Marathon Monday

Right now it’s Monday morning. All my social media, blog and news feeds have been filling up all weekend with posts from Boston and articles about the Boston marathon. Me? I’m going back to work for the start of the new term and even though it’s really only been a week since I ran a marathon, I’m still feeling just a teeny weeny bit envious of everyone who will go left on Hereford, right on Boylston today. So this morning I thought I’d bring you a post dedicated to some of the articles I’ve found on the Boston marathon recently. Think of it as a kind of Monday Morning extra edition of Friday Finds for this Marathon Monday…

There’s something special about the Boston marathon, it’s a kind of holy grail of events thanks partly to the need to run a qualifying time (BQ) to get in. But that’s not the only reason it’s such a special race, and in this article from Competitor, Toni Reavis explores some of the reasons why.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into putting on a race like Boston, then this article from Women’s Running might help. It includes stats from the 2016 race that reveal just how much is needed, from the safety pins to the volunteers and everything else in between. Some of the numbers are incredible!

And for the stat fans (like me) this next article reveals some further insights about Boston marathon participants based on data provided by Strava. Given the need for runners to qualify for this race, I would be interested to compare this data to the stats from another race with a more “diverse” field.

This year’s race is particularly special as it marks 50 years since Kathrine Switzer first ran. Pictures of that event have become iconic in representing the fight for women’s inclusion in distance running. This year, Switzer will once more toe the line to celebrate the progress that has been made. If it wasn’t for her, then women like me wouldn’t be able to run marathons today, and that deserves celebration. Here are two articles I’ve come across which cover this pivotal moment:

It might be a little late for those running today, but it’s still interesting to learn a little more about what the elites eat during race week. I know in the days before a marathon I think very carefully about what I consume to make sure I avoid any potential difficulties, but some of these answers might surprise you!

And finally, this year’s male and female winners will find themselves the recipients of a bonus prize. No, not money or a trophy, but a name. That’s right, a name. Two guide dog puppies, expected to be born on Marathon Monday, will be named after the champions. What’s more, it is hoped that the pups will ultimately become running partners for their handlers. I think that’s fantastic.

Good luck to everyone racing in Boston today. Please stop by and share your stories afterwards.
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 14th April

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

I can hardly believe that this time last week I was in Paris getting ready to run the marathon and now I’m back home trying to type this with my cat draped across my arm! What a difference a week makes! Still, it’s the Easter holiday weekend here in the UK, so whatever you’re doing I hope you have fun. Let’s kick it off with a little bit of light reading…

One of the stories I included last week surrounded the Tehran marathon and the disappointing news that female entrants had been told they would not be allowed to run the marathon course. Instead, they were offered the chance to run on an indoor track. I continued to follow this story while I was away last weekend and was thrilled to see many women stand up to this order either by creating their own route or, in a couple of notable cases, running the official route alongside the men anyway. I do love to hear of people standing up for what they believe in, particularly when it comes to equal opportunities for all.

There have been many studies in recent years looking at the connection between exercise and life expectancy. This week, details of a new study emerged which suggested running to be much more powerful than other forms of activity at increasing life expectancy, with an average of 3 years added to a runner’s life. Apparently 1 hour of running can add 7 hours to someone’s life (and not because that run feels like it takes 7 hours lol!). That seems as good as reason as any to lace up and get out there!

For those of us who like to race, water stations can present a bit of a difficulty. Cups can be awkward to drink from on the move (I usually manage to choke!) and while bottles are much easier, they’re not the most environmentally friendly. Step forward the new edible bottle you may have seen shared on social media this week. I watched a video on this product that showed people simply popping this edible bubble of fluid in their mouths, and the creators believe it could be used successfully at races. The article here suggests it will be piloted at the London marathon, so if anyone is running it I’d love to know if they get a chance to try this out.

In a week when science delivered the news of the increased life expectancy in runners and the edible water bubble, perhaps one of its best achievements was in working out just why shoelaces come undone. We’ve all been there, tied them nice and tight then looked down mid-run to see a lace flapping about with every stride. It all comes down to inertial forces it seems, and while some knots might be better than others, sadly no definitive solution has been suggested. Science, get on that one next!

And finally, we’ve all seen those pictures of Strava art and marvelled at the time and planning involved in creating a simple outline or forming a few words, but this week two runners from Cardiff definitely won the prize for the best Strava art ever…a Welsh dragon! The advance planning and 8 hours of running involved certainly reveal their dedication and I’d love to see if runners from the rest of the home nations have a go at something similar. Any takers…?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 20th January

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.

Nike’s ambitious project to have an athlete break two hours in the marathon has never been far from my news feeds since its announcement towards the end of last year. The idea is regularly touted as holding a similar significance to Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to find an article comparing the two events. Written by Michael Crawley, who also wrote about the motivations behind another project with the same aim, it gives an interesting insight into how some of the same principles can be applied. I still find the whole idea intriguing and am curious as to how the project will unfold.

One thing breaking two hours will require is commitment, and that’s something that high school runner Quinn Schneider has in spades shovels. If you missed the story, 18 year old Schneider awoke to find 8 inches of snow had led to his school being closed. I have to say, my pupils would love a snow day, but for Schneider it offered a new challenge. Channelling the mind of an Olympian, Schneider set about shovelling the snow from one of the lanes at his high school running track so he could run laps! Now that’s a workout!

The next find caught my attention because of the interesting premise it suggests: that with Strava running is no longer a solitary activity. For the writer, this seems to be a bad thing. He longs for the uncomplicated days of heading out for a run with nothing more to accompany him than the sounds of nature and the thoughts in his head. Strava, he suggests, has turned every run into a group effort as we share our routes and our times, compete over segments and give kudos. I can see his point, however as a runner who does tend to run alone, it can be nice to know that I’m still part of a wider community out there, that people care about my workouts and encourage me when I need it. A bit of healthy competition over a segment can be fun, while at other times it’s just not worth it. In the end, the writer concedes that he can’t stay away from Strava and notes that with it, running is changing. I’d love to know what you think.

In a similar vein, the writer of this article in Runner’s World enthuses about the almost poetic beauty of a solitary run. I like this because I have become used to doing my own thing, running when I want to run and, unlike the writer, enjoying the opportunity to listen to a podcast. If you generally run with others, then I would recommend a solo run from time to time just to enjoy the time with your own thoughts.

And finally, as I type this enjoying a Friday evening gin, I can’t help but be captivated by the news that there’s going to be a series of “gin runs” in London. A run which, among other things, features a free G&T? If only London was a bit handier for me! I bet I know some other people who would run for gin too…!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 23rd December

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

At long last, I’m finished work for Christmas and looking forward to a chance to relax over the next couple of weeks. But first, the small matter of celebrating the season, so before I head out for a turkey dinner, here’s a selection box of things I’ve come across this week…

First, a follow on from last week’s post where I included Nike’s announcement of the Breaking2 project. This story has continued to be front and centre in my news feeds and I just listened to a podcast interview with Ed Caesar (who will be covering the project for Wired magazine). Unsurprisingly, everyone has an opinion on this particular topic, so Outside online gathered together three experts to share their thoughts:

Also from Outside, I enjoyed this roundup of the best fitness advice garnered from various interviewees throughout 2016. At this indulgent (and for some, difficult) time of year, it serves as a useful reminder of how we can maximise our performance through simple, everyday things like eating well. For me, I know I need to make rest much more of a priority during term time as I tend to get rushed off my feet at work then keep on going with training and other commitments. Maybe that’s a goal for next year?

Next up, a bit of tech. I don’t know about you, but I’m really fussy about the earphones I use during workouts: I need them to stay in my ears, I need them to be comfortable and ideally I need them to be wireless. When Apple announced their new AirPods, I was a bit sceptical about how they would work for running, but this week a review by a runner surfaced which seemed to suggest they would be ok after all (although I would still worry about losing one!). Potentially good news for anyone who finds a pair under their Christmas tree this year!

Appealing to the stats geek in me (at least as far as running is concerned!) is Strava’s roundup of 2016 data. With 9.6 activities recorded EVERY SECOND of the year, they have plenty to go on! I love looking at these kinds of numbers and was particularly intrigued to find that just 40 users logged an activity every day of the year. I’m not sure whether I would have expected that to be a bigger or smaller number, but it’s still a fascinating statistic and I’d love to know more about what kinds of activities they recorded. I wonder how my own stats will compare…?

And finally, if you’re looking for something to do to escape the family/burn off the turkey/entertain yourself over the next few days, why not have a go at some Strava art. I know I’ve included stories of this unique art form in the past, and now we have some festive art to add to the mix. I especially liked the quotes from the runner alongside each picture. I’m not sure I’m artistic enough to plot out a suitable route, but if you create some Strava art I’d love to see it!

Happy Christmas!
The Running Princess

A Forgotten Joy

A couple of Sundays ago, I couldn’t run. I had the time and I had the inclination, however my body was mounting a bit of a protest with something niggling a little in my hip/glute so I knew it was time to back off and book a physio appointment. But sitting at home while Steve headed out for a run just wasn’t appealing, so I decided this was the ideal opportunity to spend some quality time reacquainting myself with my trusty steed Trixie.

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After the Etape Caledonia last year I felt Trixie and I needed a break. I had hoped to spend some time cycling during that summer, but Mother Nature had other ideas and presented less than ideal cycling weather, so poor Trixie stayed largely neglected until a few weeks ago when I treated her to a little maintenance ahead of the Relay Wild Triathlon. Although that event wasn’t a shining success for me, it did remind me that I quite enjoy cycling (not as much as running, but I do enjoy it) and I realised I should try to do it a bit more. Now here was my chance.

Not one for doing things by halves, I decided to head out for about 30 miles. My long runs recently have been in the 14-16 mile region, so I figured I would have the fitness, and since I’ve been using the bike in the gym for some interval work, my backside has had some saddle time so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to my tender posterior! So I stuck a couple of water bottles on my frame, packed a couple of gels, and headed off on a route I’ve not been on for over a year as it’s just a little too far from home for a run.

And I loved it.

There was something so nice about going somewhere different, rather than the familiar routes I run on. It was good to feel my legs working and my heart rate rising, while the wind whistled by. And it was nice to exchange a few pleasantries with other cyclists, runners and walkers as I meandered my way around.

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Although that’s not to say my mini-adventure was all plain sailing. My first issue was that my Garmin wasn’t sufficiently charged and so it gave up after about 10.5 miles. That may not have stopped me cycling, but everyone knows if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count (besides, I did actually want to record my distance and time to see how I was getting on) so I had to make a quick pit stop and switch to the Strava smartphone app instead. I’ve never actually used the app to record anything so had no idea if I’d set it up correctly, but it seemed to work fine and recorded 19.5 miles so I definitely did 30!

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Next, while trying to pull up alongside someone with intriguing looking panniers and other luggage suggestive of a real bicycle adventure, my chain slipped off so I had to stop and carry out some roadside repairs. Fortunately, this is one aspect of bike maintenance I can handle, and was on a traffic-free cycle and pedestrian path so was able to stop safely, propTrixie against a lamppost and fix the chain fairly easily. Phew!

My final incident was one from the “you know you’re in the countryside when…” department. I was cycling around a stretch of road I often incorporate into my longer runs, but in the opposite direction to my preferred running route. As I neared the crest of a hill I was aware of a car, which I could not yet see, with the driver repeatedly sounding the horn. Approaching with caution, I soon realised the issue: sheep. That’s right, a sheep in the middle of the road. The car horn had managed to encourage it to the side of the road, but as soon as the vehicle had passed by, the sheep began to wander around in front of me. I stopped and began to edge slowly forward, but every time I thought I might be able to pass by, it changed direction again and I knew I would be putting myself (and possibly the sheep!) in danger if there was further traffic on the road. The sheep was by now running down the hill in front of me and as I rounded a bend it met up with two more woolly pals nibbling on the grass at the side of the road. Brilliant. Held up by sheep. This would be a far more exciting story if it was something like a huge cow or a bull, but I got sheep! Eventually I was able to pass and continue my ride, but I did miss out on a rather nice descent while I edged along behind those pesky blighters bleaters!

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Arriving home with no further incidents, I got a couple of photos “avec bike” before tucking Trixie in for a rest. It may not have been a terribly speedy ride, but it was enjoyable. The object was not to set any blistering records (although I did pick up a couple of Strava PRs!) but to get back in the saddle and see what I had. It’s a real testament to my running fitness that I was able to jump on my bike and knock out 30 miles fairly easily given how little cycling I’ve done outside the gym in the last year or so. Now I just have to remember this and maybe take Trixie out a couple more times before the weather becomes too miserable!

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Do you enjoy cycling? If so, how often do you ride?
What would be your ideal way to spend a Sunday morning?
Any interesting animal encounters?

Friday Finds – 16th 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.

Imagine it’s race day. You’ve trained long and hard for the 26.2 miles ahead of you: early starts, punishing speed workouts and tricky weather conditions. You’re in peak form and feel ready to run a good time and qualify for that mecca of US races, the Boston Marathon. What would it take to derail your plans? Perhaps you pick up an injury along the route; perhaps you fall; perhaps you make an error with your nutrition. The last thing you expect is to be stopped on the course for some time, yet that is exactly what happened to runners in a marathon in Lehigh Valley when a slow moving train crossed the race route. Many runners were halted for around 10 minutes, which had a knock-on effect for their finishing time. As I understand it, Boston organisers have no plans to accept any adjusted times from this race, meaning that many have likely missed out on their chance to qualify for the 2017 race. Knowing how hard people work to get a BQ (or GFA for London), this must be a massive blow. Hopefully the runners affected will have another opportunity to BQ in future.

Meanwhile, the Paralympics have been taking place in Rio with further incredible feats being recorded to add to a fantastic summer of sport. You may have seen headlines around social media declaring that in the men’s T13 1,500m final (an event classified for visually impaired athletes) the top 4 finishers were faster than the gold medal winner in the 2016 Olympic games. Sounds extraordinary, yet why shouldn’t a Paralympic athlete run faster than an Olympic athlete? It all comes down to the field on the day, the tactics employed and the race that unfolds. Martin Fritz Huber, writing in Outside Online, explains further:

Someone else doing well is Ray Matthews. Heard of him? If not, then you should know that 75 year old Matthews just ran 75 marathons in 75 days to raise money for a local school. That’s a phenomenal achievement at any age, however I think my favourite part of his story is that Facebook rejected an ad about the challenge due to it “making claims that are unrealistic or unlikely”. Sounds like a red rag to a bull to me, and what better motivation to spur someone on through their final days of a challenge. Fantastic!

Moving on to calmer pursuits, two stories have caught my eye with regard to yoga. I know I feel less stressed and experience less anxiety since making yoga a regular part of my life this summer, so I was intrigued to learn that yoga can help to calm the fight-or-flight response. Furthermore, the suggestion that learning yoga and meditation in schools would benefit our young people sounds sensible. Our young people seem to find it harder and harder to switch off, to simply “exist” without a device in their hands (and if they do, they spend the whole time worrying about what they’re missing out on!) so any help they can get to “unplug” should be welcomed. It would also be a valuable resource for young people to have access to ahead of exams to help them feel calmer and more receptive to retaining information. It will be interesting to see if such practices are adopted on a wider scale.

And finally, think you know your world cities? Why not put yourself to the test with this fun quiz from The Guardian. Using heat map data from platforms such as Strava, we can see the digital tracks left by runners overlaid on street maps. Can you identify them? I spotted London and Paris, but I think the rest will be guesses since Geography is not my strong point!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 9th 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.

In many ways running is a metaphor for life: there are highs and lows, successes and setbacks, pride and pain. In running, as in life, we set goals and strive to achieve them. We have to work hard to make progress, we can get hurt and, quite frankly, it can all be a bit exhausting! But for many of us, running is actually what helps us to cope with life, to clear our heads and reset. I know that’s what works for me and long ago recognised that some of my best thinking happens when I run, so it’s no surprise that running is also the preferred activity of many writers. My first find this week charts how many well-known writers have used running to aid the creative process, and gives examples from the author’s own experiences, before trying to explain why this approach is so successful. It malks for an interesting read, and while I knew that many writers were also runners, I had no idea quite how prolific this was.

Staying with the benefits of running, this next article examines how taking part in endurance sports does more than improve our fitness. Here, the writer discusses the difference between the goals we aim for at work and the goals we aim for in running. The suggestion is that running goals are much more objective and, in relying on our bodies to achieve them, we are therefore much more tuned into ourselves and foster a stronger connection between mind and body. The result is greater self-reliance, a quality definitely found in endurance athletes who may be taking part in an event for hours, often alone, and who must therefore be mentally strong enough to cope with the demands of the event. When I think about it like that and put it into the context of a 4+ hour marathon, it makes perfect sense.

Now, let’s move onto a different topic, this time the sharing of workout data. For the recreational runner, sharing workouts online is becoming the norm. Gone are the days when we share every. single. run. on Facebook (apparently our non-running friends didn’t like that too much!), instead replaced by sharing on platforms like Strava or within services such as Garmin Connect. We can follow others, see what their training looks like and maybe find new ideas for routes. But how many elite athletes do the same? Apparently not that many, and in the following article the team at Runner’s World sets out to investigate why that is:

Of course sharing workout data online perfectly suits those who enjoy using technology like GPS watches or smartphone apps. I’ll admit, I love a shiny new gadget and almost as soon as I’ve bought one device, I’m eyeing up the next one, so this week’s announcement of the new Apple Watch caught my eye. As a long-term fan of Apple devices (they just work so seamlessly together and do EXACTLY what I want them to) many have been surprised that I have never gone down the Apple Watch route, but my answer was always that while it looked cool, it just didn’t do what I need it to do. The new version might just be heading in the right direction and time will tell whether or not it’s a gadget I’m going to want to add to my collection. This article from Vox perfectly captures my feelings on the topic, so perfectly that as I read it I wondered how the writer had managed to get inside my head! I’ll be interested to read further reviews once people are actually using the device.

And finally, it’s an all too familiar pre-marathon anxiety dream – getting lost – and for one runner it actually came true! Usually in our dreams getting lost results in entirely missing the race or something similarly disastrous after all that training, but perhaps that doesn’t have to be the case. Despite being taken the wrong way by the lead vehicle, Connell Drummond still WON his marathon in what The Telegraph somewhat bewilderingly refers to as a “still credible” 3:16:11! Still credible? I’d say that’s more than credible, I’d say it’s pretty speedy in a small race which was more than likely contested by club and recreational runners rather than elites who train full time. Clearly he’s a very good runner to tack on those extra miles and still come out on top. If I could run that sort of time without the extra miles I’d be delighted, so well done Mr Drummond!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Friday Finds – 2nd 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.

This time last week I was gearing up to join in with the #IAmTeamGB celebrations to welcome home our Olympic athletes. It was a fantastic event, as I wrote at the time, and in the days following the papers were full of headline stories from events around the country. I found it astonishing that so many of our athletes, near enough fresh off the plane and no doubt feeling the effects of jetlag, turned out to meet fans and inspire the next generation. So my first find this week is predominantly a roundup of those events, however I’ve included it for a further reason: the details of the athletes’ flight back from Rio. If you didn’t see the details of flight BA2016 (named VictoRIOus) then check it out. I suspect it sounds better than the last flight you were on (and with some much more interesting luggage!).

Next up, I want to share a couple of stories surrounding everyone’s favourite athletic social network, Strava. First of all, a fascinating article from Outside Online featuring data provided by Strava. Since that time of year is approaching when many runners are targeting a full or half marathon, they have crunched the numbers to come up with some interesting stats on how different runners prepare. The breakdowns by finish times and gender are intriguing, particularly the revelation that female runners log more miles per week than male runners with the same finish time. It was also slightly unexpected to find that those with faster marathon finish times tended to run more miles significantly slower than their race pace, whereas those with a slower time trained at a pace much closer to race pace. That seems to back up the message we often hear that we should run more slow miles to build endurance. There’s plenty more in there, so if you like a stat or a graph, you’re definitely going to like this one.

The other Strava story I want to share is completely different. Rather than focus on stats, this one is about some cycling superheroes. Two cyclists (one of whom actually works for Strava) laid chase after realising a bike theft had just taken place, and the whole thing was captured on Strava since one of the fast-acting cyclists was mid-ride. The story really does have all the hallmarks of a superhero chase sequence: some tight lycra (sadly no cape!), a speedy chase (the rider set some particularly memorable Strava PRs!) and, of course, the bad guy was apprehended. And since everyone knows if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count, the link to the rider’s Strava log is included in the article!

While we’re on the subject of cycling, my attention has been caught recently by the transfer of a fairly staple cycle training tool into running. That’s right, running power meters are a thing. One or two companies have been dabbling with this for a while, but in a week when I read a DC Rainmaker post on a new running power meter, found the latest episode of the Run to the Top podcast to be about running power meters and then found the following article in my news feed, I knew the momentum was growing. Most fascinating is that podcast interviewee Jim Vance believes this is the tool that will lead to world records falling, including the mythical sub-2 hour marathon. I’ve included an article he wrote for Training Peaks, which explains a bit more about how power meters work in running. We’ve all become used to having more and more data available to analyse our runs. Now it looks like we have another metric to look at to help make us better runners. I wonder when I’ll first come across someone using one…

And finally, I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been enjoying going to yoga classes for the last few months, but whether you’re a fan of yoga or not, this last article should raise a smile. In a fun variation of the toy soldier, you can now buy figurines which demonstrate yoga poses. The little green guys in the photos are definitely more advanced yogis than me, but I do love the backdrop for the photos and find the whole idea really funny. (And yes, they are on Instagram, since that’s where all the yoga photos live!).

Happy reading,
The Running Princess