So You Want To Start Running…?

Perhaps you watched the Boston or London marathons on TV this week. Perhaps you have friends who have been encouraging you to join them for a run. Perhaps your children enjoy Junior parkrun and you’d like to set them a good example. Whatever your reason, at this time of year there are often many people who make the decision to start running.

For me, it was the spring of 2005 and the loss of my grandmother to cancer. I wanted to do something to make a difference for others, and having never run or done anything sporty before in my life, signing up to a charity 5k seemed like a great challenge.

The problem was, I knew nothing about running and had no idea how to get started. I was lucky that I had a PE teacher friend to help me, but not everyone is so fortunate. So if you’re feeling inspired to begin your running journey, today I’m sharing my tips to help make it a bit easier.

NB Remember I’m not a running coach. These tips are simply based on my own experiences and things I wish I’d known when I started.

  • Get fitted for some proper running shoes. Running shoes should be bigger than your usual shoe size to avoid pinching and blisters. It can be confusing seeing rows and rows of different brands and shoe types, but the most important thing is that they feel comfortable. You shouldn’t feel like they need to be “broken in”. If the shoe doesn’t feel good when you try it on, then it’s not the one for you (even if it is a bargain!). Ideally you should be able to try them on before you buy and have a run either in/outside the shop or on a treadmill. Running in the wrong shoes is definitely a mistake I made and it took me a long time to backtrack and find a shoe that suited me.

  • Ladies, your other essential pieces of kit is a sports bra. This is vital no matter what size you are as there are no muscles in this area, only very delicate ligaments which stretch easily through exercise. A good supportive sports bra will keep things in check and help prevent pain when exercising. Again, there are lots of different brands and styles so try a few on to see what feels most comfortable for your size and shape. Just make sure it’s a sports bra designed for high impact activity to give you the best support.

 

  • There’s no need to kit yourself out in expensive clothing right from the start. The most important thing is that you wear something you feel comfortable in. I know I’ve changed how I dress to run over the years as my confidence has grown and if running becomes part of your life then buying some new kit could be something to look forward to. Wicking fabrics are great at moving moisture away from your skin and if you do want some new gear then there are plenty of budget buys available. Check out High Street retailers and discount supermarket chains.

  • If you don’t want to go it alone then find a friend to run with you or consider looking out for a beginners’ group to join. There are plenty of friendly groups running programmes to take you from zero to 5k in a few weeks and many people have success with smartphone apps doing the same thing. Here in Scotland a JogScotland group might be useful. I did almost all of my early running by myself, but it would have been nice to have company. Even just having a friend alongside you to chat can make it much more manageable and can be a good way to have a good old catch up.

 

  • Keep it simple. If you sprint off then you’ll be out of breath in no time. I DEFINITELY made this mistake and it’s a common one when often our only experience of running is sprints in PE at school, or we’re used to high intensity classes and are chasing that same feeling. Instead, focus on how you feel. You should be able to hold a conversation and speak in sentences rather than gasped words. At this stage, time and distance aren’t important. Lay the foundations and get comfortable with your running first.

 

  • It’s ok to be “slow”. Speed is all relative. A new runner might look at my paces and think I’m fast, but my average pace is naught but a warmup for an elite athlete! Even if you feel like you’re moving only slightly faster than a walk, you’re still on your way. Find your rhythm and stick with it. As you get fitter, your pace will naturally quicken with the same effort level. Run your own run and forget about what anyone else is doing.

 

  • Be consistent. Unsurprisingly, going for a run then leaving it for weeks before you try again won’t lead to much improvement. Put your runs in your diary as you would any other commitment and stick to it. I run 3 times per week and 3-4 runs per week is about average. A good pattern might be to run every other day, being sure to leave rest days in between to allow your body to recover and get stronger. If anything feels sore, back off and consider seeking advice from a physio.

 

  • Set yourself targets. I started running in a local park and was using run-walk intervals. I used to aim to increase the length of my run intervals and decrease the walk breaks each time, until eventually I reached the huge milestone of one lap of the park (about 1.5 miles). I was so thrilled you’d have thought I’d run a marathon! I suggest targets like the next lamppost, a certain amount of time, a lap of the park, and so on. Ultimately you might aim to complete your local parkrun – a great place for a beginner to find like-minded people and a supportive, welcoming community.

  • Avoid getting bogged down in detail. You don’t need to be in head-to-toe lycra or wearing a massively expensive running watch. There’s plenty of time for that in the future if you want it. All you need is that pair of running shoes and some comfortable clothes. If you must know your time/distance/pace then there are plenty of free smartphone apps available.

 

  • Remember it’s supposed to be fun! Exercise isn’t a way of punishing yourself for something, it’s an expression of what our bodies can do. Take your time, run your run and enjoy being out in the fresh air improving your fitness. Running benefits not only your physical health but your mental health too. It clears your head and helps sharpen your mind. If you’re not enjoying your run then the chances are you’re running too fast. Ease off the pace, stand tall and repeat a positive message like  “I CAN do this”.

If you are at the beginning of your running journey, welcome. I hope you find everything you want on the roads and trails. Do stop by and keep me up to date with your progress.

What is your reason to run?
Any other tips for beginners or questions to ask?

7 For 2017 – Quarterly Review

At the start of this year I set my 7 goals for 2017 and at the end of March we were already one quarter of the way through 2017! But am I a quarter of the way towards achieving my goals? Today I want to check in with them and see what progress I’ve made.

1. Set some new race PBs
I’ve only raced twice so far in 2017 and achieved a PB at one of those races (the Inverness Half Marathon) so I guess that’s a 50% record. My main target when it came to this goal was a new marathon PB, but the hot conditions in Paris put paid to that one. Watch this space for my future plans as this is one goal I’m not ready to let go of yet!
My second target was to finally better my 2012 half marathon PB which I achieved in Inverness. I wanted to get a bit closer to 1:52:XX and with !:53:03 I came pretty close over a hilly course, so that’s definitely a big tick!
Finally I thought I might have a go at breaking 50 minutes for 10k. That one is more of a summer/autumn goal when I tend to enter more 10k races so that will be on the backburner for now.
Progress: 1/3 achieved

IMG_72602. Run my 100th parkrun
To achieve this I simply need to be consistent in participating in parkrun every Saturday. So far, this has happened. I missed one parkrun while I was in Paris (I did the Breakfast Run instead) and am currently taking a couple of weeks off to recover post-marathon so am missing a further two, but with 73 parkruns under my belt now I still have a little leeway there to achieve 100 by the end of the year so long as I can continue to be healthy and injury-free. Fingers crossed!
Progress: On Track 

IMG_72953. Maintain my Step Goal Streak
At the end of 2016 I had a step goal streak on my activity tracker of 6 months straight, so my goal for 2017 was to take that initially to 12 months, but to ideally take at least 10,000 steps per day for the full year. As I write this I’m on day 292 so am closing in on the milestone of 300. Getting my steps has become habit for me now and I incorporate extra walks into my day which really make me feel better, so this one is currently looking good.
Progress: On Track

4. Read at least 30 books
I have this one set as a challenge in Goodreads so I can keep a close eye on how I’m getting on. In 2016 I managed 27 books (but one of them, rather ambitiously, was War and Peace!) so 30 should be do-able when I consider I’m likely to read several books during my relaxing summer holiday. At the moment I’ve read 8, which Goodreads tells me is 27% of my total and puts me comfortably ahead of the quarter-way mark.
Progress: On Track

5. Make more time to relax and prioritise rest during the work week
This was one I knew I had to really work on as I’m a natural night owl but have to rise quite early in the morning. During marathon training I got better and better at getting to bed early, and I’m trying to be a bit more conscious of going to bed when I feel tired rather than sitting downstairs longer for no good reason. On Saturdays I’ve become used to an afternoon nap, and I even had a short nap after one of my long runs as I felt too weary to eat! What I learned in this last marathon training cycle is to prioritise rest and early nights much sooner in the process. For the first month or so I was quite busy but since my runs were still fairly short, I felt ok. When the accumulated training load started to take effect, I really noticed the difference in how tired I felt. Next time I’ll make sure I’m well-rested from the start.
Progress: Much improved 

6. Commit to more yoga outside of my weekly classes
Perhaps the one I’ve done least about. I have continued with my two yoga classes per week and not only have I noticed the difference in my flexibility and strength from this, but my Ashtanga teacher commented that she could see the difference in the way my body moves. Both of these are really positive for my running. Unfortunately I’ve not done quite as much outside of these classes as I would like. I’m still to work through my Hit Reset book from Jasyoga, but I have incorporated one or two things from the associated videos into my post-run routine, most notably lying with my legs up the wall for 10-15 minutes which I am convinced is making a difference to my recovery. I also include some mobility work in this routine and my gym routine, however I’d still like to find a place for more frequent yoga practice in my day to day life. Perhaps now my marathon training cycle is complete I can turn my attention to this one.
Progress: Working on it!

IMG_13287. Blog more consistently
To develop from my 2016 postaweek commitment, in 2017 my aim was to write at least one post per week IN ADDITION to Friday Finds. So far, this has gone well. Friday Finds has actually gone out on time every week and I have published a Week in Review every Monday. Many weeks have seen other posts go out too, so to date I’ve met my goal on this one and still have plenty of things up my sleeve which I’d love to write about. I have gained some new followers along the way (hello to you all!) and since I’m fond of statistics, it will be interesting to look at my stats at the end of the year and see how they compare to 2016.
Progress: On Track 

IMG_1461When I sat down to write this post I wasn’t actually sure I’d made much progress towards my goals at all, but writing it all down has given me a great opportunity to reflect and realise that I have. Several of my goals require long-term commitment, and that commitment is there. I’ll check in with them again in the summer to see how things are going.

How are you getting on with your goals for 2017?
Any book recommendations or topics you would like me to cover in a post?

Paris When it Sizzles Pt3 – Marathon de Paris 2017

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

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

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

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

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

So I reset my goal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Week in Review – Race Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week in Review – Taper Time!

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

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

So for my first taper week my plan was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep your fingers crossed!

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

Week in Review – The Big One!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Report – Inverness Half Marathon 2017

When training for a marathon the received wisdom is that it’s a great idea to race a half marathon around 4-5 weeks out from the event as a “tune-up”. This is the time to test out race day routines, clothing and paces to see where you are. Despite currently training for my 9th marathon, last weekend was actually my first ever tune up half thanks to my tendency to pick up injuries during the training cycle. The race was written into my training plan right from the start, however I held off entering until mid-February, right before entries were closing. Apparently even with training going well so far, I still retained a degree of caution!

As the day of the half marathon approached, I began to consider my plan. Since I have been running my long runs quite slowly, this was going to be my first opportunity to see if I could hold my target marathon pace for the duration of the race. But I also saw an opportunity to FINALLY get a new half marathon PB. I wanted to beat my time of 1:56:35 from Aviemore in 2012 and a little bit of runner maths showed me that if I could run at the top end of my target pace, I would finish around a minute quicker than this. The challenge was on!

With the race not starting until 12:30pm, we opted to drive up on the morning of the race, setting off around 8:30am. To save time, I organised all my kit the night before, but somehow neglected to take a “flat runner” photo, however my selection was similar to what I wore in Paris last year, just a different colour: Under Armour running skirt and top, Bondi Band calf sleeves, Lululemon arm warmers, Adidas Ultra Boost shoes and my trusty Spibelt to hold my phone. I was so beautifully colour co-ordinated that during the race a woman actually ran alongside me and complimented me on my outfit!

The drive up to Inverness was pretty uneventful. I’m not overly fond of the journey as it’s quite long and can be slow, but some of the scenery is absolutely stunning. We did, of course, make a pit stop at the House of Bruar for a “comfort break” as they have really nice toilets!

IMG_0954Not long after Bruar we were at the Drumochter Pass where the view really opens out to some spectacular hills.

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IMG_0958Once in Inverness we opted to use a multi-storey car park in the city centre then walk along to the Bught Park, an area we are pretty familiar with from marathon-related trips. To register, we had to walk through the Bught to the sports centre on the other side, and this is where I began to get a bit irritated. We had plenty time until registration was closing, but we immediately found ourselves in a queue. There were people trying to register for the half marathon, people trying to register for the 5k, people trying to get in to the toilets: people, people, people and no real order. I felt like there were too many people in the available space and nobody there to manage it so we couldn’t really be sure we were even in the right queue! By the time we got in to the sports hall, I was pretty grumpy and this wasn’t helped when I was told they were out of small T-shirts so I had to take a medium – and a “unisex” medium at that, which is basically a men’s top that’s far too big for little old me! I always wonder why race organisers can’t sort things out so that people are given the T-shirt size they requested on their entry, rather than whatever is left when they collect their race number – if you have to show ID to get your number, then your T-shirt size could be part of the same process to save disappointment. Grrr!

IMG_0970By this time I also wanted a pre-run toilet stop but was feeling so claustrophobic that I just couldn’t face heading back into the queues of people we had fought through. Instead, I found a different exit and located a different toilet. Still a queue, which I fumed my way through, but a little easier. I then stomped my way down towards the start area, still in a bit of a mood!

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Steve has antlers. I seem to have a head sprouting from my shoulder!

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IMG_0960I stood just to the front of the 1:50-2:00 section, still grumping about how busy it was, and waited to get underway. There was that heartbeat music that seems to be de rigeur at big races these days, followed by the obligatory countdown to the the start, huge cheer…and no movement whatsoever. Soon, though, I was moving towards the line, starting my watch and settling in.

The start, which is the final part of the marathon/10k in September, is fairly narrow so I found it difficult to settle into a rhythm. Already grumpy, I caught myself muttering about preferring training by myself so I can do my one thing. On the plus side, I was quite disciplined about not wasting energy weaving around people, knowing when the field stretched out a bit I would have plenty of room to run. There had been lots of announcements about record numbers, so perhaps the race is becoming a victim of its own success and organisers now need to consider ways to streamline registration and perhaps using a wave start to help ease congestion.

By the time I was about a mile in I had space to settle into my pace and began counting down the miles. Target marathon pace is between 8:50-9:00 per mile so my plan for this race was to have each mile average out at, or faster than, my target, taking account of the fact that I would be slower over hills. I found myself keeping a very close eye on my Garmin to see how I was getting on and right from the start was running faster than marathon pace. I wasn’t sure how this would pan out, but just let my body dictate the pace.

fullsizeoutput_1cb9I sustained a pace quicker than marathon pace through the first 8 miles, but then as I began the 9th mile, the rain began, I found myself running uphill into a headwind and there were a couple of tight turns. It was a bit of a miserable mile with the rain washing sweat into my eyes and it feeling harder to keep up the pace. Mentally, I checked out a bit and had to refocus myself on what I was doing. Steve had told me that there was a great downhill section at 9 miles and I clung to this information to get me through. Sure enough. towards the end of the mile I turned a corner and saw not only the 9 mile marker, but a fantastic swooping downhill. I leaned forwards and went for it. I might as well have been screaming “wheeeee!” as I went!

By the 10 mile marker we were retracing our steps from the start of the race. I was feeling much better thanks to the downhill section and a gel, so was ready to keep on going to the finish. The only thing was, the finish was NOT at the start line, but about 1/2 a mile or so further on behind the sports centre. That last mile felt absolutely endless and I have a recollection of a headwind. I also wasn’t entirely sure how far I still had to go. I trusted the distance on my Garmin, but since I couldn’t actually see the finish line it was hard to judge. At long last, however, I entered the running track which formed the finishing straight. I had half a lap on that lovely, bouncy surface before crossing the line.

I stopped my watch at 1:53:03, a time confirmed almost immediately with a text containing my official result. And what a result it was! At long last I had a new half marathon PB, and a much faster one than I had anticipated. I’ve often thought I might be capable of a 1:52:XX so those pesky 3 seconds were a little irritating, but I soon forgot that in my joy at running so well. Every mile except the 9th was faster than target marathon pace, and that was a very positive result.

fullsizeoutput_1cbaI made my way though the finish area to collect my medal, as well as a banana, Clif bar, packet of pistachios, water and somewhat ironically, suncream! Given that I was a bit of a bedraggled mess from the rain earlier on, this item was probably a bit superfluous on this occasion. Perhaps it will come in handy for another race where there is actual sunshine rather than “liquid sunshine”.

IMG_0961Steve, who had also run a PB, was waiting for me and we got some photos before I headed off to get changed into some warmer clothes.

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A “Highland Spring” tiara!

IMG_7260 IMG_7264We were both starving thanks to the lunchtime start, so made our way to McDonald’s to refuel (with me eating a protein bar on the way!). McDonald’s may not be very healthy and normally I would turn my nose up at it, but I must admit I don’t mind it after a race. Once refuelled, it was back to the car (via a quick stop for a takeaway coffee) for the journey home. We had to pull in a couple of times for Steve to stretch and get some air, so we were glad to get home and inhale the steak pies and rosemary potatoes we had waiting for us. Then it was time for a bath and bed, worn out but happy.

IMG_0962 IMG_0969Overall I have mixed feelings about this one. Obviously I’m delighted about the PB and the race itself was really nice. The negatives for me were the crowds that I think the organisers need to look at as the race continues to grow in popularity. There’s also the long journey there. We would have happily got the train, but there wasn’t one early enough on Sunday morning to get us there on time so we had to drive. The only other option would have been to go the night before, but that would have added to the expense with the need for a hotel. If we could have been earlier at registration I would have felt much more relaxed, but that just wasn’t possible for us. Still, I would recommend this event, with the caution that it is very popular and there will likely be crowds.
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Week in Review – Time For A Tune Up

Things continue to be busy at work as the deadlines for coursework loom, but somehow I’m still managing to fit in my training around it all. Here’s my regular week in review, linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL.

Believe it or not, I actually managed to complete all my workouts on the planned days this week with no changes or omissions – I think that means a grand total of two “perfect” weeks since the start of January! I keep mentioning this as a reminder that sticking rigidly to a plan doesn’t always work, but I know I’ve made progress and am now stronger and fitter even with some shuffling around of workouts each week.

Here’s how this week looked:

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

Monday was the morning after the run before. I was tired (18 miles at the busiest point in the school term will do that to you!) but my legs felt ok. Weary, of course, but not really achy which was good. Still, it was nice to get in the water at the end of the day. I did find it a bit harder to get into a rhythm with my breathing though, probably because I had worked my body hard the day before, but felt much more refreshed for getting in the pool and having a swim anyway.

Tuesday is bike reps day. Nothing of note to report here, it was just two more reps onto the workout I did last week. It’s tough, but I’m tougher and I know I’m much stronger now because of working through these reps each week since late last year.

My Wednesday hill reps also formed my entry to a virtual race organised by Women’s Running magazine for International Women’s Day. There was something so inspiring about listening to my favourite podcast (The Tough Girl Podcast which had a special episode for IWD) and thinking about the #BeBoldForChange message for IWD that gave me that extra oomph for the one final rep that I’ve now added to this workout. Basically it’s the same workout as before (5-4-3-2 reps to a series of lampposts) but by adding one rep to the final lamppost I now run right up the hill. Even saving a little something for that last rep, I still managed to run some of the earlier ones a bit quicker again which is really pleasing.

IMG_0942On Thursday I asked Steve to take me through some exercises for my hips. I’ve had a sensation that there was an imbalance between them and wanted to make sure I addressed that given my history of problems with my left hip. The issue seems to be less that my left hip was weak, more that my right was taking over, so we worked through some movements to help even things up. After that I had a really good Ashtanga yoga class. There were just two of us again this week and I felt really strong and centred throughout my practice. Just what I needed!

Friday was my rest day. I always look forward to this as I’m so tired at the end of the work week, especially right now as so much coursework is due and we’re close to the end of a very long term. This week I had a few errands then, as usual, Steve and I headed out to eat. I DEFINITELY needed my beer this week! Usually I have a curry to eat with it, but this week there was a ribeye steak on the specials menu and I really fancied that instead. It was delicious!

IMG_0946Parkrun this week was a little different as the team had opted to switch to the alternate route since the grass section has been getting so boggy. The weather hasn’t really helped it to firm up, so giving it a rest for a couple of weeks should help a bit. The alternate route is two laps of the Inch which, as regular readers may remember, is a route that always makes a little piece of my soul die! On the plus side, it’s a flat and fast route and the conditions this week were grey but still, offering the opportunity to run well. Parkrun rules state that alternate courses should be a little longer than the regular route so that there are no PBs set that will be too difficult to beat on the regular route, but I was still presented with a bit of a dilemma: on the one hand, I knew I had a half marathon the following day so didn’t want to overdo it; on the other hand, I was really curious to know what sort of shape I was in over 5k as I knew the state of the grass had been slowing me down recently. In the end I decided to treat it as a tempo effort and run comfortably hard but with the knowledge that I could speed up at any point. I was therefore delighted to run each consecutive mile a little faster and to finish with my fastest parkrun time since August (23:39). A very encouraging sign for my fitness!

IMG_0947Next up was my Hatha yoga class which I always really enjoy as I find the stretching really helps to reset my body after my week’s training so I feel ready for my longer run on Sunday. I then continued the relaxing vibe with an afternoon on my recliner watching TV and taking a nap with the cat (she’s in charge of rest and naps, remember!).
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And then it was Sunday. This year we decided to enter the Inverness half marathon as a tune-up for Paris. Steve actually did this race last year, but I wasn’t at that point ready for the distance after my stress fracture so didn’t go up there. Like Saturday, I was unsure what to do. If I want a sub-4 hour marathon then my goal pace needs to average out faster than 9:09 per mile, so my target is 8:50-9:00 per mile. Since this was my tune-up, I wanted to make sure I could hold that pace, however I also knew that my half marathon PB of 1:56:35 averaged out at 8:58 per mile, so saw the opportunity to FINALLY run a new PB – it’s been my PB since 2012 after all! In the end, I decided to run to feel with the aim of running each mile at, or faster than, goal marathon pace. This would allow for slowing on hills but some faster sections downhill over the undulating course. I’ll be writing a separate race report, but spoiler alert, I got a new PB with my 1:53:03 finish! Delighted doesn’t even come close!

IMG_7263The race starts at lunchtime so despite a big breakfast and pre-race banana, we were both starving and made a bee-line for McDonald’s afterwards. Not exactly healthy, I know, but ok as a post-race treat for some fast energy until we got home. It was a long drive back so we finished the day tired but happy (Steve got a PB too).

IMG_0962So as weeks go, this has to be a good one. I recovered well from my 18 miler, ran a solid time at parkrun then followed it up the next day with a half marathon PB. Now to see if I can convert that into a marathon PB next month…

How has your training gone this week?
Any PBs to share?

Week in Review – The Monster Month Begins

March means the big miles in marathon training, so this week my focus has really been on looking after my body to ensure I complete these longer runs healthily. As ever, I’m linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL for my weekly training roundup.

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Just for a change, I moved things around a bit again, but this time it was to accommodate changes I had to make last week rather than issues this week. Here’s how my week looked:

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

After missing out on both my yoga classes last week, I decided to begin my week with a Hatha class to stretch out my body and get the week off to a good start. It was a great class focusing on hip opening and I really enjoyed it. Staying a bit later at work for a meeting meant there wasn’t quite enough time to squeeze in my swim but I had expected this and was quite happy to move my swim to Tuesday.

Before that swim I had my bike reps to do. It was the same work/rest intervals as last week, but with two more reps added on. I knew that last week I had been a little tired thanks to some broken sleep (not such a problem this week!) so was interested to see how I felt during the workout. Overall I felt like I was much stronger throughout the workout and was able to work harder. I also enjoyed my swim yesterday as I finally progressed from swimming single lengths with a stop at the end to turn, to turning right round to swim continuously in “doubles”. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep progressing this. After all that I was ready for a nice relaxing evening. I think the cat was tired too as she tried to take a nap inside my training journal!

IMG_0880Wednesday is hill rep day and I had my last set of my current workout to do and I was pleased to find I was able to run some of the reps a little faster again. It was particularly pleasing to run the last two to the furthest lamppost faster than before. Next week I’ll have one further rep to add to the top lamppost on the hill. It will be tough, but it’s just one rep – I can do it!

IMG_0882IMG_0885On Thursday I headed to Steve’s studio for my PT session. We worked a little bit on knee drive, but the main focus was on shoulder/upper back mobility as Steve has observed a tightness there when he watches me finish parkrun. It was a combination of the good old core momentum trainer and a gym ball for this one. Once that workout was done, I was off to the yoga studio for my Ashtanga class. I really missed this last week and really enjoyed this week’s class. It was great to stretch out and feel my body getting more flexible.

By Friday I was ready for a rest, but first it was a trip to the vet for a followup appointment – the joy of having an elderly cat! She’s doing pretty well though so fingers crossed there won’t be any more trips for a couple of months when she gets her next check. Once home, we chilled out on the armchair for a while until Steve came home and it was time to go and eat. I’ve slept much better this week, but was still tired as we’re pretty deep into a busy term alongside all my training so I was pleased to get to bed.

When I woke up on Saturday (early as the cat wanted fed!) the weather was pretty poor. Once The Boss was fed I headed back to bed to sleep a little longer, but sadly the weather didn’t improve in that time: it was going to be a soggy parkrun! As it was the first Saturday of the month I was a pacer again and had the 26 minute bib. Last time I was a little slower at 26:11 so wanted to work on getting a bit closer to 26 minutes. I completely reset my watch to kilometres so I would get more frequent alerts and checked my required pace. Despite the rain and very boggy grass section, I was pretty much on pace for more than half of the run, but was a little too fast over the last kilometre or so and ended up finishing in 25:37 – oops! I don’t think I had anyone running with me, but if I did then they maybe got a better time than they were expecting!

IMG_7187 IMG_7215Following a quick shower to wash off all the mud and warm up bit, it was off to my regular Saturday morning Hatha yoga class. It was a quiet class this week as lots of people had other things on, butI don’t mind that as it means a bit more attention from the teacher when needed. I really enjoy the stretch after parkrun, especially through my hips and hamstrings, so I feel good ahead of my Sunday long run.
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Sunday began much like Saturday with an early call to feed the cat then a return to bed to snooze for another hour or so. On the plus side, the weather was much more settled so I wasn’t going to get a soaking! This week was the first of The Big Ones as I had an 18 mile run to complete. Up to now I’ve been keeping the pace deliberately slow on my long runs, aiming for somewhere in the 9:30-9:40 per mile range, but since I’ve often caught my legs trying to go faster, I decided for my longest runs to just go with how I feel, keep it fairly comfortable and see what happens. For this run I came out with a 9:22 per mile average, but this included running up some pretty steep hills so clearly I was much quicker over the flats and downhills. At several points in the run I was running at, or faster than, my goal marathon pace without having to try – even towards the end! – so that leaves me feeling optimistic that my training is falling into place and that I CAN continue to target my goal for Paris. Next week I have a half marathon which I’ve entered as a tune-up race so it will be interesting to see how I perform in that. It all seems like it’s getting so close now!

IMG_0928All in all, I’m pleased with my training this week. I felt strong on the bike, strong on the hills and ran my 18 miler better than I ran my 16 miler. Lots of positive progress – fingers crossed it continues this way!

Any positives in your recent training?
How will you progress your training in March?

Training Talk Part 2

Last month I found myself very interested by the Training Talk segment in the episode of the Marathon Talk podcast I was listening to. It was all about using the end of January to check in with your marathon training and gave advice for progressing in February. On my Sunday long run this past weekend I was again treated to a Training Talk segment, this time with advice about the long run as anyone training for an early spring marathon such as Paris or London will be hitting their biggest runs in March, and I thought I would use the points raised to consider my own long runs and reflect on how effectively I’m using them to progress my training.

Going Long

1. Progress
The main point here was about sensible progression in distance. The hosts focused on recovery and made clear that if you’re still not fully recovered by Friday after a Sunday long run, then you’re probably overdoing it. Personally, I have been taking my progression really seriously as I’m sure mistakes here have contributed to past injuries. I was adamant that there should be a cutback every fourth week, my long runs never increase by more than 2 miles from my previous longest run and I have a tried and tested recovery strategy that works well for me: stretching, legs up the wall, recovery shake when I’ve run 10+ miles, a nap if necessary, compression tights/socks and an Epsom soak. I also make sure my long run is followed by a much easier day, usually a swim and maybe some yoga to help ease out my muscles. This has all worked really well through January and February, and I have a clear plan in place for progression in March.

IMG_0872 2. Fuel
Here, the importance of knowing what your fuel strategy will be for race day was discussed. Some people might not take any fuel at all, some might rely on water from aid stations, others might carry specific drinks/gels they want to take. Whatever the choice, it’s important to test it out in training. Even if you plan on taking nothing more than a sip of water, it’s important that your body is trained for this (and it was recommended that you stil carry something during training just in case, even if you don’t actually take it). Fuel is something else that I have pretty much tried and tested. Although some people are happy to use the on-course nutrition/hydration (and train with it to ensure it agrees with them!) I prefer to be a bit more self-sufficient. My preferred hydration is High 5 Zero and I carry this in a hydration pack so I can sip it whenever I want. I always carry more than I need so I’m used to carrying the pack (crucial for race day preparations) and know I can supplement this with bottled water from the aid stations along the course (plus in Paris that pink drink they give out around mile 18 that acts like rocket fuel for me!). As for nutrition, my strategy has always been a gel every 5 miles as this should be about every 45 minutes or so (longer and I start to feel a bit sluggish). I then take an extra one with 5k to go and carry a spare in case I need it! I have changed the gels I use and have been training with them throughout this month so I’m happy that fuelling for me is under control.

3. Pace
Pacing can be a tricky thing in the marathon and even the best of the best can fade in the final miles. This part of the discussion was all about building in marathon-paced segments to our training and the recommendation of a tune-up half marathon around 5 weeks out from race day to see how well we can sustain the required pace. I have thought a great deal about pace in my long runs, and have been using the philosophy that the long run should be slower in order to build endurance. In theory this endurance, combined with the speed work I’m also doing, should all come together on the big day. But while I’m trying to keep the pace down, I’m trying not to be a slave to the watch and running by how I feel, hence why my second 12 mile run was faster than my first – I was fitter by the second one and was therefore moving faster with the same effort. I have also noted a few occasions when I have run a bit quicker towards the end, hitting the sort of pace I’d like on race day, so I know it’s in there somewhere. As for a tune-up race, I do have a half marathon factored into my training plan for March and that will be a great opportunity to test out my race day kit and see if I can maintain a faster pace for the duration of the race.

4. Mind
I found this really interesting as it was a great reminder about how powerful the mind is. It’s important in training for a marathon than we don’t just train our bodies to go the distance, but our minds as well. Our mind will always give up before our body, so we need to find strategies to be able to push past that. The idea here was to be more mindful, to focus on the moment – the phrase used was, “don’t judge, focus on the process”. What this means is rather than thinking I can’t do this or I can’t run at the pace I need to, we focus instead on the moment, the process of running and what needs to be done to meet our goal. One recommendation to stay focused was to get used to running alone: no company, no music, etc. Training solo is something I’ve done for a long time now so I’m quite content out there with my own thoughts, and have battled through enough tough races to know that tenacity might as well be my middle name! As for not having music, well I do like to listen to podcasts when I run, but that’s more about using the time to fill my mind with useful or inspiring content than looking for a distraction. Come race day, I find it quite hard to focus on anything other than the race and am barely aware of anything playing through my earphones! In general I’m feeling positive about my long runs and am trusting my training. I want a PB in this race so if it’s my year then that’s what will happen. If not, there’s always next time!

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5. Mix Things Up
The last part of the segment focused on ways to mix up the long run training e.g. progression runs, marathon-paced sections, etc. I have been focusing on keeping my long runs slow in order to build endurance, but I do try to run strongly through the final miles (which are often up hill!) in order to simulate the latter stages of the race. This will be really important on my longest runs as it will give me confidence that I can keep on going as my body tires. Playing around with paces and routes is a great way to stop the long run becoming tedious (especially if you’re running solo) but I have to say, I quite enjoy the time I’m out there as it gives me a chance to clear my head and have some time away from all the other demands in my life. Perhaps that’s just me though – I’ve always rather enjoyed marathon training!

Now it’s time to get my head down and embrace The Monster Month!

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How has your February training gone?
Are you making any changes as we head into March?