Race Report – The Stirling Scottish Marathon 2018

If you’ve been following along with my training since the beginning of the year you will probably know that I didn’t specify a time goal for this race. I was tired of constantly putting pressure on myself to achieve a time and then coming nowhere near it for a variety of reasons including injuries, weather and, for my last marathon, the stress of a very poorly cat and an emergency visit to the vet the day before. This time I wanted to enjoy the process (it is The Year Of Me after all) so my goal was simply to train as well as I could and then do my best on the day. That meant adapting to the circumstances and adjusting as I went rather than burning myself out chasing a time.

But I’m a runner. I had lots of data from my training so had an idea of where I might be and the last thing I wanted was to not do myself justice. And so I set myself “standards” rather than specific goals, benchmarks I could consider once I had a finish time rather than an extra pressure on the day. I wanted to have fun, to enjoy the race I had spent time training for rather than limp across the line ready to chuck my trainers in the bin.

  • With a PB of 4:05:07 from way back in 2014 (and I’m not getting any younger!), my “unicorns are smiling on me creating rainbows in the sky” 🦄 🌈 goal had to be a PB. And if the stars really aligned 🌟 a sub-4 has long been my ultimate goal. I didn’t honestly think this was realistic just yet.
  • Since setting that PB the absolute closest I’ve come is my time of 4:18:10 from my last race – the Loch Ness marathon in September. Everything else has been in the 4:30/4:40 region so my B goal 🏅 was to beat that time. This was the one I thought was most realistic and anticipated something between 4:10 and 4:15.
  • Finally, my “the wheels have totally come off and everything has gone to 💩” goal was to finish smiling. I was going to be running on a beautiful route and I do love marathons, so why would I want to make myself miserable? I knew I could finish, so just had to make sure that whatever happened I chose to enjoy it.

Within all of that I had one sub-goal: no walking other than to take my gels (it just works better for me to walk for a moment then carry on running). In the past I’ve lost the mental battle a bit and allowed myself to walk in the latter stages of the race, especially once I knew my time goals had gone. This time I wanted to eliminate that and run my best time, whatever that may be. I knew I needed to keep my pace under control at the start so I would have a bit of energy for later then dig deep in the latter miles to the finish. To help me with all this, I changed the settings on my watch so I could see my average pace and make sure I kept it steady at the start. My basic plan was to keep it steady to 20 then see how I felt (wiped out, obviously, but if there was anything left to push on then I was going to try and push on).
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Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 19.30.43The night before I got my kit organised. Since I was fundraising I had my charity vest and paired it with my favourite Under Armour running skirt that I usually save for marathons as well as a couple of special extras. I had ordered a pair of bespoke trainer tags from Lucy Locket Loves, one featuring my blog name and one with the name of my 2018 charity challenge Miles for Morven. I had also ordered a beautiful silk wrap from Run Bling by Nicky Lopez. I had asked her to engrave it with Miles for Morven and add some paw prints and I was so delighted with it. I wanted to keep my reason for running close by and have something to inspire me simply by glancing down at my wrist during the race.

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S1a70fuwSTK66ERWetx1MgRace day dawned and the weather was exactly as expected from my stalking of the forecast all week: dry and cool. Perfect. All my kit was ready so I got up, had my porridge, got dressed then had a second bowl of porridge just to make sure I was well fuelled. After a quick coffee we hit the road for the half hour drive to Stirling.

jeZ6wZPYSi+Ht3H1I3DK4QWe parked in the event car park (basically some empty land) with Stirling Castle in the background and walked from there to the start area. This was well set up with lots of toilets and the baggage buses. I actually got straight into a toilet (unheard of!) then reluctantly removed my layers, put my bag on the bus and, since there were now queues, waited to get into the toilet again.

We had to make our way a short distance from there to the actual start line where one of those god-awful mass warmups was underway. We were both in the red (front) wave and there were officials shouting at everyone to get into the pens, but sadly they didn’t actually tell us HOW (this is my one quibble with the setup). There was no obvious way to get in and lots of people waiting so we did what many others were doing and scaled the barriers! I’m not a fan of doing this since I’m terrified of hurting myself right before the race is due to start, but I took my time and as I turned to step into the start pen, I felt the steady hands of another runner help guide me safely there. Runners are nice like that.

By this time it suddenly dawned on me that we were getting underway. I hadn’t switched my Garmin on and still had my throwaway top on (it was cold and I knew these were being collected for charity) but I miraculously got it all sorted out just as the countdown began – no hanging around at this race!

Despite all that I didn’t feel stressed or worried (although I did miss out on a start line selfie). I was calm and ready to settle into my pace, soaking up the atmosphere through those first few miles when everyone is in high spirits and there are conversations going on around you.

I settled into a comfortable pace, holding back so I wouldn’t go too fast and use up all my energy. I was steady and enjoying the first few miles, legs feeling good. We passed by the entrance to Blair Drummond Safari Park at the 4 mile mark, where we were greeted by this fun cheer squad:

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Photo from Blair Drummond Safari Park on Facebook

The next landmark was Doune Castle which is generally known for being used as a film location in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as, more recently, Game of Thrones. I did catch a glimpse of the castle and it looked really pretty.

Through Doune the crowd support was brilliant and I was still feeling good. I remember laughing at a sign saying, “If you collapse I will pause your Garmin” before heading back out onto the country roads towards Dunblane. There was a bit of a climb in this section, then a glorious downhill stretch through Dunblane (where Andy Murray grew up). I had really wanted to see the gold postbox that marked “Our Andy’s” Olympic gold, but I missed it. Steve thought there were people standing around it hence why I didn’t see it even though I was looking.

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I can’t remember where this was, but I really like the photo.

From Dunblane we followed the road towards Bridge of Allan and there was another nice downhill stretch before things levelled out. I was still averaging around 9:05 per mile and felt comfortable. The temperature was ideal, I was happy with my electrolyte drink and my gels (I actually didn’t use any of the on-course drinks or gels), there was a nice mix of sections with great crowd support and quiet sections where I could just enjoy the scenery and think my own thoughts (I had my Aftershokz headphones around my neck, but hadn’t yet bothered to listen to anything even as I went through halfway). It was simply a lovely Sunday morning run.

On the other side of Bridge of Allan is the University of Stirling where my sister studied for her degree. The route took us on a loop around the campus, starting with a bit of an uphill slog before a nice downhill run back out. That uphill felt tough, but as I left the campus and rejoined the road at around 16.5 miles I was doing ok and knew I would get my next gel at 20 miles so that was my target. It’s funny how these things become quite exciting during a marathon and I find myself strangely looking forward to the next gel, especially the double espresso one with caffeine I take at mile 15 – like having a mid-race coffee!

About a mile later, things felt a little harder but I was prepared for the mental battle this time. I had thought that I might put a podcast on when things felt tough, but instead I did something different. I had said that I was running this one for Morven and that when things felt hard I would remember my reason for running, the funds I had raised and the people who had supported me. My thoughts turned inevitably to Morven and I felt like I was drawing on her and the strength she had when battling illness in her last year. I know it’s hard for people who have never had a pet to understand, but Morven and I had a very strong bond so there was a lot of emotion tied up in this for me. As I ran, I developed a positive mantra which I kept repeating to myself in time with my foot strike and it helped to keep my cadence up. Before I knew it I was another mile in and gaining on a runner I knew from parkrun. I kept the mantra going until I took my gel at mile 20 then decided that I needed to get outside of my head for a bit. The weather had changed and it was raining so it was finally time to start my podcast to see me through the last 10k.

IMG_5348By this point, of course, I had no real clue where I was geographically. There was a sort of loop that we ran that took in some kind of bike path then we rejoined the main road and I remember a corner where there was lots of crowd support and I got a boost from a runner I know from a social media group giving me a shout. Since I had no on-course support with me, it was so nice at one or two points along the route to see people I knew and to get a shout from them to cheer me on.

From here, the road was on a slight incline. Ordinarily it wouldn’t have been too bad but at this stage in a marathon it felt quite tough. I spotted a race photographer so made sure to try and look like I was still running strong for the photos I would see later!

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Trying not to look like I’m dying (and probably doing a better job than the guy beside me!)

I always break the last 10k into “2 parkruns” with an extra gel in between. I opted to take my last gel at 23 miles then told myself I just had to keep moving forward through the last parkrun to the end. My average pace had been stubbornly drifting outside of my PB pace, but not too much so I was feeling confident that I could comfortably achieve my B goal by some margin.

At last the route brought me into Stirling and the final stretch to the finish. My legs were heavy and I felt like I was wading through treacle but I was still running. The hardest part was through the centre of Stirling (which reminded me very much of Inverness) as there were cobbles. People often express concern about the cobbles in Paris but I’ve never been bothered by those as they are actually pretty smooth and even. In contrast, the cobbles of Stirling were uneven and there were big ruts in some sections that made it difficult for weary legs, but I knew I had to be close to the finish as my watch had been fairly accurate to the course signage throughout and I was trusting that information.

Steve’s cousin had told us she would be at a cheer point for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau not far before the 26 mile mark and I spotted her leaping out to give me a big cheer as I turned a corner to be faced with what looked like a mountain. Yes, someone thought a 600m uphill finish would be the perfect grand finale to the route! I was willing my legs to move faster but I think the Central Governor had taken over long before and was refusing to let me go any quicker until an actual finish gantry was in sight. I could hear everyone around me react to seeing the hill and we were all exchanging a few words and groans about it. I had stopped my podcast when I got into Stirling as there was a lot of crowd noise and that meant I could soak up the atmosphere in the final sections of the race.

As I got closer to the finish I began to spot some familiar faces from Perth in the crowds and got a few shouts then, praise be! The finish gantry! The Central Governor relinquished control and my legs began to move again. As I ran into the finishing straight the opening bars of the YMCA began to play over the loudspeaker and hilariously both the girl ahead and I saw fit to join in with the actions as we ran along. I could hear a roar from the crowd each time we flung our arms up into the ‘Y’ and I just loved that atmosphere as I ran to the finish.

20x30-SSMC3090Crossing the line I had the usual wave of emotions, but managed to keep it together as I exchanged a few words with the girl who had been ahead of me as I had been using her as a kind of pacer for the last part of the race. I was grinning ear to ear from a great race and keen to get my official time as I knew it would be a few seconds faster than my watch.

I was handed my goody bag which contained my T-shirt, medal and assorted other bits and pieces, including a packet of spaghetti!?!

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jR1NmIv%R5+J7jGWZKh59gSteve was waiting at the end of the finish funnel and he had already collected my bag from the bus so I didn’t have to shuffle across the field to get it. The sun was shining so I fished my disposable poncho from my bag and spread it on the ground so I could sit down, have my recovery drink and gather my thoughts. I even managed to get up again all by myself (thank you yoga!) to get a couple of photos.

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YDBkbIBmRMW9SVArj30AGAAnd that official time? In case you’ve somehow missed my shrieking about it in my last Week in Review or all over social media, it was 4:05:40. A mere 33 seconds outside of my PB, making it officially my 2nd fastest marathon ever, and well inside that B goal I had set myself. I’d say that’s a good morning’s work. One or two people have asked if I’m disappointed not to get a PB and my honest answer is no. This race was never about a PB, it was about a process. It was about seeing how I would run when I listened to my body and removed the pressure of time. To run that time whilst still enjoying the race and never feeling like I was really struggling or that I couldn’t do it is testament to the training I have done and the approach I took. I also met my sub-goal of no walking other than to take my gels whereas in the past I would have taken walk breaks as soon as I realised the chance of meeting my A goal was gone. When I reflect, I truly believe that in many ways this is my best performance ever even if it isn’t my fastest result. It doesn’t always have to be about the time on the clock, but it should be about the time you have.

fullsizeoutput_252cOverall I really loved this race. I used to only want to run big city marathons but this was a wonderful experience for me and I would happily sign up to this race again in the future. It’s well-organised, has a fantastic route, great support and, crucially, is close to home. I do love the opportunity to travel for a race, but nothing beats home comforts when you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles.

Stirling marathon: you were great.

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Week In Review – Here We Go!!!

Yes, indeed. Race week has rolled around once more, and with it a whole new level of maranoia in which my Pocket Bac was attached to me (because the germs wanted to hunt me down), I thought my calf hurt (it didn’t), I thought I was getting a cold (I wasn’t) and I generally wanted to be enveloped in bubble wrap and shut off from other people 😂

IMG_0497Sadly, that wasn’t possible so I had to go to work as usual in the germ factory of many many young people (hence the Pocket Bac lol!) as well as complete my last, gentle workouts ahead of the marathon:

Monday – Hatha yoga
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – RACE DAY!!!

For me, taper weeks are all about continuing with the routine of my workouts but dialling down the volume a bit as the race gets nearer. That way I don’t go totally crazy but make sure I feel fresh and ready to go on race day. All my key workouts were in place this week, but the running was much more minimal so as to save my legs for the big day.

I began the week with my Hatha yoga class, which is always a gentle stretch out but with options to add a bit more intensity or work on strength. I often do choose different options, but I imagine my class the day after the marathon will see me choosing all the easiest options there are. Maybe spending the whole class in savasana?

On Tuesday I headed for the gym straight after work. My bike reps have been increasing in number by 2 reps per week up to 20 before changing the resistance level of the bike, and this week was 20 reps at my current level as a finale to this cycle of training. While that sounds like a lot, it was still early in the week and was a non-impact workout so it was fine to do this given that the rest of the week was going to be pretty gentle. There was something very satisfying about completing this set and rounding off all the hard work I’ve been doing – 20 reps at an intensity level I would barely have managed 1 at back in January (and for those wondering, yes I did get the bike I like!).

7qb9STY4RamPdw43%andpwI usually alternate form drills and hill reps on a Wednesday, but this week stuck to the drills. Last week I did 10x 1km so this week dropped it back to 6x 1km. Including my warm up and cool down that gave me less than 6 miles so was an ideal workout to keep my legs ticking over and allow me some sections of faster running to satisfy the urge created by having fresher legs. I’ll admit the first couple of reps felt a little hard, but they were mainly uphill and it was a bit windy so I felt great after that.

IMG_6423Even better, I got home to find that one of Steve’s clients had baked him a carrot cake. Cake = carbs so I had a slice with a cup of tea after I ate. It was delicious!

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ABzSp9IJQySiLBgFpMFEeQThursday was Ashtanga yoga. I was pretty last-minute getting there thanks to some unusually heavy traffic, but soon settled in and enjoyed the class. I was super careful not to overdo things and asked for support in my headstand as I didn’t want to risk taking a tumble, but I really wanted to stretch things out and clear my head so this was ideal.

By Friday a rest day was in order. I had as restful a day as possible then did a short Yoga with Adriene video so I would feel like I had a little activity. We then headed out to eat as usual and I decided I fancied the curry this week. Yes, that is a beer you see but I always have a beer on a Friday and it’s important to do everything the same in the days before the race, right?

P5pvTi1RQPmx0I77c4JftgBefore I knew it, parkrunday was with us once more. I knew I shouldn’t do too much so drove there, paid for a parking space at the park rather than walking/jogging from a free space further away and treated the run as a shakeout run. I decided that averaging out around a 9 minute mile would be good and so a time absolutely no faster than 27 minutes (but probably nearer 28 minutes) would be ideal.

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National Superhero Day = Wonder Woman leggings

I positioned myself a bit further back behind crowds of people with the strict instruction to myself not to weave about, then tried to settle into my pace. I felt fresh and ready to go, so the taper had done its job. I actually managed 9:08 for the first mile (well done me!) then caught up with someone I’ve not spoken to in a while so ran with her for a bit to have a chat. This took in the grass section (yes, we were FINALLY back on our main route!) and kept my pace down to 9:20. I did speed up a little in the last mile to 8:50 and allowed myself to kick it up for the last tiny bit for a faster finish, but overall I did get my planned average with 9:03 and a 27:55 time. Perfect!

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Photo from Perth parkrun facebook page. No, I didn’t spot the photographer 😂

I spent the remainder of the day sitting down/relaxing as much as possible and got all my kit sorted out for Sunday morning as I knew it would be an early start so wanted to be as organised as possible.

KcAAk30YTEShARkyD8rauwDinner was carb loading with some of Steve’s amazing pizza (he used to be a pizza chef before he trained as a Personal Trainer – useful!).

GQ0+1AHHTuyAIak76RHv6QThen I had a nice bath to help me relax and sleep well. It felt so strange actually being at home the night before a marathon. Almost like I wasn’t really doing it, which was good as I felt relaxed.

N4LTpq5eQGaRUjfbpkyidQI’ll write a separate post soon on the race itself, but anyone who follows me on social media or knows me in real life will probably already know how it went. My main goal was to do the best I could under whatever circumstances presented themselves on the day. Turns out my best was 4:05:40. That’s only 33 seconds slower than my PB (set in Paris, a much flatter course than Stirling!) and I really wasn’t expecting that. Had you twisted my arm last week I would have suggested between 4:10 and 4:15 as my likely finish time so I’m absolutely thrilled with this. I guess it just goes to show what’s possible when the pressure is removed and you trust in the process. More on that in a future post.

IMG_6499Post-race it was nice to be home quite quickly, showered and enjoying some food. Chinese really hit the spot!

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M+nb6+u1SfyoL8KQLkNQCwThen we shuffled to the pub down the road for a celebratory beer before heading home so I could have a nice hot bath with epsom salts before bed. Rock and roll!

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Rehydrating like a pro!!

As marathon weekends go, it was a great one!

8wkBqBnaR86Qh+sG9Dr0mAWhat’s your favourite post-race food?
Would you prefer to be in a hotel or at home the night before a race?

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Week In Review – Reaching the Peak!

It’s been a lovely, restful week off work (despite yet more snow!) and it’s been nice to have a chance to recharge the batteries while still maintaining my training. This week saw me take on my longest run in this cycle which seems ideal when I’m pretty well rested! Here’s how it all turned out:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 20 miles

I began my week the same way I ended the last one – reading my book in bed. It was such a lovely, relaxing start to my day that this quickly became my routine for the week: alarm at 7:30am, kettle on, then back to bed with a cup of tea to read until around 8:30am. Bliss, and so good to take the time for myself.

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I highly recommend this book

Since I knew I wouldn’t have my Hatha class in the evening (it’s term time only) I was happy to continue my home practice, however was saving that until the early evening. To get a bit of movement into my day I walked down to the gym to relax in the hot tub and sauna then spent the rest of the day chilling out at home. With term time always so busy, it’s important for me to have some quiet time and catch up on myself a bit. There was a bit of a spanner in the works later in the evening when we had a couple of power cuts, but thanks to some battery-operated lights and some candles, things were pretty cosy and I was able to read a bit thanks to my trusty head torch!

n5AhHhVATLmjWDLhA9xTDQTuesday began much the same, but this time I had an actual workout to do as there were more bike reps on the schedule. I got these done in the morning so I could enjoy the rest of my day (and take my time having a sauna afterwards!). It was quite chilly though and I spent a good part of my walk home wondering why I STILL needed to wear my hat and gloves! Definitely ready for some better weather.

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Working hard!

6AtKhEC2RZmGUm1i5B9H6QSadly that better weather seemed pretty far away on Wednesday as I awoke to MORE snow. Thankfully not too bad this time, but enough to disrupt my run. I had planned to warm up then run 10x 1km drills. I toyed with waiting until later in the day but there was no guarantee things would improve so in the end I bundled up and went for it.

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fullsizeoutput_2471For the first half of my run the roads and path were pretty slushy so each drill was more an exercise in not falling over, but some of the later drills were a bit more as they should be as I hit some paths that were much clearer. Typically things did clear up a bit later on but when I’m on holiday I always prefer to get my workout done in the morning. Oh well, yet another “character building” run in the snow!

GLldtfZcTfWYrRp7ILOvKgAnd Steve took me to the farm shop cafe for a malteser slice and hot chocolate in the afternoon. Yum!

1O1mLmOYSoeCS6h34iHHFwThursday saw me back at the gym for my morning hot tub/sauna then in the afternoon I took a walk about mile up the road to meet Steve for a coffee. A new branch of a coffee shop chain had opened in the business park there so we thought we would take a look and have a coffee. The interior was nice and they have a drive through, but I think they have a bit of work to do on staff training as it took several different people to work out how to put the correct order through and a queue quickly formed behind us – oops!

Later in the day I had my Ashtanga class which I always really enjoy. We worked on our headstands a bit again and this week I managed to briefly hold my balance (without my legs straightened just yet) before taking a tumble. Don’t worry, I was fine as I realised I was going over so was able to land safely and the teacher was there. I definitely felt more confident with moving into the posture thanks to having done it with support in previous weeks, so I guess I’ll have to expect a few tumbles while I work on perfecting this one. Definite progress through.

On Friday morning Steve was able to fit me in for a training session so I headed down to the studio with my boxing gloves again. It was a tough workout of punches, ducks, press ups, burpees and sit-ups, but I did notice that I was performing better in my boxing than before. Yet another marker of progress, but I knew I was going to feel it the next day!

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This was after, hence my tired face!

Thankfully it was pacer day at parkrun so I “only” had to run 28 minutes, a comfortable (for me) time. We had hoped to maybe be back on our main route but the grass is still sodden so it was another week of laps. Clockwise again. Hilariously, despite taking several photos of the pacers before the start, we didn’t get a single one where we were all facing the same direction 😂

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There’s always one 😂

It took me a while to settle into the pace as the trees on the first part of the route stop my watch getting a good signal, but soon I was on course and had plenty of energy to pose for the photographer.

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I had a great time chatting to people, giving advice and helping them to run a bit better, crossing the line in 28:04 – pretty close!

IMG_6203When I got home I was pleased to find some interesting post. I had been following the incredible story of a cat called Meatball and when a virtual run was organised in his name to raise funds for the same local Cats Protection branch that I am fundraising for this year (details in the link at the bottom of this post) then of course I jumped at the chance to do my bit. And the good news is that Meatball is now doing well.

UntitledThen Sunday was The Big One. My 20 mile run. I got a bit distracted over breakfast as I found a live stream of the Paris marathon coverage and got caught up in watching that – in French! I followed a good bit of the commentary and was amused to note that as I looked at the footage and distance markers, I knew EXACTLY where on the course the runners were and could picture the scene. An interesting thing they did was set the women’s race off first for the first time in this event. Then started the men’s race 16 or so minutes later. It seems an odd gap, but it was the difference between the winning male and female times last year. This meant that both the male and female races finished together – in fact the lead man passed the lead woman about half a kilometre from the end and there were only a few seconds between them reaching the finish line. Instead of one lonely male runner finishing, there were several athletes running in at the same time which made for great viewing. I really liked the way this was done and the coverage which had a lot of split screen so you could watch both races at once. It will be interesting to see if other big races follow suit.

Once the elite races in Paris were finished I was ready to head out the door for my own run – and I FINALLY got to run in my favourite skirt that I like to race in. Without gloves!!!

bfXpB4MzRX6WvRtmS9pwSQThe plan this time was a 2 mile warm up then 3 sets of 4 miles at marathon pace/effort with 2 miles recovery. It did feel harder than my 18 mile run last week, but then I ran that after a couple of “easier” weeks so taking on 20 just one week later (and with my Friday workout still in my weary muscles) it’s quite right that this felt harder. That’s no bad thing since I’ll need to be ready to run on tired legs come race day. There were actually only 2 “harder” mile splits that I missed and both of those featured an incline, so overall I’m pleased with how it went and am now hoping that with fresher legs in 3 weeks I’ll be able to perform well.

IMG_6253Post-run (and lunch!) Steve and I headed out to the farm shop for some eggs and figured we might as well have a scone in the cafe while we were there – it would be rude not to! I’d love to tell you how is tasted, but I gobbled it up pretty quickly…

G4hsWGTDTd+K+MkxKNkOSQThen as soon as we got home we had the oven on ready to replace all those calories burned with another fine plate of carbs and chips 😂 Got to love the marathon appetite!

v83oSWIKQ%K%%KPztTg3uQDefinitely a good week of training. A hard week, but a good one nonetheless as I was able to keep going even with the accumulation of fatigue in my muscles. Now let the taper commence…!

IMG_0492Have you had any more snow?
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Friday Finds – 2nd 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.

Brrr! I hope everyone has kept safe and warm this week. Given the unusual weather we’ve been experiencing here in the UK, I thought I’d bring you a wintery edition of Friday Finds this week.

I’ll start with Laura Muir. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Laura and her determined attitude. Yesterday she earned a bronze medal in a world class field at the Indoor Championships in Birmingham. That in itself is fantastic, but what really caught my attention was what it took to get from Glasgow (where she is studying to become a vet) to Birmingham for the race as The Beast From The East made travel incredibly difficult. That’s one determined athlete!

Also pretty determined is this coach in Vancouver who spent THREE HOURS shovelling snow from one lane of the athletics track so his team could still get their workout done. Shovelling snow is a pretty intense workout in itself (and there’s always the risk that your handiwork is quickly obliterated by fresh snowfall) so well done Coach!

If you’re anything like me then you’re probably not letting the weather stand in the way of going for a run, but it’s still important to make sure you dress appropriately and adjust your expectations. For me that means layering up and forgetting about pace/mileage and just having fun. For a little extra help, here’s Alex Hutchinson’s Sweat Science column from earlier this year with some cold weather running advice.

Of course many may see it more as skiing weather right now, so here’s an interesting article about the calorie intake of elite cross-country skiers. It turns out they have to eat an enormous number of calories each day to support their training and that’s not as easy as it might sound. I know from past experience of marathon training (and those days immediately after the race) that a huge meal seems to be quickly burned off and hunger sets right back in, so can understand this difficulty to an extent. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind a go at eating 8000 calories, just for a couple of days…!

And finally, it seems that some people just never seem to feel the need for warm clothing for their run – even in the most frigid temperatures. Looking at this, it seems our friends in Canada are a particularly hardy breed. I think I’ll stick to my thermal kit, if it’s all the same to you!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

The Daily Post – Controversy

In a world full of controversy, sometimes it’s something seemingly innocuous that becomes the subject of debate. And that’s exactly what happened this week with the topic of “yoga pants” (also known as leggings and/or tights depending on where you’re from). Yes, that comfortable lycra (spandex) leg adornment popular with just about every female I know (and often worn by men too) has got us all fired up after the publication of this op-ed in The New York Times. Normally I roll my eyes, tut and mutter in a very passive-aggressive and overly-British fashion about such things, but this time I feel compelled to add my voice to the debate.

Of course there’s an excellent chance that the topic was chosen for the very reason that it would stir up debate and by reacting we simply fan the flames, yet for me there are just too many points raised that I feel obliged to respond to – after all, I’m a big fan of the garment I will refer to as “yoga pants” for the purposes of this post.

First on the agenda, the title – Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Women. Fairly typical of the “click-bait” trend and so, of course, I clicked. I wear yoga pants all the time and so wanted to know if I was causing myself some kind of damage, but rather than scientific or medical facts, all I found was the writer’s vitriol against those who choose (that’s right, choose) to wear yoga pants. Even more bizarrely, her biggest gripe seemed to be with those of us wearing them for their intended purpose – yoga!

Yup, that’s right: the writer has an issue with women wearing yoga pants to practise yoga. What? Does she also have an issue with any other activity-specific attire? Thought not. Personally I find the suggestion that we should switch to “sweat pants” (joggies/trackie bottoms, etc) ludicrous. The clue is in the name – SWEAT pants! Why would I want to wear something that will make me even more sweaty and uncomfortable by clinging on to every drop of moisture that leaves my body, thus rendering the material heavier and me colder when I stop moving? The purpose of those garments made of “velour or terry cloth” that she references is surely to keep you warm before and after you exercise, not to weigh you down, cause you to overheat and make your chosen activity harder? I prefer to run in tight clothes as I can’t stand loose material flapping about me, and when it comes to yoga I want to feel that I am free to move without having to pull up my trousers every time I want to twist, fold or stretch. I also want my teacher to be able to see the position my body is in so that any adjustments can be given that will keep me safe and help me to progress.

And yet the writer of this op-ed appears oblivious to this, stating:

“But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can’t go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?”

Um, yes! Well maybe not throttle me, but having tried yoga in looser-fitting clothes I definitely felt much more encumbered and lacked the freedom of moment that I associate with my practice. I think I spent most of my time fearing an unseemly rip! Besides, a loose-leg would surely just end up riding up around my knees every time I moved into any kind of inversion such as a shoulder stand. How would that be helpful? Yet it carries on:

“We aren’t wearing these workout clothes because they’re cooler or more comfortable. We’re wearing them because they’re sexy.”

You read that right: we’re wearing yoga pants to look “sexy”. The crux of the writer’s argument seems to be that women are somehow being “forced” into wearing yoga pants to work out in the same way that society has conditioned us to wear high heels to look good or tight/low-cut clothing to feel attractive. Sure for some that might be part of the reason behind their choice, but for most women I would imagine they are looking to feel comfortable and able to move in any way they wish. As someone who is not always the most graceful, I hate to imagine what would happen if I tried to twist myself into a pretzel whilst also battling loose and wafty clothing – misadventure would be sure to follow! Who is she to decide what I should or shouldn’t wear for my yoga practice? And how dare she presume to know why I make the choice that I do? I own looser clothing and it would be the last thing I would pick for a yoga class.

Somewhat laughably, the piece also contains the following statement:

“It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress”

Pardon? Is that not exactly what you are doing in this article? For years women have been told how to dress, felt ashamed of their bodies and been reluctant to go to gyms where they might find activities that would make them fitter, stronger and more confident. Why, when women are fighting back against various injustices in the world, would you write a piece like this which has an undercurrent of shaming women for their choices? Would anyone presume to tell a man what to wear in the gym? Didn’t think so. Nobody needs to wear yoga pants to exercise, but most of us choose to. And when we wear them in other walks of life? Maybe we actually do just want to be comfortable. I can wear a tunic or dress to work with leggings underneath (often far warmer and more comfortable than tights/panty hose, an abomination made by the devil himself!) and still look smart; I can wear yoga pants to lounge around the house and feel comfortable without my underwear becoming lodged in places it has no business being; I can wear my running kit to run errands, with messy hair and no make up, when the last thing on my mind is to look “sexy” (because why should I conform to some imposed “ideal” of how I should look when I’m only nipping out for a couple of quick things on a day off?). And if I’m getting on a long haul flight, when my choice is yoga pants/leggings or some constricting garment that will cut into my flesh for hours and restrict my circulation, then I’m picking the yoga pants – they might even help ward off DVT if I pick a compression pair!

The only part of the article I might have any sympathy with is the writer’s assertion that studio classes aimed at women are pricey, but it’s the price I take issue with rather than other aspects of the classes. There’s so much research which shows too many women reluctant to exercise due to fear of judgment, that the last thing we need is a woman feeding that fear by passing judgement on other women. Such classes may come with a hefty price tag, but they are also places where a sense of community is fostered, where women feel like they belong and where they feel comfortable getting their sweat on (in comfortable, sweat-wicking yoga pants!). Women should be supporting and lifting each other up, not cutting each other down with criticism – God knows there’s enough of that in the world already! If we run the risk of turning working out from “a healthy thing you might do twice a week into a Way of Life” then surely that’s a good thing. We’re all being encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle all the time, so why discourage those choosing to do just that by commenting on the sartorial decisions they make that may very well be helping them get out the door to that fitness class in the first place? If a pair of yoga pants is what it takes to help just one person adopt a healthier lifestyle, then I’m all for them.

And so, I will continue to wear my yoga pants for yoga, for running and for any time I wish to feel comfortable. Last I checked it was my body and I’m free to dress it in whatever way I please, even if I am a little north of that 30 barrier lauded by the writer as the last time I should have done so. Frankly, I’ve not felt so insulted in a while!

“Women can, of course, be fit and liberated. We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?”

If she wants to wear sweat pants, she should (and nobody should judge her for it). Heck if she wants to turn up to the gym in her pyjamas then she should be allowed to do so and nobody should bat an eyelid. You do you Ms Jones and let everyone else do what works for them. I, for one, will be in my favourite yoga pants, dimples and rolls included.

0gBdxuz1THC0i%7irQg7hQWant to read some more? Here are some other responses to this op-ed piece that I’ve enjoyed:

Now I’d love to know your thoughts…

A Gift Fit For A (Running) Princess…

Dear Santa,

I hope you’ve had a good year. Mine has been pretty good, despite beginning the festive season with a nasty virus. I’ve had to stop running and it’s making me pretty grumpy, but I know my mood is going to be so much better when I can start working out again so I was hoping you might bring me a few running treats to help motivate me as I begin training for the Stirling marathon. I’m pretty sure you leave all the running to the reindeer, so I’ve taken the liberty of making a list of things I’ve had my eye on or feel I need. Perhaps, if I’ve been good, you might leave one or two of these under the tree for me on the big day…

I’ve got plenty of nice snuggly running tights, but I would love some new tops to add a bit of variety. I’ve got my eye on a couple that would be great for those long marathon training runs: this one by Odlo which looks ideal for those really cold days, and this one from the New Balance x J Crew range which feeds my love of a Breton stripe. You brought me a different top from this collection last year and I LOVE it!

I’m loving patterned running tights lately and have bought a few great pairs, but I’d really love my own pair of the ones Anna McNuff called The Pants of Perspective (they feature on the cover of her book by the same name). I’m also very tempted by the signed copy of her book to go along with them. They would be a great motivation during tough times in a run. I also love the ranges here.

Something I take super seriously is recovery and I LOVE my Oofos recovery sandals. Sadly they’re not so appealing during the winter so a pair of their new shoes would just do the trick and make my feet feel amazing after those long runs.

There are also a few accessories I could really do with right now.

First up, a new Spibelt. Mine is pretty old now and a bit snug for my iPhone. I love these ones which are a bit roomier so I can carry and access my stuff more easily.

I could also do with a new hat. My favourite is a bobble hat so another similar one would be ideal.

For those chilly days, I really fancy a pair of the new Runderwear merino range. Their regular underwear is now my go-to for long runs as they are so comfortable, so having a cosy pair is really appealing!

I’ve also become a real convert to wearing a light on my shoe when I’m running in the dark (I guess it’s the closest I’m going to get to shoes with a light-up sole!) and would love another one so I don’t have to keep moving my one around different pairs. Perhaps even something similar for my arm?

And finally, I could really do with some more space to hang all those hard-earned medals. My current hangers are full so I’d love to extend them with some additional ones. To match the ones I have already I would need additional hangers in black and sparkling plum then I could get all those un-hung medals on display at last!

So there you have it Santa. I certainly don’t expect all of these, but thought a range of options at different price points might be a good idea. None of these are sponsored or affiliate links, so hopefully you have a few contacts up your sleeve to get a good deal!

Love to Mrs Claus and all of the reindeer.
Merry Christmas,

The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 8th December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 2nd June

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.

I’m coming over all scientific this week with some rather interesting studies that I’ve come across in my reading.

But first, you might remember that last week I included a piece about ultra runner Kilian Jornet and his speed record for summiting Everest without oxygen or fixed ropes. Incredibly, he summited the peak again just a few days later! The second time may not set a record, but the feat itself demonstrates just how far we can push our limits.

And now to some science. Personally, I’m a big fan of compression tights/socks after a long run as I believe they help with my recovery, however the science on this has always been bit sketchy. According to this CNN report, there is no scientific backup at all for compression tights making us run faster. Interestingly, it is still noted that the belief that they help is just as important. And when it comes to the psychology of sport, surely that’s all that matters?

When it comes to running performance, it’s a fact that women tend to be a bit slower than men. I’ve always known it was basically to do with hormones and biomechanics, but was a little unclear on the finer points of what that actually meant. This article from Live Science helps to explain a bit more. It’s funny how subjects like maths and science, which are far from my strengths, are much more accessible when presented through the medium of running!

Speaking of differences between men and women, it turns out that women’s feet really are always colder than men’s due to differences in body temperatures in different conditions. One company used this to help engineer their socks and base layers to meet those different needs. Intrigued? Here are the details:

And finally, what if all these studies (and all the various, sometimes contradictory, studies about running and health that are published all the time) have you feeling confused about what to believe. This article from The Verge give some advice to help work it out.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Preparing For Your First Ever Race

There’s been a lot of talk around here about marathons lately, and while I’ll always find them a big deal, I’m conscious that some of my readers are at a very different stage in their running journey and might be turning their attention to racing for the first time. Perhaps it’s a charity 5k (mine was), perhaps a local 10k, or perhaps you’re going all-out and running a half or full marathon. Whatever you’re preparing for, I thought I would share some tips to help make your race day as smooth as possible.

Your first ever race is bound to bring with it both excitement and nerves. You’ve spent weeks putting in the miles to get your body prepared, but in order to vanquish any pre-races stress and prepare your mind, it’s worth taking a bit of extra time to plan the details which will see you to the start line relaxed and ready to enjoy the experience. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Read your race pack…then read it again! Make sure you’re quite clear on all the arrangements, from transport and parking to the facilities along the route. Check directions, double-check the start time and remember to check the finish line instructions too, including what you can expect to receive (medal, T-shirt, banana, etc) so you don’t miss out on any well-earned treats.

  1. Sleep is always good, but in the days before a race getting plenty of rest will help you to feel energised on the big day. I often find it hard to sleep the night before longer races, but if I’ve slept well in the preceding days then I know I’ll be ok.

 

  1. Eat well. The night before a race is probably not the time to have a spicy curry or try something new which might see you racing for the loo mid-race! Best to stick to whatever has worked well for you in training. And remember to stay hydrated too!

IMG_0550

  1. Lay out your race kit the night before. Check the weather forecast but be ready for any eventuality – layers can be easily added or removed when needed. Stick with tried and tested kit that has worked for you in training and avoid anything new as a race is not the time you want to find out that your trainers rub or your shorts chafe! Make sure you have your race number and/or timing chip and it’s worth packing a bin bag or old top to provide an extra layer when you’re waiting to start which can be thrown away when you’re ready to run (I buy cheap disposable ponchos for this and keep them in my race bag). Remember essentials like safety pins, gels and water bottle. I’d pack some extra tissues too – those portable toilets can run out of paper quickly at a busy race! And speaking of portable toilets, I usually keep some hand sanitiser in my race bag too.

  1. Check your tech. If you plan to use a running watch, make sure it’s charged up and set as you want it. If you like to run with music (and it’s allowed at your race), create your playlist and charge up your phone/mp3 player. Remember to pack your earphones (fully charged if, like me, you like wireless ones!).

 

  1. Plan for afterwards. Just because you’re finished running, it doesn’t mean your day is over. I usually pack a bag with a change of clothes (including spare socks!) or some warm layers, a snack and some extra water, especially if I have a longish journey home. If you are meeting supporters after the race, make sure you plan where to meet them, as finish areas can be crowded. Many races have designated meeting points so agree on yours before the race and you’ll appreciate it afterwards when you’re tired.

  1. Arrive early. If you’re anything like me you’ll feel much more relaxed if you’re there in plenty of time – nobody wants to add an extra couple of kilometres to their race with a last-minute sprint to the start line!

 

  1. Use the loos! The queues can get very long very quickly, so make a trip to the toilet your first port of call, especially if you’ve been hydrating en route. If it’s a busy race and the queues are long, get straight back in the queue when you come out – by the time you get to the front you’ll probably want to go again anyway.

  1. Remember to soak up the atmosphere. You may be feeling nervous, but this is supposed to be a fun experience and you want to have positive memories of your first race. I was on edge before mine, but lots of people reassured me and gave me encouragement, which helped me to enjoy the event. Breathe deeply, keep calm, and remember why you signed up in the first place.

Finishing my first 10k

  1. When the starting gun goes off, reign in the pace. It’s easy to get carried away and go out too fast, but better to save that energy for later on – a sprint finish is far more impressive than a sprint start!

There’s no other feeling like crossing the finish line for the first time, so if your first race is approaching, remember that this is an experience to enjoy. Taking the time to plan the details will not only help you to get the most out of your day, but to finish with a smile on your face ready to sign up to your next event.

Happy racing!
The Running Princess

So You Want To Start Running…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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