Week In Review – New Wheels!

Hello! I hope you’re well. This week was another busy one for me and not overly exciting on the running/fitness front, but still a lot of fun. Join me as I link up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL for their weekly linkup.

Thanks to lots of things going on, I had to be pretty efficient with my time this week. Unfortunately by the end of the week my body was screaming at me to take a break so I listened (I know, who am I?!?) and made some changes. Here’s how things ended up:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – 5 miles
Wednesday – rest (parents’ evening)
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – 10k rest

I suppose the general tone for the week was set on Monday. I had it in mind to go for a swim after work since there were no meetings. I also had to nip to the supermarket for a few bits and pieces. As things turned out, I went a little “off piste” with my shopping list!

In brief, I lease my car and my current agreement is coming to an end in March, however the garage had contacted me with an offer they thought I might be interested in which would mean changing earlier to get a better price. I agreed to go in and take a look at the car/run some numbers and the upshot was that in addition to porridge oats, honey and teabags, I also ended up buying a car on Monday! All that and I still managed to squeeze in a swim before heading home – efficiency at its best!

And to cap it all off, Monday was also day 500 of my step goal streak. That’s a lot of steps!

fullsizeoutput_22eaOn Tuesday I had a decision to make. I knew that thanks to a parents’ evening on Wednesday I could only manage one of my midweek sessions – either the bike or a run. I decided that a run would be of greater benefit and took advantage of our slightly earlier finish on Tuesdays to get out and run 5 miles. It was dark, of course, but I was nice and visible thanks to my flashing shoe light!

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IMG_4722No workout at all on Wednesday. Frankly it was just long as I left at 7:45am and didn’t get home again until about 8:45pm!!! All I had time for was a cup of tea in front of the tv then straight to bed.

As a result of an intense Wednesday, Thursday felt like it was just a continuation of the same day. I was knackered and couldn’t wait to get to my yoga class. For some reason our teacher wasn’t there and there was another teacher covering, but I’ve done a few classes with her before. I like her but her approach is slightly different so the class is never quite the same. Not a problem through as I still get my yoga fix and it can be interesting to get some different tips for progressing through postures.

On Friday we had an inservice day, which means the pupils were off and we had a day of meetings and planning. It’s not my favourite kind of day, but things improved dramatically at morning interval when one of the office staff brought her puppy in for a visit. Of course I was straight in for puppy cuddles (and lots of puppy kisses!) and headed into the next part of the day with a smile on my face.

Unfortunately, by the end of the day I was starting to feel the effects of the busy week. When I get really tired I tend to experience similar symptoms to the start of a cold – sore throat and aches – but listening to my body and resting quickly resolves it. In this instance, I cancelled my planned session with Steve and headed home to relax. I had a few things I wanted to get done but wanted a nap first so got settled in my favourite chair and closed my eyes, thinking I would nap for about 30-40 minutes. But when I opened my eyes it had been almost 2 hours!!! I DEFINITELY needed that sleep!

I was feeling better so Steve and I headed out to eat. I had thought it might be “steak week” (my favourite) but instead the special was a mixed grill. I wasn’t sure if I would manage it all with a lower training volume, but also knew that if Steve ordered it and I didn’t then I would regret it!

fullsizeoutput_22e9I didn’t quite finish the chips, but ate all the rest and it was awesome!

After a good sleep I felt much better on Saturday morning so saw no reason not to go to parkrun, but rather than push for a time I decided to run to feel and plan to be a bit slower. This meant finishing closer to 25 minutes than sub-24, but it was what my body needed that day. I also broke out the Salomon Speedcross shoes for the first time this winter – a definite seasonal marker!

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IMG_4725Post-parkrun Steve went into town to meet his brother but I decided to take some time for myself and meet him later on to get the food shopping. But first, I wanted to explore some of the events happening in town as part of the Christmas lights being switched on.

First, it was open house at the theatre. It has been closed for two (maybe three, I can’t remember properly) years for a major refurbishment/extension and since I worked in there as a student I was keen to look around the newly re-opened building. It really felt like the beautiful, refurbished auditorium I’m so familiar with had been put into a whole new building, but the updates are fantastic and offer so much scope for future events.

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IMG_4731After that I set off in search of reindeer but only found camels(!), ponies and donkeys.

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IMG_4738I also went to watch a giant ice sculpture being created.

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IMG_4740My last port of call was less exciting as I went to the chemist to get my winter flu jab (amusingly, the pharmacist recognised me from parkrun and told me I had helped her on a pacer week. Apparently I had “gently encouraged” her!). After having the flu in 2013 I make sure to get this injection every year as I really don’t want to repeat that experience. I’ve never had a problem with the jab beyond a slightly achy arm, but this time I didn’t feel too great for the rest of the day (a known side effect), perhaps because I had been feeling a little run down.

But later in the afternoon I had an important appointment so had to pull myself together for that. Can you guess? Yup, I went to collect my car…

The garage is family run and always provides nice little touches to make you feel appreciated. I was given a glass of fizz (non-alcoholic as I had to drive home!), had my name on the big screen and my car was waiting for me in the handover bay all under wraps – exciting!

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IMG_4745I also got a lovely bunch of flowers to thank me for my custom.

IMG_4746It’s basically a newer model of the car I already had, and a different colour, but that’s ideal for me and it’s quite nice to have something to brighten up these cold winter days. I just have to work out all the entertainment system as that’s had an upgrade since my last car so is really the only thing that is different for me to get to grips with.

Once home I had really had enough so got my pyjamas on and got comfy in front of the tv, not really feeling my best.

On Sunday morning Steve headed off to run in a club event and I took advantage of the chance to have a lie in and a pretty lazy morning. I was feeling pretty much back to normal but had made the decision not to run and give my body a chance to reset. Instead, I put all my things back in my car then headed off for a walk in the crisp November air as I wanted to get a bit of fresh air and exercise. I maybe didn’t achieve lots with my day, but sometimes you need to take a step back and relax. I’ll catch up on everything else now I feel more refreshed.

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IMG_4747My week ended, as ever, with a nice bubble bath to set me up for the week ahead. It’s going to be another busy one!

How do you know when you need to slow things down or take a break?
Ever had the flu?

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Week In Review – Vive La France!

Bonjour! I’m back home from France. It was a great trip, but definitely tiring!

As usual, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL, but since last week’s post didn’t cover the full week thanks to my travel commitments (and lack of wifi to update the weekend’s events) I thought I’d begin this week’s post by filling in the gaps. Unsurprisingly, I have plenty of photos to share – this might be one to enjoy over a cup of tea!

The trip began in Normandy then we headed to Paris. Once home, it was time to get back to my regular routine (whilst also making sure to rest from the demands of a full-on itinerary and 40 pupils to keep an eye on!). Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday – travel to France
Sunday – explore Normandy
Monday – explore Bayeux then travel to Paris
Tuesday – Paris
Wednesday – Paris
Thursday – travel home
Friday – rest(!)
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – easy run

Saturday was a travelling day. While France is not really that far away, we had an early start to ensure we were at the airport in plenty of time (45 people to get checked in and through security!), then once in France we had a coach journey north to Normandy. An early highlight for the pupils was the presence of the Scotland football team in the departure lounge (a few were able to get photos). For me, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport felt really familiar – I’m losing count of how many times I’ve been there now! – and I was pleased to find we had a great coach driver who not only drove us north, but provided some commentary and information about various things we passed as we left Paris, including the Stade de France.

IMG_4015Once in Normandy we headed to our base for the first couple of nights which is a youth centre opposite the most beautiful church tower.

IMG_4024We were hustled right in to dinner as we were a little later arriving that usual. The teachers had a most welcome arrival drink awaiting them, but I found the food a little strange – edible, but an odd combination. Fortunately, the meal was rescued by dessert which was these delicious pastries:

IMG_4017Our knowledgeable coach driver, who had stayed for dinner, told us they are known as Paris-Brest. Shaped like a bicycle wheel, they were created to commemorate the cycle race of the same name which began in 1891. I can confirm that they are delicious!

By the time we’d finished eating and been shown to our rooms, there was really only time to unpack the things we would need then start getting ready for bed. Of course the pupils were excited, and many had slept on the coach so felt wide awake, but I know how busy and tiring the trip is so was keen to get everyone to bed at a reasonable time.

Sunday was all about Normandy. We began the day in the beautiful town of Caen exploring the Sunday market and the castle which was built for William the Conqueror. We had our packed lunch in the castle grounds then headed on to Arromanches, at the heart of the D-Day landing sites (Jour-J in French). We were there to visit the 360 cinema which has a powerful 20 minute film which gives a real flavour of events in June 1944. The cinema is above the town and from the elevated position we could see the remains of the Mulberry harbour which was created to bring cargo ashore during the D-Day landings. We then took the short walk down to the town and had a look around for a short time before heading on to our next port of call: the American cemetery at Colleville.

IMG_4036The cemetery sits above Omaha beach and was featured at the start of the movie Saving Private Ryan (two of the brothers whose story inspired the film are buried at this cemetery). We didn’t have much time there, but I found time to watch a short film in the museum which I had not previously seen, before having a look around the cemetery itself. It’s a very sombre place and the mood can be felt in the air. It always really brings home the scale of the sacrifice made by allied forces as over 10,000 crosses are in this location alone.

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IMG_4043We began Monday still in Normandy with a visit to Bayeux and the famous tapestry which depicts the events around the Norman conquest of England in 1066. It’s quite spectacular and intricate, 70 metres long and 50 cm high. I remember learning about the tapestry at primary school, and always remember the part where Harold is killed with an arrow through the eye. Ouch!

IMG_4065After the tapestry there was some time to explore Bayeux before our packed lunches. There’s a beautiful cathedral in Bayeux and overall it’s a very attractive town.

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IMG_4079After lunch we were back on the road and heading to Paris for the remainder of the trip. Again, staying in a youth centre but more modern than the one in Normandy. We arrived in time to have a little time to relax before dinner, then it was time to head out.

Our first evening was spent in the Notre Dame area. We allowed the pupils some time to explore in their groups, so I opted to pay a visit to the nearby bookshop Shakespeare & Co. It’s a famous independent bookshop, traditionally English-language. Its location is close to Kilometer Zéro, the point from which all French road distances are measured. The shop is part of the rich history of ex-pat literary Paris in the 1920s and was a meeting place for the likes of Joyce, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Eliot. Today it’s still full of nooks and crannies inviting visitors to get comfortable and read. There’s even a resident cat whose favourite sleeping place is well defined!

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IMG_4124I absolutely adore this place and could easily spend hours (days?) there, but contented myself with a couple of books. You can ask to have your purchases stamped with the store logo, which is a nice touch and something I recommend if you ever visit.

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fullsizeoutput_229cTuesday was probably the most tiring day as we had no coach so were both walking and using the metro. It was also a day when there were public sector strikes, which ended up affecting our itinerary.

The first visit on the agenda was the Musée d’Orsay, a one-time railway station now home to a number of exhibits including Impressionist art. In the past we have visited the Louvre, so this was new. Unfortunately, just as we got there the museum was in the process of closing as the strikes meant they did not have enough staff. We gave our pupils some time to themselves to look around, take photos, buy food, etc while we made alternative plans and I drew on what turned out to be far more impressive knowledge of Paris than I realised I had as I was able to look at my map and come up with a plan almost immediately. All those Paris marathons were good for something!

IMG_4172We needed to do something that would not incur a cost (including additional metro tickets) so I created a tour of the area we were in. From the Musée d’Orsay we walked along the Rive Gauche past the bouquinistes to the Pont des Arts. This is the pedestrian bridge which attracted controversy due to the number of “love locks” attached to it. The locks have now been removed due to safety concerns, but it’s still a great bridge to cross as it’s quite spacious and there’s no traffic so you can take some time for photos.

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IMG_4231The bridge leads into the Louvre courtyard so we spent some time there taking photos around the iconic pyramid (and I decided this would be the the ideal location for some yoga photos!). I had thought of maybe heading into the Tuileries gardens next, perhaps even along to the Place de la Concorde to see the obelisk, however we needed to start heading to our lunch at a quick service restaurant close to the Pompidou centre so we made our way along Rue de Rivoli to get there.

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IMG_4196The afternoon was devoted to some shopping so we walked the group along to the Forum des Halles, a huge underground shopping mall. There has been a lot of work going on remodelling the area and it was fascinating to see how much it has changed. I didn’t really do much shopping, but did enjoy the chance to slow down a bit and spend some time in a nearby café.

Unfortunately, our evening was also affected by the strikes. We had been due to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, but it was also closed. We had a bit longer to think about alternative activities and I suggested going along anyway to see the monument from ground level and spend some time on the Champs Elysées before walking along to the Trocadéro to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up. This turned out to be an ideal solution – another score for all that time I’ve spent exploring Paris on foot!

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IMG_4219The pupils were pleased to see the coach again on Wednesday morning as they were so tired from the day before. Wednesday began with a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I ended up waiting at the bottom with a pupil who was unable to go up because of a fear of heights. I amused myself with a coffee and pain au chocolat for second breakfast!

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IMG_4241Once the group was back on the ground we walked across the road to the Port de la Bourdonnais where we had a one hour cruise on the Seine. I’ve done this a few times so didn’t bother listening to the commentary and instead just enjoyed the Parisian scenery and chance to relax for a while.

Back at the coach we had a quick packed lunch (it was a little chilly) before heading off again. We asked our coach driver to go around the Arc de Triomphe, which he did, then took a fairly scenic route to our next port of call all the while keeping up his very knowledgeable and interesting commentary.

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IMG_4255Soon, we passed the Moulin Rouge and got off the coach to make our way up the 270 (I think) steps to the Sacré Cœur. I had to go up them fairly briskly as some of the boys raced up and a member of staff needed to be up there to keep everyone together as they arrived. After a pause at the view point, we walked around to the Place du Tertre to enjoy the artists, cafés and souvenir shops. The staff sat at a café by our meeting point and I ordered a delicious bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée.

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IMG_4397Our evening activity was a visit to the Montparnasse tower and its panoramic observation deck. We made our way there on foot, and it was well worth it for the stunning views of Paris by night.

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IMG_4297Thursday was, sadly, the day we had to go home. I was up early to take one of our pupils to the airport as a family funeral required her to be on an earlier flight than ours. It was actually quite nice to have a couple of hours to myself and not constantly hear my “teacher name” followed by Are we…? Can we…? When are we…? Where is…? etc.

IMG_4307Back in Scotland our journey home took us over the new Queensferry Crossing (my first time) which was exciting, but by the time I finally got home I was exhausted so Steve treated me to a Chinese takeaway for dinner before I went to bed.

IMG_4320Unsurprisingly, Friday was a very quiet day. I slept a little later then usual, got unpacked and paid a visit to my parents before going out to eat with Steve. Even better, my favourite special was on so I had a lovely steak dinner 🙂

IMG_4335By Saturday I was ready for business as usual. What with my recovery weeks and the trip, I hadn’t trained since the Loch Ness marathon and was keen to get started again with a parkrun.

IMG_4336It was a lovely autumnal day, perfect for running. I had no expectations of time, but enjoyed moving my legs and pushing my body again. I ended up running really evenly and was quite surprised to finish in 24:41. Not too shabby after three weeks off!

IMG_4343The rest of the day was pretty relaxing as Steve was away, so I chilled out with the cat and caught up on some TV.

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IMG_4409Sunday was another return to the usual routine as I headed out for my second run of the weekend. Nowhere near as long as my marathon training runs, but a nice 5.5 mile loop at an easy pace to start reminding my body of how to run again. I felt sluggish at first, but by the end I could feel everything clicking into place.

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IMG_4408What a week! So strange to think that I started the week in France and ended it on my usual running route. Life is so funny sometimes! It was great to have some time in Paris, but now I’m ready to re-focus and get back to some regular training again.

Have you been on any trips recently?
How is your training going?

Race Report – Loch Ness Marathon 2017

Finally. All I can say, is finally!

I first entered the Loch Ness marathon as part of my fundraising challenge in 2014, but injury put paid to my plans that year. Last year I thought it was time to try again…until a hip issue led me to the heartbreaking decision not to run. In 2017 it was third time lucky.

Entering this race is straightforward. I entered back in the spring and it’s first come, first served with no ballots or waiting lists. I received plenty of information in advance via email, although I knew roughly what to expect anyway in terms of collecting my race pack and what the finish area looked like thanks to spectating twice before as well as my experience of running the 10k in 2013.

Since neither of us fancied driving 100+ miles home after a marathon, we opted for the train. This put us in Inverness mid-afternoon with enough time to check in to our hotel and leave our bags before heading over to collect our packs and browse the expo.

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Race day logistics involve a bus trip to the start line, which makes for a pretty early start for a 10am race! Luckily our hotel was really geared up for this. There were signs up at reception telling guests to let staff know that they would be running and therefore looking for an early breakfast, which was at 6:30am. My alarm went off at 5:30am so I could take some fluids on and get into my kit.

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Heading down to breakfast, we expected some porridge, toast and maybe bananas. Instead, the full breakfast was available. Steve opted for sausages, bacon, etc but there was no way I could stomach that so early so stuck to my usual pre-long run staples of toast with nutella and a bowl of porridge. I also took a pastry with me to eat later on (I’ve run the Paris marathon after these so knew it would be ok).

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It was then time for some final preparations before heading to the buses which were on the other side of the park, beyond the finish line. We knew we would be on one of the last buses (it’s quite a fleet to get almost 3000 runners to the start as this is the only way to access the area on race day) and all the race staff we passed were really helpful in making sure we were heading the right way and keeping up a brisk pace. We still ended up in a big queue though!

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The bus journey took around an hour. We were a little slower as our bus struggled to get up the steep hills to the start line, however the weather wasn’t so great at this point and it was better to be on the bus than exposed to the elements, even if I was getting desperate for the toilet!

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Once there, it felt a little bit like being on the edge of the world as the wind whipped up and the rain came down. We got our stuff organised and had a couple of toilet trips (queues for the portable toilets were HUGE but there were plenty of dense trees and bushes to make a “wild pee” an option!

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As late as possible, we put our bags onto the baggage bus and headed to the start area to find a suitable position.

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There was the usual music and an announcer getting everyone in the mood, and then all of a sudden we were being counted down and off. I had expected that heartbeat music so de rigueur at races these days to make things tense, but there was no drawn-out ceremony here which was refreshing.

I have to say, a bit of me could hardly believe I was there. After two failed attempts to make that start line, and a lot of stress caused by my cat being very unwell the day before (the emergency vet visit before we left was not in the plan!) I had hardly dared to let myself believe it would actually happen, but here I was with 26.2 miles standing between me and that finish medal. And those 26.2 miles looked like this:

Net downhill, however the hardest part comes around mile 18, just about the worst possible time when all the joy of the downhill start is a distant memory!

The first 5 miles were brilliant. I was running downhill, feeling fresh and surrounded by beautiful Highland countryside. I actually ran this in silence, enjoying my own thoughts and the atmosphere around me. There’s a short climb in mile 6, but this was around when I took my first energy gel so I was happy to have slowed down. The generally downhill trend continued to about mile 10 and my second gel, and as things levelled out I decided to put a podcast on to give me something else to focus on.

At this point I was 2 or 3 minutes ahead of my splits for a sub-4 time, however it had felt relatively easy thanks to running downhill and my hope was to have that time “in the bank” ready for the hill later on.

The next 7 miles are flattish, but there are some slight inclines and declines along the way, in fact the half way point felt on a slightly upward trajectory. I was still counting down the miles, aware that although numerically I was half way, the received wisdom is that “half way” is really 18 miles as you hit the hill.

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I lost a little time in this section, but was only a minute or two down on where I wanted to be, which would still have bagged me a PB. But then I reached Dores and THAT hill…

Race organisers had included some helpful signs: “slightly steeper bit ahead”, “wee bit hilly” and “keep calm and tame the monster”. Huh. But I trained on hilly routes and tried to include a hill towards the end of my runs. I was ready…or so I thought. I began the plod up what seemed the longest hill in the world, until I realised that I could probably walk just as fast. The hill beat me and I’m not ashamed to say so.

When the top of the hill finally came (after a false summit or two) it was great to point myself downhill again. By now I was way off the pace I wanted, but hoped I might be able to reclaim a bit of ground.

But it was not to be. On reflection, I think the hill was only part of it. The stress of a poorly cat on Saturday had affected my nutrition and hydration plans, not to mention the impact of feeling stress so close to the event. I hadn’t realised quite how much of an impact it had until I needed to tap into some energy that just wasn’t there. I’d had a gel with caffeine at mile 15 (double espresso, yum!) and had two gels left to take – miles 20 and 23.1 – but they just weren’t doing enough. I rallied a bit on some of the downhills, but as soon as it was more level or uphill, even for a short time, I just couldn’t sustain my pace. Still, there was nothing for it but to keep moving forward.

Finally, I was back in Inverness and the finish line was getting closer. Just before mile 25 you can hear the announcer on the opposite side of the river but I was prepared for this. Time for a final push to the line as the crowds thickened and you just HAVE to keep running: past the footbridge that would be a shortcut to the finish, over the main bridge, past the hotel and digging deep to find that last “sprint” to the finish.

Once over the line I needed to take a moment. I wasn’t sure how I felt – well, physically I felt tired and sore and as if I’d just run 26.2 miles, but I wasn’t sure where my emotions were. I leaned against a railing to compose myself then headed around to collect my medal, goody bag (the most Scottish goody bag ever – Baxters soup, Walker’s shortbread, Highland Spring water) and T-shirt before joining Steve who was watching out for me.

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I was soaking wet so opted not to hang around taking photos and instead shuffled over to collect my bag where I had some warm layers. There was a changing tent and I sat in there for a bit getting myself organised and sending some messages to say I was finished. Feeling better, I rejoined Steve to go and get our complimentary post-race meal: soup, casserole and bread.

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Having refuelled and composed ourselves, we did get some photos before heading back along to the hotel for our bags (and I had a change and freshen up in the toilets so I felt a bit more human before the train home).

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Soon after crossing the line I got a text with my official time of 4:18:10. It might not have been what I was looking for, but knowing that the marathon is a tricky beast, I had set 3 goals. My A goal was the PB/sub-4, my B goal was sub-4:20 and my C goal to be faster than in Paris back in April. B goal achieved and that is still something to be proud of (and it finally got me on the Marathon Talk podcast podium with second place!). I may still have a tantalisingly-close PB of 4:05:07 to beat (Paris 2014), but since then I’ve not exactly set a blistering pace with a 4:40:02, 4:43:39, 4:38:38 and 4:32:07. Bizarrely, that PB is a bit of an outlier in my marathon history, and until now that 4:32:07 from Paris this year was actually my second-fastest time. Other than my PB I have NEVER broken 4:30, so to go below 4:20, over a challenging course, is a good sign that the training is paying off. In entering this race I had wanted to see if training through the summer months so I was a) better rested thanks to the school holidays and b) better adapted to warmer temperatures, would make a difference. Added to that, I wanted to see if an elevation profile more similar to what I train on would suit me better, and I think my result is a clear yes.

I was also really pleased with my overall stats:

Position – 1145/2619
Females – 267/1025
Category – 148/484

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Overall the Loch Ness marathon is a great race and I can see why so many people rave about it. I may have taken care of unfinished business in finally reaching the start line, but I can see me returning at some point in order to get my revenge on that hill! And my time? Despite what I swore to myself in the last few miles, I’m already plotting my next 26.2 mile adventure, so watch this space…

Week In Review – Training Peak

I’m at that stage in marathon training when the big miles are coming, the weariness is setting in and the taper is looking like an appealing prospect! Here’s how things have been over the past week – linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL as usual.

This week felt like a bit of a whirlwind, but here’s how my schedule ended up looking:

Monday – rest
Tuesday – bike reps @ the gym
Wednesday – 1km form drills
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun pacing
Sunday – 20 miles

I actually felt quite good on Monday morning, despite the previous day’s 18 mile run. Clearly the post-birthday high tea was a great recovery tool! (If you missed last week’s post, you can catch up here). It was a good thing too as my work day was going to be a little different. Rather than be in my classroom all day, I was taking a group of 40 pupils to the Edinburgh Book Festival to see some authors speaking live. It was a good trip and the pupils were brilliant, but some of the timings were a little tight so there was a lot of rushing about to make sure we managed to do everything and got everyone home safely.

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I think my young charges were all spending their money in the bookshop when I took this!

After that I decided it would be much more beneficial to head straight home and have some quality time at home rather than rushing about with going to the gym and using up a big chunk of my evening. This meant a reasonably early night and I definitely felt better for it.

Tuesday was a return to normal both with work and training. After school I headed to the gym to complete my bike reps (still hard work but boosting my fitness and making me stronger). I had considered a swim, but was a little later as I had decided to walk down there so headed home again instead so I could eat and enjoy a bit of down time (which basically means sitting in my comfy chair with the cat purring on my lap!).

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On foot to make sure I hit my step goal!

I wasn’t looking forward to my Wednesday workout. I had 10 x 1km form drills to do and I just couldn’t work out a route. It’s fine to do some of the reps on inclines, but it does make it tougher. There aren’t really any totally flat routes around here though. To make things worse, I was quite late getting home and organised so it was about 6:30pm before I was heading out the door and I knew that with a warm up and cool down, as well as my recovery segments, I was probably looking at an hour and a half of exercise. In reality that’s not too much, and the workout was fine, but it meant arriving home again around 8pm, whereupon I had to shower, change and eat. I was so tired that I pretty much headed to bed as soon as I’d done all that and was sound asleep before 10pm!

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The rock and roll life of a runner during marathon training!

I much prefer Thursday as I have my Ashtanga yoga class. I think this is one of my favourite sessions in the whole week. By the time I get to Thursday I really appreciate the time to unwind and stretch. I always feel better afterwards.

Friday became a rest day as I had arranged to visit a good friend from work who has recently had surgery on her foot. She’s been spending her days at home with her foot up, so was keen for a visit to catch up on the gossip as various circumstances prevented that from happening over the summer and her surgery was scheduled for soon after we went back to work. It was great to see her and we had a lovely chat over several cups of tea and a bit of cake. Lovely!

Since Saturday was the first Saturday of the month, it was pacer day at parkrun. I was down for 28 minutes so that meant I had a nice comfortable (for me) run ahead of me. Probably a good thing as I woke up not feeling at my best. Over dinner on Friday evening I felt a bit off – scratchy throat and lethargic – and put it down to being tired from a busy week as that’s usually the physical symptoms I get if I’ve overdone it a bit. I had hoped to sleep it off, but don’t think I slept well enough. I still felt fine to run (no “below the neck” symptoms) and running 28 minutes rather than sub-24 meant I felt no pressure to perform. In actual fact the run made me feel much better and I was pleased to be able to help other runners again. One friend got a great new PB, with lots of loud “encouragement” from me towards the end, and I helped a first timer to keep on going to the end. Very satisfying.

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Impressive that we managed to line up in the right order (no idea where 21 was though!)

IMG_3713It was also Steve’s 100th parkrun (my 90th – nearly there!) and this year he has taken on the job of photographing parkrunners on their milestone run days to add to our event’s Facebook page. I was ready to leap in and take his, however we weren’t standing together and he handed his camera to someone else. It was only later that the lovely Ella pointed out that I was in “stealth mode” again lol!

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Can you spot me?

Sadly no Hatha yoga this week, but that did mean I could join Steve and his brother for their usual Saturday morning post-parkrun catchup. I had a pot of tea and a bacon croissant (so delicious) before Steve and I sorted out all our errands for the weekend. After lunch Steve headed out so I finished off the mammoth stack of laundry I’d not had time to tackle during the week and had a nice nap with my furry napping supervisor. It was just what I needed and I woke feeling refreshed and much less “off” than earlier. Hopefully that should sort me out – a cold would be most inconvenient right now!

I tackled the germs hard on Saturday night with an assortment of remedies I know usually ward off any nasties for me and I awoke on Sunday morning feeling pretty much myself, but with a bit of a lingering sniffle. The 20 mile run was on! There was a bit of me that kind of couldn’t be bothered, but I told myself that once the run was done I would feel ready for race day and would be able to taper. But having fought off a probable cold, I didn’t want to stray too far from home in case I had any bother so plotted a route that would keep me reasonably close by but without too much repetition.

I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but then when is a 20 mile run ever easy? I felt absolutely fine, but my body did take advantage of the time in the fresh air to make my nose run a fair bit. This, in turn, made my mouth and throat feel really dry so by the time I got home I was desperate for a drink as I’d used up all of mine. Luckily I had the foresight to text Steve and ask him to have my drinks ready for my return so there was some ice cold water at the door for me to drink straight away, before some electrolytes and my recovery shake. By the time I had my shower I was feeling fine again.

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Tired but happy post-run

I also took the opportunity on this run to try out a running skirt I hadn’t worn before but was considering for race day (I liked it so that looks like a decision made) as well as a new pair of the shoes I have been training in (always best to check in case there’s a bit of material that rubs or something). Most excitingly, I had bought a new hydration pack and was keen to try it out. I already have a couple but the sloshing of the water reservoir can be a bit annoying and I still have a scar on my shoulder blade from where the pack I was wearing in Paris worked loose and rubbed against my back in the heat. Ouch! This time I decided to invest in a Salomon pack, where you buy a specific size. It came with two soft flasks on the front and loads of storage for phone/gels/tissues and anything else I consider indispensable. There’s also space for a reservoir, but I just went with the soft flasks today as that was new to me. I have to say, the pack was amazing. It doesn’t really move, there’s no sloshing from the soft flasks and is barely noticeable while I run, yet I know that everything I need is easy to access without having to stop and faff around. Perfect!

IMG_3739So that’s my longest run done and now it’s time to taper. I’m definitely ready to cut back a bit and plan to really focus on rest, especially sleep, over the next three weeks so my body is ready to go for it on race day.

What is your next challenge?
What’s your preferred method (if any) of carrying hydration for a long run?

Friday Finds – 1st September

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 September! Where on earth did you suddenly appear from? I hope everyone has had a great week. Here are some articles I’ve come across this week for your reading pleasure…

First, a bit of research into the prevalence of knee arthritis in our modern world. We runners are constantly subjected to non-runners declaring running to be bad for our knees, but as this article points out, there really isn’t much in the way of research to support that. There is, however, plenty of research showing that osteoarthritis is becoming increasingly common. In a bid to shed some more light on why, researchers studied skeletons from a number of different periods and developed some theories as to why arthritis is more common now. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but based on their theories I would suggest that those of us who run are actually doing the best thing to take care of our knees.

Some further interesting research sought to settle the question of whether marathon training or iron distance triathlon training was harder. Sound like a pub debate? Well to an extent the researchers were trying to find answers to the very questions they explore with friends. I’ve never trained for an iron distance tri, but I have trained for marathons so know what that feels like. With that in mind, the results of that study turned out to be rather intriguing…

I also enjoyed this article from Trail Runner magazine about Strava. I know I’ve included plenty of articles about Strava before, but they have tended to be related to road running or Strava art. This considers the implications and etiquette for Strava on the trails in a bit more depth. That said, some of the etiquette definitely transfers to other activities e.g. coming up with a better name than the stock option for workouts (I don’t always do that terribly quickly, but do take some time at the weekends to change “Afternoon Run” to something a bit more catchy!).

Also discussing trails (albeit in a rather different context) is my next article taken from Motiv Running. By now you’re probably familiar with the concept of the beer mile, but what if that mile was taken to a whole new level by being run at altitude? Well apparently that is a real event that people take part in. Not only do you have the challenge of keeping 4 carbonated beers inside your stomach as you run laps, but the altitude works against you by making the beer even fizzier and your body less able to take in oxygen. Sounds like a pretty difficult challenge to me! Anyone tempted?

And finally, you have to check out this amazing shoe art. Yujia Hu, a Milan-based restaurant owner, is instagramming his amazing sushi in the form of various running shoes. Dubbed “shoeshi”, his creations are certainly attracting interest. Definitely too good to eat!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 19th 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.

It’s been a funny old week in the world of running and fitness. The biggest spring marathons are naught but a distant memory, the Breaking2 experiment is still generating some comment (more on that in the promised separate post soon!) and with the (mostly) better weather people are getting their summer training schedules kickstarted. For that reason it really is a bit of a mishmash of finds this week.

I’ll start with a story from the world of triathlon. You might remember Jonny Brownlee’s dramatic finish to the World Series finale in Mexico last September when his brother Alistair carried him over the finish line. Back in action for the first time since then, he once more demonstrated his grit and determination when a crash in the bike leg rendered his bike useless. Rather than give up, Jonny picked up the bike and ran barefoot to the transition a mile away so he could still head out on the run. Despite being almost 7 minutes behind the winner, he still finished the race, saying, “I had not come all the way…not to finish.” What would you have done?

While Jonny Brownlee may not have had quite the comeback he was looking for, what about the rest of us? Taking time out of training for any reason inevitably means a lot of hard work to regain previous form, something I’ve noticed even from taking a little time off after a marathon. With that in mind, I found it really interesting to read this piece from Outside in which a number of high-profile athletes discuss their approach to a comeback and what they learned from it. Some even went on to perform better than before!

At the other end of the scale, what happens if we run too much (yes, it is possible). This is a topic I’ve come across a few times recently, both in print and on podcasts, and I think it worth highlighting. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only running because it makes us feel good, but it’s important to find a bit more balance in our workouts in order to be create the strength we need to support our running and to be a bit more resilient. Getting the balance wrong is a fast track to injury, as I’ve learned to my cost, and if I could give myself as a beginner one piece of advice then this would probably be it. In this post the writer discusses how easily our running can become an obsession, and what we should do about it if that happens.

Possibly the coolest thing I’ve come across this week comes from Nike. The sportswear giant, fresh from their Breaking2 endeavour, has created a running track shaped like a running shoe. What’s so cool about that? Let me tell you. The track is also lit by LED lights and is integrated with a sensor worn on your shoe (a bit like a timing chip) which then allows you to race against your own virtual avatar. If you’re anything like me then as soon as you’ve watched the video you’ll want to give it a go. Shame it’s so far away!

And finally, here’s one for the ladies. Posts on social media lamenting the struggles of putting on (and taking off!) a sports bra are a regular occurrence (and a struggle our male counterparts will never know). For those in the know, this tongue-in-cheek set of instructions for putting on a sports bra is sure to raise a smile:

Happy reading,
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?

Friday Finds – 25th November

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

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a runner, in possession of the desire to run, will eventually succumb to an injury. Those injuries might be caused by many things such as overuse, a biomechanical issue or wearing shoes unsuited to an individual’s running style. The debate has raged for years about what the “right” running form should be and what the “best” trainers are. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that the best shoes are the ones I can comfortably wear for miles and miles, while the right form is whatever feels most natural (with the odd tweak here and there). I’ve found this to be a controversial issue though, with zealots declaring that their preferred style/shoe is gospel and all else must be wrong, and this has led to various fads such as barefoot running, minimalist shoes and, more recently, maximalist shoes. To say nothing of the traditional gait analysis and methods of shoe selection. To date, I have believed that there was no substantial research to support a particular running style or shoe type over another when it comes to injury prevention, so was surprised to see two newspapers this week extolling the virtues of a minimal shoe and forefoot strike as leading to a lower incidence of injury. Intrigued, I read further, only to discover that this study was based on just 29 test subjects! I’m no scientist, but it seems to me that this is a very small sample and am inclined to take this particular revelation with a grain of salt. As far as I’m concerned we’re all individuals and therefore there can be no “best fit” for all. I’d be interested to hear your views on this…

While I’m on the subject of potentially controversial studies, I felt I just HAD to share this gem from The Daily Mail, a newspaper I’m not generally a fan of. According to this article from the end of last week, the stress of Christmas shopping can raise the heart rate to a level comparable to running a marathon. Now while I’m quite sure that the physiological response is true, I’m not convinced that comparing the stress of festive shopping to running 26.2 miles is quite accurate. To me, one is very much a negative stressor, whereas the other is a healthy activity where raising your heart rate is seen as a positive to aid fitness. But if you are worried about the “marathon” effort of completing your gift shopping, a solution is offered: high intensity interval shopping! Yes, you did read that correctly. Perhaps I should suggest it to Steve as a seasonal fitness class 😀

Something which seems to have much more sound theory behind it is the assertion that exercise helps to combat depression. As runners, we know the mood-lifting properties of a good run and I’m sure I’ve shared articles on a similar topic before. What I found interesting about one recent study is that it drew on data from many previous studies, a data pool of over 1 million participants. Unsurprisingly, the link between physical fitness and mental health was considerable, with the least fit participants around 75% more likely to be given a diagnosis of depression than those with the highest level of fitness. Obviously it takes more than one run to make a long-term difference, and more work is needed to determine an optimum amount of exercise, but it is clear that being active is key to improving mental health.

Related to this is this article about using brain stimulation to improve athletic performance. For me, the idea of zapping my brain is a rather scary thought, however it seems that several sports teams/organisations are buying into the premise and using the devices mentioned. It’s certainly true that the mind is a powerful factor in athletic performance, but I’m not sure I would go as far as this to shave a bit of time off a run. What about you?

And finally, a piece about a most unusual running partner. Many people like to run with friends, family or a club. Some like to run with their dog, but Christopher McDougall (yes, the author of perennial favourite Born to Run) has a much more unconventional partner: a donkey! In this first part of a new column for The New York Times, he explains how he came to have a donkey in the first place, and what thought process led him to believe that making that donkey his running partner might be a possibility. I’ll leave it to you to read the rest…

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 11th November

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

A couple of weeks ago I shared an article from Fortune magazine which detailed the running shoe preferences of non-elite marathon runners. At the time I was surprised that my preferred brand, Adidas, didn’t make the list and was curious to know how this compared to the choices made by elite runners. I also thought it would be interesting to dig into the statistics a bit more to find out more about why people choose a particular shoe. This week, I have a follow-up. While it doesn’t tell me any more about why people choose particular brands over others (e.g. marketing, availability, technical specs, etc) it does confirm my suspicion that elite athletes tend to make different choices. Interestingly, it also broke that down into male and female elites, where there was a slight brand difference. I suppose these facts in themselves raise more questions for me about why these choices are made, and I would love to read more research on this.

Next up, an interesting piece from The Guardian about running and weight loss. I enjoyed the discussion at the beginning about the various reasons people choose to run, and while it’s not my reason, I wasn’t surprised that around 40% of people say that they run to lose weight. I know that when I get stuck into marathon training I need to be careful to maintain/increase my calorific intake or I will lose too much weight, but for others weight loss from running can be frustratingly slow, for a variety of reasons mentioned in this article. So if you are feeling a little put out that running is not having the desired effect on your weight, perhaps this will help you to pinpoint why.

I also read with interest this next piece from Women’s Running. In it, the writer discusses why racing isn’t a big priority for her, and how the lack of a big goal makes her feel when surrounded by others striving for a time or distance goal. I have to say, this really resonated with me. I do love to race, but sometimes find that constant striving for PBs a bit much. That’s why I chose not to discuss my autumn race goal this year. I also want to prioritise being able to run for years to come over completing a goal race, which is why I ultimately didn’t run the race I was training for. For me, defining myself as a runner means that I run regularly, not that I race regularly. Racing is fun, but I agree with the writer that you don’t have to race in order to call yourself a runner. I’d love to know what you think about this.

Of course for many racing is a big part of running, but what if training for a race put you at risk? Would you still do it? What if you were a western woman living and working in Afghanistan who wanted to train for a marathon? That was the difficulty faced by lawyer Jessica Wright when she gained a coveted spot in the New York marathon. When I train for my next marathon and get fed up with long runs in terrible weather, I’ll remember the difficulties Wright faced to achieve her goal and remind myself how lucky I am to have the freedom to run, train and take part in sport without threat.

And finally, if you’re in need of a little humour this week, why not check out this Buzzfeed piece which probably describes your life. I can definitely relate to number 14! Which one best describes you?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 28th October

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.

Often, I like to find some kind of theme in my Friday Finds, something to tie all the articles I share together, like my recent marathon special. It’s nice when that happens; it seems like there’s some joined up thinking going into my posts. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes my news feeds are just full of unrelated, yet interesting, articles that I want to share, and my post ends up feeling a little bit random. This week is one of those weeks!

My first find this week, although from 2014, seems very timely as here in the UK the clocks go back this weekend. Some people love running through the winter months, feeling their performance improve in the cooler temperatures, while others find it difficult to find the motivation to head outside. I have to admit, while I’m not fond of how much little daylight there is through the winter months, I know I feel better for getting out and running, feeling the cold air on my face yet being snug in my toasty winter kit. I may have to alter some of my routes, but getting out at night always reminds me of when I first started running more seriously in January of 2009. In this article, Harry McGee points out some of the advantages to night time running, and helps us to find the beauty in those cold, wet nights, as well as providing some useful safety reminders.

Next up, the results of a fascinating study comparing the mental performance of athletes and non-athletes when under pressure. While none of the athletic participants were runners, it’s still intriguing to read of the difference it makes to have the mindset of someone used to making quick decisions when their success or failure can come down to that one split second. I have included articles about that mindset before, so found it interesting to see the direct comparison between those conditioned to making split second decisions under pressure, and those not.

This week’s marathon-related article comes from Fortune. If you love marathons, running shoes and statistics then this is the find for you! Although based on US statistics, it does give an interesting insight into the brands that are getting the most wear right now, and I have to say I was quite surprised that my preferred brand doesn’t get a look-in, despite similar studies of elites in recent years suggesting it to be their pick. I would be really keen to see someone dig into this a bit deeper and find out WHY people are picking the shoes they do, and if there is a discernible difference between the elites and the “average” recreational runner.

I have written before about my desire to run for many years to come, and have found countless examples of runners doing just that, such as the amazing Ed Whitlock, but I’ve always thought of that in terms of continuing with an activity I love, rather than considering what all those years of running might teach me. Even in the relatively short space of time I’ve been running (compared to those who have run throughout their lives) I feel like I’ve amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience that, given sufficient opportunity, I will gladly share with others. And all in just a decade or so of running. So what else might be learned from 50 years of running? Well that’s exactly the subject matter of this piece I found in Outside. It’s a beautifully written account of a running journey, and the lessons learned along the way. I hope you enjoy it.

And finally, what kind of a runner are you? No, not whether you prefer morning or night, heel strike or forefoot strike, but your running character. Looking at this fun piece from Runner’s World, I reckon I know a number of the runners described and can recognise a few of the characteristics I possess. The only problem is that “blogger jogger”, despite its charming rhyme, somewhat conflicts with the “don’t-call-me-a-jogger”! Oh well, I must have many layers of running quirk within me. What about you?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess