Tunes on Tuesday – Could it be Magic

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

Could it be Magic – Take That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

Week in Review – Keep Calm and Carry On!

Week three of my current series of “Week in Review” posts where I’m sharing my training for the Paris Marathon in April. As part of this series, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL.

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This past week has been a tough one for me, not because of training but because of a big and stressful work commitment. I decided to make sure I got in some quality training, but not to worry if I felt that my performance level was down a bit. It was more important to listen to my body and in this early stage of training, staying healthy and avoiding injury is much more important.

The pattern of my week is perhaps becoming familiar now, but here it is again:

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

Monday’s swim was interesting. I’m never very comfortable in the first few lengths as my breathing hasn’t settled into a rhythm and I’m more likely to breathe in water or, on some occasions, actually forget to breathe! But once I get the first few out the way it feels like something clicks into place and the swim feels more effortless. After a questionable start to this session, I finished up feeling really good and like my body was “getting” it. What I really need to work on is consistency, to feel like I can just get into the water and swim comfortably every time. At the moment, I’m not sure I know how to do that, but am pleased with how much progress I’ve made since I began this process.

Tuesday was my second session of bike intervals at the higher intensity I’m now working at. I possibly didn’t work at quite as high a level as last week, but I made sure the effort felt the same. In a week where I was working harder throughout the rest of the day and probably not getting as much rest as I should, this was perfectly fine. Usually I head to the sauna after my gym session, but with lots to do at home I simply completed my workout with some stretching and mobility before hitting the showers.

Wednesday it was back to the hills for some reps. It was the same session as last week, but a little less windy and without the snow flurry! I somehow managed to stop my watch after a couple of reps so had to fiddle around with it so that the rest of the pre-programmed session would work which probably lost me some momentum, and there were also a couple of lengthened rest intervals while I waited for cars to pull in and out of driveways, but overall I was pleased with how I did. Last week I realised that when the main workout was finished I still had to run gradually uphill to get home, so this time took a different route to see how it felt. It did give me a nice downhill stretch, but I’m not actually sure if I preferred it so will return to my original route in the week ahead and maybe alternate them.

IMG_0494On Thursday I had to make a little change to my routine again as I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fit in both a PT session AND a yoga class. With a stressful Friday looming, I decided it would be much more beneficial to go to yoga and I’m so pleased I did. My body felt stretched out and light afterwards, and my mind was stilled by the yogic breathing. I arrived home in the right frame of mind to prepare myself for the day ahead and get as good a sleep as possible.

On Friday morning I had the big work commitment I had been preparing for and was conscious that my body was running on adrenaline. As a result of timing and driving over lunchtime, both my hydration and eating got out of sync. By the time I finished work I felt drained and hungry. Fortunately Friday is my rest day so I once more joined some work friends for a coffee, but since I had missed out on a proper lunch I also ordered a delicious focaccia to fuel me up a bit as it was still a while until Steve and I would head out to eat. That revived me and I finished the day feeling much better and ready for a really good sleep as I’m supposed to be prioritising rest. That definitely didn’t happen during this week!

IMG_0496On Saturday I felt a bit more refreshed and ready for parkrun. I suspected my performance would not be as strong as last week, but accepted that I would go with what my body felt like doing. It was chilly in the morning but the last few days had been reasonably mild which meant the grass section was really muddy and slippy. I definitely felt my pace slow over that stretch after quite a fast start, but I didn’t really lose any position as everyone was affected in the same way. Coming off the grass I had settled into a more steady pace, but did pass a couple of people. Coming into the finish, I was aware of Steve standing at the side indicating that someone else was catching me. Normally I ignore him and just do my own thing, but I glanced over my shoulder and saw Ella and couldn’t resist seeing if I could keep ahead. Turns out she has one hell of a sprint finish in her legs and it was probably a photo finish as we crossed the line side by side, but I was pleased to find a reserve of energy in my legs at a point where I was feeling tired as that’s what I’ll need in the marathon. I was also pleased with my time of 24 minutes exactly as I had expected to be slower this week.

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After parkrun it was a really quick shower and change at the gym before heading to my yoga class. I love my Hatha class on a Saturday morning as the gentle stretching after the run feels great and the class is always really relaxing which is perfect to start the weekend. Since I run both days at the weekend, I think this helps me to recover from the hard run before my long run on Sunday morning. I then dedicated the remainder of the day to rest. I read, I took a nap and I cuddled my cat. Just what I needed after a hard work week.

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My suPURRvisor made sure I rested!

I awoke on Sunday feeling better than I had all week. Taking the time to rest and reset really helped, as did finally getting a good night’s sleep, uninterrupted by anxious dreams! I did, however, wake up to this:
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An iPhone snap doesn’t really do justice to how “blue” the light seemed at 8am. With 10 miles on my schedule, I checked the weather app to get an idea of temperature and noticed it said a 10% chance of snow. “Nah, that’ll never happen!” thought I, only to look up and see the flakes beginning to drift down. But rather than be put off, I felt quite excited at the prospect of running in the snow, so after a light breakfast (and prepping the evening meal for the slow cooker) I got myself layered up and out the door.

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So good knowing this will be bubbling away all day and our evening meal is taken care of BEFORE we get our long runs in!

This week I was much better at reigning in the pace so that overall I was about where I wanted to be. There were still times when my legs wanted to go faster and if I wasn’t paying attention I would settle into a quicker pace than I should be at on these runs, but used my watch to keep an eye on things and slowed down when necessary. The 10 miles flew in as I listened to podcasts and it wasn’t really all that cold once I was moving. I really love these long runs in the early part of marathon training when having built a solid base means that I feel strong and like I could easily keep on going. I know that won’t be the case every week, but for now it gives me confidence in my training and confidence that I can have a real go at getting a new PB in April. Paris, I’m coming for you!
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Next week is a cutback week so my Sunday run will be shorter, however since I probably worked at a lower intensity in my midweek workouts this week, I won’t be making any conscious cutback there. Things should also be a little quieter at work so I can refocus on making sure I get some quality rest as I believe that’s crucial to keeping me injury free as training progresses.

How has your training been this week?
What’s your favourite workout?

Week in Review – Settling In

Time for the second in my series of regular “week in review” posts to document this cycle of marathon training. Like last week, I’m linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL since I really enjoyed joining their linkup for the first time last week. If you write a weekly recap and want to be part of the linkup too, then all the information is here.

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This past week was the first of the new school term. That meant a bit of a shock to the system at being up earlier and being much more mentally challenged day-to-day whilst still maintaining the consistency of my training, hence my reference to “settling in” in this week’s title. In order to capitalise on the base I’ve built, consistency is key to further improving my fitness and preparing for the demands of the marathon. The pattern of my training remained the same, it was really just the time of day that I trained that was affected by a return to my “normal” routine (which meant fewer photos as there was a lot of working out in the dark!).

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

Whenever I write about my training I always include a reminder that it’s important to make your plan fit around your life, not the other way around. Sometimes that means making a few tweaks and adjustments when you know you won’t be able to fit a particular session in. Already, I’ve had to make an adjustment as I knew I couldn’t get to my Saturday yoga class, but since my teacher also has a Monday evening class, I switched to that one for this week. It was actually a really nice way to relax after the first day of school and the timing fitted well with my swim session after work.

Tuesday saw me back at the gym for my weekly session of bike intervals. Having completed the last workout in my previous cycle (pun intended!) of these last week, it was time to move on. This meant dropping the reps back down but putting the intensity up. I’ll now add on a couple of reps each week until I get to the same number I reached at the previous intensity. It’s always a funny moment when I get to this point. On the one hand, the workout is about ten minutes shorter, but on the other it feels just a little harder. Not impossible, but my body has been used to a particular intensity and now that’s changed. It’s definitely worth it though as these progressive workouts are what makes me feel stronger and, in turn, this helps me to run well.

I had another new workout to begin on Wednesday with my hill reps. Like with the bike, I reached the peak of my previous sessions last week so Steve devised something new to move me on. This meant a new hill and a new workout. Rather than a repeated point-to-point, this time I’m running between lampposts e.g. 5 to this one, 4 to the next, 3 to the next. When I first arrived at the bottom of the hill I thought maybe the first set wouldn’t be challenging enough, but I wasn’t taking into account the “sting in the tail” with this hill which gets steeper as it goes on. By the time I was on the last, most challenging set, I had the added bonus of high winds and the beginning of a snow flurry as well, but I got it done. It was the sort of workout which will not only make me physically stronger, but mentally stronger too or, as Steve says, it was “character building” ha ha!

Thursday is often one of my favourite workout days of the week. After work I have a PT session with Steve. We have been focusing a lot on core strength and mobility using the core momentum trainer, but Steve varies the exercises each week. In the main, we’re making sure my hips remain strong after the problems I had in the autumn. Just because I rehabbed that problem at the time doesn’t mean it can’t return so I do need to keep that as a priority.

I go straight from that session to the yoga studio for my Ashtanga class. My last one was mid-December as they were closed over the festive period and I was really looking forward to getting back as it helps me to relax and focus towards the end of the school week. I also love seeing the progress I’ve made since starting last May and realising my body can now move in ways it just couldn’t before. I was worried that I might have lost some flexibility during the break, but I don’t think I had, so that’s good news. My only disappointment was that the new mat I ordered hadn’t arrived yet, but hopefully I’ll have it for my next class.

Friday is my rest day and I sometimes take advantage of that to go for an after school coffee with some friends from work. This week, four of us managed to get together and have a really good catch up which was really nice. We don’t always see much of each other in the hustle and bustle of the school term (we don’t all teach the same subjects) so taking the chance to get together out of school and catch up on the news is great. It doesn’t happen every week, but even with a longish drive home afterwards I still love it when we do go. A great way to start the weekend, followed up beautifully with eating out with Steve (our Friday night tradition since we moved into our house almost a year ago).

We had a bit of a cold snap with lots of ice and some snow which by Saturday was frozen pretty solid. There was a small question mark over parkrun on Saturday, but fortunately after an inspection of the course it was deemed safe enough, albeit with reminders to run with care. I decided this was the ideal time to wear my all-terrain Adidas Boosts and made sure I was well wrapped up against the elements with thermal running tights, a Climaheat top, my favourite running hat and two pairs of gloves since it’s usually my fingers which get cold. Given all that, I didn’t really expect much of my time, simply running was more important. So nobody was more surprised than me when I finished in 23:46 (the time on the photo below is pulled from Strava rather than being my official time). This was faster than the week before Christmas when I was thrilled to sneak in a sub-24, and my fastest time for the parkrun year so far (our parkrun year began at the end of November). I’m crediting my shoes with this one since although the course was mostly covered in ice/snow, I felt secure when I landed and was able to run with confidence. The improvement in my time in a month also tells me that the training is working, so I’m pleased with that.

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Finally, Sunday and the long run came around. The temperature had picked up a little so most of the ice had melted although there were still a few slippy patches to watch out for. I had 8 miles on the schedule so planned out my route, loaded up the latest Marathon Talk podcast (my favourite for long runs) and set off. I’ve been trying to run my long runs quite slowly to help build endurance and trust that this will make me faster on race day, however I’m pretty sure I went too fast today as my average pace was 9:20 per mile, even with a big hill towards the end. I should probably be aiming closer to 9:30-9:40 (and definitely slower on the flats and downhills!) so will need to try and take it a bit easier. I still felt strong all the way round though, so felt pleased with that.
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So that’s week two done. The week ahead is going to be a busy one, but I’m hopeful I can still get my training done and get some quality rest.

How was your training this week?
Any obstacles getting in the way of what you want to do?

Friday Finds – 6th January

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.

And just like that, it’s 2017! Happy New Year! I hope the first week of 2017 has been a good one for you and you’ve made some positive steps towards achieving your goals for the year. To help, this week’s finds are all about motivation and inspiration to help you get there.

First, Ed Whitlock. I know I’ve mentioned him before as he recently added another record to his impressive collection. At 85, Whitlock continues to perform phenomenal athletic feats (and can run a faster marathon than I’ve ever done!) which really challenge our belief that age is a barrier to what we want to do. What I find so interesting in this article from The New York Times is the results of various scientific tests Whitlock underwent a few years ago. His VO2 max, muscle physiology and attitude to life all far surpass those of his contemporaries, and scientists are now reassessing what this means for ageing and performance. For me, Whitlock is a fine example of not letting age stand in the way of achievement and reminds us all that it’s never too late to take on a new challenge.

On a similar theme, did you see the story of Robert Marchand earlier this week? Marchand set a new record for the furthest distance cycled around a velodrome in an hour, and while his distance of 14 miles may not sound all that impressive, that changes dramatically with the added information that Marchand is 105!!! He already held the record for those over 100, and now adds the over 105 to his collection. Like Whitlock, Marchand has a fantastic attitude, saying, “I am not here to be a champion. I am here to prove that at 105 years old you can still ride a bike.” Hear, hear!

Now, if you ever wondered about the New Year’s resolutions of elite athletes, wonder no more as Athletics Weekly has you covered. This piece confirms for me that other than athletic prowess, the elites are no different from the rest of us as the common themes in their resolutions are about making opportunities count, making more time for themselves and working hard to get what they want. Probably very similar to your own goals and resolutions for 2017.

If one of your goals was to get more serious about your running, then Runner’s World has provided some great advice about what you might have to change or prioritise in order to improve your running. Lots of sensible ideas here, with the benefits and potential risks set out clearly. I, for one, know that rest and recovery is something I need to pay more attention to and I will be trying to prioritise rest in the months ahead.

And finally, something heartwarming for you this week. A German film student made a 100 second ad as part of his course and this is the result: an ageing marathoner struggling to come to terms with life in a retirement home fights back against the deterioration in his body (and confines of his home) to run again. It may not be an official advert, but I’m still sure it will bring a smile to your face and perhaps even a tear to your eye. So in the spirit of Ed Whitlock and Robert Marchand, enjoy!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

2016 Goals – The Final Verdict!

It hardly seems a minute since I first published my 2016 goals, yet here we are at the end of 2016, looking back over what has, in many ways, been a most strange year. I’ve checked in with my goals throughout the year (in March, June and September) so now it’s time to round things off with one final post to sum up my progress.

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  1. Overcome injury and return to running
    Overall, this went well. When I wrote my goals I was unable to run thanks to a stress fracture in my foot (I promise to stop going on about that now!) and was worried about being able to train for the Paris Marathon in the spring. But with a sensible return to running and some adjusted goals, I was still able to take part in the marathon and had a blast. I continued to run well through the summer and although I hit a little obstacle in the path in the autumn thanks to an irritation in my hip, backing off for a couple of weeks and taking my time over reintroducing running has meant that I could finish the year strongly. I even sneaked in a sub-24 parkrun a couple of weeks ago, which is always an indication of being in good form.
    Another reason for this goal was that I felt I missed out on a lot at the end of 2015, but have since laid those demons to rest with my participation in this year’s Santa Dash and continued presence at parkrun. Given how things were this time last year, I am thrilled with everything I have achieved. Result – goal achievedIMG_6510
  2. Work on learning the front crawl
    I’ve been a bit up and down on this one. The positive is that I have been to the pool almost every week and worked on my stroke. The negative is that the one time I had an opportunity to test out my progress, I panicked in the pool and had a terrible time. I did make a point of getting back in the water within a couple of days (otherwise I might never have returned!) and I do feel that the experience taught me a valuable lesson about keeping calm in the water, but I’m not convinced I’ve made as much progress as I would like. Realistically, swimming was not, in the end, as much of a priority as I first thought, and I know there is still some work to do here. In recent weeks I have felt a bit more comfortable in the water and have felt like I’m establishing more of a rhythm, so this goal will likely be continued into 2017. Result – working towards goalimage
  3. Get out on my bike more
    I’m not sure I ever really got to grips with this one. Yes, I did get out on my trusty steed Trixie a few times, but heading out on my bike just never became a habit this year as I always prioritised my running or other workouts that would benefit my running. It’s a shame as I actually do enjoy riding my bike, but I know I’m very much a fair weather cyclist and given the choice of going for a run or going for a cycle, I’ll always choose the run. Perhaps another goal to continue into 2017? Result – working towards goal
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  4. Be more organised
    This has been an interesting one. Moving house early in the year made me feel anything but organised as I regularly forgot where I had put things and had to establish new routines. By the summer, things were much improved and I was able to get a bit of a handle on life, but staying on top of things outside of work as the term goes on continues to be a problem, resulting in the first couple of days of any break from school being a flurry of sorting and organising. That said, I do think there have been many improvements such as planning our meals for the week (since we no longer live across the road from a supermarket!), planning not just my workouts but also how to achieve my step goal every day and finding some time to write one or two blog posts in advance. Since this is the kind of goal where improvement rather than perfection is the aim, then I’d say I was successful. Result – goal achieved
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  5. Read more books
    Of all my 2016 goals, this may be the one I feel the most proud of. This time last year I was conscious that while I read news articles, blog posts and pupil work every single day, my time spent actually sitting down with a book was getting more and more curtailed, to the point that I actually had no idea how many books I could read in a year. It was time to publicly declare a goal that would make me more accountable and, with improvements in my time management, find more time to work my way through the ever-increasing pile of books to be read. To help, I set up an account on Goodreads and joined their 2016 reading challenge with a target of 15 books (I based this on managing one per month plus some extras on holiday in July) and by the time I got back from my holiday, I had already achieved my target. So to keep me focused, I turned my attention to the sub-goal of a reading challenge I had saved at the beginning of the year, and in my last update I had embarked on the final book of the challenge – a book that intimidates you. For sheer intimidation in size, I opted for War and Peace and worried that I might not finish it on time, however with some post-Christmas free time I was able to spend a bit more time with this literary behemoth, finishing it with a few days to spare. I’m now reading something much lighter (both in physical weight and content!) and will likely have one more completed book to add to my tally before the year is over. Definitely a massive success! Result – goal achieved
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    And for anyone interested, the books I read for this this part of the challenge were:
    *A book published this year – Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
    *A book you can finish in a day – Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan
    *A book you’ve been meaning to read – Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
    *A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
    *A book you should have read in school – Lord of the Flies by William Golding
    *A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF – Start with Why by Simon Sinek
    *A book published before you were born – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    *A book that was banned at some point – The Color Purple by Alice Walker
    *A book you previously abandoned – One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
    *A book you own but have never read – Last Bus to Coffeeville by J. Paul Henderson
    *A book that intimidates you – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
    *A book you’ve already read at least once – Persuasion by Jane Austen

All in all, I’m pleased with the outcomes of my goals this year. Yes, there is room for improvement, but if they were all things I could easily achieve then there wouldn’t have been much point in setting them as goals. To me, a goal should be something that presents a degree of challenge and may take time to achieve. I have made clear progress in each goal I set and have definitely moved forwards in the past year. I wonder what 2017 will bring…?

How did you get on with your goals in 2016?
What has this year taught you?

Reflections on Training

Back in June I wrote a little about how I had altered my training routine following the stress fracture I suffered towards the end of last year. Since then, I have mentioned on and off that I was making some changes, but I’ve never really written specifically about my training plan or reflected on its success. Today, I’m going to do just that.

First of all, a disclaimer: I’m not a qualified trainer or coach, I simply looked at the training I had been doing and made some decisions about what I should do next based on my experiences . What works for me might not suit someone else, and vice versa. I would always recommend chatting to a running coach or personal trainer to help you with an appropriate plan, as it’s important your plan suits you and your life, rather than you trying to shoehorn your life into the plan!

In the past I have always relied on Steve to write all my training plans and I have enjoyed what I have done. Each cycle would be different so my body wouldn’t get too used to the same thing, but there were some things that had become fixed features: 4 runs per week, a PT session and a Metafit class or two. When I had my stress fracture, none of this could happen. I swam more, used the bike at the gym more, and we adapted any PT sessions to focus on my upper body or to have no impact on my foot. Not running was frustrating, but I did enjoy my time in the pool and in the saddle.

Fast forward to February and I had the green light to start running again…sort of. My podiatrist recommended a VERY strict programme of run/walk intervals which would take me 10 sessions before I was running for 30 minutes straight. I was also only allowed to run 3 times per week rather than my usual 4. This worked for me and I continued to gradually rebuild my mileage alongside some cross training to boost my fitness ahead of the Paris marathon, which although not the race I had originally intended to have, was still a brilliant experience and taught me a lot about pacing and enjoying the journey.

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It was once I made the decision to (secretly) sign up for the Loch Ness marathon that I realised the structure of my week was going to need some attention. I felt there was a pattern of injury which suggested that too much high impact work during the week (running, Metafit, drills) just didn’t suit me. I also knew that I tended to run my long runs too fast, meaning there wasn’t sufficient difference between that run and my run during the week. I figured that could be streamlined more to maximise my fitness and to give a real focus to every workout. I also wanted to build in more rest and (active) recovery, as well as minimising long midweek workouts during term time.

After a bit of back and forth with Steve trying to work out the best pattern, I settled on:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – tempo run (between 5k and 10k, averaging about 4-5 miles)
Wednesday – interval workout on the bike
Thursday – run-specific PT session followed by Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest day
Saturday – parkrun (basically a speed workout) followed by Hatha yoga
Sunday – long slow run

And for the most part, this worked for me. I felt I was fit, but without lots of high impact workouts all the time. The fact that I got my parkrun time right down close to what I previously thought was a “rogue” and unattainable PB was testament to that fitness. The bike intervals were developed each week so that overall I increased the resistance and the number of reps. This added to my fitness, made my legs feel strong and helped to keep my legs turning over at a higher cadence, all without any impact. Swimming gave me some active recovery the day after my long run and my flexibility definitely improved thanks to yoga. That flexibility also highlighted a weakness which I need to address, and which ultimately meant I did not run my race, but I’m looking on that as a positive thing since part of the idea behind training for an autumn marathon was to make my body stronger for my spring marathon training. Addressing the issue now should hopefully mean that I at least achieve the goal of being stronger in the spring. I may be short of one marathon medal, but I’m still pleased with how my training went and take solace in the fact that I didn’t get “injured” in the sense of doing any damage to my body, I simply discovered a weakness to work on.

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Finding the ideal training plan is tough. You never know what obstacles life will throw in your way, nor can you really know how your body will respond to the demands of the programme. I think everything I did was right, I just missed out a bit more core strength work to complement what I was doing. With that in mind, I can now make some tweaks to my plan as I move forward.

Right now, my training is a little lower key. Allowing some recovery time after a training cycle is important, and realistically I was “only” 26.2 miles short of completing my plan. I took a full week off training in the week after our trip to Loch Ness, then followed that with a week of light cross training, as per the recovery plan I know works for me. Now, I’m using my school holiday to get back into the swing of training, but without any particular pressure or demand on what I’m doing. I’m gradually reintroducing running alongside continued work to strengthen my hip. I’m swimming, using the bike, going to yoga and walking lots.

And alongside all of that, I’m working on my new training plan. Aside from the workouts I do each day, I also have to look at WHEN I do those workouts as the structure to our school day has changed and now my daily routine feels a little bit different. After one term of working within that new structure, I now have a better idea of the time I have available each day and have been looking at how I can maximise that as well as ensuring I have enough “down time” to allow me to rest and recover. I have some ideas, so just need to put the finishing touches to the plan and see how that pattern works in the term up to the end of the year. Watch this space…!

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How do you construct your training plans?
What are the key workouts you include in each training cycle?

2016 Goals – Third Quarter Check-In

I can hardly believe today is the first of October! I awoke to a crisp, autumnal morning, the current school term is very nearly over and summer is becoming a somewhat distant memory (good thing we got our flights sorted out for next year earlier this week!). Nine months have passed since I set my goals for the year, so it’s time for another check-in to see how I’m getting on. (You can read my previous updates here and here).

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1. Overcome injury and return to running
For the most part, this has continued to go well. In my mid-year update I had just run my first sub-24 minute parkrun since coming back from my stress fracture at the end of last year, and was seeing both my pace and my distance improving. Of course I have since confessed that I was secretly marathon training, and although I suffered a bit of a blip in terms of an issue with my hip which prevented me running that marathon, I still feel pleased with how things have gone. In late August I ran my fastest parkrun of the year (which was also my second fastest time ever) and was happy with how my training was going in general. An irritated hip has been less than ideal, but I take solace in the fact that it’s not arisen from overuse or a particular training mistake, but from changes in my body due to increasing my flexibility. It should be easy to address, indeed in just the past week I have noticed a significant improvement, and I’m feeling confident that I can return to running very soon with the strength and endurance of a training cycle in my legs ready to see me through to my spring marathon. At the moment, I’m enjoying a couple of weeks off running to let me work on this, but if I had run in Loch Ness I would have had that same downtime so feel OK with this situation since I never planned to be running right now. With a bit of luck, that’s all the time out I’ll need then onwards to the next goal! Progress – Temporary setback

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2. Work on learning the front crawl
I’ve probably neglected this one a bit, by which I mean I’ve become complacent with it. I’m continuing to swim once a week, and have been experimenting with going first thing in the morning when the gym opens, which I do quite like even with the early start. Following my relay triathlon misadventure, my confidence in the pool was knocked a bit so I’m trying to focus on relaxing in the water and getting into a rhythm with my breath. I also know I need to be less reliant on stopping at the ends of the pool and swimming more continuously. I’m thinking another lesson will be in order soon, as well as using my pull buoy and kick board for some drills to improve my stroke. This one has been a bit of a long journey, but I’ll get there in the end. Progress – Must try harder!

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3. Get out on my bike more
Finally some positive progress on this one. My bike Trixie got some much-needed TLC ahead of the relay triathlon and I recently enjoyed a nice Sunday cycle while I was giving my hip a break from running. I’m really hoping for some nice weather during my school October break so I can get out on her a few more times as I know that once we reach late October my chances of getting out are much slimmer. I’m not good at heading out when it’s wet or slippy as I’m too scared of falling off. I also know that I’ll use the end of the year to build a good base for my marathon training so running will take priority then. Still, having enjoyed getting back in the saddle I think this will remain a goal into 2017. Progress – Much improved!

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4. Be more organised
The summer definitely gave me a chance to get my life a bit more sorted out and I have established better routines in my life. The reality, however, is that during the school term my time is so pinched that I do start to lose a bit of my grip on my “real” life as school takes over. That said, I have definitely kept my blog more up to date and don’t feel as behind in life as I did before the summer. A few more improvements could be made now that I’ve experienced a term with our new timetable structure, so I’ll be giving that some thought during my October break. Progress – Still improving

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5. Read more books
I think this is where I’ve enjoyed the greatest success. Thanks to my summer holiday and making some more time to read, I’ve competed the challenge I set on Goodreads to read 15 books this year. In fact, right now I’m reading book number 26! I’ve also made fantastic progress with the sub-challenge I mentioned in my mid-year update and am on my final book – one that intimidates me. I am a little concerned that I’ve left that one a bit late in the year, but hopefully I do have enough time left to finish War and Peace (not kidding, that’s my final choice!). At some points during the year I’ve had more than one book on the go at the same time, so if I focus solely on this one then hopefully all will be fine. I’m reading it on my Kindle to reduce the intimidation of this doorstopper tome, but the percentage read seems to be just crawling by. Still, I’ve wanted to read this book since my second year of university (last century – eek!) when I came over all pretentious and took a one year course called Russian Literature in Translation which I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I’ve finally found my chance. Wish me luck! Progress – Superb!

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I know things can’t go smoothly all the time, but overall I’m pleased with my progress to date. Now just four months of the year left to make further improvements. If I can finish that book I’ll be ecstatic!

How are you getting on with your 2016 goals?
What book intimidates you and why?