Week in Review – The Joy of Running!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has your training been this week?

The Spirit of the Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Finds – 28th 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.

Can you believe it’s the end of April? It’s been such a great month in the world of sport, at least as far as marathon running is concerned, and you can look out for a post from me over the weekend about why marathons are so special. In the meantime, here are some other articles that have caught my eye lately.

This week saw our senior pupils finishing school for study leave as the exams here in Scotland are about to start. Most are (hopefully) heading off to to sort out revision timetables and spend big chunks of their day with their heads in their books, however one piece of advice I always like is to take time to exercise as well – even if that’s a simple walk with the dog. On that topic, my first article this week features former Ireland rugby captain Fiona Coghlan explaining why exercise is so important for young people, particularly in an exam year.

Next, a reminder about the power of positive self-talk. Many endurance athletes use mantras or other mental tricks to help them when the going gets tough (mine is, “I can. I am. I’m strong”) and this article explains the difference using self-talk can make to performance. Since the mind will give up before the body, mental training and having a strategy ready for tough moments (and in endurance challenges there will ALWAYS be tough moments!) is as important as the physical training when it comes to pushing limits.

Someone who took on a really huge endurance challenge for charity is Rob Pope. Originally from Liverpool, Rob decided that, like Forrest Gump before him, he would run across the USA. He has already run from Alabama to California’s Santa Monica pier where, like Gump, he simply turned around and kept on going! Judging by the pictures, he’s even starting to look a bit like Forrest Gump!

Another endurance athlete with his sights set on a major challenge is cyclist Mark Beaumont who recently announced his plans to beat the current record for cycling around the world (123 days) by attempting to complete the circumnavigation of the globe in just 80 days! With his imagination fired by Jules Verne, Beaumont will set off from Paris in July with his support crew and will be raising money for charity through this epic challenge. All I can say is wow!

And finally, these days we’re all guilty of using apps like Strava to record our runs and share them with others. But what if your run doesn’t go as well as you would like and it’s out there for all to see? This tongue-in-cheek post takes us through some ways to use the name we give the run to account for any issues encountered. I found it pretty amusing and will definitely be remembering this the next time I have a bad run!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Training Talk Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week in Review – Fight the Temptation!

In many ways the second week of my post-marathon recovery is the hardest. I know I need that time to make sure my body is fully ready to return to running, but at the same time everything feels ok and I start getting a bit itchy to get out there again – not helped by it being both the Boston and London marathons this week! Being back at work meant everything else felt “normal” so not having all my usual training made things seem a bit odd. It was a week of fighting the temptation for the greater good! I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share a roundup of my recovery week.

Having spent last week limiting myself to nothing more strenuous than walking and yoga, this week I began to reintroduce my usual training rhythm by including some light cross training. Here’s how my week ended up:

Monday – swim
Tuesdaygentle cycle walk
Wednesday – walk gentle cycle
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – walk
Saturday – Parkrun volunteer plus afternoon walk
Sunday – walk (after watching the London Marathon!)

Monday was the first day of term which is always a bit of a shock. These days I fall into “holiday mode” quite quickly and get so bound up in my “real life” that it can be a bit of a wrench to be back in the classroom. I was at least cheered by my calendar – even Gary Barlow is getting into the marathon spirit this month!

IMG_1511Since I would normally swim on a Monday, going for a swim after work helped to remind me of my own routine. It was nice to be back in the water, and despite a gap of a couple of weeks since my last swim, I felt I swam quite well. I took it nice and easy since this was technically a recovery workout and although I felt a little more tired than usual at the end, I knew that was the after effects of the marathon and length of time since my last swim so nothing to worry about.

However Monday may have been a bit much for me as I awoke on Tuesday with a scratchy throat and aches that didn’t lift all day. My eyes felt heavy and I didn’t feel like doing anything more than going to my bed. Since Tuesdays had previously been bike intervals, I had planned a gentle half hour cycle to get my legs turning over again, but decided instead to just have a walk in the fresh air then relax at home with some hot food and a nice bath before an early night. One thing that did cheer me up was the arrival of my April challenge medal from Virtual Runner. I had entered a cumulative challenge involving running the marathon distance across the month. I, of course, had decided it would be fun to do the whole thing in one go haha!

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IMG_1513By Wednesday the aches had gone but my throat remained scratchy first thing in the morning for the rest of the week. This meant I felt well enough for the cycle I had missed the day before. It felt good to get my heart rate up a little again, and I enjoyed sitting in the hot tub and steam room afterwards. On this day I was also cheered by the replacements for my end of term “casualties”:

IMG_1514I’ve not yet made a return to my PT sessions so Thursday was simply my Ashtanga yoga class. It was another great class for me and I could feel my legs becoming even more “my own” with every posture. I left feeling relaxed and better than I had done all week.

Ordinarily Friday is my rest day, however I’ve not exactly been over-exerting myself lately! The weather was nice when I got home so I went for a walk for 20 minutes or so to enjoy the extra daylight then waited for Steve to arrive home so we could head out to eat. After returning to work and fighting off what was likely a bug, I was more than ready for my Friday night beer and curry!

IMG_1519Saturday is parkrunday but my two weeks off running were not quite up yet so I was on the volunteer roster once more. This week I was on finish tokens which meant I had to check through them before the run started, but was held up in traffic, so enjoyed a bonus run from the car to get to the start! It felt really good to be running, albeit briefly, and I would have loved a bit more, but at least I know that the enjoyment will be there next week when I do run again.

IMG_1521Since Steve was away at a race further north and Hatha yoga hasn’t restarted yet, I decided to head out in the afternoon for a walk. I had a few errands but didn’t need to go into town so instead walked to the retail park, got a coffee then picked up the bits and pieces I needed before taking a different route home. I was probably out for a couple of hours but it was still a productive day.

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Sunday was London Marathon day and since it was also my last day “off” when it came to running, I had grand plans for a morning on the sofa watching the coverage. I love watching all the races from the elite to the runners in crazy costumes. It’s so inspiring and always makes me want to run another marathon! I spent the whole weekend feeling rather envious of those in London soaking up the atmosphere both at the expo and at the race, so would definitely love to get back there again some day. True to form the combination of the theme tune and inspiring stories had me in tears and keen to get back to running again. There’s just something about the London marathon that makes people lace up and get out there!

When the TV coverage finished I realised that I really should move so walked into town for a coffee and to do a little work for the blog.

IMG_1529Thanks to the time out I’m now itching to get running and target my next challenge. My recovery strategy is one week completely off, one week of light cross training then a week where I re-introduce some easy running so long as there are no issues such as injury or tight muscles picked up in the marathon. Right now my legs feel good and I’m looking forward to a couple of easy runs in the week ahead. I know to expect a slower pace, but I also know that I’ll soon feel like I have my own legs under me again.

How long do you take off running after a marathon or goal race?
Are you training for anything in particular right now?

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?