Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

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

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

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

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

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

So I reset my goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Paris When it Sizzles Pt2 – Breakfast Run

Often a real highlight of the Paris Marathon weekend for me is the Breakfast Run. For just a few Euros (I paid 12 Euros extra when I booked my marathon place) you get a good quality tech T-shirt and access to a fantastic 5(ish)k run followed by breakfast. Ever since the first time we took part in this event I have loved the atmosphere, so was excited to return and experience the new route this year.

IMG_1205In the past, the Breakfast Run began at the marathon finish line, winding its way by the Trocadéro, over the Pont d’Iéna and around the Eiffel Tower to the other side of the Champ de Mars. This year, a new route was on offer. I’m not sure why it was changed, however it did strike me that the new route meant there would be no public access to the runner area (finish line etc) on Avenue Foch once it was set up, thus increasing security in a time of heightened alert.

The new route began at the Place du Palais Royal along Rue de Rivoli. This was perfectly walkable from our hotel, but in a bid to save our legs we decided to walk the short distance to the Champs Élysées, avoid the massive metro station at Charles de Gaulle Étoile (basically around the Arc de Triomphe) and get on the metro at the much smaller George V station for the handful of stops along to the Palais Royal (one of the stops for the Louvre).

As soon as we stepped out of the metro it was quite clear we were in the right place. All we could see were people dressed in the same branded T-shirt as us… and flags. Lots and lots of flags. People were milling about chatting, taking photos and, as you would expect, joining the queue for the loos. We were on the lookout for various people we were expecting to see, and despite it being quite hard to spot anyone in these circumstances (not only was everyone pretty much dressed the same, but there were apparently 3000 people signed up to run!) we quickly managed to find our German friend Stefan whom we met at the after-party last year. We also managed to locate our friends from Dundee (the ones we had caught up with at the departure gate in Edinburgh the day before), as well as a local couple we were expecting to see, and I was keeping an eye out for Tina aka She Who Dares Runs who had contacted me the day before we left to say she had secured a place to cover the marathon for Women’s Running UK and suggested trying to meet and say hello as we have been reading each other’s blogs for a while now (hi Tina!).

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IMG_1219While we were hanging about, I did have a couple of very unusual (for me) experiences. I guess I forget that people other than my friends and family might actually read what I post, so on the odd occasion, usually travelling to a big race, that someone actually recognises me from my blog, I tend to be quite surprised. As Steve and I stood around, another runner came over and said, “are you the blogger?”. I think my surprise was evident to the poor guy as I responded in the affirmative, but it was really nice to be approached like that, and even nicer when he got in touch later to identify himself and explain a bit more about how he recognised me. He might be reading this, so hi Carl!

But by far the strangest thing happened when I was waiting for Steve to reappear from the toilets. A runner came over brandishing a phone and making the internationally-recognised sign for taking a photo. Since Steve and I were wearing our kilts for the run, we have grown used to people wanting pictures as a kilt does tend to draw attention, so I assumed this to be the case again. But no. Not only did this guy want a photo, he seemed to recognise me from the blog and was quite excited about it. A rather bewildered Stefan took the photo for him, and I was quite glad he was there to witness the moment as I’m not sure Steve would have believed me otherwise. Why not? Because the guy who wanted the photo was from Hong Kong. Yes, Hong Kong! Who knew my blog had ever reached Hong Kong!!! Now I feel internationally famous lol!

IMG_1217Shortly after this it was time to get underway. The route took us from the Place du Palais Royal, across Rue de Rivoli and into the Place du Carrousel where the famous pyramid is located. This meant our first photo stop and in among the melée we managed to lose sight of Stefan.

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IMG_1226After this it was along the quai and over the Pont Royal with the Musée d’Orsay on the other side. We stopped on the bridge for some photos as the Breakfast Run is untimed and not at all competitive so times don’t matter. It’s an event all about experience and friendship – more of a display or procession than a race.

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IMG_1232We then followed the quai along the river Seine past the Pont Alexandre III until we reached the Pont d’Iéna. Again, stopping at various points for photos.

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IMG_1243From this point, the remainder of the route was the same as previous years as we came up from the Quai de la Bourdonnais, along Avenue de la Bourdonnais and made a final right turn onto Place Joffre to the finish in front of the École Militaire where there was a real party atmosphere.

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IMG_1252Once over the line we stopped for some more photographs, mostly with complete strangers drawn by our kilts, during which I heard my name called and turned to see Tina – she had actually managed to find me among all those people! Circumstances meant it was a bit of a rushed meeting, but we did manage a selfie and I was most excited to later feature on a post on the Women’s Running UK instagram account!
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fullsizeoutput_1da1Photos done, we headed for the tables with breakfast laid out. In the past this has been a bit of a scrum, but this year felt much better organised with a proper queue formed and croissants/pains au chocolat being handed out by volunteers. Much less pushing and shoving! I managed to score a pain au chocolat, coffee, banana and bottle of water. I drank the coffee while queueing for my banana and water, but the rest we took over to a bench with a front row view of the Eiffel Tower. Not bad for breakfast al fresco!

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IMG_1255Suitably refuelled, we began our amble across the Champ de Mars, which always takes a while as we stop to talk to so many people and take advantage of the great photo opportunities. We first had a chat with some women from Canada – I hope they had a great marathon – then caught up with the Dundee contingent for a while. I was also intrigued to see an impromptu yoga class taking place in the Champ de Mars and was inspired to do one or two poses myself!

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IMG_1329Finally, we reached the Eiffel Tower and due to some new security measures there, we were unable to walk underneath so instead took a path around the side which turned out to be beautiful. There were gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the tower framed by trees. I’m really glad we took that route and will definitely go that way again in future.

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I was impressed that SCHNEIDER Electric managed to get their branding everywhere 😉

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Our final stop before returning to the hotel (which was within easy walking distance by this point) was the Trocadéro to take in the tower views. Over the last few years there has been some work going on around this area which often obstructed the view. This work isn’t quite finished, but there is much more space now to get some nice photos of the Eiffel Tower.

IMG_1343Once more, The Breakfast Run didn’t disappoint and we had a great morning enjoying the famous sights of Paris (along with one or two others with the same idea lol!). Here’s some of the Facebook Live video from the last section of the run that was posted on the official marathon page. The last minute or so gives a real flavour of the atmosphere:

If you’re ever in Paris for the marathon weekend, I highly recommend taking part in this event. You never know, you might see me there…!

Next up: Marathon day!

Paris When it Sizzles Pt1 – Salon du Running

In common with many other big races, the first point of call for anyone taking on the marathon challenge in Paris is the expo, known as the Salon du Running. This is where you have your medical certificate checked and collect your race pack (as well as any extras like Breakfast Run entries, sightseeing tickets or pasta party access). As with other years, we headed there straight from the airport as we’ve found this makes the rest of the weekend much easier. We had a late check in at our hotel and the expo was open until 9pm, so this made sense.

The Salon du Running is held at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles on the south side of Paris, and getting there from Charles de Gaulle airport in the north is pretty straightforward. We always get the RER into the centre of Paris then change to the metro, but this year we were given the tip that we could get the RER as far as Cité-Universitaire then get a tram right to Porte de Versailles from there. That meant only one change and in a small station which made it even easier. It was really nice to go on the tram and see a bit of Paris above ground in the early evening after spending most of the day confined to transport.

On arrival at the Parc des Expositions it was clear that security had been further tightened up from last year. Visitors were separated into runners collecting their bibs (or dossards in French) and those just visiting to see the exhibitors. At this point there was a bag check before we were allowed anywhere near the exhibition hall.

IMG_1169Once inside, the first thing to do is take your medical certificate and ID to be checked. All runners are sent a notification document (convocation) in advance to print out and bring, and this is stamped when your medical certificate is accepted. You then take this document to the right desk to collect your race pack (race number, bag tag and safety pins). This section of the expo alone is pretty big and there’s still so much more to do!

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IMG_1171Number in hand, we usually head for the display with the medal and finishers’ T-shirt so we can see what we will be earning that weekend.

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IMG_1172We then move on to collect our runner’s bag which this year was another foldable rucksack (in a different colour and this time featuring side pockets for a drinks bottle) containing a leaflet and sample of tiger balm. I’m sure there were a couple of other items last year!

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IMG_1199This time we then collected our T-shirts and flags for the Breakfast Run, confirmed the new start point for the event and had a look at the map to get an idea of where we would be running.

fullsizeoutput_1cfbAnd then, some fun. There are always tons of photo opportunities such as the Tag Heuer clock counting down to the start, the wall with the names of all the registered runners (it’s tricky to find yours, but perseverance does it!) and some other backdrops.

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We then passed through a mock-up of an aid station (they were using this to educate runners about the recycling opportunities at the aid stations I think) to head into the main part of the expo, starting with the gift shop!

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I always like to buy myself a souvenir so bought a plum-coloured tech T-shirt with the date of the race and course map on it and a zip up hoody with the race details on the back.

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IMG_1442From there, we wandered through the various exhibits until we found what we were most interested in: the pasta party! We hadn’t purchased tickets for this in advance as we wanted to wait and see what was on offer, but we had enjoyed the deal on offer last time and there was something similar again. For 12 Euros (I think!) we could get a pasta dish, drink (including a beer) and dessert. I decided on pasta bolognese, beer and a nutella crepe, although I did have to have a bit of an argument (in French!) to get the beer as the barman kept insisting it wasn’t in the deal. Eventually he got someone else over who told him it was. A bit embarrassing all round, but I really wanted that beer and wasn’t going to give up!

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While we were eating there was a yoga class taking place nearby which I enjoyed watching a bit of, then we meandered our way to the exit via one last photo op with Asics. They had a backdrop set up and you could get both a printout of the photo and have it emailed to you, which was cool. Their setup also let you add filters but I preferred the original version.

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After that, we were done. It would be really easy to spend hours among the stands at the expo, especially when it’s busy, so going on Friday evening was definitely best as it freed up Saturday for the Breakfast Run and some pre-race relaxation rather than the stress of being on our feet for ages to pick up our race packs. We were able to get to our hotel in good time to unpack and get organised before getting a good sleep. And look what we could see from the end of the road:

IMG_1198Always a beautiful sight!

Keep an eye out for Pt2 – The Breakfast Run

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

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IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

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IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

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IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

Friday Finds – 7th April

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

I can’t imagine it will be much of a surprise that I’m going with a marathon-centred Friday Finds this week! Due to travel timings I’m writing this (quickly!) in advance so it may turn out a little shorter than I normally like. C’est la vie!

First up, some breaking news from the elite ranks and the disappointing information that the 2016 Olympic champion (and defending London marathon winner) Jemima Sumgong has failed an out of competition drugs test. I remember watching her stunning comeback to win after suffering a fall and hitting her head during the London marathon, so am saddened to hear that this has happened.

Next up, another piece of disappointing news, this time about participation. I was thrilled to learn that women would be able to compete in the 2017 Tehran marathon for the first time, however the sting is that it has now been announced that female participants may have to compete on an indoor track rather than outdoors with the male field. This seems to be a move forward from a previous announcement that women would not be able to participate at all. It’s clearly a difficult ongoing situation, but I’d love to see women having an equal opportunity to participate.

Moving on to a much more positive story, I have been quite intrigued of late by Nike’s plans to try and break the 2 hour barrier, however in this next piece from Outside, consideration is given to the female equivalent. The record is, of course, held by my great favourite Paula Radcliffe (remember that time I met her?) with her 2003 time of 2:15:25. And now it seems that science and maths (not my strongest subjects outside of running topics!) suggests that the equivalent marker for women is 2:16, meaning that for we women, that “barrier” has already been broken! As they shout along the route in Paris, allez les filles!

While the less elite among us may not have our sights set on quite such speedy times, in all likelihood those of us with a spring marathon ahead will have a time goal in mind, but working out a reasonable estimate of what we might achieve is very difficult. The marathon is full of pitfalls and no matter how well training has gone, anything can happen on race day, especially after 18 miles. Ian Williams of Fetch Everyone has used the data available to him on his website to come up with a formula which might help.

And finally, one of the things we can’t control in a race is the weather. I’m expecting warm conditions on Sunday in Paris, which will be tricky, but I think participants in this recent 14k race in France had a much tougher time with some very different conditions. I recommend watching the video to get the full effect!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Tunes on Tuesday – Marathon

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

Unsurprisingly, I’m in a marathon frame of mind this week and this song seems ideal to capture the mood. I really have no idea how I first came across it, but it’s a great one for a marathon training playlist and one I look forward to hearing during a long run.

I have to say, Rush is not a band I would usually listen to, but this song ticks the box of having lyrics that I find meaningful or motivational, one of the criteria for making it onto my playlist. On the surface the lyrics describe how someone would feel while running a marathon, however the deeper meaning of the song uses the marathon as a metaphor for life: just as a marathon is an extreme challenge undertaken to fulfill a goal, so it is that life is full of obstacles and is all about achieving our ambitions. Indeed, in an interview the lyricist Neil Peart said, “Marathon is a song about individual goals and trying to achieve them. And it’s also about the old Chinese proverb: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.” A marathon may not quite be a thousand miles (although it feels like it somewhere round about mile 18!) but it does begin with just one step, whether that’s a runner’s first run ever, the start of a training cycle or the first decisive step over the start line of the race. Whatever way you look at it, a marathon is certainly a journey in both the literal and metaphorical sense, an idea that this song captures perfectly.

“It’s a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race”

And as a track dating back to the 1980s, with a lot of synthesiser and guitar, I guess it sounds a bit like my childhood and the kind of music around as I was growing up. Listening to it now, however, I’m transported to all those Sunday long runs preparing for spring marathons and completing mile after mile with my music for company. The lyrics help to provide the focus and motivation to keep going in the tough moments, particularly the chorus which I find particularly powerful (in an 80s kind of way!):

“From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment’s high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky”

With these lyrics I can visualise myself running the race, a process that’s all the more vivid when it comes to Paris as I know the city and the race so well. They remind me of what I’m trying to achieve and spur me on to strive for my goal.

“It’s not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat
More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash”

On Sunday I will once more be running those 26.2 miles around my favourite city. I’ve been working towards this goal for such a long time and striving to achieve that goal will be the ultimate test of my will. Hopefully the training I’ve put in, the atmosphere in the race and songs like this one will be just that something to fire the light that gets in my eyes, just like the chorus says.

Bon courage.

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

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

Week in Review – Taper Time!

Wow! It hardly seems like any time at all has passed since I began this cycle of marathon training, yet here I am into my taper and writing my last pre-race week in review! As always, I’m linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL to share my weekly training.

Tapering means a bit of a cut back in mileage, but maintaining the intensity of the workouts. That means feeling fresh and ready to race when you need to. I’ve found in the past that the traditional three week taper leaves me feeling sluggish on race day, so this time I’m trying out a two week taper to see what difference it makes. Based on the pattern of how I’ve felt in longer runs versus cutback weeks throughout this cycle, I’m feeling confident that this is going to work better for me.

So for my first taper week my plan was:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike intervals
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun plus Hatha yoga
Sunday – long run

And I even did all the sessions as planned – nothing missed or swapped around. I think that makes three weeks this year with no changes lol! But I have to say, my week didn’t get off to the best start. I’m not sure if I was tired from my 20 mile run, tired because it was the last week of a veeeeery long term, or something else, but I was an absolute clumsy clot. I was late for work on Monday due to the aftermath of an accident on the road I was on (hopefully everyone involved was ok) then when I set my cup down to go and make a cup of tea, I managed to nudge it off my desk and smash it. I was fond of that cup too 😦 I did survive the rest of the day and headed to the pool for my swim. It probably wasn’t my greatest performance ever as the pool was really busy and there wasn’t much space to really get into a rhythm, but it really helped my recovery. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I wouldn’t have known I had run 20 miles the day before!

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The irony of the calendar that day was not lost on me!

My clumsy behaviour continued into Tuesday when I began my work day by dropping (and smashing) my plastic water cup. On the plus side, this was the last thing I broke during the week – phew! On Tuesday evening I headed to the gym for my bike reps and although I was still feeling tired (I was fairly certain this was work-related by this stage) I still felt strong throughout the workout and was thinking about where I started with these reps towards the end of last year when they were shorter and at lower intensity. I would never have believed I could progress to where I am now had you told me back then. Fitness really is a funny thing as you never really “feel” any different, it’s only when you have a tangible measurement that progress is more apparent.

fullsizeoutput_1ccaWednesday was a return to my hill reps after a two week break. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling overly motivated to go and do them, perhaps because it was in my head that this was the last time before Paris, but I headed out and got it done. My splits were slightly slower than the last time, but I was ok with that given I had missed two sessions of hill reps, had run 20 miles on Sunday and was, like my colleagues, just generally on my knees and crawling towards the school holidays!

IMG_1042I always enjoy my Thursday sessions. First it’s my PT session with Steve where our focus has been on core strength and mobility, particularly my hips and my upper back/shoulders. We repeated some of the work we have been doing in recent weeks, then Steve repeated his “photo bombing” manoeuvre so I couldn’t take a post-workout selfie for laughing!

IMG_1052I then headed to my Ashtanga class which has become a real marker of the end of the week for me. The focus on breathing and working through the postures helps to calm my mind from a busy week so I feel much less stressed afterwards, and the postures themselves have made a huge difference to my overall strength and flexibility since I began last May. Once that class is done, I also know I only have one more day to work, and this week it was the last day before a long-awaited two week break. Bliss!

By the time I finished work on Friday I felt completely done. This is our busiest term with coursework and assessments, which are all really exhausting for the pupils as well, especially those who are coming back to exams. When the bell rang at the end of the day, it was like someone pulled the plug out on my energy as well. I had to keep moving until I got to my car as I knew if I stopped it was going to be a battle to get going again. Once home, I enjoyed the chance to relax before dinner, and this week chose a steak in celebration of a tough term completed.

IMG_1057Since Saturday was the first Saturday of the month, I was a pacer at parkrun and had 26 minutes again. Following a course inspection the day before, it had been decided to stick to the alternate route as the main route was still pretty waterlogged and I saw this as an opportunity to really nail my pacing since it would be flat tarmac the whole way around. All I had to do was lock into the right pace and stick to it. I have tried resetting my watch to kilometres in order to get more frequent updates on my splits, but this time opted to stick to miles since that is how I usually have it. A quick check of a pace calculator revealed that to run a 26 minute 5k I would need to run 8:22 per mile and I’m pleased to report that I absolutely nailed it – 8:21, 8:20, 8:23 and the final bit at 8:24 for a finish time on my Garmin of 26:01 (I always run through the finish line before stopping my watch so there’s usually a second or two added to my actual time). I was so pleased to have got it right that I was actually a bit disappointed when my official time came in as 25:53. It’s not often a runner is disappointed by a time being too fast haha! Still, I know I got it right and the runners using me as a pace guide should theoretically have a good time against their names, so job done.

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Wearing my 2014 Paris marathon finishers’ top in the hopes it would be lucky!

IMG_1076Parkrun was followed by the last Hatha yoga class of the term and I really enjoyed relaxing into the class (and the holidays) and stretching out my body. I could feel all the stresses of the term melting away. However I was feeling a little “off” (and had been since the end of school on Friday) so decided on a fairly long nap on Saturday afternoon, after which I felt back to normal so I was clearly in need of some sleep!

Sunday was my last long run before heading to Paris and I had “just” 12 miles on the schedule. It was a beautiful morning so I was able to wear shorts and my souvenir Tshirt I got in Paris last year. I followed the same route as my previous 12 mile runs on this cycle and just ran to feel – no deliberate slowing, no aiming for marathon pace, just running comfortably and enjoying the day. In the end my average pace wasn’t too far outside goal marathon pace so I’m feeling optimistic that my endurance and speed work can come together next Sunday to propel me to a good time. My fingers are firmly crossed for a PB and my ultimate goal is sub-4 hours. I’ll definitely be giving it my best shot!

IMG_1078 IMG_1079 IMG_1080So that’s it. The hay is in the barn (so to speak) and my focus now is on making sure I’m well rested and well hydrated. I’ll use the week to keep some training ticking over, but have plans for an afternoon nap each day, a bit of blogging and turning my attention to organising my kit ready to pack for our flight on Friday. If you want to keep up with what I’m up to in Paris, remember you can follow me on Facebook and I’ll be writing all about it once I’m home.

Keep your fingers crossed!

If you have a goal race soon, how are you feeling about it?
How do you prepare in the days before a goal event?

Friday Finds – 31st March

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.

It’s finally the end of term and I feel somewhere between elated and exhausted! The last few weeks have been tough and I’m definitely in need of a break, so tonight I thought I would bring you a more lighthearted selection of finds, focusing on some of the more unusual, entertaining and just plain mad aspects of running…

First up, a new variation on a previous trend. You might already be familiar with the #race the tube phenomenon which went viral in 2014 as a runner tried to beat an underground train between two stations in London. In this latest version, a German marathon runner took on the challenge of racing a subway train for 10k across Berlin. There’s some video included in the article – I hope your German is up to scratch!

Sticking with 10k for now, here’s a story from a most unexpected source for a running blog – Horse & Hound! Including this makes me feel a little like Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill when he interviews Julia Roberts about her new film and says he’s from Horse & Hound magazine haha! Anyway, I’ve had my fair share of interesting encounters in races, like seeing those guys who run the London marathon every year dressed as rhinos, or that time I got chased by cows during a hill race, or last Sunday when I had a rather low fly-by from the scary bird of prey that sometimes attacks runners near here… but I’ve never found myself running alongside an actual horse! Yet that’s exactly what happened to runners in a 10k race in Trafford recently when the wonderfully named Mildred escaped from her field and joined in with the race for a couple of kilometres until she was caught! Now that’s not something you see every day!

Another unlikely source for this blog is Classic FM, and yet somehow I’ve come across a story combining both running and classical music as a student at the Birmingham Conservatoire plans to run the Liverpool half marathon this weekend dressed as a viola in an attempt to set a new world record. The current record stands at 1:26:57 so he’ll need to be fairly nippy to beat it. As a fellow string player, I wish him all the best.

Speaking of half marathon records, former professional runner Chris Estwanik set a new record at the recent New York City half for the fastest half marathon whilst wearing a suit. Why? Well, because it was a bet, of course! The Bermuda-based runner was offered a free round of a rum cocktail if he could break the record, and his time of 1:11:36 took more than SEVEN MINUTES off the previous record, so I think someone must owe him a drink!

And finally, if you fancy trying something a bit more unusual yourself, then take a look at this list compiled by The Guardian. It makes me wonder how many more totally bonkers races there are in the world (and how they came about in the first place!). If you’ve tried anything a bit different then I’d love to hear about it…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Week in Review – The Big One!

I can’t believe this training cycle is nearly over! It began in the depths of winter and now the clocks have actually going forward for British “Summer” Time! I’m linking up as usual with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL as I review my peak training week.

There were one or two minor changes this week thanks to life getting in the way, but I still feel I had a solid week of training. This was the plan:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps short run
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – long run

I stayed a bit later at work on Monday which meant I got to the pool a bit later. It was busy as there was an aqua fitness class on in part of the pool and a couple of others using the swim lane. I was keen to get home so probably swam a bit quicker than usual. Unfortunately this resulted in a bit less finesse in my form due to my rushing so I wasn’t overly satisfied with that, but I still felt it was a good workout.

On Tuesday I was back at the gym for my bike reps. Having missed this session during my recovery period last week, I wasn’t sure how I would feel and asked Steve if I should repeat the previous number of reps or move on. In the end, we decided I should aim to move on, but if I got to the number of reps I had completed a couple of weeks before and felt I couldn’t manage another two, then I could stop. As it turned out, I was able to complete all the reps I should and felt strong in the workout. I then enjoyed the chance to relax in the hot tub and sauna before heading home.

Wednesday threw a bit of a spanner in the works. I was due to resume my hill reps, however my elderly cat (who has a health condition) had been unwell and when I got home I wasn’t happy with how she was doing and felt the need to seek advice from the vet. The upshot was a bonus trip to the surgery for me to collect some new medication, followed by a couple of other errands while I was out. By the time I had done all that and tended to the cat, I felt mentally drained. It was also around 7pm and I was hungry. Getting changed and heading out to complete a set of hill reps just didn’t appeal. I sent Steve a message and he suggested just going for a straightforward run to clear my head, then if I felt like doing the reps once I was out, to do them. I really wasn’t fancying the hill reps, but knew the run would make me feel better so stuck some kit on and got out the door. I ran a loop of a little under 3 miles, maintained a reasonably hard pace and zoned out with a podcast. By the time I returned I felt much better and the cat was doing much better too. Phew!

Things got back on track on Thursday with my PT session. I had slept a bit funny and tweaked my upper back/neck so we focused again on upper back and shoulder mobility, which helped a great deal. By the time I had completed my Ashtanga yoga class, it was feeling so much better and my head felt much clearer too.

My Friday rest day was incredibly welcome. This term has been really busy with coursework to mark and we’re just one week away from our spring break now. I was home reasonably sharp after a quick errand, wrote my Friday Finds post then decided I felt quite sleepy so thought I would have a quick nap before Steve got home. That nap ended up being around 45 minutes as he finished work a bit later than we had expected. I still felt a bit “spaced out” as we headed out to eat, but was soon revived by my now traditional curry and beer. Once home, we watched a little TV (I wanted to see the Love Actually sequel and Carpool Karaoke with Take That on the Comic Relief TV coverage) before heading to bed.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early. By which I mean it was a nice, bright day and the cat made sure I appreciated it good and early as she wanted fed! With her needs taken care of, I had a bit of time to myself before parkrun. It was another week on the alternate route as the weather hasn’t improved enough to firm up the grass section and I was feeling pretty good. My legs were fresh and wanted to run fast, but I was consciously reigning it in as I knew I had 20 miles on the schedule the following day! I still sneaked it in under 24 minutes with a 23:53 (and rather surprising second mile of 7:37!).

IMG_1009Sadly there was no Hatha yoga this week as my teacher had a wedding to attend, so instead I headed home to shower before meeting Steve for the weekly food shop. Since the weather was so nice I opted to walk into town and enjoy the sunshine. Errands done, I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon to ensure I was well rested ahead of my long run. This included some quality time with the cat (and yes, there was another pizza-related “incident”!).

IMG_1018Sunday also began with an early wake up call from the cat, but at least with the clocks going forward it could be considered to be at a more civilised hour! I had decided not to get worked up about the loss of an hour overnight and instead focus on getting enough sleep and just dealing with the fact that I would be about an hour behind schedule all day. Since it was a nice day it meant I was finally able to hit the country roads for my long run. I don’t like to use these routes through the winter as it can be pretty lonely and miserable, whereas on a sunny spring day I usually see lots of other runners and cyclists as well as all the newborn lambs in the fields!

IMG_1026I’ve been trying to overdress a bit on my Sunday runs in order to get some acclimatisation since the chances are it will be warm in Paris in a couple of weeks. If it turns out to be a cool day then that’s a bonus for this pale Scottish runner! This week was probably about as warm as I’m going to get before race day so I opted for similar kit to what I plan to wear in Paris, but with an extra lightweight top which I could remove if I felt the need.

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My route was much hillier than the marathon profile (and hillier than all my previous training routes!), so my overall pace was not quite as quick as I would like, however I know that I was hitting goal pace on the flatter sections, even towards the end of the run, whilst slowing right down on the hills in order to give me a better chance of recovering over the next few days. To be honest, simply getting this far in my training plan fills me with joy after the way things have gone over the last few years, and hitting that peak mileage gives me the confidence that I’m as ready as I will ever be for this race. Will I get my PB? That’s in the lap of the running gods, but I’m going to give it my best shot!

IMG_1034And now, the taper. I’m experimenting with a two week taper rather than the traditional three as I’ve found that leaves me feeling a bit sluggish and heavy-legged for race day. If a training schedule is tailored to an individual and a recovery plan is different for every runner, then surely the nature of the taper is too? I guess we’ll soon find out…!

What will be the peak mileage in your training plan?
Do you use a three week taper or have you tried something else?

Friday Finds – 24th March

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.

It was a grim start to the week for amateur sports as a BBC State of Sport investigation revealed the extent to which doping is spreading through sport at all levels. Of greatest concern is the statistic that among those polled, over a third personally knew someone who had doped. Looking around the start line at a race, whether or not a fellow runner has taken performance enhancing drugs is the last thing on my mind, but this poll suggests that the issue is more widespread than I would ever have imagined. Perhaps that’s just me being naïve? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

And there was further worrying news yesterday with the announcement that JogScotland is to suffer a funding cut of £100,000 which will put its future at risk. While I’ve never attended a JogScotland training session, I know of a number of people who have found it invaluable in getting them running, keeping them running and introducing them to like-minded people. I’ve had a couple of positive experiences taking part in JogScotland events, and when it comes to helping those who for whatever reason don’t wish to join a running club, JogScotland is seen as welcoming and inclusive. In an age when inactivity is a ticking time-bomb for health, do we really want to lose a programme that has gained 40,000 members since 2002? I really hope something can be done to save this important resource.

Let’s look to something a bit more positive now. Earlier in the week I came across this article from The Huffington Post. It was published a while ago now, but the content remains relevant as it examines the vocabulary we use to describe our lives, and the messages these words send to children. I may not be a parent, but I do work with young people and considering the connotations of words is part and parcel of my job. Although written ostensibly for parents, the messages within each of these words is relevant for everyone, regardless of age:

I also enjoyed this piece from Outside in which the writer describes his challenge of running a sub-5 minute mile. Far from being an elite athlete, his times in other races are not hugely different to some of my PBs, so this endeavour was more about setting a huge goal and striving to achieve it – something I very much approve of! The headline kind of gives away the result, but I still enjoyed finding out a bit more about how the writer trained and how he felt on the track during his attempt. Running a single, timed mile is something I’ve never tried, but the idea intrigues me and I often wonder what time I would be capable of. Perhaps one day I’ll find out…

And finally, if you thought the track marathon I included earlier this month sounded a bit tedious, then today I have something that’s potentially even more dull: a marathon in a multi-storey car park. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s a marathon in a multi-storey car park! 71 times up and down all the ramps, staring at concrete, graffiti and rather questionable puddles. Personally, I think I’d prefer the track marathon – at least there would be a bit more daylight and fresh air!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess