Friday Finds – 1st 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.

Congratulations! If you are reading this then you have officially survived January – all 57 days of it (or at least that’s what it felt like!). February is certainly not coming in quietly with bitter cold and disruptive snow in many areas, but it’s still good to know that the dreariest month of the year is behind us. So if you’re cosied up inside avoiding the arctic blast outside, here’s some reading material to keep you occupied…

On the subject of cold weather, while it’s been pretty chilly here in the UK the temperatures endured by our American friends under the polar vortex have been unbelievable, so I was surprised to learn of the 146 crazy hardy competitors who braved the elements to take part in a 135 mile ultramarathon in Minnesota. I think that would definitely be a “nope” from me, but I wonder if any of my readers would fancy giving it a go?

Next, I ask you to indulge me in just one more piece on Jasmin Paris. I’m still totally fascinated (and impressed) by her performance at the Spine Race and really hope to hear her talking about it on some future podcasts. This piece is from the always-excellent Sean Ingle at The Guardian and reminds us that perhaps the most captivating thing about this story is the sheer simplicity of it in a world of sponsorship and carefully calibrated media exposure. I love that Paris is staying true to her values and wants to continue doing things her way and keeping it fun.

Which brings me nicely to the latest Alex Hutchinson column and his examination of gender differences in endurance. While the data can, as Hutchinson rightly points out, be read in different ways, it’s still interesting to look at the trends over the last 40 years and see how the gap between men’s and women’s times have changed. However possibly one of the best parts of this piece is Hutchinson’s praise for athletes such as Jasmin Paris and Camille Herron for the amazing performances they are putting in.

Another fascinating piece of research has found that there are many similarities between children and well-trained endurance athletes, which is perhaps good news for those of us who long for the freedom and energy of childhood. Reading the article it makes sense how trail running, in particular, is similar to child-like play, however one of the things I love about running is the feeling of freedom and being able to go on and on, something that probably has its roots in childhood play. I’d love to know your thoughts on this one.

And finally, this week I came across what is possibly the cutest running story of all time: a beautiful tail tale about a woman running the majority of a marathon whilst carrying an abandoned puppy she found early in the race. I just love that she did this and that she later adopted the adorable pup. It got me thinking about what I would do in a similar situation, and I suspect that given my tendency to stop and pet all the animals on training runs, helping a puppy (or kitten) would definitely become more important than the race – there are always other races but a helpless animal may only have that one shot at a better life. Well done Khemjira Klongsanun.

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Week In Review – Back On It!

For the second week of my break from school, I had two main aims. Firstly, to get a bit of rest and recover not just from the term before but the jam-packed trip to France (not that I’m complaining about that one!) and to re-establish the routine, if not the intensity of my training. As usual, I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share the details.

 

With no immediate races on the horizon, I can enjoy a bit of easing off, but at the same time don’t want to lose loads of fitness. This week I wanted to get back to my usual routine, but keeping the intensity down for now. Here’s how things ended up:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike @ the gym
Wednesday – easy run
Thursday – Ashtanga yoga
Friday – PT session with Steve
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – trail run with Steve

Monday was a funny day. It was wet, unusually dark and thanks to a combination of debris from forest fires in Spain/Portugal and Hurricane Ophelia bringing Sahara sands north, the air had a strange, almost apocalyptic orange hue (which was even stronger the further south you travelled in the UK). All I wanted to do was curl up and hibernate, but I forced myself out the door to get moving and decided on a swim. I actually couldn’t tell you the last time I went for a swim. For a variety of reasons, I just haven’t been to the pool lately so I had no idea what to expect as I headed there (walking to make sure I got my steps for the day!). My swimming can be questionable at the best of times, however it felt not too bad and didn’t take me long to settle into a rhythm. It felt nice to be in the water again, and it helped my calves which were a bit weary from my return to running over the preceding weekend. Once home I had a lovely relaxing afternoon catching up with some TV.

On Tuesday I took myself back to the gym, this time to use the bikes. During my marathon training cycle I was doing intervals on the bike to help boost my fitness, however I didn’t want to jump straight back into those just yet. I did, however, want to feel my legs spinning round under me so decided on a half hour cycle. I got all set up with my Kindle in front of me (I wasn’t aiming to set any speed records!) and the time just flew by. I was actually enjoying my book so much that I decided to follow my workout with a coffee stop so I could read a bit more before heading home.

Despite really “only” having this one week to myself, I opted to sacrifice Wednesday to the greater good and headed in to work. I was conscious that I still hadn’t done anything about my wall displays since moving to a new classroom for this year and knew that if I didn’t go in we would be at the Christmas holidays with the walls still bare. My good friend was also going in so I took the chance to have a catch up with her too. I stripped the old backing paper off the walls, put some new stuff up and put up a few bits and pieces to make the room feel a bit more “mine”. It’s not quite done, but the hardest part is sorted out so it won’t take much to finish it off. The highlight was having a nice break at lunchtime when my friend and I headed out to a new café that opened up in the town and had a delicious lunch to power us through another hour or so of work.

Of course this meant that my run was delayed until the evening, just like during term time. What with my post-marathon time off and being away, it’s been a while since I had an evening run and despite it still being mild enough for shorts, I hadn’t realised it would be getting quite so dark before I was home. It will soon be time to dig out the high viz kit again!

In contrast, Thursday was fairly chilled. I took a walk down to the gym to start my day with a hot tub and sauna then went for a coffee to read my book again for a while.

Once home, I got settled on my comfy chair and got lots of cuddles from my cat (I think she missed me when I was in France last week!) until it was time to head out to my Ashtanga yoga class. I missed the class last week as I wasn’t home in time and was really looking forward to getting back to it. I thought I might feel a bit stiff and tight, but I actually felt really strong. I’ve been working on “wheel ” rather than yoga bridge and have previously only managed to hold the posture for a breath or two before lowering back down. This time, I managed 4 long breaths and felt fairly strong throughout. Great progress! This posture has been a challenge for me as I have a limitation in the movement of my left arm after breaking it as a child. Generally it doesn’t cause me too much bother (I’ve had more of my life with the issue than without) and I can adapt around it, but there are some things it makes difficult, and the initial set up for wheel is one of them. I am pretty tenacious though, so I won’t let it beat me!

On Friday I had another relaxed start to the day catching up with a few bits and pieces around the house before going down to the studio for a PT session. My right shoulder had been a bit tight all week so I wanted to work on my upper back mobility (we used my old favourites the broom handle and Core Momentum Trainer as well as a bit of TRX) on top of some work on my knee drive and hip mobility. Again, it’s been a while since I worked on these so it was good to get back to things. Steve, of course, has not forgotten how to disrupt my post-workout selfie!


Later that afternoon I headed out for a walk as I knew I hadn’t taken enough steps and maintaining my streak is one of my goals for the year. The weather was nice but I was a bit lazy and wasn’t really feeling like going anywhere, but as soon as I got outside with my podcast I was quite content to keep on walking until it was done. Who wouldn’t enjoy beautiful scenes like this right on their doorstep?

Saturday morning began in comic fashion. I was lying awake, not quite ready to get out of bed yet, with the cat snuggled on top of me when Steve came upstairs. He had brought the cat her medicine and I made a joke about how I had hoped he was maybe bringing me a nice cup of tea in bed. A few minutes later he returned with a cup of tea so I stayed in bed a little longer to enjoy it before getting up and organised for parkrun.

Parkrun was a bit more “cross country” this week. There was a huge puddle across the path that was unavoidable and the grass section was generally pretty soft. I think it will probably be like that for a while now as we head into winter. I actually don’t mind it like that anymore and go splashing through all the puddles, resulting in mud splattered up my legs and the need for a towel on my car seat before I drive home! I was pleased with my result though as I ran a fairly even pace and was about 20 seconds faster than last week. Not quite back to peak form, but I’m happy with where I am right now.


Once home I had a really nice chat with Sarah from Tough Girl Challenges. I’ve written a few times about my involvement with the Tough Girl Team and how listening to the podcast has helped me, so it was great to have a catch up with Sarah. We’ve never actually met but kind of feel like we have. Maybe one day we’ll manage!

Next on the agenda was getting my nails done as they had really grown out (this seems to be a pattern for me!) and I wanted the polish freshened up ready for going back to work.

 

Sunday began with another cup of tea in bed (that husband training is going well lol!) then I got up and dressed ready for an early-ish run. Last autumn Steve and I got into the habit of going on a trail run together on a Sunday morning. With no looming races on the horizon, it was a great way to round off the year, spend some time actually running together and make use of the huge benefits of trail running – change of terrain, strengthening of the ankles and a great way to build a solid base ahead of spring marathon training. From our front door we can be on a trail in about two minutes. The route we picked for this first outing was 2 miles more or less uphill to a mast (not very attractive sounding, but the views are stunning) then a blast back down again to get home.


A bit of a lung-buster in places, but a great run and I love seeing all the autumn leaves on the ground and splashing through the muddier sections. We’ll no doubt do a bit more of this in the coming weeks, probably venturing across the river for a hillier run (with an even better view!) as we progress. It’s a great way to change things up and get off the same old road routes for a bit, whilst also providing benefits for the next phase of training. I can highly recommend it.

The rest of Sunday was pretty chilled. The earlier, shorter run created a bit more time in the day to relax before my return to work the next day. Things are going to get busier again!

How do you mix up your training?
Do you prefer roads or trails?

Hitting the Trails

Trail running has always been a bit of a Catch-22 for me: I didn’t do it because I didn’t really have suitable shoes, and didn’t buy suitable shoes because I never did it. But despite that, the idea of a trail run had a certain appeal. I knew that heading off-road would be much kinder on my injury-prone body, and loved the idea of disappearing off into a forest or following a lung-busting uphill trail to be rewarded with stunning views, but was reluctant to run alone in isolated and unfamiliar areas where getting lost was a real risk and it wouldn’t be as simple as just following a tarmac road or ringing someone to come and get me. So when Steve suggested taking me out for some hilly trail runs, I quickly agreed. I still don’t have quite the right shoes (my trail shoes are much better suited to a muddy parkrun than a proper off-road technical trail) but I’m a stronger and more confident runner than when I last had a go at running on this kind of terrain years ago, so was keen to try it out as I knew the uneven terrain would strengthen my ankles/feet and lifting my knees to climb the hills would make my hips much stronger. All things I know should be a priority for me right now to help guard against injury.

And so a couple of Sundays ago we headed off on a path just two minutes from our front door along a route we had walked one evening during the summer, but which I had never run on. The first part, popular with dog walkers, goes quite steeply uphill along a well-maintained path through dense woodland before coming out to follow a more rutted path between a golf course and the motorway. It had been a little wet in the preceding days, but not too cold so the path was in decent condition which gave me a bit more confidence in my footing. We also weren’t running too hard, just enjoying running along and chatting, with a couple of stops for photos.

At one point the path crosses the motorway then heads up into the woods again (another area popular with dog walkers) and along by some fields up to a mast. The mast isn’t the most photogenic, but it’s a nice high point from which to view the outskirts of Perth. This was our turning point and rather than exploring other parts of the path that might make the run a little long (I haven’t run long in a while and was tired from playing in my symphony orchestra concert the night before) we simply retraced our steps back to the house to make it a 4 mile run in total.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really enjoyed this run as it gave me something new to try, adding variety to my running routine. I have been doing some hill reps (on the pavement) lately which have definitely helped with strengthening my hip and revelled in the fact that a few weeks ago my hip would not have been capable of this run, whereas now it feels strong and ready for the challenge. I was also amused throughout by the fact that I had worn Chanel No. 5 for the concert the night before and there was still a whiff of it lingering about me. I suspect I was the most fragrant runner on the path that morning (and certainly smelled the most expensive lol!)

Last weekend, Steve invited me to join him on an easy road run with a couple of others, but when they pulled out at the last minute (I’m not sure whether or not the party they went to the night before was just an elaborate excuse to avoid running in the sub-zero temperatures and on icy pavements!) Steve suggested taking me for a run around Deuchny Woods and Kinnoull Hill instead. For him, this is a favourite route as it’s near where he was brought up, but much more unfamiliar for me and definitely not something I would do alone. I’ve run around here a little when Steve previously had a Saturday morning running group back in the pre-parkrun days, and most memorably back in the pre-blog days of late 2010 when some rather thrilling thundersnow (yes, it’s a real thing, although I had no knowledge of it until that time) led to the most unbelievable, unprecedented snowstorms that kept the schools (and just about everything else) shut for a week. After a couple of days I was getting cabin fever so we layered up and headed off for the most fantastic run up the hill in the thick, soft snow. We felt almost invincible as the snow was so thick that we couldn’t really hurt ourselves if we fell over so could really let go on our way back down. Best experience ever!

Here’s a flavour of that day which we were reminiscing about on our run last weekend:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There has been no snow yet this winter, but there have been some pretty low temperatures and prior to last weekend there had been a hard frost for a few days with temperatures not really getting above freezing to melt it. Add to that some freezing fog and we’ve had some interesting running conditions, beginning on Saturday when Steve and I managed to go to parkrun looking like a page from a running catalogue in our “his and hers” outfits!

If anything, Sunday was a bit colder. We were up quite early and got ready with some suitable kit before getting into the car to drive over to the car park where the woodland trail begins.

As we began it was chilly and the floor was just a carpet of golden leaves, yet we were not the only ones heading out as we saw some other runners returning, some people heading off to walk their dogs and others getting mountain bikes organised (there is a designated MTB trail in there too). Part of the initial path was really icy and my shoes weren’t quite up to it, but soon we were on the trails and noticing the beauty of the winter sun trying to burn through the cold mists as it peeked through the trees.

The paths through the woods are a mixture of hills and flats, and we ran a combination of narrow, technical trails and wider, more robust paths where we also met some horse riders. Towards the end of this part of the run Steve asked me if I wanted to take the “boring way” or the “fun way” back to the car. I knew he wasn’t really offering me a choice as I was already being steered towards the “fun way”, which turned out to be running through the MTB trail. This was definitely an “interesting” route!

But once we were within sight of the car, Steve had another suggestion – to go for a run to the top of the hill as well. I was nice and toasty in my winter kit and had a drink with me, so decided to keep on going.

Our run up the hill was similar terrain, but it was beautiful as the trees were full of frosty spider webs and there were pieces of gossamer-thin web and frost floating down to look like snow. This put me in mind of Frozen and the lyric in Let it Go about “frozen fractals all around” which floated around in my head for the rest of the run!

Kinnoull Hill has a false summit by the tower and we stopped here for some photos before running on for a couple of minutes to the real summit at the tabletop then ran past the trig point to start our descent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stuck to the main paths for our run back down the hill as it was a bit slippy, but we still met plenty of others heading to the top – mainly dog walkers and families. I smiled and said good morning, but felt like I was getting odd glances from people. When we finally got back to the car I realised it was probably because my hair was frozen and I had no doubt looked like a total lunatic!

After a chilly 5 mile jaunt it was great to get home for a nice hot cup of tea and a shower, but I have to say I have really enjoyed my trail runs over the last couple of weekends – so much so that I have now ordered a much more suitable pair of trail shoes to make this more of a habit. Switching my Sunday long run to a trail run until the end of the year seems like a great way to build up strength ahead of spring marathon training, as well as being a good way to make sure I can get a quality run even in frosty, icy conditions.

Do you like off-road running?
Any tips to help me improve my technique?