Friday Finds – 26th May

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 actually typing this whilst lying on a blanket in my back garden – a new experience for me! The last few days have been warm here and I hope you’ve had good weather too. Given the Scottish heatwave my first find this week may seem a little incongruous, but it’s something that’s really captured my attention and I want to lead with it this week. I recently read a Kathy Reichs novella featuring an Everest adventure which taught me much more than I ever knew before about what it takes to summit the famous mountain. So when I read that Spanish ultra runner Killian Jornet claimed to have summited the peak in the fastest known time (without oxygen or fixed ropes) it really caught my attention, particularly given that the area above 26,000 feet is known as the “death zone” as the air becomes so thin. An amazing feat!

Another amazing feat was achieved by María Lorena Ramirez, a Mexican Tarahumara woman, who won a recent 50km ultra race whilst wearing sandals and ordinary clothing. The Tarahumara are the indigenous community who came to prominence in Christopher McDougall’s now-ubiquitous book Born to Run, in which he shared the “secrets” of what made the Tarahumara run so well. I always find it interesting to learn about those who naturally run well, without all of the technology and fancy gear the rest of us are so reliant on.

But what about those of us who aren’t setting out to achieve amazing feats, but to simply run, race and enjoy? A few days ago I came across this report on the state of running in the US and thought it made for interesting reading. The first thing that jumped out at me was the dominance of women, with female runners accounting for 57% of finishers. The other thing I noticed was the popularity of 5k races. I know from my summer visits to Florida that there seems to be a 5k somewhere just about every week, and I would imagine it’s similar in other States. I would love to know how these figures compare to other parts of the world, particularly since the Paris marathon continues to have just 25% of its field made up of female entrants…

I’m going to pair up the next 2 finds as their subject matter is kind of related. I was drawn to these because of how they resonated with my own life. Because Steve and I both train and race regularly, we are often asked if we do these things together. The short answer is no, we don’t . Our goals, paces and available time are quite different and although Steve writes my plans and sets me up with one PT session per week (his time allowing), the bulk of our training is done separately – we really only run together on Christmas Day and in the Paris Breakfast Run! But what if we did try working out together? The writer of the first of these articles tried exactly that with her husband and shares the outcome. And in the second article we learn a bit more about Charlie (The Runner Beans) Watson’s experience of pacing her fiancé in a marathon. I’m not sure that’s something I’d ever manage to persuade Steve to do…!

And finally, if the summer weather is making you crave a gin and tonic in the garden then fear not – it just might be better for you than you thought! I wouldn’t recommend drinking the whole bottle, but at least you can claim some health benefits, however tenuous!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 12th May

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.

To be honest, it’s been another week full of Breaking2 news, however I intend to write a separate post on that in the next few days, so instead I’m bringing you a selection of other bits and pieces I’ve come across this week.

The 8th -14th of May is Mental Health Awareness Week, and mental health is something I’m growing more interested in. I now come into contact with so many young people who are struggling with their mental health and while I do what I can to support them, I always wish there was something more. For me, running is what I turn to in difficult times to help clear my head and refocus. I’ve also found yoga really beneficial in helping me feel calm and settled through the controlled breathing and slow movements. So it was with interest that I read of Matthew Rees, the runner who shot to fame after his selfless act at the London marathon, and how he has used running to help combat depression.

An interesting take on the mental side of running is covered in this article from Outside which deals with boredom and how we might channel that into improved performance. In this day and age people find it increasingly difficult to just “be” and accept boredom as something that might drive creativity. Instead, we tend to reach for our phones as a distraction. Perhaps as runners we can use it to our advantage?

Stories like those of Matthew Rees gain most of their traction these days on social media, and runners are particularly guilty of sharing everything about their runs, sometimes to the irritation of their non-running friends! But why are we so obsessed with sharing every run be they good, bad or indifferent? The writer of this next piece shares her theories and I have to say it makes sense to me. These days I tend to keep my running chat for my blog’s Facebook page or dedicated running groups so I know my ramblings (and photos of me leaping about like a loony!) will be seen by those who are interested in running and simply “get it”, but I think I’m still driven by the same factors suggested here:

Of course social media last weekend was all about Eliud Kipchoge and the Breaking2 project, but in the days afterwards another speedy runner came to light, this time in a half marathon. 18 year old Benjamin Pachev ran a 71 minute half marathon. That’s speedy, but not pushing any boundaries…until you learn that he did so whilst wearing Crocs. Yes, Crocs. Those funny shoes with the holes in them that are often the butt of jokes. Not being a Crocs wearer I’ve no idea how he kept them on his feet and am impressed not just at his speed but that he did so in footwear far from traditional. I can’t see Kipchoge looking to race his next marathon in them though 😉

And finally, you may remember me sharing the quirky story of the crossword compiler who challenged himself to create a clue for each mile of the London marathon. For the crossword fans among you, here’s the finished puzzle (for the impatient, the answers are in this post about the process itself):

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Week In Review – Oops, I Did It Again!

With running back on the agenda again this week was all about returning all my workouts to their usual intensity and moving on from the lighter workouts of late. I’m linking up again with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my training week.

My post-marathon recovery involved a gradual progression from complete rest, to light cross training, to easy running and now my regular training schedule. Here’s how that looked for this week:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session
Saturday – parkrun + Hatha yoga
Sunday – 8 miles

Monday was a bank holiday and the schools were off too so I was able to have a leisurely start to the day. Steve had an early client so I was unsupervised which, as it turns out, is perhaps not the best idea. First I did this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 08.37.05Yup, that’s my ballot entry in for the London Marathon. Again. The odds are pretty slim for getting a place, but you’ve got to be in it to win it!

But I wasn’t done at that. Next, I did this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 08.53.35I can now announce that I have entered the 2017 Loch Ness Marathon which takes place at the end of September. This will be my third time entering this race, and hopefully this time I will FINALLY reach the start line. My quest for a sub-4 time is back on (although perhaps after the weekend’s events in Monza I should call it #Breaking4 lol!).

It’s ok, I stopped there before I got carried away entering races! The rest of my day was spent catching up on some household chores before heading to the pool for a swim. I really enjoyed being in the water again and felt that I was swimming well. Unfortunately it was busy so I kept having to stop at the end of my lengths to allow those ahead of me to get further up the pool before I could start my next length. Still, I’m pleased with how my swims have felt lately.

I rounded off my day with a last-minute opportunity to watch a private screening of a play I saw wth my sister last year. It was part of the 14-18 Now project which is marking 100 years since WW1 and we are seeing the second instalment in a few days. When we saw the play last year we had to travel to a converted barn outside the city and the play itself was incredibly emotional. As soon as the screening started all those emotions came flooding back, the lump in the back of my throat formed and I was in tears by the end. At least there was popcorn!

IMG_1706

Tuesday was my first time back to the bike reps at the gym. The last time I did this was in the week before the marathon and since then I’ve had a couple of half hour cycles so I was unsure about how this would feel. Steve had me stick with the same work/rest intervals as my last cycle of these and kept the intensity level the same, simply dropping back to 10 reps to basically repeat the last cycle before considering how best to progress this. My legs felt weary from the re-introduction of running, but I soon got into the way of it and completed the workout feeling quite strong so I must have retained some of the gains from all the reps I’ve completed over the last few months.

When I was finished on the bike I did some stretching and mobility work before heading to the hot tub to relax before walking home. I’m really enjoying having so much daylight as it makes me feel like I have so much more time to enjoy my evenings.

IMG_1708Wednesday also had me switching from a light workout to a more intense session as I headed back to my “favourite” hill for some reps. I have been using the lampposts on this hill for my reps, most recently I was completing decreasing reps to each successive lamppost (i.e. 5 to one, 4 to the next, and so on). To progress this, we cut out the first two lampposts and focused on the reps to the last three. I have to say, it felt tough at first but just like with the bike reps my body soon remembered how to do it. The weirdest thing was not running the reps in the dark. Instead it was sunny, warm (for Scotland in May) and I had shorts on rather than base layers and gloves 🙂

IMG_1724On Thursday we had the local council elections and it was another sunny day so when I got back from work (it was an inservice day so no pupils and a different venue meant I was a bit earlier) I got changed and took a walk to the polling station. Civic duty done, it was off to Ashtanga yoga where I enjoyed another great class. It’s coming up to a year since I first went to this class and I can’t believe the difference it has made to my body. Every week I notice something different, even when working through the same sequence of postures.

I finished the work week with a PT session at Steve’s studio. It was the usual mobility work which I know is key in keeping my body moving as it should and helping to prevent injury. I then had a short walk to enjoy the last of the evening sunshine before going out to eat.

IMG_1766Saturday was, of course, parkrun day. I began my day with the results of the Breaking2 run – I can’t believe how close Kipchoge came to running under 2 hours! I also began my day with a bit of a scratchy throat and feeling a bit below par, however I was fairly sure this was the result of not sleeping enough recently and not drinking enough over the couple of days before, so still wanted to go to parkrun as that often sorts me out. I didn’t expect to run overly well and did feel the run was tough, yet I still finished 10 seconds quicker than last week so that’s a positive sign that my fitness levels are returning to where they were in the weeks before the marathon, at least when it comes to shorter distances.
IMG_1792

My Hatha yoga class re-started this week and it was great to stretch out and centre myself after the run. I really think it makes a difference to my recovery before my longer run on Sundays. My other excitement was the arrival of the tab to put on my Paris marathon medal so the back of it is now complete. It wasn’t the time I wanted it to say, but I remain proud of my achievement as I know how much training went into it and how tough it was on the day.

fullsizeoutput_1dfd
IMG_1825Sunday was another sunny day – May in Scotland can be beautiful – and I had 8 miles on my schedule so donned my shorts and shades to head out into the sunshine. I hadn’t really paid attention to my splits last week as I was running relatively easy, and only noticed at the end of this run that something was a bit off. I knew I had been running fairly briskly on the flat and downhill sections, so was surprised by the average pace that flashed up on my screen when I pressed stop. Turned out I still had the autopause feature off from racing in Paris and I usually have it on when I’m out on a training run as I often have to stop to cross roads and don’t like the watch ticking away while I’m not moving. I’ve rectified that now!

IMG_1816And with that, another week of training comes to a close. Overall I feel pretty good and can sense my body getting back into the groove of regular training again. It still feels a little tough to hit faster paces or begin more intense training, but that’s to be expected coming off a marathon and having some time out. Now I officially have a target to aim for again it will help me to focus and build on the fitness I’ve already gained this year. Bring it on!

Did you enter the London marathon ballot?
What is your next target event?

Breaking2

Ever since Nike announced that they were going to attempt to break 2 hours in the marathon, I’ve been obsessed with the idea. Can it be done? Can a human being really run as fast as that? Information has been drip-fed to us for weeks now about what is going into this high profile attempt, and it seems the time has finally come. On Saturday 6th May Eliud Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese will try to make history at the race track in Monza, Italy.

So what is the formula for success? I thought I’d pull together some of the articles I’ve found on the topic that’s dividing the running world:

Shoes
The athletes will be wearing the new, specially-engineered Nike Zoom Vaporfly which features a carbon-fibre plate designed to increase efficiency. Unsurprisingly the shoe has been the focus of much attention and has caused a great deal of debate.

Fuel
In order to maintain the required pace, the athletes will have to fuel differently so they can consume more carbs than they are accustomed to in order to increase the supply of glycogen to their muscles. This has the potential to lead to GI issues – not what anyone wants when the world is watching!

Pacing
Not just as simple as “run as fast as you can”, the pacing strategy will have to be carefully worked out to give the greatest chance of success. This article makes some predictions about how the event will unfold as well as digging into some of the science behind the pacing.

Preparations
A few weeks ago there was a test run over half marathon distance which allowed everyone involved to see how things had progressed and evaluate whether or not they had to make any changes – a bit like testing out all your marathon kit on one of your long runs! While there were some positives, there were also a number of questions raised.

But Can It Be Done?
That’s the question that is dividing the experts. Some studies have suggested it is possible, but those writing for most media outlets have expressed doubts. Personally I think it’s going to be a really exciting attempt, and you have to admire those involved for having a go. It would be amazing if one of these athletes (experts think Kipchoge the most likely) breaks two hours, and the optimist in me would love to see this happen. The realist in me isn’t sure if we’re quite there yet, but does want to believe it’s possible…one day!

It seems that everything “controllable” has been planned out, so it now comes down to the “uncontrollables” – conditions and the performance of the athletes on the day. Whatever the outcome, the process has certainly got the running world talking and I for one can’t wait to see how it all pans out.

If you want to follow along then Runner’s World has the information here.

What do you think: is a sub-2 marathon possible?
What are your predictions for this attempt?

The Spirit of the Marathon

I often get asked what it is about the marathon that keeps me going back for more. Why do I voluntarily put myself through weeks of hard training for a race I know is going to hurt? Surely there are more sensible things to do with my time! But there’s just something about running 26.2 miles that is simply magical:

It’s the participants united in their quest for a common goal.

It’s the friendly, supportive atmosphere in what is usually a big city full of anonymity.

It’s the conversations with random strangers, bound together by the marathon.

It’s that feeling like no other when you cross the finish line.

It’s the knowing looks from fellow runners as you walk gingerly through the city that evening and the morning after.

And it’s the amazing stories of commitment, compassion and courage that reach us after the event. Stories which define the Spirit of the Marathon.

Right now, spring marathon season is in full swing and in the space of just a few weeks I’ve come across so many incredible marathon stories. By sharing some of them in one post, I hope to go some way towards helping explain why I love that mythical distance so much.

In what other sport can the average weekend warrior line up alongside the elites? I’ve taken part in the exact same events as greats like Kenenisa Bekele, Mary Keitany, Jo Pavey and David Weir. Of course those at the front are applauded and celebrated for their victories, but those further back in the field are made to feel like rock stars too thanks to spectators screaming their names and offering encouragement. But what about every runner’s worry: what if I’m last? Well in the recent Rotterdam marathon it turned out to be a moment akin to actually winning the race, as shown in the amazing video which swept social media earlier this month. To be honest, if that had been me I would have been a blubbering puddle of tears for that entire final stretch!

While that was happening, I was on the streets of Paris watching the magic of the marathon unfold around me. I saw runners coming to the aid of others who were struggling in the heat, I saw spectators lining the streets with hands outstretched for high fives and others holding signs that made me smile. My favourites included “smile if you’re not wearing underwear” (that made EVERYBODY smile!) and “finishing is your only f***ing option”. When I finished I checked my phone to find so many words of support and congratulations from those who had followed my journey, runners and non-runners alike, who wanted to connect in that moment. And I also discovered the wonderful quirk of this year’s event which saw a married couple take the top spots in the men’s and women’s elite races, a fact which suited Paris’s reputation as the City of Love perfectly!

Just a week later, runners were lining up in Hopkinton for the start of the Boston marathon. Always a special event, this year’s race was made even more special by the fact that the first woman to officially run the race, Kathrine Switzer, was running again to mark the 50th anniversary of that now-iconic run. Amazingly, at age 70 she was just 25 minutes slower than in her first race in 1967! She wore the same race number (261) which has now officially been retired so no other runner can ever wear that number in Boston again. I listened to a fantastic interview with Switzer on the Marathon Training Academy podcast recently, which I recommend if you’d like to hear more about both the 1967 race and the 2017 one.

But this wasn’t the only story to emerge from Boston. In the days after, the media was full of stories that, as the quote from Kathrine Switzer further up this page declares, will reaffirm your faith in human nature. There was the wounded veteran who not only completed the race on a prosthetic leg, but spontaneously picked up his guide and carried her over the finish line with an American flag, an action which soon went viral. Then there was the Northern Irish runner who stopped to help an exhausted runner and carried her to the finish line where medical personnel were waiting. And 8 hours after starting, there was the emotional moment one of the last runners crossed the finish line. The timing mats had already been taken away (there are no official times after a certain point) and while there might not have been the confetti cannons and music of Rotterdam, there was still fantastic crowd support as she was cheered every step of the way to that finish line where her medal was waiting.

And then there was London. Oh London what an emotional rollercoaster you gave me, and I was only watching on TV! The stories from this year’s London marathon have been well documented almost every day for the last week, but here are some of the ways the London marathon epitomised the Spirit of the Marathon.

Josh Griffiths
Josh Griffiths was the runner who showed us that in the marathon, anything is possible. A club runner in his first ever marathon, Griffiths ran a superb race and finished in 2:14:49, beating the best British runners to the finish line and guaranteeing himself selection for the World Championships in London this summer. Not bad for a debut! Dig a little deeper and you soon learn how different his race weekend was to that of the elites he ultimately raced alongside, and I enjoyed hearing a bit more about this when he was interviewed on the Marathon Talk podcast this week.

Matthew Rees
Funnily enough, Matthew Rees runs for the same club as Josh Griffiths, but has shot to fame for very different reasons. Those watching the coverage on TV were captivated by Rees’ selfless act when he stopped to help stricken fellow runner David Wyeth. Seeing acts of kindness like this always makes me wonder how I would react in the same situation. I’m sure we’d all like to think we should stop and help, yet many ran by Wyeth, no doubt seeing how close they were to dipping below 3 hours for their finish time. Rees, of course, did the right thing, and the members of Wyeth’s club are so grateful that they’ve offered to pay for him to run again in 2018. That’s the Spirit of the Marathon right there.

The Royals
As part of their campaign for mental health charity Heads Together, Kate Middleton, Prince William and Prince Harry were the official starters of the race. I expected to see them stand on the raised podium to the side to press the button, politely clap for a bit then disappear, maybe for some interviews. How wrong I was. Shortly after starting the race, the young royals made their way down to the sidelines to encourage runners at the start of their journey, before making their way to the charity cheer point where they were on hand to wave foam fingers and hand out water (getting soaked by one cheeky runner). Finally, they went to the finish line and stood in the finish funnels shaking the hands of those exhausted, sweaty runners and personally putting medals around their necks. I was really impressed by their willingness to get involved and mingle with the runners and there will be many who now have a unique memory of their marathon.

The Tears
Another part of the Heads Together campaign was Mind Over Marathon, a project where 10 people with mental health issues trained for the marathon to see how running might aid their mental health. The second part of the programme was broadcast a few days after the event and it was astonishing to see the impact the process had on those involved, but the runner who caught my attention the most was Rhian Burke. Tragically, Burke lost her one year old son and her husband within a few days of each other and has struggled with her mental health ever since. Watching her cross the finish line and experience not only the surge of emotions that comes with that momentous occasion, but the emotions of everything she has been through and the strength she has had to find was just heartbreaking and had me in tears. I truly hope her achievement helps her to move forward with greater confidence.

The Quirks
And then there are the things that only ever seem to happen in London, like the policeman dressed as a gorilla who crawled the entire marathon course on all fours, finishing six days after it started.  Or the cryptic crossword setter who challenged himself to create a clue during each mile of the race. Stories like this demonstrate that the marathon is for everyone and capture public attention long after the elites have gone home.

All of these stories are the reasons why I love the marathon. As a challenge it’s daunting yet accessible, and that’s what brings out the best of humanity. Marathons bind people together, whether that’s the training partners who become friends for life, the new friends made at a race who remain in each others lives or the countless volunteers, supporters and organisations who help to make race day special. Marathons motivate people to raise funds for good causes, to test their limits and to take on a new challenge. They inspire strangers on the tube/metro/subway to actually talk to each other. They drive people to stand for hours by the side of a road screaming themselves hoarse for people they do not know. They are days fraught with emotions where anything can happen and we can switch from highs to lows and back again in a heartbeat. They are an epic journey, both literal and metaphorical, where amazing things are achieved and the average person can become a hero. Put simply, marathons change lives.

I’ll leave you with one final article from The Independent, written during last Sunday’s London marathon, in which the writer explains her love of this “strange, but wonderful phenomenon”. For me, this says it all.

The Spirit of the Marathon. Hard to define, but unforgettable for those who experience it, however they experience it.

What makes marathons (or any other event) special for you?
When have you seen the Spirit of the Marathon demonstrated?

Training Talk Part 3

During my recent marathon training cycle I was twice inspired by the Training Talk section of the Marathon Talk podcast to write a post (you can read those here and here) and it’s happened again. I had begun a draft of a post about not reaching my goal in the marathon and how I was able to accept that by reframing the experience, however since this became a topic of discussion in the first episode I listened to after the marathon, I thought I would use the points raised as the basis for my own post…

Three Simple Ways To Feel Good About Your Race When It Didn’t Quite Go To Plan:

  • Remember that it’s only you who really cares
    This was something I really learned throughout this process. Back in the autumn I kept a goal race a secret, for a variety of reasons. It was a kind of experiment to see what difference, if any, there was if I wasn’t talking and writing about my training all the time. Would I perform any better free from that pressure? In the end, it was a moot point as a hip issue led to me missing the race, but for my last training cycle I was very public about my goal of running sub-4 hours. That, of course, meant that if I didn’t meet my goal, everyone would know. And do you know what? It didn’t matter in the slightest. When I posted across social media that I’d had a tough race and missed my goal time, I got nothing but positivity back. The non-runners were simply impressed that I had completed a marathon; the runners understood not only how difficult that is, but how the hot conditions changed things. Nobody cared about my time, other than to ask if I had a good time.
    And the discussion on Marathon Talk was very similar. It was pointed out that sport can be tough in the moment, but in the end it’s just sport. How you perform doesn’t define you as a person. While we may think others might care about our time and judge us for it, in reality they care that we’re happy and a nice person, not how long it took us to run an arbitrary distance. All those people congratulating me on finishing a marathon proved that to be true, and my initial disappointment at not yet reaching my goal was soon replaced by pride that I had finished the race.fullsizeoutput_1cf9
  • Stop thinking about your outcome and identify the good things from the process
    In other words, what worked in your life with this race and why? Ok, so it took me half an hour longer than I wanted to complete the marathon, but there are still a lot of positives to take away: I entered a race during the school holidays so I could enjoy a slightly extended trip; I got to spend a weekend in my favourite city in the world, taking part in my favourite activity; I got to run the always amazing Breakfast Run the day before; I got to meet up with people I hadn’t seen since last year’s event; I got to soak up the atmosphere on race day and form unspoken connections with those around me, regardless of nationality; and I got to wear my medal with pride whilst celebrating with new found friends. What’s not to like about that?
    All of these things worked to give me a fantastic weekend away. The numbers on the clock are but a small part of that and the race was the culmination of many weeks and months of successful training. Training which I enjoyed and through which I could see the changes in my strength and speed. Those will still be there to capitalise on as I resume training.

IMG_1289

  • What did you do that actually surprised you?
    By thinking about the race differently and what was surprising in the build up, we can soon see things differently to the finish time. For me, this race really was a celebration of my training as I actually completed that training buildup successfully. As someone who is prone to injury, that’s something that surprised me. Another surprise was my performance at the Inverness Half Marathon. I knew I was in PB shape and estimated that if I ran at marathon pace I could complete the race in around 1:55, but on the day ran faster to achieve 1:53. Definitely a very pleasant surprise.

IMG_7260

The key thing to take away from all this is that not reaching a goal isn’t a disaster. There are only so many things we can control and many more that we can’t. There’s a fine balance in endurance sport between caring enough about something to try hard, and caring so much that we take it too far. That can be potentially destructive. There will always be lots of “what ifs”, and often there is a perfectly simple answer:

What if I don’t make my goal time?
I’ll pick myself up, dust myself off and enter another race to try again. 

Finish times are not the only way to judge the success of a race. One of my most successful was the same race last year when I was just so pleased to be able to take part after an injury that the whole race felt like a giant party. Being able to run and do so consistently was my success. This year, my success was having the courage to recognise that my goal was out of reach that day and reframe my marathon as a long training run for my next one. For there will be a next one, and maybe next time that sub-4 will be mine…IMG_1388

London Lore

This has been a great week for marathon fans with Boston on Monday and now the London marathon to round it all off. Here in the UK, London is THE big marathon event of the year with around 40,000 lucky ones taking part (those ballot odds just get tougher and tougher) and another 3 million or so watching at home. I may have only started running in my late 20s, but the London marathon has definitely always been a part of my life. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t spend the morning watching the TV coverage – little did I know that one day I would not only run, but actually enter a marathon. And if you’d told me that one day I would be one of those bobbing heads on the TV screen on a Sunday morning in April I’d have laughed in your face. But in 2011, that happened, and now every year I feel the same stab of envy as I sit at home when really I’d like to be on that start line.

Lon-DONE! VLM 2011

As this post is published, I will no doubt be getting comfortable with a cup of tea and some tissues, for as soon as that iconic theme tune starts I’ll feel the sting of tears in my eyes as the memories come rushing back. They won’t be tears of sadness, but of the emotions attached to the race and the distance, triggered by that music. I’ll watch the pre-event build up with all those emotive profiles of everyday people running for great causes; I’ll watch the elites battle it out for glory and marvel at how fast they’re moving; and I’ll still be there watching as someone dressed as a rhino is interviewed on Tower Bridge. Frankly, I’ll be watching for longer than it would take me to actually run the race!

And unsurprisingly, as soon as the Boston marathon articles began to fizzle out from my news feeds, the London marathon articles began to get more and more frequent. With that in mind, here’s a roundup of some of the more interesting ones that caught my eye for a Sunday morning, London-focused version of Friday Finds. Let’s call it Sunday Stories 🙂

For those wondering about what it takes to run the London marathon, this piece from Kate Carter at The Guardian (fun fact: I was listening to a podcast featuring her when I finished the Paris marathon a couple of weeks ago!) goes into the detail and explains why London is such a special event. I know she’s aiming for a sub-3 hour time this year so fingers crossed she reaches her goal.

For those interested in some of the figures behind entry to the race and its history, this next piece breaks down some of the numbers and different options for entering. Debate surrounding entry to London resurfaces every year both when the ballot opens and when the results are sent out, but it remains a difficult topic with no easy solution that will please everyone.

Up at the sharp end, world records have been set at London – indeed the women’s marathon record was set there and has remained unbroken since 2003. For those who enjoy the competition of watching those who are the best in the business going for glory, this preview of the contenders from Sports Illustrated could be of use. There’s a lot of interest surrounding the men’s marathon world record this year so it will be exciting to watch and see if any of this year’s field can lower the mark a little further.

In that elite field I will be particularly interested in watching the performance of one of my favourite athletes, Jo Pavey. Pavey has run the London marathon on one previous occasion, the same year as me in fact, but she was a little quicker with a time of 2:28:24! Jo Pavey is an inspiring athlete who is a great example of making things work around family commitments, and despite being older than many of her competitors she can still deliver world class performances. In this article, she also talks of the 2007 World Championships and the medal she will finally be awarded a decade later.

For many runners, regardless of pace, Strava is an integral part of training and the activity tracking site recently released data about those training for the London marathon. They also did this for Boston (included in this post) so the real stat geeks among us can compare how two very different fields prepare for the demands of 26.2 miles. Exactly the kind of running geekery I enjoy!

And finally, the London marathon has become synonymous not only with charity fundraising, but with world records. No, not Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, but records like the fastest marathon dressed as a superhero or the fastest marathon dribbling a ball. Check out this video for some of the highlights over the last decade.

To those running, the very vest of luck. You can read my tips for marathons here, but my best advice is to relax and enjoy it. Soon, you’ll have a medal to wear with pride and a memory that will never fade.

In 2017 the London marathon charity of the year is Heads Together, spearheaded by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry who want to increase conversations around mental health. As part of this drive to raise awareness, the BBC challenged ten people with different mental health issues to run the marathon. The first part of the two-part documentary following their progress aired on Thursday and if you are able to access it, I highly recommend watching it.

Tips for Marathon Success

It’s spring marathon season, and whether you’re lucky enough to have a place in London or are heading to one of the other fantastic marathons here in the UK or abroad, you might be starting to feel a bit nervous. There are plenty of articles out there offering hints and tips to help make your first (or second, or third…) marathon a success, and after 9 marathons I have a few of my own to share…

  • Get your name printed on your running top. Having people call your name and encourage you as you run is a great motivator. When I finished my first marathon (Paris, 2010) I couldn’t understand why the French volunteers were calling to me by name to hand me my medal, etc. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my race number haha!
  • The day before the race try to visit the finishing line. Know what the last 200m or so looks like. Visualise how you want to finish the race and hold onto that as you run to create the finish you want. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s always something left for a big finish. I’ll always remember turning the final corner in London and seeing the finish line ahead of me. Amazing!
  • When you arrive at the start area on race day join the queue for the toilets. When you come out of the toilet, get straight back in the queue. By the time you get to the front of the queue you’ll be pleased you did! There will likely be some toilets along the route, but if you’re nervous then I definitely recommend multiple visits before you start running!

  • Mentally break the race down into manageable chunks e.g. by distance (not 26.2 miles but a half marathon and 2x 10k, or 4x 5 miles and 2 parkruns, etc) or by landmarks. In London I remember this being to Tower Bridge (halfway) then to Canary Wharf, Big Ben and so on. I tend to divide both by distance (I take a gel every 5 miles plus an extra with 5k to go so I run 4x 5 miles plus 2 parkruns) and by landmarks, which in Paris are the Bastille, Bois de Vincennes, halfway mark, Eiffel Tower, etc. Mentally it’s much more manageable.

  • If you have supporters with you, make sure you know where they’re going to be (and that they know what you’re wearing). It can be tricky to spot each other in a crowd, so think about how to make this a bit easier e.g. tracking apps offered by your marathon, getting your supporters to text you a photo of where they’re standing, using signs or visible objects such as balloons to make it easier to spot someone. It’s an incredible mental boost to see a familiar face in the crowd so you want to do what you can to find each other (especially if you opt to give your support crew extra gels/drinks/blister plasters!). Usually Steve is running, but he was a spectator when I ran in London and I knew he would be at Tower Bridge which is notoriously busy. I felt quite down when I thought I had missed him so it was great when I then spotted him waving to me.

  • As you near the finish, regardless of how you feel, scrape your hair off your face, wipe your mouth and nose then smile – you’re getting your photo taken!

  • Be prepared to experience every emotion imaginable in the space of a few seconds as you cross the finish line – you’ve just achieved something amazing so it’s ok to cry! (Wearing sunglasses is great to cover this up and make you look fresh as a daisy! I ALWAYS wear my sunglasses for a marathon).

  • If you need it, take time to reflect on your experience before meeting your supporters. Most finish areas have plenty of space and are restricted to runners only, but if you sit down remember you might need someone to help you get up again! Your legs will feel like they’ve been put on backwards for a day or two after the race – this is normal!

  • Plan in advance where you’re going to meet your supporters and stick to the plan. After the effort you’ve put in it may be the only thing you can focus on as you shuffle along. Making a phone call may not always be possible to communicate any changes so it’s important to know where you’re heading. Remember there could be tens of thousands of people, so “I’ll be by the toilets” might be a little vague and your mind won’t be at its sharpest. Most races will have a reunion area so arrange to meet by letter X or Z or whatever works for you. We usually have a backup plan as well in case that doesn’t work.

  • Relax and enjoy the experience. You’re running a marathon and that’s something amazing. Be sure to celebrate afterwards. And remember – nobody cares about your time except for you.

Whatever marathon you’re running, good luck!

7 For 2017 – Quarterly Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week in Review – The Importance of Recovery

Look around any social media running group in the days after a marathon and you’ll find loads of people asking questions about when they should run again. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that. Just like training plans, recovery plans should be tailored to suit the individual: some people will be good to go after a few days, others respond better to at least a couple of weeks. Notice I said recovery plan. The thing about most training plans is that they stop on race day, but having a plan in place to recover properly and return to running when your body is ready is just as important, if not more so when thinking about future races. Those people asking the questions have no doubt followed some kind of training plan to get ready for their race, but not planned their recovery and are left feeling lost. I’ve decided to continue my week in review posts while I’m in my recovery phase to share what works for me. As with previous weeks I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL.

In the first couple of days after a marathon there’s no way I would want to go for a run as I’m still sore and tired, but by the end of the week I’m usually feeling a lot better and it would be easy at this stage to get carried away and get straight back to training. I’ve learned the hard way that this doesn’t work for me: while my legs may feel better, my CV system is still recovering and the stress of running increases the chance of picking up an injury. A marathon takes weeks, or even months, of preparation and the body needs a chance to recover properly afterwards. Over my last two or three marathon training cycles I’ve found a recovery strategy that works for me, and in the first week post-race my activity is limited to walking and yoga (with plenty of time spent with my feet up and enjoying some treats!). Here’s how my first recovery week looked:

Monday – walking in Paris then travel home
Tuesday – walk
Wednesday – walk
Thursday – walk + Ashtanga yoga
Friday – walk
Saturday – parkrun volunteer + walk
Sunday – walk

Spot the pattern? 😉

I awoke on Monday feeling really not too bad. My legs were weary of course, but nothing felt particularly problematic other than the huge blister I had picked up on my right foot! Once I had this dressed, my walking wasn’t too bad. Ok so stairs felt a bit tricky, but they were still do-able and the more I moved around the better I felt.

After breakfast we finished packing and set off towards the Champs Élysées where we took some photos and had a walk down to the Adidas store for a browse before heading for our favourite cafe.

IMG_1420
IMG_1427

Sadly the next thing we had to do was get the train to the airport for our flight home. As usual, the departure lounge was filled with a mixture of slightly sore runners and families who had clearly been to Disneyland Paris. We had a snack (again!), chatted to some other runners we know then got on our flight. Then it was home via the Chinese takeaway for a quick dinner before heading to bed.

IMG_1432

On Tuesday morning I had an appointment with my hairdresser so the easiest thing to do seemed to be to walk there and back. That served the dual purpose of keeping me moving and making sure I still got my 10,000 steps for the day since I have the goal of maintaining my step goal streak this year!

Wednesday was similar. I had an appointment in town so opted to walk there since it was quite a nice day. I quite like ditching the car during school holidays and getting around on foot as much as possible. Steve met me after my appointment for a lunch date as he had bought an Itison voucher for a restaurant we hadn’t been to in a long time – 2 courses and a glass of wine for a good price. I had a yummy Parma pizza followed by a crêpe with Nutella and strawberry. I can confirm it was delicious and made me feel a little bit like I was still in Paris!

IMG_1451
IMG_1452
IMG_1454

The remainder of Wednesday was fairly leisurely, but rounded off with a Skype call to be interviewed for the Tough Girl Daily podcast. It was really nice chatting to Sarah but I was just so relieved that the technology worked as we had originally scheduled the call for Tuesday but had some issues. I do love technology, but it can be a real pain when it doesn’t work!

Thursday was another beautiful day, so after a fairly relaxed morning I headed out for a walk in the afternoon. Despite living in a fairly residential part of town, there are still a number of paths and trails which are great for running and walking and I have enjoyed exploring these since we moved into our house last year. On this occasion I spotted a path I hadn’t explored before so, not being in any rush, I followed it through some trees along by a stream until it emerged into a housing development. The rest of my walk was on familiar routes, but it was nice to add something new into the mix.

IMG_1475
IMG_1481

In the evening I had my Ashtanga yoga class which I was looking forward to as I knew I would feel great after a good stretch. I did notice my body a little tight at first, but by the end of the class my mobility felt almost back to normal which was a good sign. I opted to walk to yoga then met Steve afterwards as our friend Linda had promised us a takeaway and beer on the house when we got back from Paris (she has one of the longest established Chinese restaurants in the area – it’s been in the same family for three generations). This gave us a chance to try out our new novelty chopsticks which I bought at Pylones in the Carrousel du Louvre. They’ll stick an Eiffel Tower on anything these days (and the chances are I’ll buy it lol!).

IMG_1437
IMG_1483
IMG_1484

On Friday morning I had one last errand – to get my front tyres changed on my car (oh the glamour!). I dropped the car off at the garage then walked into town whilst listening to the Tough Girl Daily podcast episode which had come out that morning and featured my interview (I wanted to listen to it before I got carried away and shared it with the world, just in case!). You can find out more and listen here.

fullsizeoutput_1dad

I met Steve for a coffee then ran a few errands in town before going back for my car. I then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon before we headed out to eat. This week we were treating my parents to a meal at our usual Friday night haunt as a thank you for looking after my cat while we were away. Ordinarily I simply bring them back a gift (which I still did) but since the cat’s needs were a little more complex this time with some medications she’s been on, I wanted to make sure we showed our appreciation.

IMG_1497

I know I’ve mentioned my cat’s health a few times recently as for a time she wasn’t well at all due to some side effects of a chronic health condition she has developed. To be honest, I was preparing myself for the end, but thanks to some new medication, she’s doing brilliantly. She was a transformed cat when I got back from Paris which is great news! Lots of you have asked after her in your comments, so thank you.

IMG_1461

My standard blogging setup!

On Saturday I was on the roster to volunteer at parkrun. Putting my name down in advance ensures I don’t get carried away and decide to run, which I think could have happened otherwise since I was feeling good from the rest, yoga and walks. I was a barcode scanner which is one of my favourite jobs and it was a lovely morning.

IMG_1500
IMG_1503

After parkrun Steve and I headed off to meet his brother for a coffee. Steve does this every Saturday but since I’m usually at yoga I miss out. No yoga during the school holidays meant I could invite myself along for a cup of tea and a bacon croissant. Yum!

IMG_1505

Checking social media over my tea, I found a few people had tagged me in a post from the Edinburgh Marathon Festival. Turned out one of the pictures of me from the weekend in 2015 when I ran the 5k and 10k on Saturday followed by the half marathon and final relay leg on Sunday had been used in their Easter weekend post. Seeing that photo brought back great memories of that weekend and reminded me of all the things I love about running. Up until then I had no desire to run just yet, but after seeing that picture I could feel my mind starting to turn its attention to getting back out there again soon. That’s why recovery time is so important – it’s not just about making sure your body is ready to run again, but that your mind is too. The mental aspect of the sport is often much more important than the physical.

fullsizeoutput_1db1

Sunday marked the final chapter of our first post-marathon week. Steve went for a run since he has an event much sooner than me. While he got showered and changed I walked into town and he drove down to meet me when he was ready. The reason for this was our traditional “one week on” celebration of a marathon – breakfast out! We headed to our favourite cafe for a cooked breakfast then went for our usual Sunday coffee before heading home – me on foot to ensure I got my 10,000 steps!

IMG_1508

Yes, we ate it all. No, I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty!

For me, this was a great recovery week – I kept moving, I stretched my body and I enjoyed some treats as well as spending time with family. During marathon training it’s easy to deny yourself treats or neglect friends/family. The post-marathon recovery period is a great time to address this. Your body isn’t going to lose a huge amount of fitness, in fact it will thank you for the time off when you return to running. When the time is right, that running will feel enjoyable rather than the chore it could be if you try to run too soon. I’m not claiming to be an expert in anything more than my own body, but if you’re struggling to work out what to do in the days after a marathon then perhaps my approach will help in some way. Whatever you do, take at least a few days off and be kind to yourself.

In my second recovery week I’ll return to work which will reinstate some routine and I’ll increase my “training” to include some light cross training (swimming and cycling at a low intensity) in addition to walking and yoga. Watch out for my post detailing how that goes.

If you’d like to read more about my recovery strategies in previous marathon cycles, then here are some links:

What is your recovery strategy?
What is your favourite post-race treat?