled over to collect my bag where I had some warm layers. There was a changing tent and I sat in there for a bit getting myself organised and sending some messages to say I was finished. Feeling better, I rejoined Steve to go and get our complimentary post-race meal: soup, casserole and bread.

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Having refuelled and composed ourselves, we did get some photos before heading back along to the hotel for our bags (and I had a change and freshen up in the toilets so I felt a bit more human before the train home).

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Soon after crossing the line I got a text with my official time of 4:18:10. It might not have been what I was looking for, but knowing that the marathon is a tricky beast, I had set 3 goals. My A goal was the PB/sub-4, my B goal was sub-4:20 and my C goal to be faster than in Paris back in April. B goal achieved and that is still something to be proud of (and it finally got me on the Marathon Talk podcast podium with second place!). I may still have a tantalisingly-close PB of 4:05:07 to beat (Paris 2014), but since then I’ve not exactly set a blistering pace with a 4:40:02, 4:43:39, 4:38:38 and 4:32:07. Bizarrely, that PB is a bit of an outlier in my marathon history, and until now that 4:32:07 from Paris this year was actually my second-fastest time. Other than my PB I have NEVER broken 4:30, so to go below 4:20, over a challenging course, is a good sign that the training is paying off. In entering this race I had wanted to see if training through the summer months so I was a) better rested thanks to the school holidays and b) better adapted to warmer temperatures, would make a difference. Added to that, I wanted to see if an elevation profile more similar to what I train on would suit me better, and I think my result is a clear yes.

I was also really pleased with my overall stats:

Position – 1145/2619
Females – 267/1025
Category – 148/484

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Overall the Loch Ness marathon is a great race and I can see why so many people rave about it. I may have taken care of unfinished business in finally reaching the start line, but I can see me returning at some point in order to get my revenge on that hill! And my time? Despite what I swore to myself in the last few miles, I’m already plotting my next 26.2 mile adventure, so watch this space…

Friday Finds – 29th September

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.

Happy Friday! I don’t know about you, but I’ve found this an incredibly long week – couldn’t possibly be anything do to with running a marathon last weekend though ūüėČ

While I was running my marathon on Sunday (full race report to follow) the eyes of the marathon running world were firmly fixed on Berlin, where Eliud Kipchoge was hoping to lower the mark in the men’s marathon. This result of this race was actually one of the things I checked when I was sitting down to eat after my race, and I’ll admit to a little disappointment that Kipchoge didn’t quite make it. Still, his efforts gave rise to a number of follow-up pieces from respected writers in the field looking at his training (just in case you fancy following his training programme!) and the factors which may have prevented him setting a new record. I can’t imagine the fact that I missed my goal too will cheer him up, although it’s definitely comforting to know that even the best runners don’t always achieve the times they want!

Although written before the race in Berlin, this next article is an interesting reminder of the difference between physical and mental barriers. It sets out the theory that mental barriers are much bigger than physical ones, that the belief something is possible makes it much more likely to happen. This is something I can definitely get behind: the mind is very powerful and belief can have a massive impact on achievement.

Anyone who has run a marathon knows that they are tough, however there are many runners who enjoy even longer, tougher (sometimes multi-day) races. And as with anything “out of the ordinary” to the typical non-runner, the big question is usually, why? A question academics at the University of Cardiff have attempted to answer. Interestingly, their findings suggest that the pain experienced may actually be one of the draws, along with a degree of escapism and simply having a story to tell. I may not have any desire to run an ultra, but I do understand that sort of thinking.

In other news, the “mad pooper” story I included last week continues to make the headlines. In a couple of now deleted videos, a spokesperson for the runner in question made reference to some mental health issues as a result of a brain injury, further complicating matters. It looks like this particular story is not over yet, and it doesn’t seem like we’re going to get to the truth of it any time soon.

And finally, do you ever watch a film and laugh at the unrealistic nature of any scenes involving running? Well it seems you’re not alone as Hannah Hartzell, writing for Women’s Running, is clearly fed up of the way Hollywood portrays our favourite sport. Have you got any other examples to add to her list?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

The Day After The Marathon…

26.2 miles is a long way on foot – heck it’s even a long way by car! – so running a marathon is always going to have an impact on the body. It’s one thing to race a 10k and go about your life normally, but there’s nothing quite like a marathon to take you (physically) from hero to zero. Here’s how the day after tends to go…

You get a special advance preview of old age
Waking up the morning after the marathon everything tends to feel fine…so long as you don’t move! Simply rolling over has been know to result in a weary muscle complaining, which means when you are finally forced out of bed (usually by the need to visit the toilet, the need to eat or the need to get ready for work) things can get pretty interesting. It’s at this point that you’ll find some scamp has messed with your legs overnight so they are now on backwards, your knees are reluctant to bend and your quads are a little disgruntled. Falling out of bed is a distinct possibility, and any forward movement will probably be a waddle. You might have run 26.2 miles the day before, but now reaching the kitchen for your morning coffee with have you out of breath!

Stairs are not your friend 
You’ll be convinced that either your home/workplace now has more stairs than previously or that someone has inflated each step to a greater height overnight. Climbing stairs feels like an Everest ascent and going downstairs has you contemplating a stair lift! If you’re at home then I recommend crawling up the stairs, and either going down backwards or on your bottom. At work either avoid the stairs completely (this is the day to take the lift!) or suck it up and tough it out – wearing your medal or finishers’ T-shirt can help to explain your sudden inability to move normally and constant grimace.

Compression socks for the win!
For me, this is the one thing I have to do to make a difference. I run the marathon in compression calf sleeves, put compression tights on afterwards and sleep in compression socks or calf sleeves. As I began drafting this post I had gloriously pink compression socks on under my work trousers and was quite surprised none of my pupils commented on the flash of pink around my ankles! Studies may be inconclusive on compression gear, but it definitely helps hold me together and feel better – and if nothing else I feel like my legs are getting a gentle hug all day!

Simple tasks are harder than usual
Getting out of bed, getting dressed, getting from A to B…all things that should be pretty straightforward, right? But the day after a marathon you’ll not only fall out of bed but you might need help to get dressed (I was almost defeated by my compression socks this week!) and if you have to get anywhere then leaving a bit earlier is a must – old ladies with walking sticks will pass you, the bus stop at the end of the road will seem to be miles away and you REALLY don’t want to have to “run” for the train! And if you are unlucky enough to have to go to work, don’t expect the most productive of days (but on the plus side you can tell EVERYBODY how you spent the previous day!).

There isn’t enough food in the world!
You carb loaded diligently, topped up your energy with an array of gels and inhaled some sort of post-race meal (could have been a burger, could have been pizza, chances are you didn’t exactly savour it!) but there’s still a calorie deficit to address. This is the day that healthy eating takes a back seat – nobody ran 26.2 miles to eat a salad! Instead, your meal plan is more like:

  • breakfast
  • second breakfast
  • morning snack
  • lunch
  • second lunch
  • afternoon snack
  • dinner
  • evening snack
  • supper

People will look on in awe as there never seems to be a moment when you’re not stuffing food into your face and seem to be putting away a frankly obscene amount. No promises you’ll be full, but it’s amusing seeing people’s faces as they observe feeding time!

And somewhere in all of that you start looking at your race photos and wondering when you might do it all again!

What are your post-marathon memories?

Week In Review – A Monster Calls

Eek! Where did race week suddenly appear from? Funny how quickly a goal event seems to come round! Let me tell you all about the week leading up to the Loch Ness marathon (and a little bit about the big day) as I link up with Jessie @ The RIght Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for their weekly roundup.

My main focus this week was to maintain some training, but also to try to rest as much as possible. Here’s how things ended up:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym + massage
Wednesday – 1km form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday –¬†parkrun rest + travel to Inverness
Sunday – Loch Ness Marathon!

Monday’s rest came about as a result of another commitment. I’ll be heading off on a school trip to France in a few weeks and we had a meeting with the parents of the pupils involved. It was pointless to head home first, so I busied myself with making a packing list for the weekend before walking to the shop for a snack (and some steps!). The meeting went well but it was almost 8pm before I got away, so once home it was a cup of tea, some relaxing yoga and a reasonably early night.

I got back on track on Tuesday with my usual set of bike reps. SInce it was early in the week I made no change to these, knowing that it was fine to have a hard-ish workout at this stage – basically the last one before the race. I felt strong through these and finished my sessions with a little stretching and mobility work before heading off to have my legs massaged (I have this done once a month, but like to schedule a session in race week so I’m in tip top shape).

Wednesday is always a run day and I wasn’t sure what would be best. After a chat with Steve I decided on a 10 minute warm up, then 3 reps of the 1km form drills I’ve been doing (with 90 secs recovery in between) then a cool down. This fitted beautifully into a route I like which is about 3.5 miles and was a nice leg stretch, without overdoing it, for my mid week run. I did my usual stretching/mobility routine then made sure to get to bed at a reasonable time.

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Yup. It rained AGAIN!

On Thursday I had my Ashtanga yoga class, and after missing it last week I was really looking forward to it. It felt great to stretch away the last bits of tension in my body, and my legs especially felt like they benefitted from this. It also made me feel nice and relaxed, so after some dinner I was able to head to bed and sleep well.

I decided to make Friday a rest day again, partly to make sure I’d had a bit of a break before the weekend, but mainly so I could pay another visit to my friend who is recovering from foot surgery. She’s been feeling a bit cut off from the world, so I stored up plenty of news for her and we had a lovely catch up over cups of tea (under the watchful eye of her dog who was hopeful of a biscuit!). I was home in time to head out to eat with Steve, then began laying out all the things I would need to pack so that Saturday morning would be a bit less frantic.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a spanner in the works on Saturday. I had intended to go to parkrun and use it as a shakeout run, but my elderly cat, who has been doing brilliantly, had a bit of a turn so I skipped parkrun in order to pay an emergency visit to the vet and have her checked out to put my mind at rest before heading off. After a morning at the practice she wasn’t quite herself when I left, but was assured there was nothing in her tests to give cause for concern and the symptoms she was showing were down to her being exhausted and needing to sleep. After a bit of deliberation, I decided that being at home would make no difference one way or the other as there was nothing practical I could do, so got my things together and headed for the train north. Things ended up feeling a bit rushed, but at least I was able to relax for a couple of hours on the journey, safe in the knowledge that the cat would likely sleep (exactly what she needed) and that my mum would be checking on her and knew what to do if something was wrong.

Following our journey on the Marathon Express (honestly, it seemed like EVERYONE on the train was heading to the marathon!) we made our way to the hotel. Steve had managed to book somewhere near to the race HQ/finish which is along the last km of the race. Ideal! We checked in and dropped off our bags before going to get our race packs. I also bought a hoody (I have one from all my major marathons) and some new headbands after losing one at parkrun last Saturday! We then took some photos and meandered back to the hotel for a while.

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Rather conveniently there was an Italian restaurant next door, and although they were busy they said if you could get a table outside it was first come first served. We were really lucky as a couple were just leaving and gave us their table. It was lovely – pleasant enough weather to be outside and right across from the castle.

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Even better, while we were eating my mum got in touch with good news about the cat who was bouncing back after a super long sleep. It was a huge relief and meant I could really focus on the marathon, so once back in the hotel I got all my things organised then relaxed for a while before bed.

Sunday was of course race day. I’ll write a separate post with all the details in the next few days, however it was a great course with some challenging hills and although I didn’t make my A goal of a sub-4 hour time, my time of 4:18:10 was inside of my B goal. You never know what might happen on race day and I already understand some of the factors which affected my performance. That said, my PB of 4:05:07 is actually the ONLY time in my previous 9 marathons that I’ve run sub-4:30, so to get sub-4:20 (my B goal) over a challenging course shows that my training is paying off, and despite what I may have sworn towards the end about never running another one, I’m already leaning towards some further training tweaks for another attempt to lower my time!

IMG_8858And so another marathon training cycle comes to an end. Maybe not quite the result I wanted, but still my second fastest time and the best I’ve managed for years. That’s something to be proud of. Now it’s time to relax, regroup and make some decisions about future races…

What big goal have you set for yourself?
Any suggestions for my next race?

You Know You’re Tapering When…

Ah the marathon taper. After weeks and weeks of pounding out the long miles, promising yourself that it will soon be time to taper and have a rest, along come the marathon demons to mess with your head and make you a little crazy. Here are some of the main signs that taper madness is setting in:

You either get, or convince yourself you are getting, the cold/flu/plague
The taper means race day is near and the last thing you want is to be ill after all that hard training, but cutting back on the miles seems to be some kind of secret Bat Signal to your body that now would be a good time to let the germs in. In my case, I got the cold IMMEDIATELY I began my taper for the Loch Ness marathon. Thankfully that gave me plenty of time to¬†wallow in self pity shake it off and bounce back before the race. And even if you don’t actually get ill, it seems like everyone around you is coughing and sneezing, leading to some major paranoia!¬†Is my throat sore? Does that sneeze mean I’m¬†getting the cold? I’m sure that’s a cough coming on…

Hand sanitiser becomes your best friend 
Because of the above issues with a world of coughing, sneezing people, you take evasive action, one of the main ones being a paranoid overuse of hand sanitiser. Mine sits on my desk, in my bag, in my glove compartment… In theory I should never be more than a slight stretch away from my bottle, so that I can use it whenever I need to ¬†– and that’s A LOT: after handshakes, before eating, during lessons (those pesky young people are FULL of germs!). Good thing I stocked up on my favourite Pocket Bacs when I was on holiday!

You develop phantom aches and pains
Does my calf hurt? Is that a twinge in my hamstring? Somehow running less leads to all manner of niggly aches and pains that have not once bothered you during training putting in an unwelcome appearance. These are generally your body playing cruel tricks on your paranoid mind and not evidence that you have developed a stress fracture overnight/broken your leg whilst sitting in your chair/will need urgent amputation! Unless something is actually affecting how you move, chances are it’s a figment of your (overactive) imagination!

You develop a keen interest in meteorology
Let’s face it, most of the time we really only check the weather forecast to help us decide what to wear, or see if we need a coat, umbrella or accessories like a pair of gloves. But as marathon day approaches we practically become amateur meteorologists as we frantically refresh weather feeds and try to work out if we’re going to get those perfect conditions we’ve been dreaming of or if Mother Nature is going to throw a spanner in the works. Right now it’s just slightly too early for me to get a detailed forecast for the weekend on my weather app (yes, I have checked!) but I’m crossing my fingers for it being a dry, sunny day with temps around 12C. You can only control so much, and sadly the weather isn’t on the list. Prepare your kit (with options for any changes, especially if you’re travelling away from home) and be ready to adapt. Obsessively checking the forecast won’t change it!

You begin to doubt yourself
Despite weeks of training, 20 mile runs and possibly some PBs along the way, those little doubts do tend to creep in. It’s perfectly natural, especially for those doing their first marathon, but sometimes you need to put things in perspective. I try to remind myself that it’s “just” another run, and I do those every week. I’ve run the distance before so there’s no reason I won’t be able to do so again. Yes, it’s a long way, but if you’ve put in the training you should be absolutely fine. Trust your training, and remember you chose to do this – it’s supposed to be fun!

You desperately want to run
The purpose of the taper is to capitalise on all those weeks of training and conditioning by conserving energy so that you’re ready to go on race day. But now that you have permission to run a bit less (the one thing you’ve been dreaming of for a few weeks, right?), going for a super long run seems to be the ONLY thing you want to do. It’s normal to feel like this, but by this stage in your training going for a really long run will be counter-productive. Enjoy the runs you have in your training, but stick to your plan of shorter distances. And don’t fill the extra time you’ve created with mammoth DIY tasks or whole scale spring cleaning – keep that energy for your race!

You become a bottomless pit
The runger is real, and as your mileage has increased, so has your appetite. You would think that cutting back on your mileage would mean you’re less hungry, yet your body wants just as much fuel as ever, if not more. Remember, you do need to stockpile energy for your race, but don’t go overboard. Stick to whatever you’ve been eating up to now and don’t overindulge in fast food and empty calories. Your body is a finely tuned machine and it deserves the best, so save that treat meal or fast food for afterwards.

So if you know someone exhibiting these maranoia-induced symptoms, go easy on them. There’s only one known cure and that’s actually running the marathon. Until that day comes around, just keep your distance (germs!) make sure you have plenty of hand soap/sanitiser and keep the food coming!

Do you get plagued by the taper demons?
What else would you add to the list?

Week In Review – A Confidence Boost!

After last week‘s “taper cold” it was time to get back to training again this week. I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ JessRuns ATL to share more details about my week.

Throughout my taper I try to keep the same pattern to my training, but ease back on the distance of my long runs. Here’s what happened this week:

Mondayswim rest
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – rest
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun + Hatha yoga
Sunday – 8 miles

Although I was getting back to my usual training, I opted to begin the week with a rest day as I was still suffering from a bit of catarrh. I figured that would be aggravated by the pool chemicals (I get kind of congested for a bit after a swim) so opted for the hot tub and sauna instead. I did do a little bit of relaxing yoga before bed as the Tough Girl 100 challenge has made it a habit for me to do some yoga or mobility work every day now.

It was business as usual on Tuesday though as I headed to the gym for my usual bike workout. After a warm up it’s 10 reps of 40 seconds at max effort and 20 seconds rest, with a reasonable amount of resistance. The first one always feels easy but it definitely gets tougher as it goes on! I finished my session with some stretches and hip mobility work before heading home.

On Wednesday I chose to do a hill workout. I should have done this last week and been on 1km form drills, but decided to pick up the workout I skipped to help prepare me from the hills around Loch Ness:

There had been a bit of rain around all day but when I set off it was dry. Good thing I still wore my lightweight jacket though, as just as I was hitting the toughest reps in the set, the rain came bucketing down. Still, I finished the workout, even if I did look a bit of a sight afterwards!

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All finished off with a post-run yoga sequence.

Thursday, unfortunately, was an enforced rest day. I signed up to attend an event at work where there were going to be some interesting presentations, but it meant that I couldn’t get back in time for my Ashtanga yoga class. I actually got home around the same time that I would if I had been to the class, but a lot less chilled out. I rectified this with some bedtime yoga to help me sleep.

Friday was another busy day. I contrived to miss lunch as I was catching up with a former pupil (playing fast and loose with my nutrition a week out from the marathon!) so felt quite hungry by the end of the day. I grabbed a snack of some pretzels, but still had lots to do as the cat was due at the vet for her booster vaccinations then I headed down to the studio for a PT session with Steve. As usual, using the broom handle and Core Momentum Trainer (which matched my top!) to work on upper back mobility, hip mobility and knee drive. After all that I was ready for my Friday night meal at our “local”!

IMG_3801By the time we’d eaten and I’d taken care of the cat’s evening medications, I was exhausted, resulting in my first Friday Finds failure of the year (I did get it posted on Saturday though). I could hardly keep my eyes open so headed to bed and was asleep in an instant.

I woke feeling much fresher on Saturday morning. I slept about as late as I could get away with to still have time to get myself ready for my morning activities. It had crossed my mind that this would be my last real “blast” at parkrun for a while as next week I’ll use it as a shakeout run ahead of the marathon then I’ll have a couple of weeks off before I run again. It’s been irritating me that I’ve not quite managed to run faster than 23:39 for this parkrun year (which ends late November), a time I set in March and had hoped to better during this training cycle. Apart from (theoretically) being at my peak fitness, I’ve become much more adept at understanding my performance at different points in the month and knew that hormonally this would likely be my strongest weekend of the month for a speedy run. Time to go for it, and the arrival of the medal from a virtual run I had entered gave me further motivation just as I was leaving the house.

IMG_3888But as I jogged to the start line I wasn’t so sure. I was a little sluggish and wasn’t sure I would be able to turn my legs over fast enough…and then the run started. I fell into a rhythm and everything just seemed to flow. I was focused on my knee drive and the form I’ve been working on in my drills. I wasn’t sure if I could hold it, but wanted to try, and as I saw my mile splits tick by, I knew that I could keep pushing and beat the 23:39.

Coming in to the finish I still felt like I was running smoothly – Steve even commented on how “controlled ” I looked, and when I saw my time I was stunned. I had expected about 23:30, but had absolutely smashed it with 23:19!! Not only my best this year, but my 2nd fastest EVER. I had actually come to believe that the PB I set a couple of years ago (23:14) was some sort of rogue result as I’ve never run anywhere near that sort of time before or since. My best times are mainly in the 23:4X region, with just a couple of 23:3X, so that PB was a real outlier…until now! Having believed I could never get anywhere near it again, I was thrilled with my time. Furthermore, when I ran that PB I pushed so hard that I felt ill for the rest of the day. I remember my heart beating out of my chest and being forced to slow towards the finish rather than having a burst of speed. I actually scared myself. This time, I felt no different to any other hard run and recovered quickly. With the marathon next week, this was the perfect time for everything to come together and it’s really boosted my confidence ahead of the race.

IMG_3852This week there was also a special treat of some homegrown apples on offer courtesy of one of our parkrun regulars.

IMG_3807I had mine later with some peanut butter. Yum!

IMG_3855Absolutely buzzing, I headed off to Hatha yoga where I did manage to settle down thanks to the chilled music, relaxed work on the floor and lovely flowing sequence we did. Perfect!

I then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, with a “cat nap” of course, to make sure I remained as well rested as I could.

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I actually wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my run on Sunday morning. Would I pick a distance and map out a route, or pick a route I fancied and just go with whatever the distance was? In the end, I decided there was a route I really wanted to do and figured it would be a little under 8 miles, so added a loop near our house to bring it up to a just over the 8. After all the weeks of big mileage, 8 miles seemed to go by in a flash and felt pretty easy. It was also really nice to take in a short section along one of my favourite paths.

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I still finished the session with my usual stretching, mobility exercises and 10 minutes of legs up the wall (if you haven’t tried this, you should – it was a game changer for me!).

And now I guess that’s more or less it. A couple of workouts in the week ahead, but other than that “the hay is in the barn” and all that. My update next week will cover race weekend and hopefully all the miles I’ve put in will pay off. I feel as ready as I’ll ever be and keen to toe the line by Loch Ness on Sunday. Wish me luck!

IMG_3881What are the signs you look for to know you’re ready to race?
Any goal events soon?

Friday Finds – 15th September

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.

For the first time this year, I just didn’t manage to pull my Friday Finds post together while it was still actually Friday! I tried, but was just too tired after a busy couple of days to finalise my article choices and finish it off. So this week, let’s call it Saturday Stories – sorry!

As marathon day edges ever closer (one more week – eek!) my thoughts inevitably turn to the big day. The result? Some reading material with a marathon slant this week…

First, something rather disappointing. While I understand the strong desire to set a BQ (Boston Qualifying) time and secure a coveted place in the Boston marathon, I find it appalling the lengths some people will go to in order to claim that place, often depriving more genuine applicants of their chance. This week it came to light that thousands of runners have been accused of cheating at the Mexico City marathon, many of whom were recorded as having BQ times. I find it incredible that something like this could happen on a large scale, but am pleased that the vigilant Derek Murphy at Marathon Investigation is always looking out for such things. Here is his analysis of the results from that race:

Speaking of Boston, race director Dave McGillivray finally managed to stage an event that first entered his mind decades ago and which he has been planning for years – a marathon entirely inside a Major League Baseball stadium. Just 50 runners were accepted into the 100+ lap (!!!) USATF certified event at Fenway Park which took place as I was pulling this post together. The winner? The one and only Mike Wardian, of course!

This next article had me intrigued. It’s a report on a study of language learning and whether or not exercise could help. Findings suggest that working out can improve our ability to memorise, retain and understand new vocabulary, giving further weight to the theory that exercise boosts brain power as well as physical fitness. Perhaps I should switch to language-learning podcasts on my training runs. I could be much more adept with foreign languages after a cycle of marathon training!

For me, one of my favourite things about marathon training is the eating I can do. I LOVE my food so being able to put away huge meals without any difficulty is a real joy (I just have to remember to stop once the race is over and I’m not training so hard anymore!). Funnily enough, it’s not just me and I enjoyed this short piece from Women’s Running which beautifully sums up my feelings up with regard to food:

And finally, not a new video by any means, but I recently came across this again and with a marathon on the horizon, found it rather entertaining.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess