2015: An End of Year Report

Unbelievably, another year has ticked by and now we are all locked in “Crimbo Limbo”, an odd time of year when we’re not entirely sure what’s going on and most small talk (after the obligatory comments about the weather!) begins with, “did you have a nice Christmas?” then segues seamlessly to, “anything planned for New Year?” ( in case you’re wondering, my answers are “yes, thank you” and “no, just a quiet one”). It’s a time of year when we inevitably begin assessing what we’ve done with our lives over the past 12 months and consider how we might make the next 12 even better, so what better time than now to look back over my challenges from 2015 and think about some of my personal highlights..

 

I suppose it all started this time last year when I set out my challenge for 2015: one marathon (hopefully with a PB), one cycling event, and a frankly crazy weekend of multiple races, all completed by the end of May. After being hampered by injury in the second half of 2014, I didn’t want to plan any further ahead than that, preferring a cautious approach to my race plans, and it paid off – despite a strain to my left quad affecting the final weeks of my marathon training, the only plans I had to change were my expectations of a marathon PB, instead setting out to simply complete the race and have fun. It may not have been my greatest ever marathon finish time, but I finished it, had fun and, in the words of one friend, “became the selfie queen of Paris!”.
Paris Marathon done and part one of my challenge complete √

 

Next up was the cycling event, and with my strained muscle preventing me from running, I got a bit of bonus time in the saddle, even going so far as to enter an extra event as a warm-up the week before. I may sound quite flippant about it all now, but in reality this was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. You may recall that I only began cycling in the summer of 2014 and bought my first road bike that autumn just before my first ever sportive, now here I was contemplating an 81 mile event which went over a mountain! I found the whole thing really daunting – the distance, the climbs, the risk of mechanical failure and the risk of rider failure(!) – yet somehow I managed it. The weather was apocalyptic (up on that mountain was particularly horrendous!) but both my trusty steed Trixie Trek and I held it together to cross the finish line of the Etape Caledonia and complete the second part of the challenge.
Cycling, done! √

 

But I think the real stand-out moment of the year for me has to be the third part of the challenge. Back in 2014 Steve became infamous for his challenge to complete all 4 races of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival, a feat involving lots of running, a very swift half marathon and a willing friend with a motorbike. I was incredibly proud of what he achieved that weekend, but also intrigued. It may have been a long, long way to run, but Steve seemed to really enjoy it and get a real buzz from the experience, so when I was looking for something new to do, my thoughts turned once more to Edinburgh. I knew that my race pace versus the event logistics would rule me out of mimicking Steve’s challenge, but thought a variation might be possible: rather than going from the half marathon to the full marathon (the bit the logistics made impossible for me), what if I then went on to complete a leg of the team relay instead? From that seed of an idea, the concept began to take shape, and at the end of May it all came to fruition: I ran four races in one weekend, I got treated like a rock star by Macmillan, my chosen charity, and do you know what? I loved it all!
Four races, two days, one challenge completed!! √

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In taking on this challenge, I learned that I am even more tenacious than I knew. Funnily enough, the marathon was the “easy” bit (not often one calls a marathon “easy”!), with the cycling posing the greatest challenge and Edinburgh being a journey into the unknown in terms of keeping on going. Yes, there were tough moments, that’s what makes it a challenge, but the pride in knowing I completed it will stay with me forever. Why did I do it? For one thing, I felt I had unfinished business from my 2014 challenge, so decided to extend it for another year. I feel a sense of satisfaction in completing what I set out to do, and am thrilled to have raised a further £1000+ to add to my total from 2014, bringing my grand total raised for Macmillan Cancer Support to over £6000! That’s £6000 that will make a huge difference to the lives of those affected by cancer and I want to thank everyone who has supported me in any way as I completed my challenges over the last two years.

 

But this year wasn’t just about the challenge, I also had a lot of fun: I discovered the joy of parkrun; I continued to dabble in learning the front crawl; I completed both the Jantastic and 5×50 challenges; I had a fantastic trip to Florida, where I even won running prizes; I ran lots of real and virtual races (as well as creating my own!); I won some competitions; I tried out some new training ideas; and there was that time I met Paula Radcliffe, a real highlight!

 

Oh yeah, and there was A LOT of bling!

Another mini challenge I set for myself was to complete at least one Virtual Runner UK event per month. With a final haul of 14 medals, I’d say I definitely achieved that one too!

 

In total I’ve run 648 miles this year, my highest annual mileage to date, and cycled 270, a bit less than last year. I also found a great graphic to represent my total mileage for the year at Veloviewer, which uses your Strava profile to collate the information:

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Apparently. I climbed Everest this year!

All in all, I’ve had a fantastic year. I hope you’ve enjoyed following it all on the blog and will continue to follow my adventures into 2016. Remember you can also connect with my page on Facebook and use the links on the right hand side of my homepage (if you’re viewing this in a browser) to subscribe to the blog and never miss a post. But for now, I wish you all a very happy new year. Here’s to 2016!

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What have been your highlights of 2015?
Do you have any challenges lined up for 2016 and beyond?

A Mediocre March

I think it’s safe to say that this month the wheels well and truly came off my marathon training. I had issues with nutrition, energy and ultimately injury as well as a brief flirtation with illness.  It would be easy to feel really down and have concerns about what’s going to happen when I line up on that start line in Paris in less than 2 weeks, but then I remind myself that I know the challenge ahead, I know I can finish and I know it’s perfectly normal to arrive at the start line feeling nervous. Indeed, a good number of the runners will likely have suffered some kind of setback due to illness or injury. It’s the rare marathon training plan that ticks by without any problems, so the important thing is how you deal with them and recover. As Martin Yelling often points out, in order to finish a marathon, you have to reach the start line!

And so rather than dwelling on the negatives, I’m taking the positives from this past month: I understand why the issues happened and how to make adjustments to avoid similar problems again; I was able to continue training in the pool and on my bike, maintaining my fitness, making me feel much better about the cycling events I have coming up and making some improvements in my quest to learn the front crawl; and my injury has improved greatly so I’m confident it will be fine for the marathon (so long as I don’t do anything stupid!). Things could definitely be worse!

 

The month actually started out ok. Well, almost. I completed an 18 mile run, albeit under tricky circumstances, enjoyed my cadence drills in daylight after weeks of darkness and I nailed my Jantastic time target at Parkrun (I set it as 5k in 24:30 and ran 24:27. Near perfect!). Since then my muscle strain has resulted in lots of stretching, strength work and quality time in the saddle. I may have lost some consistency, but I know the cycling will have helped maintain my fitness and the extra rest should hopefully mean I feel fresher on race day. I’m simply going to take this as an extended taper and trust in the training already done and my previous experience of marathon running to see me to the finish.

 

Perhaps one of my biggest frustrations is in missing out on my 100% Jantastic record thanks to being unable to run in the final two weeks of the challenge (and yes, I played my joker). Having hoped to finish with a score of 100, I actually ended up with 86.9. I’m disappointed, but have to be pleased with my achievements throughout 10 of the 12 weeks the challenge lasted. Besides, there’s always next year! Right now, my priority is to make sure my muscle is properly healed ready for the marathon. It has already progressed hugely and I know I am close to being able to run again, but I’m not taking any chances. If I have to swim, cycle and cross train my way through what remains of my taper then I will do, but I WILL be running in Paris next month.

Yes, although my training in March has been less than ideal, remaining positive is still crucial in making sure I’m mentally prepared for 26.2 miles. And so I’m seeing the end of this month not as the end of one of my toughest months of training, but as the start of the next chapter: a new month, a new season and a new challenge in 5×50. April is set to bring with it lighter evenings, a return to running and, of course, that all-important marathon.

Paris, here I come…!

 

How was your March training?
What are your goals for the weeks ahead?

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The Road to Paris – Week 12

The last full week of March (and the last full week of work before the spring break) continued in a similar vein to the rest of the month. I think the only thing I’ve managed to be consistent with is going to bed each night! Training-wise things have continued to improve, but I’ll not be sorry to see the last of March!

Once more, my training plan was re-written from the original to take account of the muscle strain I’m carrying:

Monday – swim/sauna
Tuesday – 8 miles hilly swim/sauna
Wednesday – conditioning
Thursday – cadence drills rest
Friday – Metafit
Saturday – Parkrun rest
Sunday – 16 miles cycle

If you’ve been following my training patterns over the past few weeks, then you may notice that this time the only sessions that had to be changed were the running ones. The rest of my week finally returned to the established routine as the strained muscle has settled and become much stronger. Not quite strong enough to run (yet) but strong enough to allow me to do a bit more.

The week actually began amid much excitement as I had the first chance to drive my new pride and joy to work. I can’t remember the last time I felt so excited about driving to work, but it was definitely the drive rather than the work that was appealing to me! When that working day was finally done (and I got another nice drive in my car) I headed for the gym to swim some lengths of the pool. I’m finding my swimming much more consistent now, although still rather tiring so there’s clearly more work to be done.

 

There was a little more excitement in store when I arrived home. I recently won a prize in a giveaway over on Danielle’s blog, and that prize was waiting for me: a runners’ torch and a lovely card from Danielle. I probably won’t get much use out of the torch until next winter now, but it still looks really cool and potentially very useful. Thanks Danielle 🙂

 

On Tuesday I wanted to see how my leg was doing. I didn’t think it was ready for a run, but needed to know how much of an improvement there had been so I decided the best thing to do was return to the gym. A few paces on the treadmill confirmed that while much better than the last time I ran, my leg wasn’t yet up to tolerating running so I had a short session on the elliptical before returning to the pool for another swim. I wanted to feel out of breath, like I had been pushing myself, and knew a swim would do that. I could also reward myself with a nice jacuzzi and sauna afterwards!

By Wednesday, I was needing to do something different and fortunately Steve was able to fit me in for a session. We altered my conditioning work to focus on strengthening my thigh muscles and beginning to get them used to more weight-bearing exercises as well as the sort of movements required to run. I felt a little achey afterwards but more “I just worked hard” achey than “injured” achey, if you know what I mean, so I was happy with that.

Thursday became a rest day simply because I had plans. My local cinema was one of the venues screening the National Theatre Live production of A View From The Bridge, a play I regularly study with my senior pupils. As a result of my “encouragement”, several of my pupils were going to another venue nearer the school to see it and I was keen that we would be able to discuss it in class the next day so headed along with my sister. With a 7pm start and me staying at work until close to 5pm, that didn’t leave much time for anything else. The production was superb though and my pupils definitely got a lot out of it, which is pleasing.

 

Friday evening, however, saw a return to the studio. Steve took me through some more exercises to strengthen my thigh muscle and then I took part in Metafit for the first time in a month. I was worried that one or two of the Metafit exercises might cause some discomfort, but in actual fact it was fine. I’ll admit to a couple of slight twinges, but these tended to be as I worked through an exercise for the first time and stretched my leg out into now unfamiliar positions before the muscle settled. I also got Steve to repeat one of the tests the physio had done last week and confirmed that my leg is definitely much stronger now. A very encouraging sign.

On Saturday morning I was a little more aware of my thigh muscle when I first got up, but again this felt more like “post-exercise” ache than “injury” ache and as the morning went on this completely disappeared. I had contemplated going for a walk on Saturday morning, particularly since Steve was going along to Parkrun, but the weather was atrocious so I decided to stay at home and catch up on a few other bits and pieces. Later in the day I plotted out a cycling route for Sunday morning and got my kit organised since we intended to head out quite early (even more so since the clocks were going forward and our bodies would think it was an hour earlier!).

Disaster struck when I decided to pump up my bike tyres and asked Steve for some help as I hadn’t used the floor pump before. I somehow managed to DEFLATE my front tyre, and followed this with a catalogue of errors in the two of us attempting to attach the pump properly. Thankfully we did figure it out in the end and in actual fact re-inflated the tyre quite quickly. In other news, I now know how to use the floor pump!

But since this incident happened not long before bed, I ended up dreaming that I got up to find my tyres pancake flat. Unsurprisingly, the first thing I did when I got up was check on my bike. All fine, of course, so after breakfast I headed out for my ride.

We had plans for the afternoon so I really only had time for a couple of hours on the bike. This meant a hilly 20 mile route. Steve ended up running in a similar area and around 14 miles I caught up with him on one of the roads we like to train on. I cycled by him for about a mile to have a chat then had to push on in order to have some momentum for a hilly section.

I rather enjoyed the ride, but sadly my Garmin was playing up. A couple of miles in it flashed up that the battery was low, which was weird as I’m sure I charged it last week. I though it might hold out but sadly it gave up just two miles from home so only recorded 18 miles. I promise I did ride 20 though as I completed the whole route I had plotted out the night before! I still took a moment to stop for a couple of photos, though:

Sunday was both the last day of Jantastic (so close!) and the first day of 5×50 (a fresh new challenge). While my 20 mile ride didn’t help with my Jantastic targets, it was more than enough to meet the requirements of 5×50. I also felt a bit stronger over the hills than last week as I was able to get more power from my quads. Now if I could just be a bit braver coming downhill…!

All in all, things are beginning to improve. It’s been 3 weeks since I was able to run, but I’ve had some quality cycling time and my injury is definitely well on its way to recovery. With a little luck, I might even manage a short run next weekend. Keep your fingers crossed!

What’s the longest time out you’ve ever had from running (or any other sport you enjoy)?
Any mishaps with a bike or other equipment required for a workout?
Has your watch/phone ever died while you were recording a run/cycle?

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The Road to Paris – Week 11

To be honest, I was beginning to wonder if I’d reached the end of the road, but after some positive steps this week things are looking much brighter for The Running Princess. I now know what is causing the niggling problem I’ve had over the last couple of weeks, how to resolve it and, most importantly, that it will be fine for Paris in three weeks. You may breathe a collective sigh of relief!

That’s not to say that the past week hasn’t presented one or two challenges, but continuing to be flexible with my training should see me on the start line healthy and ready to go.

Flexibility, of course, means continued deviation from my original plan in order to meet my current needs:

Monday – swim/sauna
Tuesday – 8 miles hilly rest
Wednesday – conditioning physio appointment
Thursday – cadence drills coaching 2x running clubs
Friday – Metafit rest
Saturday – Parkrun walk
Sunday – 20 miles 40 mile cycle

At this point, the crucial thing is to reach the start line injury-free and I would suggest that being a little under trained is far superior to carrying an injury into race day and beyond – the last thing I want is months off running again thanks to my own stupid decisions! The time out from running has given me a chance to recover from some of the difficulties I’ve had in recent times and by turning my attention to swimming and cycling, I know I’m still getting decent workouts. I’m even beginning to think that my swimming just might be improving. I still need breathers between lengths, but my stroke is becoming more consistent and I feel that my “water fitness” is improving. Hopefully I’ll be able to give my swimming a bit more attention through the summer months to build on this.

I had considered a gym session on Tuesday, however my throat was really sore all day and I was worried that I was coming down with one of the awful bugs that’s going around at work right now. I felt terrible on Tuesday evening so had a bath and early night, dosed up with everything I could think of to combat the germs. I genuinely thought I might have to stay off work on Wednesday (I’m rarely off ill), but when I woke up I felt brand new. I may have been feeling a little run down recently, but I seem to have fought off the bug pretty well, particularly as a lot of people have found themselves in bed for 3 or 4 days with it while I’ve simply had an occasional cough and slightly runny (but not blocked up) nose. Well done immune system!

Wednesday was my physio appointment and I was keen to get along and get a diagnosis of the niggling tightness at my upper thigh. I always feel better once I know what’s actually wrong as then I have a treatment plan of stretches/exercises to do which makes me feel like I’m taking much more positive action. I considered a really short test run before going so as to give the physio the most up to date feedback on the problem, but since I could still feel the tightness as I walked around, I knew how it would feel running so played it safe and skipped the run.

I saw the same physio who has helped me out with some previous problems during marathon training cycles and I’m always amazed by how quickly he can diagnose things. He is a runner too (I often see him at parkrun) which is useful and he listens carefully to what I tell him before getting me to move about in different ways, contorting my legs around and applying resistance. In the past I’ve usually been given a diagnosis accompanied by the sucking in of air when I say I have a marathon coming up, but this time I was really happy to be told that it was nothing to worry about: a slight strain in one of the quad muscles called Rectus Femoris which begins close to the hip and runs down towards the knee. That explains why I was feeling tender spots at the top of my thigh and offshoots of it running down my upper leg. It also explains why I thought my hip might potentially be involved in the problem also. My hip joint, however, is absolutely fine.

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While no definitive recovery time can be given, the physio was confident that it would be fine for Paris and gave me some instructions for stretching and strengthening the muscle. Since I had stopped running, I had prevented it from becoming worse and requiring longer to heal. One thing I did find interesting, however, is that this was probably another warning sign form my body that something wasn’t right. The physio said that sometimes these things can occur not just in the “danger zone” of the 16+ mile training runs, but also when nutrition isn’t quite right, we’re a bit run down or, in the case of women, as a result of hormonal fluctuations. Massive ticks all round for those then. Basically everything that was wrong kind of “clubbed together” and found a way to make me stop running. I’m just glad I listened to the warning signs and stopped. Within a couple of days of stretching and strengthening I could already feel a massive difference and am not aware of the problem at all when walking now. I will continue to play it safe though and not rush headlong back into running.

Playing it safe meant that my role in Steve’s running clubs on Thursday night was to walk (that’s right, walk!) the mile or so from our flat out to the turning point in the route he was using for the timed 5k run at the end of the block of training. I did feel a bit daft standing around there by myself (and probably looked it too since I decided to spend the time stretching my quad!) but it meant I got a bit of exercise while protecting my muscles.

I do, however, have the ok to do some more dynamic exercises such as those involving jumping/hopping on my leg to help build strength so was hoping to get along to Metafit on Friday night. I didn’t make it though. I was a bit busy with the much more exciting task of picking up my new car and taking it for a wee spin to try it out!

I’m very happy with it and actually looking forward to driving to work on Monday morning to have a decent drive!

I decided to stick with walking for my exercise on Saturday, then on Sunday headed out for another cycle. I knew it would have to be a hilly route and I wanted to go further than last week so it seemed like an ideal time to try cycling some of my favourite hilly running routes. I was a bit concerned that I might have to get off and push the bike, but I managed all the hills, albeit slowly, and ended up riding 40 miles. I was even a bit faster this time. Another “furthest cycle” milestone, my greatest elevation climb and the reassurance that the 46 mile Tayside Challenge I’m signed up to in May should now be much more within my grasp (the 81 mile Etape, however, may actually be the death of me!). I don’t expect 46 miles to be easy, but at least I know that I’m already more or less able to cover the distance, which is encouraging.

 

Although milder than last week, it was a pretty windy morning and there were lots of cross winds which made it much tougher, but I enjoyed my cycle and should be able to improve even more in the weeks after Paris when I intend to focus on riding my bike rather than running. In the meantime, I hope to be able to try a test run on the treadmill this week and with a bit of luck be out running rather than riding next Sunday. Whatever happens, it’s now officially time for the taper. I’ve already had the niggles and the illness, so hopefully there won’t be too much craziness in store for me now! Mind you, I did look a little crazy when I stopped for a couple of photos today thanks to my windswept hair…

 

Hopefully things are now well and truly on the up for me. I’ll not complete Jantastic with a 100% record, but my health is more important and there’s always next year to try again…

How is your training going? Are you tapering for a big race?
Any tips to help me improve my cycling?

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The Road to Paris – Week 10

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It seems that after a good start to the year and consistent training through January and February, things just aren’t destined to go right in March. I began the month with a disrupted long run, followed it up with a difficult and stressful week in which my nutrition was all wrong and my energy levels were through the floor, and now, almost inevitably, the niggles are creeping in.

A couple of times recently I’ve been aware of a tightness in my upper thigh and glute after a longer run, but have been managing it with stretching, foam rolling and mobility exercises. It seemed to be improving and was one of the few things that DIDN’T go wrong on my long run last week. But as the new week began that nagging tightness was still there and if something doesn’t resolve after a few days, then it probably needs further investigation. Yet again, my training had to change:

Monday – swim/sauna
Tuesday – 8 miles hilly short test run with Steve
Wednesday – conditioning further investigation of tight muscles
Thursday – cadence drills coaching running club
Friday – Metafit swim/sauna
Saturday – Parkrun rest
Sunday – 18 miles 30 mile cycle

Having been aware of the tightness throughout Monday and Tuesday, I was pretty doubtful about my Tuesday run, so when Steve suggested heading out together for a lap or two of the Inch (he’s running at a slower pace right now due to his cracked rib) I jumped at the idea. But almost immediately I knew there was an issue. The top of my thigh felt tight and it just wouldn’t settle down. We walked and jogged a bit, tried some movements to try and ease it, but nothing worked. Instead, we headed home to work through a few more stretches to try and “hit the spot”. This continued into Wednesday when I went down to the studio and Steve took me through some stretches, mobility exercises and good old-fashioned ouchy massage to try and release the tension in my thigh and glute, but nothing really seemed to do it. There appeared to be a really deep knot of tension and I knew it would take a bit longer to resolve.

The decision was therefore made to cut right back on my training this week to try and sort out the problem. As before, I’d much rather be out running, but I know it’s far more sensible to miss one or two runs now and hit the start line in Paris healthy than to risk it all for a training run.

 

So my cadence drills on Thursday were cancelled and since the running club were due to complete hill reps, I drove up and met them there so there was no need for me to attempt any running. All the time I continued to stretch, foam roll and use self-massage tools such as The Grid and the Trigger Point ball to help release the tension I’m feeling.

By Friday, my leg was feeling improved, but not improved enough to go firing back into training so I decided to hit the pool instead for a bonus swim session. I’m still determined to crack the front crawl and this was a positive session. I even managed to string a couple of lengths of the pool together for the first time (normally it’s a length followed by a short break) and my breathing is improving. The swimming actually helped to relieve my tight muscles, so hopefully it won’t take much more to resolve the issue. To be certain, though, I’ve booked a physio appointment to check it all out properly and make sure I’m doing everything I can to make things better.

I also decided to skip Parkrun this week. I’ve only been going to Parkrun since the start of the year but already it feels like an important part of my week and I was sad not to be running – I kind of missed my Parkrun family! It’s funny how in the depths of training we often yearn for a day off, but as soon as that’s forced upon us we feel bereft.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t volunteer at Parkrun instead due to another commitment in the morning (I could have just squeezed in the run, but staying longer to help out wasn’t possible) so Saturday became a rest day and it was quite clear that heading out for an 18 mile run on Sunday would be stupid. In the past, this would have meant a couple of soul-destroying hours on the elliptical or the stationary bike at the gym; now, however, I cycle. So my first bike ride of the year (and an important step in beginning to prepare for the Tayside Challenge and Etape Caledonia) unexpectedly wormed its way into my training schedule.

Using the principle that I should aim for a workout of around the same length as my planned run, I decided I needed to cycle for between 2.5 and 3 hours. I thought that would probably be about 30+ miles depending on what speed I was able to cycle, especially given that I haven’t cycled since the start of November.

On Saturday evening I got my stuff organised (I carry quite a lot of stuff when I go for a long run so a bike ride was like packing for an expedition with all the “just in case” stuff I need!) and chose some kit. I don’t have as much cycling kit as I do running kit (yet) but I knew that I would feel much colder on the bike than if I was running so wanted to make sure I layered up properly.

As I set out in the morning I actually felt a bit nervous. It seemed like such a long time since I’d cycled and although I really enjoyed my time on the bike last year, I’ve been so focused on my running lately that going out on the bike felt a bit alien. I didn’t feel as confident as before so took it easy and got a feel for the bike again at the Inch before setting off on one of my favourite routes which takes in this beautiful dry arch:

My plan was to complete this loop, bringing me back into town around 18 miles, then add on an 11 mile loop around one of my favourite hilly running routes. I then just had to take a slightly “scenic” route home though town to add on a final mile and bring it to a nice round 30.

At first I was worried that it would be miserable: my hands were cold inside my gloves and I was missing my “training partner” Martin (Yelling, via the Marathon Talk podcast – I never put earphones in when I cycle). Soon, though, the temperature crept up and my hands stopped being cold, the sun came out and I started to really enjoy myself. By the time I was on my hilly loop (a route I’ve never cycled despite it being a staple running route for me) I felt much more confident, was pedalling quicker and was quite content being in the saddle again. The thing that amazed me most was that after all this time, I was able to go out and ride 30 miles without much difficulty thanks to all the other training I’ve been doing lately, even on a route that was tougher in the second half than the first. I now feel much more confident about my forthcoming cycling events (although I need to focus on hilly routes when I train more specifically for those) and a little less daunted by the challenges ahead as I know I could have happily carried on. I do need to get some more effective padded shorts/tights for longer rides though!

 

I know my time today wasn’t very fast, but that was due to some leisurely easy miles while I got a feel for the bike again (and the fact that I was on a shared foot/cycle path filled with dog walkers and families so had to go carefully – the last thing I want to do right now is fall off my bike!), some hills and a rather muddy section along by the river. All things considered, I’m pretty happy with what I achieved and 30 miles is now the longest cycle ride I’ve been on. It was quite odd seeing my Garmin reach 26.2 miles as I’ve only ever seen that happen in a marathon before. Even stranger to keep on going!

I might not have been able to run today, but I’m so glad that I was able to go out on my bike. I may have been a bit cold, but it was a great workout and will have helped maintain my fitness (I did have to play my joker in Jantastic though as all my targets were based on running. Fingers crossed I can run next week otherwise my 100% record will be lost! Note to self: include swimming and cycling in my chosen disciplines next year!).

After a rather inauspicious start, my week improved greatly with that Sunday cycle. I needed a good long workout to deliver some endorphins and help me feel like my training was still on track. Reaching a new “longest cycle” milestone also meant I had a solid achievement for the week. Oh, and if anyone’s wondering, I finally got those nutritional problems under control by upping my protein and iron intake. Think lots of meals that looked like this:

There are now just 4 weeks left until Paris (eek!). Hopefully I will be able to get back to running again, complete one last long run and have a good taper to the big day. Keep your fingers crossed!

How has your training been going? Any niggles?
What’s your favourite way to cross train?

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The Road to Paris – Week 9

With week 8 of marathon training delivering a somewhat bumpy finish, I went into week 9 hopeful of a much more consistent and satisfactory week of training, but sadly the fates had something different in mind for me. While I know that marathon training won’t always go smoothly and certainly won’t be easy (after all, if it was easy more people would do it, right?) it’s still frustrating when things don’t work out as planned. And where week 8 went wrong in the final furlong, week 9 decided to kick me in the backside right from the start!

Monday – swim/sauna rest and massage
Tuesday – 8 miles hilly rest
Wednesday – conditioning cadence drills
Thursday – cadence drills coach 2 running clubs rest
Friday – Metafit 30 minute run
Saturday – Parkrun
Sunday – 20 miles 15 miles

I’ve said many times that flexibility in training is important, that a plan has to fit around a runner’s life and that we have to be prepared to make changes as life throws unexpected challenges in our path. This week was a prime example of how important that is. But why?

As the week began, a couple of changes had already been made. Since Steve had hurt his ribs when he fell off his bike, he asked me to coach both of his running clubs on Thursday evening. To fit that into my training, we moved my cadence drills to Wednesday and made Tuesday a rest day to avoid having too many back-to-back days of running. Fair enough, but as you can see from above, that’s still not entirely how my week panned out.

And it was all thanks to Monday.

 

I know, I know, it’s only one day. How bad can it be? For me, this particular Monday was bad and the effects of it plagued me for the rest of the week. Thanks to an unfortunate chain of events involving a looming deadline and a number of ill-timed hurdles to meeting that deadline, I found myself working through lunchtime. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound too bad, but this was the day after an 18 mile run. On a day when I should have been eating almost constantly to top up my energy reserves and help my body recover, I ended up not only under stress, but not getting enough to eat into the bargain. My blood sugar plummeted, my energy all but departed and even making sure I (finally) ate my lunch at 3:30pm didn’t do enough to resolve this. I felt ill and exhausted so rather than go for my swim, I headed home for a power nap then straight out for my sports massage to work on that pesky knot in my calf which had played havoc with my run the day before. The knot disappeared, but it seemed that nothing I did for the rest of the week could sort out whatever imbalance was triggered by the combined forces of stress and poorly managed recovery nutrition.

Tuesday, therefore, was the most perfectly-timed rest day ever as I knew I didn’t have the energy to go out for a run. I had eaten much more that day, but the damage had already been done by Monday (and the messed up fuelling from my tight calf adventure on Sunday) so I was playing catch-up and losing. Yet again, I came home in need of a power nap and an early night.

Things were looking up a bit on Wednesday and I got away from work early enough to fit in my cadence drills mostly in the daylight. This meant that I could use a slightly different route which made it much less of a chore. There was absolutely no sign of any problem with my calf, although the hunger pangs were still there.

But by Thursday, things were starting to unravel. The week was really beginning to take its toll and by the time I was heading home from work I felt exhausted and feverish. The last thing I wanted to do was spend 2 hours coaching runners – I wasn’t even sure I could be on my feet for 2 minutes as I felt quite light-headed and a bit woozy. Running club cancelled, some good food, a bath and an early night were in order.

I felt a bit more myself on Friday, but I still knew something wasn’t right. By 9am I was STARVING to the point of feeling shaky. I ate as much as I could through the day but it barely took the edge off. I wanted to go for a 30 minute jog when I got home and had to have a banana before I left (which actually made me feel much better). Clearly there was something wrong with my nutrition and it was high time to work out what it was. I was craving red meat for dinner, so protein looked like a likely culprit.

And after a protein-rich dinner on Friday, I felt revived on Saturday morning as I headed for Parkrun. The ground was just as muddy as the week before but I felt much more consistent in my run and despite strong winds to add to the mud, I actually shaved a couple of seconds off my time from the week before (although I came home even muddier!)

 

I felt good, but still with a nagging hunger pang that I just couldn’t satisfy throughout the rest of the day. I ate breakfast before I left, had a second breakfast on my return, lunch, dinner, a number of snacks and some porridge before bed. I never felt full. It was like I was a bottomless pit and I couldn’t figure out where all the energy from my food was going. Unfortunately, this followed me into Sunday. I fully intended to complete 20 miles, but despite a huge bowl of porridge and a banana (another banana – I don’t even really like bananas!) I felt hungry before I even started. I was worried and dwelling on the fact that 20 miles is a blooming long way, even when you’re feeling good. Not ideal.

I ran the first part with Steve and Graeme. They were out for a slow run (with a few walk breaks since we now knew that Steve had in fact cracked a rib when he fell off his bike – ouch!) and the prospect of company was really comforting. It was laps of the Inch which I normally don’t like, but the easy pace and conversation made it much more bearable, and by the time the guys were heading off we had covered 5 miles and I was taking a gel ready to carry on by myself. I upped the pace a bit and felt ok, but by the time I was ready to take my 10 mile gel I wasn’t feeling so good: it just felt like REALLY hard work, much harder than it should have been, and I could easily have sat at the side of the road and cried. Feeling low, I sent Steve a text and he offered to come and get me, but since I’d had a gel I wanted to see if there was any difference.

At 12.5 miles I decided to call it quits at 15, a distance that, with a little zigzagging, would see me at my front door.

At 15 miles, I walked in the front door and burst into tears.

Those last miles felt like the last miles of the toughest marathon ever. I was struggling even to hit a 10 minute mile pace (I’ve been running faster than 9 minute miles on my long runs), not because I was out of breath, not because my legs were weary, but because there was simply no fuel in the tank. I knew that carrying on like that wasn’t worth it, hence the decision to cut my run short. I’m still not sure exactly why I was crying: frustration? disappointment? hunger? In all likelihood, a combination of all three. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt full and in all honesty was fed up of eating. Everything just seemed wrong. Having given some thought to the nutritional issue, we were fairly convinced it was a lack of either protein or iron. Steve thrust an iron supplement at me and I felt an almost immediate improvement. There was my answer.

I have to say, that Sunday was probably the lowest I’ve ever felt in marathon training. My body was betraying me and I couldn’t work out why. Not only was there a nutritional imbalance, but my body had reacted badly to stress, something I normally handle well, and compounded the issue with a gnawing, debilitating hunger. Finally working out the problem meant that we could apply a solution and by the time I had my Sunday evening bath, I was feeling much better.

 

So the bumps continued into week 9. In marathon training we have to take the rough with the smooth and that’s exactly why flexibility is key. Religiously sticking to a plan no matter what will inevitably lead to exhaustion and injury. To get to the start line in one piece, sometimes we have to make the decision to alter a training plan, change a workout or cut one altogether. Of course consistent training is important, but listening to our bodies even more so. Mine’s telling me that I’m tired, hungry and stressed, so I’m off to have something to eat and an early night!

Have you ever faced any nutritional challenges as your training progressed?
What warning signs tell you to back off training a bit?

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The Road to Paris – Week 8

Karma. No matter how fast you go, you can never outrun it. And this week, it caught me.

Week 8 started well enough. I had a nice swim on Monday, my Tuesday run was the fastest I’ve done on that particular route, I had a good conditioning session with Steve on Wednesday and I even managed to sneak in most of my Thursday night drills while there was still daylight! Everything was looking good…and then along came Friday.

Friday just went wrong from the outset. I got up as Steve was leaving for his first client, but just as I was coming out of the shower, I heard him come back in. Thanks to some black ice just outside his studio, he had fallen off his bike and I soon found myself patching up the wounds on his elbow, knee and side where he had come crashing down. His knee seemed to be the biggest issue at that point, but when he returned to work and filled in the accident book, he also discovered some discomfort in his ribs, probably bruising. He couldn’t demonstrate exercises, he couldn’t sit comfortably on his bike and he certainly couldn’t run. Not a great start to the weekend.

Meanwhile I was cutting it a bit fine to get to work on time and it quickly became one of those days. I just seemed to be chasing my tail all day, even into the evening. I couldn’t go to Metafit that evening (probably the one time Steve needed me there as he couldn’t demonstrate any exercises!) so went home via the studio for a solo Metafit workout (luckily I’ve done this enough to know each exercise without a demo!). Yet I still found myself running late to meet my sister for dinner. In the end I was only 5 minutes late, and once there I did have a great evening  – what’s not to like about dinner out followed by some amazing dancing from one of the Strictly Come Dancing pros? I even managed to get my name and question read out from the stage during the Q&A in the second half, so basically had Brendan talking to me. My inner Strictly geek was beside herself!

Things were picking up and on Saturday I headed off to Parkrun feeling good about the weekend ahead. It was mild so I knew the grass section would pretty much just be mud. Unsurprisingly, there was no PB for me this time, but I ran well and the main difference from the week before was that soft, squelchy mud sucking away all my energy. I found it difficult to speed up again when I rejoined the path after working hard over the grass, but it was great fun!

The rest of the day was taken up with rehearsing for and playing in a symphony orchestra concert. Enjoyable, but it did dominate the majority of my day and actually left me feeling quite tired. Not the best preparation for an 18 mile run!

And it was in that 18 mile run that Karma caught up with me.

After my soaking the week before, I studied the weather forecast very carefully to make sure I had the right kit and was left in no doubt whatsoever that I would need my waterproof jacket and gloves:

 

Steve, on the other hand, was going to have to content himself with a walk. In actual fact he was ok with this, what was bothering him the most was that he would be forced to play one of his jokers in Jantastic, an occurrence we had been making sure to avoid!

 

And because not playing a joker had become “a thing”, I found this funny. I laughed. I later regretted that laugh. Karma.

It all started innocently enough. I felt good despite the intermittent rain and strong winds. I was toasty and dry in my kit and more than ready for 18 miles. But around 6 miles in I became aware of a tight spot in my lower calf. I stretched it out a bit when I could over the next 2 or 3 miles, but by just before 10 miles it was really bothering me. I was close to home (the beauty of the routes I’ve been planning) so decided to head back and use my grid roller to try and ease it off. I actually walked for half a mile, but kept my Garmin running to log my miles (because I had 18 miles to do for Jantastic, you see!). Once home, I stretched, rolled…and panicked. Should I go out again? I had covered just over 11 miles and wasn’t sure whether or not to attempt the remaining 7, particularly if it might lead to injury. Karma.

So I called Steve. He said to try running to the end of the street. If it tightened up straight away, go home; if it seemed ok, head to the Inch and run laps, that way if I had a problem I would be close to home. As it turned out my leg felt much better, but all the messing about had played havoc with my fuelling. At 10 miles when I was walking, I should have been taking an energy gel but didn’t as I had no idea whether or not I would be carrying on. I took the gel as I headed out, but once a fuelling strategy has gone off-track it’s really difficult to get it sorted out again. My new problem was that I found myself running on empty and it was less than 3 miles later that I took another gel to try and top up my energy. Karma.

It took three soul-destroying laps of the Inch, some unscheduled walk breaks thanks to the fuelling failure, and a lot of mental strength, but I completed my 18 miles. Karma may have caught me, but I wasn’t going to let it beat me! It wasn’t my best performance and it was by no means pretty, but it was done within 3 hours and there was no major problem with my leg. The muscle was a little tight for the rest of the day, but I knew it would easily be resolved with stretching and a massage so wasn’t really worried. Take that karma!

It would have been easy to let that experience get me down, to throw in the towel and declare that I couldn’t do this anymore, but that would be stupid. Training for a marathon doesn’t always go smoothly, there are often bumps along the way. What’s important is how you deal with those bumps. My performance wasn’t great, but I understood why so rather than being disheartened by running badly, I chose to be proud that I picked myself up and completed my session. I may not have had the best physical training in that run, but I experienced some superb mental training, and in the final miles of the marathon mental strength is often more important that physical strength. I still have three more long runs to go before my taper; three more opportunities to prove to myself that I can run well over that distance. Of course the only one that matters is race day, and I know I’ll be ready for it. I just need to pick myself up and get on with the next week of training.

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When was the last time you had a tough training session? How did you deal with it?
How do you cope with setbacks when you are working towards a goal?

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A Fabulous February

Another month gone. The weeks certainly are going by quickly – somehow they always do when a marathon is approaching! After a successful January, I had three main targets heading into February: maintain consistency, keep up my conditioning work and manage my nutrition properly. So how did I do?

Despite one or two hurdles to overcome, I did manage to maintain my consistency. For the most part I ran well throughout the month and on any occasions when I felt a little under par, I understood the reason(s) why and was able to address the issues easily. I successfully built up my long run mileage, got VERY excited about my new long distance shoes and smashed my Parkrun PB not once, but twice, achieving the previously unimaginable goal of a sub-24 minute 5k and surprising myself along the way. Perhaps I can even shave a few more seconds off that time as the weeks go on. At the end of the month I not only scored another 100% in Jantastic, I also logged 115 miles of running, beating last year’s total by 2 miles. Definitely a successful month of running!

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Furthermore, I was able to continue with my conditioning work. This has been one of the trickiest sessions to fit into the week as I have had other commitments on Wednesday evenings which eat into my time and my window for exercising didn’t fit with Steve’s availability most of the time. For this reason, I often found myself working on the exercises alone, but did manage to fit in a couple of sessions with Steve to progress them and increase my range of motion. Oddly enough, this is also one of my least favourite sessions right now as although useful in helping my legs to recover and supporting me in my increasing mileage, I find it tough to keep pushing my body and extend its range. For largely static exercises, they are hard work and leave me quite tired! Since I know they make a difference, however, I will persevere!

 

And then there was nutrition. One thing I’ve learned over the last few years as I’ve trained for marathons is that as my mileage increases, especially once my long run gets beyond 16 miles, I have to keep a careful eye on my nutrition to ensure not just that I am eating enough, but that I am eating foods which will give me enough energy to train effectively. I have quite a small frame and if I get this wrong, I start to noticeably lose weight and people tell me I look thin (and not in a good way). An almost enviable problem, perhaps, but also a clear signal to me that something isn’t right in my nutrition and if I don’t resolve it, I find myself experiencing not the “good” kind of hunger where I can eat just about anything with impunity, but the “bad” kind of hunger where my body just doesn’t have enough fuel in it to keep me going. This leads to me feeling totally drained, sluggish and unable to think about anything other than food. I enjoy the appetite I have when training for a marathon, but I definitely don’t enjoy feeling like someone pulled the plug out, so eating more to maintain my energy levels is vital.

 

Generally, I’m pretty good at listening to my body and fuelling it properly, but that doesn’t mean I’m perfect all of the time and I did experience a day or two of “runger” during February. Not enough to be debilitating, but an early warning from my body that it was time to add in some extra snacks during the course of my day. I’m now trying to eat a little bit more throughout the day to make sure my body is not only fuelled properly to train, but also to recover.

This is because recovery continues to be a crucial part of my training and I need to do what I can to help my body recover after each session. For me, this means compression tights for my longer runs, compression socks after my Sunday run, a post-run recovery shake, proper stretching and foam rolling, a Sunday evening bath, plenty of hydration and quality sleep. And now, in the 24 hours after my long run, I need to ensure that I eat enough to replace all the energy burned during the run, not just to keep me alert, but to help my muscles recover ready for the next session. As well as all that, I have regular sports massages and am still mixing up both my routes and my shoes throughout the week to lower the chances of injury. So far, this has been successful.

 

And so now it’s time to embark on The Monster Month. With my longest runs ahead of me in March it’s absolutely crucial that nutrition and recovery are at the forefront of my mind. Yes, I need to still be consistent in my training, but with a really solid base under me now, missing one or two midweek sessions across the month is not going to be the end of the world. Instead, I need to prepare my body for the miles it has to cover and provide a little TLC afterwards. I need to listen to my body, eat well and recover well in order to have a successful March. Let’s do it!

How was your training in February? Any setbacks or smooth sailing all the way?
What changes do you make to your nutrition as your mileage increases?

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The Road to Paris – Week 7

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Se-VEN!!

Seven weeks in and things are beginning to get serious: Sunday runs are getting up into the longest distances, good recovery between sessions is key in order to get the most from each one, and tweaks to my nutrition are required to support the bigger calorie burn and make sure I maintain sufficient energy to train well. In addition, my head is filled with running and thoughts of Paris, so much so that I could merrily chat about either for hours, yet I spend the majority of each day surrounded by non-runners people who just don’t get it, so I tend to keep those thoughts to myself. Thank goodness I have my blog so I can share all my running-related ramblings!

 

As week seven (and the second half of Jantastic) began, I was determined to keep up the good work I’ve done so far. It has become increasingly clear what is working for me in my training programme, so the shape of my week is not changing at all:

Monday – swim/sauna
Tuesday – 6 miles hilly
Wednesday – conditioning
Thursday – cadence drills
Friday – Metafit
Saturday – Parkrun
Sunday – 16 miles

After missing my swim last week due to a parents’ evening, I was glad to get back to my Monday night pool time this week. Even though I’m not spending a great deal of time in the pool, it’s amazing the impact it has on my recovery, something I hadn’t really noticed until I was forced to miss a session. This meant that when I headed out for my run on Tuesday, I performed much better than last week, despite the fact that I’d completed a longer run on the Sunday (and it was blowing a gale which, of course, had me running into a headwind on the uphill sections – typical!). I know that in the coming weeks of higher mileage Sundays, my Tuesday runs may become more challenging, so it’s crucial that I get my recovery right in order to get a quality run and avoid “junk miles”. For me, my Monday swim is a key part of that recovery.

On Wednesday, however, I encountered a bit of a hurdle – hunger! Yes, my old friend from training cycles past decided to pay me a visit. In general, I’m pretty good when it comes to my nutrition during training – I know what will fuel me for a run, I know what foods I need to help me recover and I know that the more miles I run, the more I need to eat during the day to ensure I’m not using up more energy than I’m taking in. So as the weeks go on I need to increase portions, particularly my porridge at breakfast time, and add in further snacks such as nuts and malt loaf to top up my energy during the day. I’ve found that I really only need this when my long runs are 16+ miles, which of course is what I ran last Sunday. But thanks to feeling tired on Tuesday evening so not finishing my dinner and not then not having an extra snack with me on Wednesday as I’d not needed one so far, I fell foul of a massive dip in my energy which saw me feeling like the plug had been pulled out. This was easily rectified with some extra food and since then I’ve been sure to eat enough during the day to support the level of training I have reached. Luckily, Wednesday is a fairly light day training-wise so it didn’t cause too much of a problem.

By Thursday, I felt back on form after a good sleep (and a good thing too as it was time to increase the cadence of my drills and cut back the number of reps). Last week I was conscious that I was needing to move on to the next level of my cadence training, but could also remember that the last time I increased the cadence of my drills I did find the slight increase noticeable. Not impossible, but a subtle enough change to push me a bit. This time a similar increase, while noticeable, did not feel quite so big a challenge and I did enjoy the shorter workout I was rewarded with!

After my drills, it was time to help Steve with his Go Faster running group, who were also working on cadence drills. I was working with some more experienced runners (who are working at a slightly higher cadence than those who have just joined the group) so their session this week combined the cadence training with some hill reps – a great way to build strength and speed. Over the last few weeks I have been working on maintaining my cadence during hill climbs in my runs and it is definitely making a difference to my performance so I hope they notice the benefit too.

 

Friday was not only Metafit day, but it was also my first time trying the latest workout, worryingly titled Shredder! I have to say, I did feel pretty shredded, although I think that’s partly due to not drinking enough before the class as I was dashing around sorting out a few errands that couldn’t wait. After the class I made sure to drink plenty of water and even had a power nap before eating, which made me feel much better.

However since I’d felt a bit below par on Friday night and had probably not had the greatest pre-run meal (a heavy Chinese accompanied by a couple of beers) I headed off to Parkrun on Saturday fully expecting to have a tough time. It had been cold overnight so I thought there might be some frost on the paths and wasn’t sure what sort of state the grass would be in. Not ideal conditions to run a good time. Knowing that we can’t expect to be at our best every single time and that all sots of factors can affect performance, I set out with no other intention than to run as well as I could.

There were a couple of frosty patches on the paths, but I still ran a pretty fast first mile, probably too fast to be honest. By the time I reached halfway and joined the grass section I was feeling the pace a bit but knew I could hold on for a little longer. The grass, however, was pretty tough to run on as it hadn’t frozen right through so the surface was soft, muddy in places, and had a covering of slippy frost on the top so I could feel my feet sliding underneath me. Of course that affected everybody and I wasn’t losing any place with the runners around me so I was happy with that. Rejoining the path with a mile to go, I was tired but just had to dig in. By the time I could see the finish, my legs were turning to jelly and every fibre of my being wanted me to stop, but with the end in sight I gritted my teeth and kept going, knowing I could finish with a PB. Once across the line I was relieved to stop and gulp in some air as I waited to have my barcode scanned.

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It’s funny how sometimes the runs where we expect to perform the worst, are the very ones where we do our best. I expected a tough run and I got one, but not in the way I had thought – it was tough because I ran hard, not because I was badly prepared or in poor form. 5k may not seem much when compared to 16 miles, but it’s fast and you have to run hard from the start. A 5k is never comfortable, and it’s not a distance I have much experience with (although Parkrun is certainly teaching me a lot about how to race it). 5k should not be underestimated.

Once home, I waited impatiently for my results to come in, hoping for confirmation of a PB (anything faster than 24:11). I knew what my watch said when I stopped it, but I also know that my official time is usually up to 4 seconds more, depending on how accurate I am with starting and stopping my watch.

And then this happened:

 

Not only a PB, but just a fortnight after unexpectedly smashing my sub-25 minute goal, I (narrowly) achieved my new goal of sub-24 minutes. I now have a 23:XX 5k PB. I couldn’t believe it and am probably still on cloud nine as I type this. Now, my goal needs to be to take my time more convincingly below the 24 minute barrier. Given the progress I’ve made over the last few weeks, who knows what could happen in the future if I continue to train well.

Upon studying my stats from my watch, I also discovered that my average cadence for this run was 172, the same as the speed of the cadence drills I started off with back in October. Back then, I found it tough to run at that cadence for a minute, now I’m racing 5k with that as an average. Yet more evidence, if it were needed, of the huge gains to be made from consistent training and working on these kinds of drills, and yet more encouragement to keep working on them and improving my running further.

The remainder of Saturday was spent making sure I was better fuelled and hydrated for my Sunday run than I was last week. I drank water like it was the day before the marathon and made sure I had a good dinner of salmon, vegetables and noodles. Delicious!

 

These steps meant that I set out on Sunday morning feeling much better prepared. With a repeat of the previous week’s mileage, I opted to run the same route to see how much better it would feel with better pre-run fuelling.

From the outset things felt much improved. I was moving faster, yet it felt easier. Everything that I had control over was working well, the only variable causing any issue was something over which I had no control – the weather! What started off as an overcast and cool day quickly changed. Drizzle turned to sleet, sleet intermittently turned to snow and a fierce wind joined the party so that much of the precipitation was coming at me horizontally. When I passed close to home around two thirds of the way in, I gave serious consideration to nipping home to change some of my clothes and add some extra layers, but suspected that if I did that I’d never get out the door again so gritted my teeth and soldiered on.

By the time I finished my run I was soaked, my fingers were freezing and fine motor skills like putting the key in the front door were a bit of a challenge! Not ideal, but I knew to make sure I acted quickly to warm up by removing my sodden clothes, getting in a warm shower as soon as possible and having a hot meal. Careful not to omit any crucial part of my post-run strategy, I ended up going through my stretching routine in my dressing gown and taking my sports bottle with my recovery shake into the shower with me. Multi-tasking at its best! A bowl of hot soup post-shower and I felt much more human again and ready to reflect on my run.

Overall, I ran better than last week. Despite the weather, I was faster and felt stronger (apart from the last mile and a half when I really couldn’t see past all the sleet/snow in my face and was struggling to open up my bottle to take a drink!). My cadence was good, my pace was well within my goal marathon pace and I coped with the challenging conditions as well as I could. I’ll take the positives from that. Hopefully the weather will be much more favourable on race day, but if it’s blowing a gale and snowing, I’m all set!

The next few weeks will see me hitting my highest mileage with 18 and 20 mile runs on the cards, so it’s more important than ever to make sure I’m getting my nutrition and recovery right. I’ll be keeping hydrated, aiming to eat the foods that fuel me best and trying to get enough sleep. Sounds easy, yet sometimes it can still be tricky to get it right. But now, it’s time for a nice hot bath to treat myself after my cold run and help boost my recovery!

How is your training going
What are your strategies for running in bad weather?

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The Road to Paris – Week 6

Not only was this week 6 of my marathon training, it was also week 6 of the Jantastic challenge, the mid-point of the whole thing. The last 6 weeks have flown by really quickly and it’s scary exciting to think that by the time Jantastic finishes I will be tapering for Paris!

This was also an odd week as it started with another parents’ evening, but finished with a long weekend for our half-term break. This meant that although I had to make an adjustment to my routine at the beginning of the week, I was then able to relax and recharge over the weekend, whilst still completing all of my training.

To account for all this, the basis of my plan for the week was:

Monday – rest (parents’ evening)
Tuesday – 6 miles hilly
Wednesday – conditioning
Thursday – cadence drills
Friday – Metafit
Saturday – Parkrun
Sunday – 16 miles

At first I wasn’t too bothered by missing my swim on Monday, after all I would have a day with no activity at all as my rest day which was bound to be good, but as it turned out I really noticed the difference when it came to my run on Tuesday. The combined forces of not having my swim (active rest/leg recovery), missing my last sports massage due to my therapist having to cancel at the last minute with a family emergency, and some hard running the week before (including a massive Parkrun PB) meant that my legs were beginning to feel a bit weary. My first mile was definitely slower than of late and although I picked up the pace later, I did make a conscious decision to back off the pace a little overall. Not quite a recovery run, but still a chance for my legs to ease off and I did feel much better by the time I got home.

I also received my medal for the previous Tuesday’s virtual race, so that made me very happy. I’m really enjoying these virtual races as it gives me an extra incentive to run well in training and then I have the joy of getting a medal in the post! And the proceeds go to a different charity each month too – what’s not to like?

 

My recovery was further helped by my conditioning session on Wednesday. I was able to get down to the studio and Steve had me working through the squat-based exercises I have been doing each week, but with a real focus on extending the range of movement and powering up from the squatted position. He also made one or two other adjustments to make these exercises harder and make me work a bit more. Although I find these quite tough, I know they are making a difference and the focus on range of movement also gives me a bonus stretch so any tightness/weariness is eased away a bit more.

By Thursday, the weariness had definitely cleared, and a good thing too since I had reached the peak number of drills for my current cadence (20 reps) and wanted to be able to work hard through these. Even better, this was the first day of my long weekend and the sun was shining so I was able to complete my workout in daylight. I found this really made a difference to my mindset compared to completing them in the dark when my choice of running location is a bit more limited, and the reps seemed to be over in no time. The evenings are getting lighter though, so hopefully soon I’ll be able to get some daylight for all my evening runs.

After my session I headed to the pool for a few lengths since I missed out on Monday. It was nice to be in the water (I never expected to be saying that!) and overall I felt like I swam reasonably well. There’s a little more consistency now so things are definitely heading in the right direction.

On Thursday evening I was helping Steve with his running club again, but this time with the Go Faster group rather than the Zero to 5k group. This one is after Zero to 5k so it will be nice not to have such a rush on a Thursday evening now! This group is focusing on drills to help them improve their performance so the first step was to time them over a set distance to then compare this to how they perform over the same route at the end of the block. My job was to head out to the turning point to keep everyone right and offer encouragement, the only problem was I didn’t have much of a head start so I had to run quite hard to make sure I got there ahead of the first runner – not easy after a tough workout that morning, but I made it (just!).

I slept very well on Thursday night after all that and felt refreshed on Friday. Metafit wasn’t until 6pm so I had the day to myself. I find some Metafit workouts a little less challenging than others, but this was one of the tougher ones for the legs and I think the new one that we’ll be doing next week will also be rather “character building”. Eek!

Saturday saw me up bright and early ready for Parkrun. While my Facebook feed was full of photos of others having decadent breakfasts to start Valentine’s Day, Steve had been out for an early run before work and I had a date with 193 other parkrunners!

I had no expectations of a fast time as my legs were certainly not as fresh as last week and the temperature was much milder so the grass section was guaranteed to be much softer (and therefore much more energy-sapping). Still, I gave it my best shot and was only about 20 seconds slower than my PB time from last week so I’m more than happy with that. I don’t think I could have run any harder on the day and the squelchy, muddy grass section was certainly harder to run across than the hard, frozen surface it has been up until now.

After Parkrun I had to rush off as I had a sports massage booked and it was great to have some work done on those weary legs!

We did, of course, mark Valentine’s Day with a little sweet treat in the afternoon:

And had a nice dinner at home later on:

It was all absolutely delicious, but for the second time in this training cycle I found myself a bit sluggish on my long run the next day. And what do both of these runs have in common? They were both fuelled with a steak dinner the night before. I’d say that’s the beginning of a pattern and clearly steak/chips is not the best running fuel for me. Now that I’ve reached the longer distances on my Sunday runs I need to make sure I get my fuel right so I can run strongly the next day. I do know what works best for me, but the lure of steak was just too much this time!

Looking at my stats, I still had a decent run. My average pace overall was spot on for my target marathon pace, and that’s despite the “treat” of what I’m calling the “Three Peaks Challenge” (i.e. a run taking in three of the steepest hills I know around here!). I had to work a bit hard to hit my pace, but I did it and will be interested to compare my performance next week when I have the same distance to run and will make sure my preparation is a bit better.

Run done (and Jantastic target met!), Steve had a treat in store for me in the afternoon – a delicious afternoon tea. We were booked into a local patisserie/coffee lounge where all the baked goods are freshly made on the premises. A bit decadent, but totally worth it and a lovely end to my long weekend. I even managed to get a photo before we demolished it all!

My other news this week relates to race entries. First up, the Paris Breakfast Run finally opened for entries and after a fantastic experience last year, we were quick to make sure we signed up. Now the final piece of the puzzle is in place for our Paris weekend. Secondly, we have both signed up to the Tayside Challenge the week before the Etape Caledonia. This 46 miles bike ride will give us a chance to have a warm up for the Etape over similar terrain as well as providing a chance to test out our fuelling strategies and kit for the big day. Now all I need to do is start working some cycling into my plan so I’ve put my bike in for a service to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. I’m hoping that now the weather seems to be getting a bit better I’ll be able to get out on my bike again.

Now I’m all ready to hit the second half of Jantastic and keep on working towards my goals.

How is your training going?
Did you do anything special for Valentine’s Day?

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