Friday Finds – 8th December

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.

Hello! How has your week been? Mine has been interesting to say the least, but at long last it’s Friday and time to get the weekend started with some Friday Finds

As the year edges towards its close many of us are evaluating our goals for the year and contemplating the things we want to achieve in 2018. With that in mind, you might find this first article interesting. Writing for the BBC, Amanda Ruggeri investigates goals and what can lead to both success and failure. I’ll bear this in mind when setting my goals for 2018.

Also thinking about the end of the year is Strava. This week the social network for athletes released their annual report filled with statistics gleaned from the activities logged throughout 2017 (although I was surprised at the “average” people logging 120-130 miles for the year. That seems low to me, but maybe my perception is skewed by marathon training?). In the article below, Women’s Running pulls together some of the headline numbers. If you’re a data geek, enjoy!

Next, an examination of the ubiquitous pre-race kit photo. We’ve all been known to take those “flat runner” photos, especially when we travel for our race (guilty as charged!), but in this piece for Outside, Martin Fritz Huber argues that when it comes to the pros there’s more to those photos than simple sponsor promotion, that they have become part of a pre-race ritual that encourages focus and creates a degree of control. And that’s where they can be useful for all of us, whether we’re aiming to be on the podium or just happy to finish.

On a lighter note, two-time US Olympian Desi Linden posted an amusing tweet in which she described several American pro runners as emojis. I love this idea and it got me wondering about the emoji I would like to represent me. It has to be the princess since I’m The Running Princess! 👸🏻 What would you choose and why?

And finally, every week I like to finish with a lighter/humorous article or video. This week, Canadian Running Magazine has done the hard work for me and rounded up some of the strangest running moments of the year. I know I’ve covered some of these and remember reading/hearing about others. Maybe you remember some too…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

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Week In Review – A Musical Interlude!

Hola! It’s been a super busy week for me, especially over the weekend, so I had to be quite creative with my time to get some workouts squeezed in. Let me share the details as I link up, as ever, with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL.

I’m keen to get a bit more focus in my workouts as I begin to build a strong base ahead of my next round of marathon training, however that wasn’t possible for all of my workouts this week. Here’s how things ended up:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – bike @ the gym
Wednesday – short run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 10k

Yes, my week did begin with a rest day. I was quite tired from our trip to Edinburgh last Sunday, and with an after school meeting I just couldn’t summon the energy to do anything else. Aside from that, I wanted to pay a quick visit to my mum who, following a mishap on holiday in Tenerife, has torn her hamstring and is not very mobile right now. A colleague had given me some magazines to help keep her entertained and I wanted to drop those off as well as hear about her visit to the doctor that day. My mum is generally quite fit and healthy so I’m sure this will heal well, but right now she’s needing some painkillers to help keep her comfortable as even sitting is a bit tricky right now!

I did, however, get back on it on Tuesday. I’m still not sure how best to use my Tuesday bike workouts and need to get Steve to give me some kind of progressive structure to follow again, but for this week I simply set up my Kindle and pedalled hard for half an hour. I actually covered slightly more distance that the previous week with the same effort so it is still a useful gauge of fitness. I’m reading a really great book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell all about the factors which influence success, and I’m finding it really interesting so the time seemed to pass quite quickly (it’s also a sneaky way to maximise my time and catch up on my reading goal for this year!).

Wedneday presented a bit of a problem: I had intended to leave work at the end of the school day, but ended up staying for almost an hour beyond that. I had an orchestra rehearsal (the final Wednesday before our concert) which I definitely wanted to be at and spent some time in the car debating whether or not to go for a run. In the end I decided I had to go for it as I’ll miss out next week thanks to a parents’ evening at work. I just had to maximise the benefit of running a short distance. Basically, I had to run hard for 20-25 minutes as that’s all the time I had. I chose a route and just went for it, getting home within my target time and being very efficient with getting some food organised while I showered and changed. Miraculously I was ready for my sister picking me up and enjoyed a great rehearsal.

IMG_4694Thursday was a little less manic in that I managed to be at home for longer than 8 minutes before my yoga class. I’m so convinced that yoga has made a big difference to my running, my flexibility and my strength that I try to prioritise getting to this class and it’s rare that I miss one. I felt good throughout and since I want to progress to more than one round of Wheel, this week did it twice but for a shorter amount of time so that I could feel what it was like to push myself up into the position twice (the bit I find hardest due to the limitation in the range of movement in my left arm). I did start to drift off during the relaxation at the end though, thanks to all the rushing about in the days before!

Speaking of which, I was back to rushing around again on Friday. I had two things I definitely needed to do and one desirable extra. First, I needed to collect the cat’s medicine from the vet, then I had an appointment to get my nails done, and I was hopeful of squeezing in a PT session with Steve after that. I did manage all of it thanks to some impressive time management on my part, but it did mean that Friday Finds just didn’t happen and went out later in the weekend. Sometimes something has to give and I prioritised what I had to do.

IMG_4695The PT session was good. I asked Steve to give me some exercises to help with my upper back mobility as my right shoulder has still been feeling a little tight, and also to help me to build a good strength base to support my forthcoming marathon training. We began with the usual mobility exercises using the broom handle, then used the TRX after that, returning to some exercises I probably haven’t done since he moved studio. I found this really interesting as at one point I stopped to ask if I was doing it right as the movement felt different. It turned out that I was actually performing the movement better thanks to the improved strength, flexibility and balance that yoga has given me. Good news!

I had known all week that Saturday was going to be super busy and there wasn’t much I could do to mitigate that. The day began, as ever, with parkrun. It was a bright but chilly morning and I decided to test out my fitness. I was running comfortably sub-24 minutes before the Loch Ness marathon, but with time off and some easing back since then my best of late was 24:20. I would love to squeeze in one last sub-24 before the end of the year, but conditions tend to be less than conducive to that as it’s more likely to be windy and the half mile or so over the grass can get pretty muddy. This was all about seeing where I was and working out if this goal would be possible. Imagine my irritation, then, to finish with a time of 24:01. So close! Still, it’s an encouraging sign and tells me that although I’ve scaled back some of my training recently, I am still improving my fitness with shorter, faster runs and some hard cycling on the bike at the gym. Watch this space to see if I manage my end of year mini-goal…

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fullsizeoutput_22d3Post-parkrun I had time for a quick shower then headed off to get my hair done. I had all my stuff ready to go and was accompanied by my violin as I was going straight from the hairdresser to our final orchestra rehearsal before the concert that night. I was prepared to be late to the rehearsal, but actually ended up there in good time and it was great to hear our repertoire being played in the venue where the acoustics are a little different to our rehearsal room!

IMG_4699Usually my Saturday evening is spent in my pyjamas, curled up with the cat and a cosy blanket watching TV. This time I was scrubbed up with my hair done (I’m usually pushing it a bit on hair washing by Saturday!) and make up on. I felt tired when I went home to eat between the rehearsal and concert, but as soon as we went on stage the concert adrenaline kicked in and I was ready to go.

IMG_4700I really enjoyed playing so need to work out how I can continue to fit in my weekly rehearsal and my training up to our final concert of the season in February.

After all that activity I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in on Sunday morning, then got organised for a run. Steve’s still having an issue with his calf so a trail run together was out of the question. Instead, I decided it was time I went for a slightly longer run (i.e. longer than 4 miles!) at a steadier pace so came up with a loose plan for 10k. This put me in town just as the High Constables were lining up for the council officials to walk from the council chambers to the Remembrance Day service and it looked quite a sight! (The High Constables are a society dating back to 1830 with a common interest in upholding the history and traditions of Perth and all of whom have sworn allegiance to the Queen. Their primary duties involve parading on civic occasions at the request of the Provost and Council of Perth and Kinross).

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IMG_4710I also stopped by to see my favourite riverside pals as I made my way home again.

IMG_4711I had covered my watch with the sleeve of my top so I would have no idea of pace and could just run however I felt. This was interesting as I probably ran much faster than I would have done if I’d been looking at my watch. My average pace was just outside of 4 hour marathon pace, however this was skewed by the last mile being uphill and most of the run was much faster than that. An interesting experiment that I may repeat some time.

IMG_4715Thankfully I found some time in the remainder of the day to relax a bit. It was a rather full-on week and I can’t see that changing much in the last few weeks of the year. I shall have to be vigilant about finding time to relax whenever I can.

Do you play a musical instrument?
What are your current running goals?

Week In Review – A Busy One!

Some weeks are pretty quiet, others are super busy and this week has definitely been a busy one! Join me as I link up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share more.

Part of the busy-ness came from the start of the new school term which began with some observations by a team visiting from the local authority. Not quite an inspection, but an opportunity to prepare for future inspections. On top of that I had some things in the diary but still wanted to fit in some training to keep things ticking over. Here’s how it looked:

Monday – sports massage
Tuesday – bike @ the gym
Wednesday – short run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – short run

After getting back to the pool last week I had to skip it this week as I had a sports massage scheduled. Normally I would squeeze in a quick swim beforehand, however I needed to use this time to have some food as I was heading straight from the massage to meet my sister at the cinema to see a screening of The Princess Bride. It was so good to see it on the big screen, and everyone there clearly knew it well as we were all reacting ahead of some of the lines, but I’m trying to gloss over the fact that it was being shown to mark the film’s 30th anniversary, as that makes me feel really old!

F9FB4E95-CDCC-472E-A577-2BD650E33C42I was back to it on Tuesday with another 30 minute cycle on the bike at my gym. I quite enjoy getting myself set up with my Kindle and pedalling hard while catching up on some reading. I can’t do that when I”m doing intervals so take the chance when I’m not. sometimes you just have to multi-task to get everything done!

Wednesday was one of those super busy days. I’m committed to going to orchestra rehearsals each Wednesday until our concert but am keen to fit a run in as well. Usually this will be fine (it’s only in the short term) but this week I had an appointment in town so it was after 5:30pm before I got home. Somehow I needed to run, shower and eat before my sister picked me up a little after 7pm. Challenge extended…! I was changed and out the door super fast with a loop in mind. I knew it would be less than 3 miles but planned to attack it hard since there was time pressure. I wanted to be back by 6:15pm and was home at 6:12! I stuck my dinner in the oven while I showered and changed, then finished it just as my sister texted to say she was on her way. Yes it was rushed, but I was impressed by my own efficiency.

IMG_4511After all that I was grateful for my Ashtanga yoga class on Thursday evening. It was a busy class this week but it felt great to stretch and relax. Even better, I managed “Wheel” for a full 5 breaths, which is what I’ve been working towards. After managing to hold the posture for 4 breaths last week I felt confident I could manage more – perhaps it’s all about belief rather than strength? Next is to manage more than 1 round as at present I switch to yoga bridge after that.

Usually Friday is pretty chilled but this was another busy day for me. As soon as I got home from work I Changed and headed over to the studio for my session with Steve. My right shoulder was still feeling a bit tight so I wanted to do some work around that. I had also noticed something in my right foot/ankle that needed a little tweak. Nothing painful, more a minor functional movement issue. We did some exercises to address it as well as doing some work on the TRX.

IMG_4518Afterwards I was straight home to change (again) and headed out to grab some Chinese food before heading into town. It was the opening night of the Women of the World (WoW) Festival with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in conversation with the founder of WoW and some teen girls who were very articulate and had thought carefully about the issues they wanted to discuss. The focus was on gender issues rather than political ones. I really enjoyed it and am hoping to write a bit more about the festival overall.

IMG_4520I had bought a weekend pass for the WoW Festival and wanted to attend sessions throughout both Saturday and Sunday. The first one I wanted to go to on Saturday was at 10:30am, so I had some logistics to figure out to make sure I could get to parkrun as well. To avoid car parking issues, I walked to parkrun carrying a bag with a change of clothes which I kept in Steve’s car while I ran (he had been away earlier for a PT client). I ran hard, but was a little hampered by strong winds. On the plus side, only losing 3 seconds on last week’s time tells me I was running better and it was the conditions that prevented a further improvement. I’d love to manage another sub-24 before the end of the year, however conditions now can make that tricky.

IMG_4522As soon as I finished I grabbed my bag from the car and headed over to the festival venue where I had a very glamorous change in the toilets and made it into the session with time to spare. Not bad! I then had a great day listening to discussion of various women’s issues and browsing the stalls from an assortment of organisations. My favourite was the one selling “empowerment pants” and I couldn’t resist buying a pair – like superhero pants but for wearing when you need a reminder to be strong, I loved the idea!
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Sunday saw me awoken early by the cat, who was having an empty for bowl crisis! The clock by my bed said just after 6:30am so I got up and fed her in a bleary-eyed state before returning to bed as I didn’t need to be up just yet. I awoke naturally around 7:15, well-rested but a little confused as my phone alarm had not gone off…until I realised that the clock by my bed had not gone back when the clocks changed overnight, unlike my phone which knew the “real” time was 6:15! After a busy week I was going to benefit from an extra hour of time 🙂

I used that hour to sort out a few bits and pieces in the house before heading out for a short run. Steve needed to do a road run as he has a race next weekend, but I just wanted to get out for half an hour or so, as I knew overdoing it after a busy week would be a bad idea, especially since I was heading back to WoW afterwards.

IMG_4549I had plenty of time to run, shower and have a good breakfast before heading into town for the first session of the day at 10:30am. I then enjoyed a second fantastic day of talks, debate and workshops, as well as connecting with someone else I only previously knew from a Tough Girl connection.

It was (mostly) a brilliant week, especially the WoW festival, but I must make sure to prioritise some rest in the week ahead to make sure things don’t get on top of me in the coming weeks. Any excuse to put my feet up for a bit!

How has your week been?
Have you ever been to a WoW festival?

7 For 2017 – Nearly There!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Finds – 13th October

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

Bonjour! I’m back from my trip to France and a little incredulous that it’s Friday again. Last Friday actually feels like weeks ago, and even the first days of the trip seem like they were much longer ago than they really were! Despite being away, I still have several finds to share with you tonight.

First, a story that struck a chord with me as it reminded me of some of my own experiences in marathon running. Dan Kapinus was keen to break 4 hours in the Chicago marathon and used his own data to help refine his training. What he hadn’t banked on was the hot conditions on race day, and no amount of technology could solve that for him. Having now made sub-4 hours my own goal (and suffered in the heat at this year’s Paris marathon) I can completely understand where he’s coming from.

One of the next big events on the marathon calendar is, of course, New York. This year the New York Road Runners have a new campaign featuring the slogan It Will Move You to promote the event. It’s designed to capture the emotions around the marathon experience, and I have to say that having watched the 30 second video in this article, I think it’s done that very successfully – I may not have run New York, but I’ve enough marathon experience to feel that familiar stirring of emotions as I watch the clip. Definitely a race I’d love to do one day…

This next piece fascinates me. I’ve always been fairly certain that I must look awful when I finish a marathon – tired, emotional, and aged. Looking at the before and after shots of runners at a 125k race, I can see that’s very much true. Everyone looks tired and their faces are more drawn, but the emotions of completing the challenge, of conquering physical limits, is written all over their faces. These pictures really do tell a story of everything that has happened in between and I love them!

Another video, this time from a most unlikely source for a running blog – US gameshow Jeopardy. In a recent edition marathon legend Ed Whitlock, who sadly died earlier this year at the age of 86, was featured in one of the “prompts” (for those unfamiliar, the “answer” is given first and contestants respond in the form of a question). Fortunately, the contestant knew the correct response!

And finally, we runners certainly do enjoy a challenge, but I for one have no plans to give this latest craze a go. American runners have started the “porta potty” challenge, which involves fitting as many people as possible into a portable toilet and filming the exit sequence. Apparently, upwards of 30 people can fit in there. I’m trying REALLY hard not to think about how they’re managing that as spending time in a portable toilet is not one of the most appealing parts of race day. I hope they’re trying this out before the toilets see too much use!!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 6th October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

 

Plan B…

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

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

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

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

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Why Stirling? A couple of reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report – Loch Ness Marathon 2017

Finally. All I can say, is finally!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was also really pleased with my overall stats:

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

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

Week In Review – A Monster Calls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yup. It rained AGAIN!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week In Review – A Confidence Boost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All finished off with a post-run yoga sequence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3807I had mine later with some peanut butter. Yum!

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

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

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

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

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

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