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

A Runner’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

Wow, another year gone by already! I hope you, Mrs Claus and all the reindeer are well. Did you enjoy the protein bar and electrolyte drink I left out for you last year? You need to fuel properly for an endurance event like your annual trip around the world! I do hope you’ve recovered well, trained sensibly and had a good taper for this year.

I’ve been really enjoying my running lately and am looking forward to all the festive runs I missed out on last year due to an ill-timed injury. With a spring marathon on the horizon, I’m working hard to get my body ready and am trying a few things I’ve not tried before like yoga and trail running. Since it’s December now, you’re probably anxious to start getting the sleigh ready for your trip (now there’s a strength workout getting all those gifts loaded up!) and since I’m sure I’ve been very good this year, there are a few things I’m hoping you might have on there for me…

Something I’d find really useful is a new yoga mat. I bought a very basic mat to get started with as I didn’t want to spent lots of money until I knew yoga was something I wanted to commit to. Now, I’d really love a higher quality mat like this one from Lululemon. It comes in really nice colours, like my favourite purple/pink shades, and looks like just the thing to help me continue my yoga journey.

On the running front, there are so many things that would help me to feel good when I’m hitting the roads and trails. I’ve got my eye on the new J Crew for New Balance kit, especially this top which comes in my favourite striped design (and would pair beautifully with these tights from the same range). There’s nothing like a Breton stripe to get me in the mood for running in France!

If we’re in for a cold winter (and we’ve already had a particularly cold snap) then keeping warm is crucial. Last year I spotted this Odlo top with a built in face mask when I was perusing some kit reviews and have really fancied it ever since. I’m also interested in the new parkrun jackets which have just been announced. I wear my parkrun Tshirt to just about every parkrun I do, but if it gets super cold then a jacket would be a brilliant way to keep showing my support for parkrun.

And speaking of cold weather, one of my biggest worries is always slipping on icy, frosty paths. I certainly don’t want to take any risks, but if trying out some different shoes means I can avoid the treadmill on icy days then I’ll be very happy indeed. Recently I tried the all terrain version of my go-to 5k/10k shoe the Adidas Glide Boost, and now I’ve discovered that there is an all terrain version of my favourite long run shoes, the Ultra Boosts. I found the all terrain soles really grippy and was able to complete my workouts with confidence that my feet wouldn’t slide around – they even helped me to a good finish in the parkrun points competition – so it would be great to have another pair so I can continue to rotate my shoes and ward off injuries.

With all the changes I’ve made in my training, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to race a bit more in 2017 than I did this year. I love trying to improve my times and have amassed quite a collection of medals. Each one is a memory and I love being able to display them all on hangers in our new home. Unfortunately, I’ve run out of room on my current hangers so need a couple more to give me a bit more hanging space. I will use new hangers to extend my current displays so my requirements are quite specific. This one in both black and sparkling plum will be exactly what I need to match my current hangers and the extra space will give me the motivation to earn some new bling and fill them up!

So that’s my Christmas wish list Santa. I do hope you’re able to bring me something from on there and make me smile on Christmas morning. I’m off to choose a healthy snack to leave out for you so you can refuel properly and avoid hitting the wall on your most important night of the year.

Love to everyone at the North Pole,
The Running Princess

PS No sponsored content or affiliate links here, Santa. These are the things I would truly love to find under my tree this year. What are you hoping to find under yours?

US v UK Running Lingo

allison-jessie-w

I’m always intrigued by linguistic differences both within the UK and between other English-speaking countries. I notice this most when I visit Florida, and for the first day or so my dad often reminds me to “speak American” so I can be understood! And it’s not just me. Earlier this week I got an email from my blogger friend Jessie at The Right Fits with an idea about working together on a post looking at some of the differences between US and UK running lingo. Jessie ran the London Marathon this year and her experience there, combined with reading UK-based running blogs like mine, really made her notice differences in the way those in the US talk about running compared to here in the UK. We put our heads together to bring you this post – US v UK Running Lingo: A User Guide!

(You can read Jessie’s version of this post here)

London-Marathon-finisher-2016
PR/PB: Personal Record vs. Personal Best!
Jessie may hear some Americans call it a PB, but generally it seems that PR is the preferred noun to discuss a personal record. PR is even used as a verb: “She PR’ed at Boston!”
Of course PB’s are the lingo in the UK, including as a verb: “She PB’ed in her race!”!

I ran my biggest PB at the Paris Marathon in 2014:IMG_2863

Tank/Vest:
To Jessie, when she thinks of a vest, she thinks of a down winter gilet, not what she calls a tank top. But in the UK, a “vest” is your sleeveless running top: “He was wearing his club vest.”

Sneakers/Trainers:
Jessie says she really loves the term “trainers” and is hoping to bring it to the US! Yet currently, if she mentioned trainers to her friends, they’d think she was talking about a personal trainer who’s helping her with strength training, not the Brooks on her feet!

Gear check/Bag drop:
Runners in the US drop off their post-race stuff at Gear Check. In the UK, it’s Bag Drop!

Packet pickup/Registration:
At the expo, our US friends head to packet pickup ahead of a race. In the UK, you just head to registration.

Boston (and BQ)/London (and GFA = Good For Age):
I commented on this on Jessie’s “What it Means to Run Boston” post that in the UK, Boston isn’t the big deal. Rather, the “big” deal is the London Marathon, and here, you want to run a “Good for Age” time in another marathon in order to get in. In the US, it’s all about the “BQ!”

Bib/Race number:
To non-runners, the term bib probably means something a baby wears when eating in a high chair, but to US runners, the “bib” is what you pin on your “vest” with your race number. I just call it a race number!

jess-p-hoenix

Corral/Pen:
In the US, runners are grouped into starting corrals. Which corral you end up in depends on your qualifying time or your predicted finish time, but in the UK, it’s the starting pen!

Sweatpants/Trackies (tracksuit bottoms):
Chilly before a race? Americans don their sweats. You put on your trackies or trackie bottoms in the UK!

IMG_3062

Portapotty/Portable Toilet:
In this post, Jessie discovered the existence of the female urinal! But even the regular facilities have different lingo- in the US, these are portapotties. We refer to them as portable toilets or portaloos (although this one is a brand name and I know they can be quite protective of it, so let’s stick to portable toilets!).

Spandex/Lycra:
Those tight fitted shorts? Jessie calls them Spandex. I call them Lycra.

Register/sign up for a race, vs. ENTER a race:
In the US, they register for a race or they sign up. In the UK we enter a race!

trackies-sweats

OTHERS:
Since some of my family lives part of the year in Florida, I’ve had the opportunity to run races in the US as well as the UK, like this one last month:

image

I’ve noticed that at almost every race I’ve done in the US, the national anthem is played at the start. There’s nothing like that in the UK, it’s just any announcements from the race director, then you’re on your way.

image

Jessie has also noticed from my blog and from following UK runners on Instagram how huge parkrun is here. When she ran the London Marathon she saw a sign that read “Wave if you love parkrun!” and felt “in the know” about what parkrun was from my blog. While there are some parkruns in the US (currently 6 compared to over 400 in the UK), it’s still very much a new thing and unfamiliar to most, whereas for me the last 5k of a marathon is “just a parkrun to go!”. Where Jessie lives they have Flapjack Friday, which I understand as an early morning run followed by some food. Sounds pretty good to me!

One last difference- Post Race Food:
Jessie found this one really interesting. I’ve noticed that there tends to be a difference in post-race food. I don’t mean in the goody bags [or SWAG bags in the US] but the food laid out. In the UK we really only have food laid out if the race has been organized by a running club and it will likely be sandwiches (using the UK term meaning the filling is between slices of bread) or filled rolls (what Jessie would probably call a “bun”) and home baking (cakes, biscuits [that’s “cookies” in the US, we only call them cookies if they have chocolate chips!], etc) and any fruit is pretty much bananas or maybe apples whereas races I’ve been to in the US lay out a lot of BBQ, potato chips [“crisps” in the UK], pretzels, watermelon, etc.”

Jessie agrees, having noticed this at the London Marathon. The post-race food wasn’t quite as extensive as she sees at US marathons. Though they did have Jack Link’s beef jerky (straight from Northern Wisconsin!) which made her feel a bit more at home!

Huge thanks to Jessie for sharing her thoughts for this post!

If you haven’t started following Jessie, definitely do so! And with the helpful lingo in this post, you’ll actually know what she’s talking about! 😉

You can follow Jessie on BlogLovin and Instagram!

Friday Finds – 24th June

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

Life is a funny old thing. One minute you’re flying along feeling great, and the next you come plummeting back to earth with a thump. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

I’m feeling a bit discombobulated this week: not only is there the usual end of term exhaustion, but there’s a rather uncertain air everywhere. And to cap it all off, my beloved MacBook died so while I wait for it to be repaired, I’m blogging via my iPad, which is not ideal.

With all that in mind, I think this week’s Friday Finds needs some positive stories. Stories that are inspiring, uplifting and entertaining.

I’m going to begin this week with one of the most heart-warming stories I’ve seen in a while. At this time of year, schools up and down the country are holding their annual sports day. One sports day in particular made the news when a group made sure that their classmate, who has cerebral palsy, had a sports day to remember…

Next up, some positivity from everyone’s favourite athletic social network, Strava. I’ve long believed that if you take part in an athletic endeavour, at any level, then you are an athlete. Strava, it seems, agrees and I love their new video with the tag line, “strive to be an athlete, and you are one”. What do you think?

Next up, the rather odd story of Juris Silenieks. This runner recently completed the Hotlanta Half Marathon in 1 hour 17 minutes. What’s so remarkable about that? Well what if I told you that Silenieks ran his race in dress shoes? That’s right, that’s 13.1 miles of chafing leather. Ouch!

Following on from that, a story that comes direct from the “only in America” category. A would-be bicycle thief got more than he bargained for when he was chased down, not on foot, but on horseback! A passerby spotted the theft outside a supermarket, took his horse from its trailer and set off in pursuit. It’s like something from a movie unfolding in real life!

And finally, if like me you’re in need of a laugh, check out this video alerting us to a worrying trend spreading among young people…distance running! Just place your tongue firmly in your cheek, sit back and enjoy!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Paris 2016: The 40th Paris Marathon

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Last year I ran the Paris marathon for the third time. After setting a mammoth PB the year before, I had lofty plans to shave a little more time off that PB and get a sub-4 hour time, but a strained quad muscle a few weeks before put paid to that notion and instead I had to take it easy, finishing in a much more leisurely 4:43. So when I was lucky enough to win a place in the 2016 event, I thought my luck was in – surely this would be my year! But the fates had other things in mind…

The 2016 Paris marathon was, for me, the marathon that almost wasn’t. I encountered obstacle after obstacle which prevented me training properly, from a stress fracture at the end of last year, to moving house and a number of other stressful situations. And yet the marathon was the one thing I didn’t feel stressed about. Whenever someone asked, “what about Paris?” my answer was the same: I’m booked to go to Paris on marathon weekend, I’ll either run or I won’t. With so many other things going on in my life, I saw no reason to make a decision about the marathon until much closer to the event. So despite knowing that I was woefully under-trained with a longest run of 10 miles (yes, you read that right!), I also knew that there was no way I wasn’t going to at least have a shot. A DNF was far preferable to a DNS as I was injury-free, had the green light from my podiatrist and knew I was able to run at least a half marathon. I also had the advantage of knowing the course and knowing what it’s like to run 26.2 miles, so while I wouldn’t recommend emulating me, I did make a reasoned and individual decision based on my circumstances and marathon experience. The outcome was placed in the lap of the Gods.

Gone was all notion of a new PB, instead I was simply looking to finish comfortably in one piece. My plan was to run at a fairly easy pace, slower than my normal long run pace since this would be far further than I’ve been running recently, take walk breaks if I needed to and be prepared to hit the wall due to a lack of training. I had no time goal in mind at all, in fact I said to a number of people that I would be doing really well if I broke 5 hours. Yet I was ok with this because starting the race meant a scenic run around my favourite city in the world. For me, it doesn’t get much better!

And so the night before the marathon we followed the time-honoured tradition of a pasta meal and an early night, pausing only to lay out my “flat runner” by way of offering to the running gods to help me survive the following day:

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Under Armour running skirt and top, Nike sleeves, Bondi Band calf sleeves and Adidas Ultra Boost shoes

Waking up on race day, we received a cheery text from marathon HQ. I was feeling pretty calm as I got dressed, it was only after breakfast that I experienced the traditional few minutes of feeling a bit sick and needing to relax before making the final preparations to set off.

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It was a beautiful morning and fairly soon into our journey we were joined by other nervous-looking runners. I had my phone in a waterproof bag and couldn’t be bothered taking it out all the time, so some of my pictures are a little “soft focus”!

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Again, we were aware of increased security as we had to go through a bag check to gain entry to the runners’ area and drop off our bags. We were also aware of plenty of security personnel in the area.

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Safely into the runner zone, we dropped off our bags and did what any well-prepared marathoner does before the race…that’s right, we queued for the toilets!

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And after we had walked up to the Arc de Triomphe, we queued again. Better to be safe than sorry and at least there was a nice view!

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Then after a quick selfie, Steve and I went our separate ways to find our starting pens. We know from experience not to get too worked up about this as queueing outside of the pens is extremely likely, but the race is chip timed so there’s no need to panic, just relax and go with the flow.

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I actually made it into my pen quite quickly, and had plenty of space to amble towards the start line listening to the announcements and taking a few quick snaps:

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And then I was off, trotting down the Champs Elysées soaking up the atmosphere and trying not to go too fast. For once in my life I was going to try really hard to reign in the speed and save something for the tough miles at the end.

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Official photo

Official photo @ approx 1km

My day quickly settled into a routine: I wanted to take a gel at every 5 miles by my watch, water every 5km at the aid stations (mainly to pour down my back!) and having previously discovered the joys of an orange segment during a hot race, intended to include those as soon as I felt I needed to. In the end, I took an orange segment at every aid station from 15km onwards and supplemented them with sugar cubes for an extra boost in the latter stages of the race. A delicious and refreshing way to take on energy! This routine meant I kept myself occupied with lots of counting down to things, which was especially useful in the Bois de Vincennes at one end of the route and Bois de Boulogne at the other where the crowds tend to be a bit thinner and I tend to get a little fed up.

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Official photo

It was a very hot day, so I’m once more grateful to the Sapeurs-Pompiers who set up hoses at various points along the route. I ran through every single one, hence the need to have my phone in a waterproof bag. They were freezing cold and each time an involuntary noise escaped my lips, but it was oh so refreshing!

I also enjoyed the various bands and entertainment along the route, my favourite being the gentlemen of the Paris Frontrunners who turn out in drag to entertain the runners. And of course, there was the usually array of witty signs and plenty of people shouting my name to give me encouragement and generally make me feel like a rock star! I actually thought there were far more spectators lining the route than I’ve ever seen in Paris before, which is testament to the resilience of the Parisian people and spirit that won’t be dampened even in these times of high alert.

As for my running, I felt pretty comfortable. My legs began to feel a bit weary around 10 miles in and I was a little concerned about how that would progress, but the feeling remained pretty steady without getting any worse. I did feel I needed a break though, so decided to take a short walk at the halfway point and take a photo to prove I got there!

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I did need a few more walk breaks in the second half, but was reasonably firm with myself about how long I could walk for as I knew that starting again can be the hardest thing. I would decide when I would walk e.g. the next mile marker, then check my watch and give myself a time limit, that way I couldn’t get drawn into too much unnecessary walking.

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Official photo – by the banks of the Seine around 15-16 miles

This year, the long tunnel (known in 2014 as the “Disco Tunnel”) was set up as a kind of meditation tunnel. There was soothing music and the kind of pictures you would see in a spa – sandy beaches, flower petals, pretty candles, that kind of thing. It was also much cooler than in the open and I actually felt my pace increase in the more comfortable conditions. This seemed strange as I remember finding this section of the race quite tough last year.

For me, the toughest part of the race was around the 18 mile mark. Part of me had been looking forward to this point as there’s an aid station alongside the Eiffel Tower. When I got there I was feeling pretty hot and tired, so I took the chance to take a couple of photos, enjoy an orange segment and regroup a bit ready to carry on. I messed around a bit for about the next mile or so, but was happy to break through “the wall” and keep going towards the Bois de Boulogne! Steve and I had joked about taking an “orange segment selfie” so I did just that. Even with the soft focus of my phone being in the waterproof bag, it’s still not one of my more flattering pictures!

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A little beyond “the wall” there is an aid station distributing small cups of an energy drink called Isostar. I took a cup of this pink liquid and downed it, looking for a little extra energy. I’ve no idea what was in that stuff, but I shot out of there feeling refreshed and able to keep running, although I was giggling a bit at how sticky the ground was as I listened to the squelchy noises of everyone’s shoes round about me!

By this point I knew beyond a doubt I would finish, even if I had to crawl. I had 10km (or 2 parkruns) to go and I still felt ok. I had expected to feel terrible by this point of the race, but I wasn’t feeling any more weariness than I would normally expect to feel at this stage in a marathon. If anything, I was feeling better than I had at the same point the year before. I was still doing lots of counting down and runner maths, and now realised that I could not only break 5 hours, but do so by a pretty decent margin. This was the motivation I needed to keep on going.

With 5km left (just a parkrun to go!) I was still feeling ok. I had walked through the aid stations in order to take on oranges and water, but other than that was still managing something akin to running. The Bois de Boulogne seemed as never-ending as always, but I had expected it to be that way and that probably helped. I had also worked out that my watch was about 0.2 of a mile beyond the mile markers, so I was aiming for 26.4 miles rather than 26.2 before I would get to the finish. Again, pre-empting a potential psychological difficulty really helped.

Like last year, there were cameras set up at the 41km mark to take our photos and automatically post them to Facebook. It’s a bit of a gamble to get a decent photo so deep into a marathon, but I was willing to take the chance. I remembered that I had signed up to this, but there were plenty of signs and the cameras were on a huge rig so we couldn’t miss them. I stuck my arms in the air, grinned and looked straight at the cameras. The photos were a bit slow to appear compared to last year, but mine wasn’t too bad:

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From this point on, the crowds lining the route got bigger and bigger. I had coaxed my legs into a consistent run and was adamant that I wasn’t stopping again. I kept it nice and steady until I rounded that final bend and saw the finish line before me. Digging deep for the last bit of energy to see me over the line, I stepped up the pace and adopted my best finisher’s pose. And for once in my life, I nailed it!

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Official photo approaching the finish

I crossed the line feeling all kinds of emotions: happiness that I could stop running, elation that I had done it and utter disbelief at my finish time. Despite being convinced that I would take 5+ hours, I had realised in the last 5km that I could actually finish in under 4:40, hence my determination to keep going at the end. And I did it! Official time 4:38:38. I have absolutely no idea how I did it and know that with my poor preparations I deserved to be much slower, yet here I was finishing 5 minutes quicker than last year when despite the remnants of a strained muscle, I had actually put in far more training. It just doesn’t make sense, but then the marathon always is a mysterious beast!

I made my way through the finish area to collect my T-shirt, medal, poncho, water and refreshments. I picked up a banana (not normally a fan, but I rather like the Bananes de Guadaloupe that sponsor the marathon), passed on an apple as it seemed like too much effort to eat, then spotted…you guessed it, more oranges! They had been so tasty and refreshing that I had to have another segment.

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Yum!

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With everything in hand, I collected my bag (which took mere seconds as the setup is really smooth) then joined Steve. I took the opportunity to sit down for a minute, drink my recovery shake and try to process everything that had happened before taking a few pictures to celebrate our achievement.

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We even got one more text from marathon HQ:

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And we took them exactly at their word. We shuffled back to our hotel and had a good rest before venturing out later for some food.

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As ever, Paris didn’t disappoint. It will always hold a special place in my heart as my first marathon back in 2010. I’ve now run this race 4 times and will happily return in future. I love the location, the route and the support of the Parisian people. Despite the huge numbers (41,708 finishers this year), it never feels cramped on those wide Parisian boulevards and the atmosphere is always fantastic. Yes, I’d love to run the London marathon again some day, but for me Paris is more than an alternative, it’s a preference. After all, who wouldn’t want a weekend away in Paris? But don’t just take my word for it, check out these stirring highlights:

Merci encore Paris. A bientôt.

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Friday Finds – 26th February

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 a bit of a mixed bag this week and I’m going to start with something scientific. I’ve shared posts before about the positive impact running can have on the brain, however a new study has taken that research even further by comparing the effects of different types of exercise. It seems that distance running is far and away the best for brain health compared to other forms of exercise. That said, any exercise at all produced better results than a sedentary lifestyle, so whatever you do, you’re making a difference to your brain.

Another study I found particularly interesting surrounded research into why runners get injured so often. Over the years there have been many attempts to explain this, but this study took a slightly different approach – examining data on injury-free runners. From reading the report, it appears that a lighter footfall, regardless of strike pattern, seems to be the key and is perhaps something for me to bear in mind as I rebuild my mileage post-injury.

Of course one factor oft-considered when it comes to injury rates is footwear. Minimalist? Maximalist? Barefoot? All have had their moment. I still firmly believe that comfort is the most important thing in choosing running shoes, coupled with a gradual and sensible increase in mileage, so with that in mind I was amused by this rather tongue-in-cheek response to the publication of another study, this time into what people thing of barefoot running/minimalist shoes. We runners can be quite evangelistic about whatever we have tried that works for us!

Sticking to a lighter theme, I enjoyed this article by Tobias Mews, author of 50 Races to Run Before You Die. Here, he takes a light-hearted look at some of the things he’s learned from his running (2700 miles worth to be exact!). I definitely know a few people who have been caught out by point 10!

And finally, I never thought I’d be able to fit my love of king penguins into a running post, but I guess anything is possible! “What do penguins have to do with running?” I hear you ask. Well a new study investigating the relationship between the weight of a penguin and its biomechanics involved watching the penguins as they walked on a treadmill. The article contains some speeded up footage of this, and who doesn’t want to see a penguin on a treadmill?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess