Friday Finds – 22nd March

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

It’s Fabulous Friday! I hope you’ve had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend ahead. I’m just stopping by to share some inspiring stories from the week gone by…

I want to begin this week with an update on a story I shared last month about a visually impaired runner aiming to be the first to run the New York half marathon with a team of guide dogs rather than a guide runner. Happily, he achieved just that, making Thomas Panek (and his dogs Westley, Waffle and Gus!) history makers. Here’s some more information courtesy of Runner’s World:

It was quite the weekend for inspiring performances, as here in the UK it was the ever-popular Bath half marathon. The biggest story to come out of this event is that of Harmonie-Rose Allen. The five year old lost all her limbs to meningitis as a baby, and was being wheeled around the course by a team of family and teachers, however the little trooper wanted to walk the final few metres to cross the finish line herself. I imagine it would have been a very emotional scene to witness and such an amazing achievement for those involved.

Speaking of half marathons, did you see Will Smith’s latest challenge? I hadn’t previously come across his Facebook Watch show Will Smith’s Bucket List (presumably because I’m old and don’t know about such things!) but the idea is fascinating – travelling the globe and ticking off personal challenges. But for his latest challenge, he had to get half marathon ready in just 3 weeks! It’s one thing taking on a last-minute half when you’re seasoned runner with plenty of miles in the bank, but quite another when you are not in your best shape and have never run the distance before. An impressive undertaking and perhaps worth a watch.

Someone else who’s no stranger to a challenge is Anna McNuff. The adventurer behind the awesome books The Pants of Perspective and Fifty Shades of the USA has just announced her next challenge…and it’s a great one. Starting in June, McNuff will run 100 marathons (yes, 100!) through Britain. Oh, and she’s going to run them all barefoot! Check out the link below to see how you can follow along/join in/help out:

And finally, if you missed last year’s collaboration between Saucony and Dunkin’ Donuts, then good news! They have worked together again to produce another pair of donut (doughnut?) themed running shoes. I still find the idea rather appealing, but I know not everyone would go for it. Would you wear them? What food would you like to see on a pair of running shoes?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

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Week In Review – Back On Track?

Another week, another weekly roundup, and this week I at least have some actual running to report! By the beginning of the week the cough had pretty much gone and I was feeling good to run again, albeit tentatively at first. Here’s my week:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – 4 miles
Wednesday – rest
Thursday – form drills + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – long run parkrun sandwich
Sunday – rest

As you can see, still not quite back to normal, but definitely progress from the week before. There was no yoga class on Monday and I had grand plans for some home practice but also needed to catch up on a few chores I hadn’t managed to get to at the weekend and by the time I had done that there was no time left for yoga. Still, at least I felt a little more organised.

Tuesday was when things began to feel a little more on track. I got up for my usual pre-work run and took it nice and easy. I felt good and really enjoyed being back out again. With no ill effects afterwards, I had the confidence to carry on with my return to training.

I did manage some home yoga on Tuesday evening and had hoped to repeat that on Wednesday before my orchestra rehearsal but there was just no time. This part of the school year is so busy with mock exams, coursework and pupils needing a little extra help after school that sometimes these other things have to be set aside for a bit. Wednesday was also Love Your Pet Day, so here’s a bonus picture of my cats past and present.

I was up early again on Thursday to head out for a run and this time it was a set of form drills. I decided to pick up with the session I missed last week and see how it went – and it went well. I felt like I was flowing well through the intervals although perhaps running out of steam a bit towards the end (mind you, it’s probably supposed to feel a little like that in order to improve fitness).

That evening I made it back to my Ashtanga yoga class and really enjoyed it. My Wheel was strong and after previously overthinking Headstand, I held it comfortably for a good number of breaths (with a reasonably graceful “discount”) so was pleased with that. I just wish I could sort myself out to fit more home yoga into my week as I think I felt stronger when I was managing to do that.

On Friday I had to stay at work a bit later but fortunately Steve was still able to see me for a training session. We worked on some mobility around my upper back and shoulders, then followed that with some strength work for arms and abs. A decent workout and targeting some areas I felt needed attention.

I arrived home from the session to find a postcard waiting for me. I love getting postcards from far-flung places so this was really exciting to know that someone had thought of me whilst on their travels and taken the time to send a note. So much more personal than a text or email.

When we went for our dinner that evening there was a mixed grill on as a special so we opted to have that. Quite a lot of meat but tasty and it made for decent fuel to see me through my miles the following morning.

Due to Sunday plans, it was more convenient to have a longer run on Saturday morning, so I laid out my kit the night before like I do for my early runs during the week to allow me to set off to run to parkrun via a longer route. I knew this would be just over 6 miles to the parkrun start but, with enough time when I arrived, I carried on to complete a lap of the park meaning I had 7.75 miles in the bank before parkrun. There was just enough time to nip to the loo then try to discreetly take a gel to give me a bit of a boost for my remaining miles (I didn’t want to be one of those people who take a gel before a 5k haha!) before the run briefing.

I had fairly low expectations for my parkrun performance since I had already  covered so many miles and had stopped for about 10 minutes but was able to get my legs moving a little faster. I was particularly pleased to find that I felt better as the run went on and was able to up the pace for the last mile. My time was a little under 26 minutes which although not fast for me, was a decent average pace as part of a longer run.

Barcode scanned and quick picture taken, I set off to run back home again – this time taking a more direct route which I knew to be 2.25 miles. I had been doing sums all morning and had worked out that this would mean I had covered half marathon distance for the morning. SInce that distance matched my longest training run of this cycle so far, I was happy with that.

After a quick shower and change, Steve and I headed into town for our bacon croissant. I DEFINITELY felt I had earned this one!

We even managed to complete all our Saturday errands before heading home to chill out (I had a nap!) for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, as the day progressed I also began to feel the telltale signs that the cough was trying to make a reappearance and head for my chest. This is not something I want to happen so I had a nice hot bath then made sure to smother my chest in decongestant and take some precautionary cough medicine before bed.

My original plan had been a short, easy run on Sunday morning but I soon binned that idea when I realised that a) my legs felt like I had raced a half marathon (the perils of a week off affecting my conditioning) and b) I definitely had some chest congestion and running would therefore be A Bad Idea. Instead I had a restful morning before gettting ready for a jaunt to Edinburgh with my poorly MacBook. Unfortunately it’s still not up and running, but I am now a step closer to knowing if I need an inexpensive repair or a new computer! However since we were in Edinburgh a trip to Hotel Chocolat was in order to enjoy their Easter offering: Hot Cross Bun Hot Chocolate. Yum!

So there you have it. I’m a little upset that I don’t seem to be fully over whatever bug led to the pesky cough and unsure if this means more time off or not. Keep your fingers crossed I can finally shift this once and for all and properly return to my usual training soon.

When was the last time you got a postcard?
What’s the longest run you’ve done that included parkrun?

My Year Of Running 2018 (Link Up)

For the last couple of years I’ve linked up with Courtney @ Eat Pray Run DC to recap my year in running (2016 and 2017). To be honest, it’s one of my favourite posts as I get to think back over all my awesome adventures from the year just gone by. Here’s how 2018 looked…

Best race experience
Hands down the Disneyland Paris half marathon. I know I’ve gone on about it A LOT, but it was probably the best race experience of my life. No pressure to run a certain time, it was all about celebrating my Big Birthday by combining all my favourite things – running, Disney and Paris.

Best run
For this one I’m going to choose the Stirling marathon. My training was really consistent and I came super close (as in, less than a minute) to the PB I set back in 2014. This is probably the best I’ve paced a full marathon and it really gave me a lot of confidence in what I could do.

Best new piece of running gear
I’ve bought several pairs of amazing, funky leggings this year and you would be forgiven for thinking I would choose one of those…but I’m not! The best thing I bought all year was this reflective “vest” which means I’m visible on my runs through the winter darkness but can wear whatever top I want, rather than being tied to the same old “high viz” one all the time.

Best running advice you’ve received this year
To switch from running after work to running before work. I’ve always been an evening runner, but was feeling increasingly pressed for time so began to consider early morning runs instead. With Steve’s encouragement, I took the plunge and have to say it’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my running as it fits so much more easily into my day. I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed getting up early, but so far it’s been worth it for the extra time it creates in the evening.

Most inspirational runner
This year I’m going to choose my friend Tina Muir, founder of Running for Real. The Superstars community she has created on Facebook is so inspiring and uplifting. I’ve made new friends there and love some of the random discussions we have. Tina herself has been a fantastic role model in her decision to stop running in order to overcome amenhorrea and become pregnant. She will shortly be taking part in the WDW half marathon as her comeback race and I’m so excited for her to have this experience (and, admittedly, a little jealous as I’d love to be there too!). In case you missed it, Tina interviewed me earlier this year.

Favourite picture from a run or race this year
Duh! Obviously a Disney one! The hardest part was narrowing it down…

Race experience you would repeat in a heartbeat
Can you guess? Why DLP, of course! I would repeat that experience any time. Good thing it wasn’t a one-off event!

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words what would they be?
Freakin’ awesome! 2018 was the self-styled Year of Me!!!. I set myself some fun goals, and celebrated a milestone birthday with an amazing racecation. There was also a marathon, lots of parkrunning (including in Florida) and the chance to connect with lots of amazing people both online and IRL. Here’s to an equally awesome 2019…!

Want to join in? I’d love to read about your year in running.

Friday Finds – 7th 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.

Happy Friday one and all! I hope you’ve had a good week and have some fun (maybe festive?) plans for the weekend. I’m here to share a few interesting bits and pieces I’ve been looking at this week.

To start, a little more on the annual Strava report that I mentioned last week. First, Sport Techie reports a huge rise in popularity for virtual events. I assume it to be testament to the use of social media and various apps that connect runners and cyclists, meaning that where previously someone might have worked out alone, they can now turn that workout into a shared experience.

Also delving into the details (with a US slant, that is) is Martin Fritz Huber for Outside. In this column, he looks at a few of the takeaways from the Strava report, many of which will not be a surprise. What I did find interesting is the massive increase in race participation for women and the fact that in the US women are racing more than men. Could that be the impact of recent amazing performances from the likes of Shalane Flanagan and Des Linden?

Meanwhile, Alex Hutchinson has been writing about the connection between fitness and life expectancy. He reports on some interesting studies comparing fitness gained from working out with the fitness impact of good genes. The results are perhaps not what you might expect, but unless you’re going for some lab-based testing I would still be recommending maintaining fitness through physical activity.

Which connects nicely with another piece recently written by Hutchinson for Outside. In this piece, he is considering the role of VO2 max on health and life expectancy. While VO2 max can be improved, genetics also have a part to play, and a higher VO2 max tends to point towards longer life expectancy. To be honest, I simply feel better the fitter I am so will continue to remain as fit as I can for as long as I can.

And finally, did you catch this story about a recent half marathon in Shenzhen, China? Sadly it made the headlines for all the wrong reasons as a whopping 237 runners were caught cutting the course…by a traffic camera! I just can’t understand why someone would enter a race then cut a chunk out of it. I couldn’t reconcile myself with that and would feel like the medal was a constant reminder of my guilt.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess 

Friday Finds – 2nd November

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.

How is it November! I actually don’t know where this year is disappearing to and I’m definitely noticing the difference now the clocks have changed. It’s looking chilly this weekend so let’s keep ourselves cosy and settle down to do a little reading.

With the New York marathon coming up this weekend and the autumn (fall) marathon season in full swing, a lot of what I’m seeing in my feeds is marathon related. Did you catch this particular gem from last weekend? Venice does have an association with water, but I can’t imagine participants in the Venice marathon expected to be wading through flood waters in order to complete their race. It makes the puddles I encountered in Aviemore look like a mere splash!

Speaking of New York, I came across this piece in Runner’s World about training for NYC taking over the writer’s summer. I just love the tongue-in-cheek way he suggests it’s all doom and gloom….but then reveals that he loves it! Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon can probably relate.

You may also have seen that a new half marathon world record was set last weekend as the previously unknown Abraham Kiptum lowered the mark set 8 years ago by Zersenay Tadese (one of the runners in last year’s Breaking2 project). But what is more interesting is that this same runner, now the proud owner of a world record, was unable to gain a place in the recent Chicago marathon as his credentials were “not good enough” to earn him a spot. This article sets out a few points I hadn’t thought of before when it comes to elite runners having a breakthrough. I wonder how many more undiscovered stars are out there…

While we’re on the subject of breakthroughs, I was fascinated by this piece from Brad Stulberg in Outside about what it takes to have a breakthrough in running or any other aspect of life. If the breakthrough performance is the result of many small, perhaps unnoticed actions, then I am once more reminded that focusing on the process over the outcome is what will ultimately yield results and that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it as sometimes it takes time. What are your thoughts?

And finally, there’s nothing quite like crossing the finish line of a marathon and knowing you’ve accomplished something amazing, but in the days afterwards there are a few things that almost every marathoner does. I think I’ve done just about everything on this list bar the day drinking (mainly because I’ve never run a race that started early enough for this to be an option!). Which ones have you done?

Happy reading!
The Running Princess

The Daily Post – Costume

I think it’s safe to say you can tell where my head (still) is by my choice of prompt this month! Having recently taken part in a RunDisney event and embraced the opportunity to create a costume, I thought I would consider the evolution of my willingness to don slightly crazy garb for a run…

Running In fancy dress/costume has never particularly been my thing, despite what some of my running experiences might suggest. For a long time the only deviation I ever had from standard running gear (in colours that made me blend into the background) was an annual Santa Run (at which dressing as Santa was key to blending into the background!). But as my attitude to running has changed, perhaps as a result of greater experience (or age, but I prefer “experience” haha!) I’ve been more open to a themed run and, when the occasion called for it, creating some kind of appropriate costume to run in.

At first, I simply got involved in themed runs each year on our parkrun’s birthday. I found some bright colours for the beach party theme (a bit tricky in November!).

I followed that with one of my favourites, creating this little combo for the Superheroes theme.

And made sure to wear my festive finery around Christmas time.

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IMG_9194More recently, I thought it might be fun to give a nod to the Royal Wedding with my choice of hairband. Everyone has a tiara hairband, right?

IMG_6630So when I announced that I would be running the Disneyland Paris half marathon, I was asked a number of times if I would be running in costume. Of course I would! As far as I was concerned, that was the whole point, I mean when else can you run around dressed as a Disney character and not receive at least a few odd looks?

One of my main considerations was to make sure whatever I chose wouldn’t annoy me – 13.1 miles is a long way to be irritated by what you’re wearing and it wasn’t like I was going to “test drive” it on a training run! Santa suits aside, all my other costumes had mainly been created out of actual running kit, with the odd additional accessory (e.g. the cape I borrowed from my sister to be a superhero) added on – but those were for short events where I knew I could put up with any slight irritations.

And so, I did a little bit of looking around online. I knew I wanted to be Belle (gold ball gown version, obvs) and checked out some photos of costumes others had put together as well as researching possible places to get the bits and pieces I would need. In the end, EVERYTHING I wore that day was running kit except for my sparkly skirt, but I bought that from a website specifically geared towards running costumes and since it wasn’t “puffy” I knew it would be ok as I often race in a running skirt. The only thing that disappointed me a little was that I couldn’t get any yellow shoes, or at least not in a shoe I would be happy to wear for that distance.

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Tank/capris from Under Armour; socks by Stance; Adidas Supernova shoes; dual pocket Spibelt (so I could carry my phone, Go Pro and a couple of gels); skirt by Sparkle Athletic and hairband from Sparkly Soul. I sourced Steve’s “Beast” top at UK Tech Tees.

I have to say, I LOVED wearing that costume and would happily have wondered around all day in it if it hadn’t been for the fact that a) it had been raining so I was a bit damp and b) I had a flight to catch! But having enjoyed the event so much I know we will be back again and I’ve already given some thought to possible costume options. There are so many to choose from that I might be a little spoiled for choice!

In the meantime, it’s not that long until the festive season…

Have you ever run in a costume?
What would you wear for a RunDisney event?

Race Report – Aviemore Half Marathon 2018

It’s been a few years since I last ran this race, but those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember that this one holds a special place in my heart, not just because it was the first ever half marathon I ran (back in the pre-blog days of 2009) but it was also where Steve and I got engaged – that was quite a way to relieve my pre-race nerves! Further to that, in 2012 I ran a PB here which proved stubbornly difficult to beat for quite some time – all the way to early 2017 in fact! But for the last few years I haven’t been up there as I had different autumn priorities, and when Steve signed up back in the summer I initially wasn’t sure if I wanted to run the half or the 10k, eventually deciding that it would be worth capitalising on the training I was doing for the Disneyland Paris half and “properly” running a half marathon to round off my racing year.

In the past we have stayed in Aviemore the night before the race, but this time decided we would get up early and head up first thing in the morning. This meant leaving between 6 and 6:30am, times which seem increasingly reasonable the more I run!

It was still pretty dark as we set off on the 80ish mile drive north into the Highlands which meant we didn’t get much chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery. We had the latest episode of Marathon Talk playing in the car and had a pretty easy drive, arriving at the race HQ just before 8am.

The race itself starts at 10am, however the logistics are such that runners are taken by bus to the start (only about 10-15 minutes away) and the course returns us to the MacDonald hotel complex which is used as the race HQ and car park. The buses begin at 8am and the last one is at 9am so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to collect our race numbers, go to the loo and get in line for a bus.

s6tVq4+ARuSFinP1VTwu%wWe were up at the start at the Badaguish outdoor centre not long after 9am. It was pretty chilly, but the organisers have a good set up with teas and coffees available (with donation buckets out for those who have cash at the start line) and a sheltered area to gather in. I had a cosy top on that I was going to put in Steve’s bag (we usually do this since he will finish first and can collect the bag before I finish) but had chosen one I was happy to throw away if I just couldn’t bear to remove it soon enough!

We had a cup of tea then got in the queue for the toilets around 9:30, so by the time we emerged it was time to hand in our bag. I was shivering a bit, but didn’t have too long to wait until I got underway and I knew I would be absolutely fine once I got moving.

DtHG+BLvRxaWOtnFMuJoZgAs runners line up there are markers with approximate times on them and I set myself up next to the “sub 2 hours” marker. Realistically I had no idea what I could do, but with a PB of 1:53 and previous long-standing PB (from this race) of 1:56 I was fairly certain I could squeak under 2 hours.

Before I knew it, we were being walked towards the start and past a piper. Steve took some photos as I couldn’t be bothered to pull my phone out and I was instructing him as to the photos to take!

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AFkyVosFSzuzu8JxGouiCAThere was a moment of confusion when we could see through a  break in the trees that the runners at the front had started and, of course, those further back started to run even though we hadn’t reached the start line yet. I never understand this. Surely we’re going to run enough during the race? And the confusion was created by the fact that so many people were running and I could hear lots of folk asking if we had crossed the start line yet, but since we had race chips on our shoes I knew that even though there was no gantry, the start line would be when we crossed a timing mat slightly further on so stayed calm and started my watch as I hit the mat.

The first half of the race, which is net downhill overall, takes place on trails which can be a little narrow at points and thanks to the recent rainy weather there were quite a few puddles. I knew from previous experience that it wasn’t worth worrying about pace in the first half of the race as the chances are you will be way off, particularly with a steep hill at the start of the 4th mile, but will make up lots of time once the course emerges onto the road as it’s pretty much all downhill through the second half of the race. I actually set my watch to show me the average pace rather than the current pace and amused myself with some “runner maths” to try and work out if I was on track for a sub-2.

fullsizeoutput_28faA fun moment came towards the end of the trail section as I became aware of runners backed up around a corner. It turned out that there was a puddle of such magnitude that there was absolutely no avoiding it and people were looking for the best way to approach it. Most were going around the edges (which were pretty squelchy) as there was clearly a deeper hole in one part of it and lots of people were falling down. Not wanting to hurt myself by stepping on something uneven that I couldn’t see (or have an impromptu ice bath), I also went around the outside, but still ended up in cold water up to my knees and with icy cold feet – a good incentive to run faster in the second half to warm up again!

Thanks to my choice of attire I was getting lots of shouts (everything I was wearing was actual running kit, I just thought I would have a bit of fun and embrace the feline theme of running for a cat charity!). Early in the race as we had a brief section on a road I heard a little girl say, “she’s dressed up as a cat!” and as we ran by Loch Morlich shortly before joining the road for the home stretch a spectator shouted, “well done pussy cat!” Most of the marshals also commented on my cat ears and gave me a big smile. It was really nice, if a little unusual!

Once out on the road around 7 miles in it was time to get myself moving a bit faster. My average pace had been showing about 9:27 and I knew that 9:09 would be 2 hour pace. With the slight downhill it felt easy to push on and although it crossed my mind to wonder if I could sustain a faster pace, I dismissed the thought and focused on running to feel. I was passing people and feeling good. I even managed to take my gels (I had one on the trail at mile 5 and planned a second at mile 10 with “a parkrun to go”) without choking myself!

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Splits from the trail section

I was noticing my average pace falling until it dipped under the 9:09 I was looking for and at that point I knew I could keep my legs turning over all the way to the end. An interesting thing about this race is that the mile markers are actually “miles to go” so they are counting you down to the finish. I had noticed in the second half of the race that the markers were a bit off compared to my Garmin and suspected the route was going to come up a little short. Thanks to my knowledge of the route, I decided to trust the markers and keep on pushing as my pace felt ok.

There’s a short, sharp hill to take us from the path we are on up onto the main road and back into the hotel complex, and as I came off the hill I glanced at my watch to see that it read 1:55. I knew my previous best time from this race was 1:56 something, but couldn’t remember what the seconds were. I tried my best to speed up as the finish line was in sight but the last 100m or so are over grass which was a bit soft and uneven so I couldn’t get quite the sprint finish I wanted.

I heard the announcer call my name as I crossed the line and headed through the chute to collect my water, shortbread (such a Scottish race haha!) and medal then return my chip.

NpnukYlNToyy7NRYe2SBdQI met Steve and we headed back inside to sort ourselves out and I took advantage of the opportunity to look up my previous time (1:56:35) and confirm that I had indeed beaten it. My chip time for this year was posted as 1:56:02. Those 2 seconds are a little irritating, but given I had only expected a squeak under 2 hours (and there were some slight holdups on the trail) I’ll take that. This now becomes my 2nd fastest half marathon time and only the 3rd time I have run sub-2. Pretty pleasing for someone who was certain she wasn’t in fantastic form! I suspect the lack of pressure or expectation meant that I ran well, felt comfortable and enjoyed the event. I felt really strong in the second half and looking at my splits that strength is confirmed so I definitely got my strategy right.

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Splits from the road section – definitely a negative split!

UntitledAnd so this remains one of my favourite races. It’s well organised, has a fun route and is very friendly. There are always people there that I know and the sections where there are spectators always have great support. It’s nice to run a race with a more local feel to it. I’ll try not to leave it another 5 years before I go back!

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4wGXTmvsReqkWr+0x7yOkAYou can read about my previous experiences of this race here and here.