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 – 21st 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.

At this time year there are always loads of running-related articles around: from coverage of the Boston and London marathons (as well as the countless other spring marathons taking place around the world) to advice on how to get started/run your first race/get faster that come hand in hand with the improving weather. As a result, there are plenty of articles and stories for me to share with you today, covering a wide range of topics…

I’m going to begin with some positive news surrounding parkrun. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you may remember my outrage when Little Stoke parkrun closed after the parish council wanted to charge for the use of the park every week, a move which flew in the face of parkrun’s message of being free forever. But last weekend it emerged that the government is to consult on proposed legislation which would ban councils in England from charging volunteer communities (such as parkrun, a not-for-profit organisation) offering free weekly events in public parks. Parkrun is a fantastic community doing great things to motivate more and more people to exercise regularly, so I for one will be pleased to see such legislation put in place.

For those who enjoy cycling (something I really should do more often as I always love it when I do) then the results of a University of Glasgow study published this week provide some good news. The five year study suggests that those who cycle to work cut their risk of death from causes such as cancer and heart disease by over 40%. Great news for those with an active commute, but as ever the downside to this is that the infrastructure for cyclists in this country needs to be improved in order to tempt more people away from 4 wheels and on to 2!

Also published this week were the results of an interesting study into how “contagious” our exercise habits are. Factoring in our propensity to befriend those who are like us, the study looked instead at a network of worldwide participants and analysed a wealth of data to show that, when it comes to running, friends do influence each other. This seemed particularly pronounced when there was a degree of competitiveness involved, and gender differences were noted too. The article mentions that the researchers now plan to look at how this applies to other forms of exercise, and I think it would be really interesting to compare the results.

Something I’m becoming more interested in is the mental side of training and how a strong mind can help improve performance. Part of my preparation for a race, particularly a marathon, is visualising how I want to finish and using long runs to develop strategies to overcome negative thinking. This next article explains a little more about why building mental strength is important, and how we might begin to do that.

And finally, you may remember back in November I included an article about Harry Potter yoga…well now there’s some video! I think my favourite thing about the whole concept is the “Downward Dumbledore” and now I really want to have a go at this. Any takers?

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

7 For 2017 – Quarterly Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week in Review – Race Week

And just like that, it was race week! Looking back, it hardly seems like any time at all since I began the year with the New Year Triple, but in reality there are many miles between the 1st of January and the first week of April. Today I’m linking up with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL to share my preparations for race day.

Since it was the second week of my two week taper, things were a little gentler this week, while still maintaining the rhythm of my training. I also had the benefit of being off school for our spring break, so that meant more opportunity to relax at home and feel better rested for the big day. Here’s how my week looked:

Mondayswim rest plus sports massage
Tuesday – bike intervals at the gym then swim
Wednesday – 4 miles easy
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – travel to Paris
Saturday – Breakfast Run
Sunday – marathon!!

As you can see, I made a little tweak at the start of the week by removing my Monday swim. I’ve written a couple of times about my elderly cat (she’s 16 and a half!) who now has an age-related health condition. This can be managed, but she can be prone to infections and other side effects of her condition and she had been unwell over the weekend, indicating a need for a change to her medication. I hadn’t slept well due to listening out for her through the night (I suspect it was a bit like having a sick child!) and had an appointment for her at the vet on Monday afternoon so I decided to stay at home and keep an eye on her instead of going to the pool. The good news is that her new medication has her bouncing back and much more herself again, which has been quite a relief for me. To get a bit of movement in my day I simply walked to my sports massage then shifted my swim to Tuesday.

IMG_1093That swim came after my bike workout. I made this my final hard workout of this training cycle and completed 20 reps of my intervals – the peak number at every stage. It felt a bit different doing them in the morning, but I felt strong and this gave me some confidence in my fitness which was consolidated by a decent swim afterwards. I then enjoyed a short time in the hot tub and sauna before heading home for a restful afternoon. My post-bike selfie also provided some entertainment for people on social media. Clearly I worked hard lol!

IMG_1094On Wednesday my traditional hill reps were replaced by an easy run to keep my legs turning over. Steve suggested about 4 miles and I set off on a loop I quite like, guessing a bit at the distance. It turned out to be 4.75 miles. Oops! Still, it was a nice start to the day and in the afternoon my parents, fresh back from a winter in Florida, visited for a cup of tea and a discussion of the cat’s medical needs since they would be taking care of her over the weekend.

IMG_1096Thursday was a beautiful day. The kind of day that makes you want to go for a run, but by this point my running legs were being rested ahead of the marathon, so after I had done all the things I needed to do to get organised for the weekend (by which I mean making lots of lists. I do love a list!), I decided to take a walk in the sunshine and enjoy poking about some of the nearby paths that I run along while I could take advantage of a more leisurely pace. I’d have loved to stay out longer but had packing to do!

IMG_1149
IMG_1150
IMG_1151In the early evening I then headed to the studio for my usual PT session with Steve for some final work on my upper back mobility. Yet again, he couldn’t resist diving into my selfies!

IMG_1159After that, Ashtanga yoga. I REALLY enjoyed the class this week. I felt centred and like I flowed well between postures and in some I felt like my flexibility had improved a little more. I suspect things will feel a bit different next time in my post-marathon body! If I can get anywhere near my toes it will be a miracle lol!

Friday is usually my rest day, but this time it was my travel day. I got up early to make sure I had time to not only get myself ready, but to make sure I had given my furbaby all her assorted medications before leaving so that it would be a little easier for mum later in the day. I had packed everything for my trip the night before, so it was just a case of popping in the last minute items then we were off to the airport. We had expected to bump into Simon, who we had first met under similar circumstances last year, but before that we also bumped into Steve’s friend Fiona who now lives in Paris but had been back in Scotland for a few days and was heading back home to run the marathon as well. The departure gate at the airport is starting to feel like an annual reunion of the Paris marathon runners ha! We chatted a bit while waiting to board which helped to pass the time. Once on board, we discovered that there was an ITV film crew involved in making a documentary about becoming a pilot on board the flight. They were mainly filming in the cockpit but were also getting some shots around the cabin. I’ll now have to watch out for this coming on TV just in case I can spot myself!
IMG_1167The remainder of the weekend will be covered in more detail in separate posts, however I’ll include some highlights here:
Our first port of call in Paris was the Expo to collect our race packs. We ate there at the pasta party, had a look around the exhibits then headed for the hotel to unpack and get some rest (after a quick walk to pick up some bottles of water, during which I “returned the favour” with Steve’s selfie!).

IMG_1168
IMG_1171
IMG_7550Saturday we were up bright and early for coffee and croissants before heading over to the Place du Palais Royal for the start of the Breakfast Run which was using a new route this year. I always love this event as it truly has such an international feel and we always find ourselves chatting to complete strangers, bound by the spirit of the marathon, and often stay in touch with many of these people via social media or our blogs afterwards. This year was no exception, and of course I have a photo or a hundred to remember the experience! Afterwards we enjoyed a second breakfast of coffee, pain au chocolat, banana and water while taking in a lovely view of the Eiffel Tower across the Champ de Mars!

IMG_1252 IMG_1268We then meandered back to the hotel to get changed then headed out for some lunch and a few “errands” before opting for an afternoon nap and some chill out time back at the hotel before dinner. Basically it was a day revolving around food and marathon preparations!

IMG_1340On Sunday we were up early to get breakfast as soon as it was available, before getting organised for the short walk to the start/finish area. I had been watching the forecast all week and every time I looked, it was getting warmer. Walking up to drop my bag off before 8am without any need for warm clothing was already an indication that temperatures were going to soar. In the end, that put paid to my plans for a sub-4 time. I’ll write more about this in another post, but I know from speaking to others that practically everyone was much slower than anticipated and had to reset their goals in order to complete the race. It may have been disappointing on the day, but my time of 4:32:07 is actually my second fastest marathon time ever thanks to my oddly chequered history with the distance, and knowing that this was a below par performance gives me hope that I CAN do it under different circumstances. Once I’m recovered, I’ll be thinking about my next marathon and having another go at that elusive goal.

IMG_7673
IMG_1389And that’s it. A valuable reminder that it doesn’t matter how well your training goes, there can still be a spanner in the works come race day. You can only control so many things, and sadly the weather isn’t one of them. By resetting my goal I finished feeling healthy and injury-free so I can pick myself up, dust myself off and live to race another day. That’s way more important than risking my health over a finish time.

Look out for further Paris-related posts later this week with all the details!

Did you run or race in the heat this weekend? How did it go?
Anything you’d like me to write more about in my Paris roundups?

Tunes on Tuesday – Marathon

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

Unsurprisingly, I’m in a marathon frame of mind this week and this song seems ideal to capture the mood. I really have no idea how I first came across it, but it’s a great one for a marathon training playlist and one I look forward to hearing during a long run.

I have to say, Rush is not a band I would usually listen to, but this song ticks the box of having lyrics that I find meaningful or motivational, one of the criteria for making it onto my playlist. On the surface the lyrics describe how someone would feel while running a marathon, however the deeper meaning of the song uses the marathon as a metaphor for life: just as a marathon is an extreme challenge undertaken to fulfill a goal, so it is that life is full of obstacles and is all about achieving our ambitions. Indeed, in an interview the lyricist Neil Peart said, “Marathon is a song about individual goals and trying to achieve them. And it’s also about the old Chinese proverb: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.” A marathon may not quite be a thousand miles (although it feels like it somewhere round about mile 18!) but it does begin with just one step, whether that’s a runner’s first run ever, the start of a training cycle or the first decisive step over the start line of the race. Whatever way you look at it, a marathon is certainly a journey in both the literal and metaphorical sense, an idea that this song captures perfectly.

“It’s a test of ultimate will
The heartbreak climb uphill
Got to pick up the pace
If you want to stay in the race”

And as a track dating back to the 1980s, with a lot of synthesiser and guitar, I guess it sounds a bit like my childhood and the kind of music around as I was growing up. Listening to it now, however, I’m transported to all those Sunday long runs preparing for spring marathons and completing mile after mile with my music for company. The lyrics help to provide the focus and motivation to keep going in the tough moments, particularly the chorus which I find particularly powerful (in an 80s kind of way!):

“From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment’s high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning
That flashes and fades in the summer sky”

With these lyrics I can visualise myself running the race, a process that’s all the more vivid when it comes to Paris as I know the city and the race so well. They remind me of what I’m trying to achieve and spur me on to strive for my goal.

“It’s not how fast you can go
The force goes into the flow
If you pick up the beat
You can forget about the heat
More than just survival
More than just a flash
More than just a dotted line
More than just a dash”

On Sunday I will once more be running those 26.2 miles around my favourite city. I’ve been working towards this goal for such a long time and striving to achieve that goal will be the ultimate test of my will. Hopefully the training I’ve put in, the atmosphere in the race and songs like this one will be just that something to fire the light that gets in my eyes, just like the chorus says.

Bon courage.

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

Week in Review – Taper Time!

Wow! It hardly seems like any time at all has passed since I began this cycle of marathon training, yet here I am into my taper and writing my last pre-race week in review! As always, I’m linking up with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL to share my weekly training.

Tapering means a bit of a cut back in mileage, but maintaining the intensity of the workouts. That means feeling fresh and ready to race when you need to. I’ve found in the past that the traditional three week taper leaves me feeling sluggish on race day, so this time I’m trying out a two week taper to see what difference it makes. Based on the pattern of how I’ve felt in longer runs versus cutback weeks throughout this cycle, I’m feeling confident that this is going to work better for me.

So for my first taper week my plan was:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike intervals
Wednesday – hill reps
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun plus Hatha yoga
Sunday – long run

And I even did all the sessions as planned – nothing missed or swapped around. I think that makes three weeks this year with no changes lol! But I have to say, my week didn’t get off to the best start. I’m not sure if I was tired from my 20 mile run, tired because it was the last week of a veeeeery long term, or something else, but I was an absolute clumsy clot. I was late for work on Monday due to the aftermath of an accident on the road I was on (hopefully everyone involved was ok) then when I set my cup down to go and make a cup of tea, I managed to nudge it off my desk and smash it. I was fond of that cup too 😦 I did survive the rest of the day and headed to the pool for my swim. It probably wasn’t my greatest performance ever as the pool was really busy and there wasn’t much space to really get into a rhythm, but it really helped my recovery. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I wouldn’t have known I had run 20 miles the day before!

IMG_1039

The irony of the calendar that day was not lost on me!

My clumsy behaviour continued into Tuesday when I began my work day by dropping (and smashing) my plastic water cup. On the plus side, this was the last thing I broke during the week – phew! On Tuesday evening I headed to the gym for my bike reps and although I was still feeling tired (I was fairly certain this was work-related by this stage) I still felt strong throughout the workout and was thinking about where I started with these reps towards the end of last year when they were shorter and at lower intensity. I would never have believed I could progress to where I am now had you told me back then. Fitness really is a funny thing as you never really “feel” any different, it’s only when you have a tangible measurement that progress is more apparent.

fullsizeoutput_1ccaWednesday was a return to my hill reps after a two week break. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling overly motivated to go and do them, perhaps because it was in my head that this was the last time before Paris, but I headed out and got it done. My splits were slightly slower than the last time, but I was ok with that given I had missed two sessions of hill reps, had run 20 miles on Sunday and was, like my colleagues, just generally on my knees and crawling towards the school holidays!

IMG_1042I always enjoy my Thursday sessions. First it’s my PT session with Steve where our focus has been on core strength and mobility, particularly my hips and my upper back/shoulders. We repeated some of the work we have been doing in recent weeks, then Steve repeated his “photo bombing” manoeuvre so I couldn’t take a post-workout selfie for laughing!

IMG_1052I then headed to my Ashtanga class which has become a real marker of the end of the week for me. The focus on breathing and working through the postures helps to calm my mind from a busy week so I feel much less stressed afterwards, and the postures themselves have made a huge difference to my overall strength and flexibility since I began last May. Once that class is done, I also know I only have one more day to work, and this week it was the last day before a long-awaited two week break. Bliss!

By the time I finished work on Friday I felt completely done. This is our busiest term with coursework and assessments, which are all really exhausting for the pupils as well, especially those who are coming back to exams. When the bell rang at the end of the day, it was like someone pulled the plug out on my energy as well. I had to keep moving until I got to my car as I knew if I stopped it was going to be a battle to get going again. Once home, I enjoyed the chance to relax before dinner, and this week chose a steak in celebration of a tough term completed.

IMG_1057Since Saturday was the first Saturday of the month, I was a pacer at parkrun and had 26 minutes again. Following a course inspection the day before, it had been decided to stick to the alternate route as the main route was still pretty waterlogged and I saw this as an opportunity to really nail my pacing since it would be flat tarmac the whole way around. All I had to do was lock into the right pace and stick to it. I have tried resetting my watch to kilometres in order to get more frequent updates on my splits, but this time opted to stick to miles since that is how I usually have it. A quick check of a pace calculator revealed that to run a 26 minute 5k I would need to run 8:22 per mile and I’m pleased to report that I absolutely nailed it – 8:21, 8:20, 8:23 and the final bit at 8:24 for a finish time on my Garmin of 26:01 (I always run through the finish line before stopping my watch so there’s usually a second or two added to my actual time). I was so pleased to have got it right that I was actually a bit disappointed when my official time came in as 25:53. It’s not often a runner is disappointed by a time being too fast haha! Still, I know I got it right and the runners using me as a pace guide should theoretically have a good time against their names, so job done.

IMG_1072

Wearing my 2014 Paris marathon finishers’ top in the hopes it would be lucky!

IMG_1076Parkrun was followed by the last Hatha yoga class of the term and I really enjoyed relaxing into the class (and the holidays) and stretching out my body. I could feel all the stresses of the term melting away. However I was feeling a little “off” (and had been since the end of school on Friday) so decided on a fairly long nap on Saturday afternoon, after which I felt back to normal so I was clearly in need of some sleep!

Sunday was my last long run before heading to Paris and I had “just” 12 miles on the schedule. It was a beautiful morning so I was able to wear shorts and my souvenir Tshirt I got in Paris last year. I followed the same route as my previous 12 mile runs on this cycle and just ran to feel – no deliberate slowing, no aiming for marathon pace, just running comfortably and enjoying the day. In the end my average pace wasn’t too far outside goal marathon pace so I’m feeling optimistic that my endurance and speed work can come together next Sunday to propel me to a good time. My fingers are firmly crossed for a PB and my ultimate goal is sub-4 hours. I’ll definitely be giving it my best shot!

IMG_1078 IMG_1079 IMG_1080So that’s it. The hay is in the barn (so to speak) and my focus now is on making sure I’m well rested and well hydrated. I’ll use the week to keep some training ticking over, but have plans for an afternoon nap each day, a bit of blogging and turning my attention to organising my kit ready to pack for our flight on Friday. If you want to keep up with what I’m up to in Paris, remember you can follow me on Facebook and I’ll be writing all about it once I’m home.

Keep your fingers crossed!

If you have a goal race soon, how are you feeling about it?
How do you prepare in the days before a goal event?

Week in Review – The Big One!

I can’t believe this training cycle is nearly over! It began in the depths of winter and now the clocks have actually going forward for British “Summer” Time! I’m linking up as usual with Jessie at The Right Fits and Jess at Jess Runs ATL as I review my peak training week.

There were one or two minor changes this week thanks to life getting in the way, but I still feel I had a solid week of training. This was the plan:

Monday – swim
Tuesday – bike reps at the gym
Wednesday – hill reps short run
Thursday – PT session plus Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun
Sunday – long run

I stayed a bit later at work on Monday which meant I got to the pool a bit later. It was busy as there was an aqua fitness class on in part of the pool and a couple of others using the swim lane. I was keen to get home so probably swam a bit quicker than usual. Unfortunately this resulted in a bit less finesse in my form due to my rushing so I wasn’t overly satisfied with that, but I still felt it was a good workout.

On Tuesday I was back at the gym for my bike reps. Having missed this session during my recovery period last week, I wasn’t sure how I would feel and asked Steve if I should repeat the previous number of reps or move on. In the end, we decided I should aim to move on, but if I got to the number of reps I had completed a couple of weeks before and felt I couldn’t manage another two, then I could stop. As it turned out, I was able to complete all the reps I should and felt strong in the workout. I then enjoyed the chance to relax in the hot tub and sauna before heading home.

Wednesday threw a bit of a spanner in the works. I was due to resume my hill reps, however my elderly cat (who has a health condition) had been unwell and when I got home I wasn’t happy with how she was doing and felt the need to seek advice from the vet. The upshot was a bonus trip to the surgery for me to collect some new medication, followed by a couple of other errands while I was out. By the time I had done all that and tended to the cat, I felt mentally drained. It was also around 7pm and I was hungry. Getting changed and heading out to complete a set of hill reps just didn’t appeal. I sent Steve a message and he suggested just going for a straightforward run to clear my head, then if I felt like doing the reps once I was out, to do them. I really wasn’t fancying the hill reps, but knew the run would make me feel better so stuck some kit on and got out the door. I ran a loop of a little under 3 miles, maintained a reasonably hard pace and zoned out with a podcast. By the time I returned I felt much better and the cat was doing much better too. Phew!

Things got back on track on Thursday with my PT session. I had slept a bit funny and tweaked my upper back/neck so we focused again on upper back and shoulder mobility, which helped a great deal. By the time I had completed my Ashtanga yoga class, it was feeling so much better and my head felt much clearer too.

My Friday rest day was incredibly welcome. This term has been really busy with coursework to mark and we’re just one week away from our spring break now. I was home reasonably sharp after a quick errand, wrote my Friday Finds post then decided I felt quite sleepy so thought I would have a quick nap before Steve got home. That nap ended up being around 45 minutes as he finished work a bit later than we had expected. I still felt a bit “spaced out” as we headed out to eat, but was soon revived by my now traditional curry and beer. Once home, we watched a little TV (I wanted to see the Love Actually sequel and Carpool Karaoke with Take That on the Comic Relief TV coverage) before heading to bed.

Saturday morning dawned bright and early. By which I mean it was a nice, bright day and the cat made sure I appreciated it good and early as she wanted fed! With her needs taken care of, I had a bit of time to myself before parkrun. It was another week on the alternate route as the weather hasn’t improved enough to firm up the grass section and I was feeling pretty good. My legs were fresh and wanted to run fast, but I was consciously reigning it in as I knew I had 20 miles on the schedule the following day! I still sneaked it in under 24 minutes with a 23:53 (and rather surprising second mile of 7:37!).

IMG_1009Sadly there was no Hatha yoga this week as my teacher had a wedding to attend, so instead I headed home to shower before meeting Steve for the weekly food shop. Since the weather was so nice I opted to walk into town and enjoy the sunshine. Errands done, I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon to ensure I was well rested ahead of my long run. This included some quality time with the cat (and yes, there was another pizza-related “incident”!).

IMG_1018Sunday also began with an early wake up call from the cat, but at least with the clocks going forward it could be considered to be at a more civilised hour! I had decided not to get worked up about the loss of an hour overnight and instead focus on getting enough sleep and just dealing with the fact that I would be about an hour behind schedule all day. Since it was a nice day it meant I was finally able to hit the country roads for my long run. I don’t like to use these routes through the winter as it can be pretty lonely and miserable, whereas on a sunny spring day I usually see lots of other runners and cyclists as well as all the newborn lambs in the fields!

IMG_1026I’ve been trying to overdress a bit on my Sunday runs in order to get some acclimatisation since the chances are it will be warm in Paris in a couple of weeks. If it turns out to be a cool day then that’s a bonus for this pale Scottish runner! This week was probably about as warm as I’m going to get before race day so I opted for similar kit to what I plan to wear in Paris, but with an extra lightweight top which I could remove if I felt the need.

fullsizeoutput_1cc8
My route was much hillier than the marathon profile (and hillier than all my previous training routes!), so my overall pace was not quite as quick as I would like, however I know that I was hitting goal pace on the flatter sections, even towards the end of the run, whilst slowing right down on the hills in order to give me a better chance of recovering over the next few days. To be honest, simply getting this far in my training plan fills me with joy after the way things have gone over the last few years, and hitting that peak mileage gives me the confidence that I’m as ready as I will ever be for this race. Will I get my PB? That’s in the lap of the running gods, but I’m going to give it my best shot!

IMG_1034And now, the taper. I’m experimenting with a two week taper rather than the traditional three as I’ve found that leaves me feeling a bit sluggish and heavy-legged for race day. If a training schedule is tailored to an individual and a recovery plan is different for every runner, then surely the nature of the taper is too? I guess we’ll soon find out…!

What will be the peak mileage in your training plan?
Do you use a three week taper or have you tried something else?

Friday Finds – 24th March

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 was a grim start to the week for amateur sports as a BBC State of Sport investigation revealed the extent to which doping is spreading through sport at all levels. Of greatest concern is the statistic that among those polled, over a third personally knew someone who had doped. Looking around the start line at a race, whether or not a fellow runner has taken performance enhancing drugs is the last thing on my mind, but this poll suggests that the issue is more widespread than I would ever have imagined. Perhaps that’s just me being naïve? I’d love to know your thoughts on this.

And there was further worrying news yesterday with the announcement that JogScotland is to suffer a funding cut of £100,000 which will put its future at risk. While I’ve never attended a JogScotland training session, I know of a number of people who have found it invaluable in getting them running, keeping them running and introducing them to like-minded people. I’ve had a couple of positive experiences taking part in JogScotland events, and when it comes to helping those who for whatever reason don’t wish to join a running club, JogScotland is seen as welcoming and inclusive. In an age when inactivity is a ticking time-bomb for health, do we really want to lose a programme that has gained 40,000 members since 2002? I really hope something can be done to save this important resource.

Let’s look to something a bit more positive now. Earlier in the week I came across this article from The Huffington Post. It was published a while ago now, but the content remains relevant as it examines the vocabulary we use to describe our lives, and the messages these words send to children. I may not be a parent, but I do work with young people and considering the connotations of words is part and parcel of my job. Although written ostensibly for parents, the messages within each of these words is relevant for everyone, regardless of age:

I also enjoyed this piece from Outside in which the writer describes his challenge of running a sub-5 minute mile. Far from being an elite athlete, his times in other races are not hugely different to some of my PBs, so this endeavour was more about setting a huge goal and striving to achieve it – something I very much approve of! The headline kind of gives away the result, but I still enjoyed finding out a bit more about how the writer trained and how he felt on the track during his attempt. Running a single, timed mile is something I’ve never tried, but the idea intrigues me and I often wonder what time I would be capable of. Perhaps one day I’ll find out…

And finally, if you thought the track marathon I included earlier this month sounded a bit tedious, then today I have something that’s potentially even more dull: a marathon in a multi-storey car park. No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s a marathon in a multi-storey car park! 71 times up and down all the ramps, staring at concrete, graffiti and rather questionable puddles. Personally, I think I’d prefer the track marathon – at least there would be a bit more daylight and fresh air!

Happy reading,
The Running Princess

Tunes on Tuesday – Cut, Print… Movin’ On

Many studies have shown that working out to music can have a number of positive effects and help us to push ourselves further. Music is also strongly linked to personal memories and hearing certain tracks can transport us to a particular moment in time. In this occasional series of posts, I’d like to introduce some of my favourite tracks from my workout playlist and share some of the memories they have given me.

Cut, Print… Movin’ On – Katharine McPhee (Smash)

From some of my previous Tunes on Tuesday posts you have no doubt got the idea that I enjoy a bit of musical theatre, so a few years ago when I learned that NBC was making a TV show based around musical theatre I was thrilled. Not only was it going to be full of catchy show tunes, but it had a stellar cast of established names and rising stars. What wasn’t to like?

I loved Smash right from the start and followed avidly the tale of the ingénue battling the experienced actress for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a new stage musical. I watched every single episode to see the coming together of a Broadway show and how the cast must balance their personal lives with the demands of that show. I watched the competition, the desire and, in some cases, the playing dirty to achieve a dream. When the show was cancelled after 2 seasons I was devastated. How come my favourite shows are alway cancelled? (I’m looking at you Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).

For a musical theatre fan, this show was jam-packed with exactly the kind of music I like, with the added bonus of some songs being included time and time again as part of the journey from page to stage. The song I’ve picked for this post comes from the start of the second season. The show, titled Bombshell, has had a successful test run in Boston and now the team is heading back to New York to try and fulfill their Broadway dream. The song reflects on the time spent in Boston, the memories created, the hard times experienced and the need to now move forward in order to achieve a dream.

I could be twee and suggest that this is a bit like running: we create memories, we have struggles and sometimes we need to draw a line under things and move on. Realistically, I just like the up tempo feel of this song as it rises to a crescendo with the lines that will always stand out to a runner:

“Get up cause the rat race never ends
As life is a marathon
And I plan to run
So much more than a sprint”

What can I say? An uplifting, “you can do it”, “we’re in this together” or “let’s get on with it” musical theatre number will get me every time. I actually don’t have many show tunes in my running playlist, but I love it when one pops up as it makes me feel a little bit like I might be part of the show as I run along.

Hmmm. I wonder what a musical about marathon running would be like…?

Please note that under UK Athletics rules, racing with headphones whilst on open roads is banned. If you choose to train with headphones, please be careful and make sure you are aware of your surroundings at all times.

Feel free to share your favourite workout tracks in the comments below…

Week in Review – It’s All About Recovery!

Phew! Not long to go now until marathon day! For now it’s time once again for my week in review. Linking up as usual with Jessie @ The Right Fits and Jess @ Jess Runs ATL.

This week, my plan was completely different as I needed to make sure I recovered well from the Inverness Half Marathon. The last thing I wanted was to run a PB then pick up an injury that would put my marathon at risk! I’ve done the majority of the hard work now, so a recovery week could only be a positive. Here’s how my week looked:

Monday – sports massage
Tuesday – 10 mins easy on bike then swim
Wednesday – recovery run
Thursday – PT session then Ashtanga yoga
Friday – rest
Saturday – parkrun then Hatha yoga
Sunday – long run

On Monday I was tired and my legs were pretty weary and tight – not a big surprise given I had run a hard parkrun and a half marathon PB on consecutive days! I kept moving thoughout the day then headed to my sports massage in the evening. It was good to have my muscles worked and reassuring to know there was nothing untoward going on, simply that my legs had been worked hard!

My calves were still tight on Tuesday, and I decided it would be good to move my legs a bit more but without any impact so Steve suggested an easy 10 minute cycle before heading for my swim. I definitely couldn’t have done a set of higher intensity reps, but 10 minutes of moving my legs was nice and I had a good swim afterwards. I even got some useful tips afterwards from a very proficient swimmer and I’ll be working on those next time.

By Wednesday my legs were feeling better, but not completely back to normal so a recovery run was definitely in order! I chose a route I like which is gradually downhill for the first mile then flat, finishing with a brief uphill to finish. I could feel the weariness in my legs and I felt tired, but I knew this run would help get things to get back to normal. It wasn’t my greatest run ever, but it served its purpose and I still spent a little time afterwards wearing my medal from the International Women’s Day virtual race the previous Wednesday which had arrived that day. I can confirm that it’s a pretty chunky bit of bling!

IMG_0971 IMG_0972
IMG_0973I felt really exhausted on Wednesday evening so practically as soon as I finished my dinner I was scooping up the cat and heading to bed where I fell asleep almost immediately. Poor Steve thought he was going to have to sleep in the living room with the two of us taking up all the bed! I definitely felt so much better the next day though 🙂

From Thursday my training routine was a bit more as normal. First there was a PT session with Steve and we did a little more work on shoulder/upper back mobility (the tightness in my right shoulder had been noticed by my “swim coach” on Tuesday) using both the core momentum trainer and another highly technical piece of kit…a broom handle!

IMG_0975Then it was off to the yoga studio for my Ashtanga class. I feel like this made the biggest difference out of everything I did to recover from the half marathon as my legs felt great afterwards and when I awoke on Friday morning I finally felt like I had my own legs back!

Friday was my usual rest day and meal out. That pint of beer with my dinner always gives me something to look forward to and feels like a mini celebration of another week survived! On the way home I spotted this little guy, who narrowly avoided being stepped on!

IMG_0977Saturday was a bit cooler again, but still decent conditions for parkrun. We were on the alternate course again, but since I was taking my recovery seriously I didn’t want to run as hard as last week. I ran the first mile quite conservatively, but once I had completed the first lap of the Inch my legs seemed to remember what it was like to run faster and wanted to push on a bit. I ended up running each mile a bit quicker, but with an official finish time of 24:19, I stuck to my self-imposed limit of a 24:XX time.

IMG_7309 IMG_7314As usual, parkrun was followed by my Hatha yoga class which felt really good this week. Lots of lovely work on the floor which I did with my eyes closed to enjoy the time to myself and I felt really relaxed and well stretched out when we finished. As has become my habit, the rest of the day was spent relaxing and napping with my suPURRvisor. Perfect!
IMG_0979Sunday saw me with 16 miles on the plan and I decided to run near enough the same route as my previous 16 miler, but with one minor change which, although including an extra hill, would then mean a direct run home rather than a slightly circuitous route to make up the mileage. I also decided to keep the pace nice and easy. I allowed my legs to go a little faster on my 18 mile run a couple of weeks ago, but since I had stuck to lighter workouts during the week I didn’t want to push it too much – the long run is about distance rather than pace and the fact that I was able to run a half marathon PB last week following this method gives me confidence that it is working. But despite the easy pace I was surprised to discover afterwards that I was actually a bit faster than my previous 16 mile run, further proof that my fitness is improving. I also discovered that thanks to a predominantly purple kit selection, I pretty much looked like a berry!

IMG_0997All in all, I’m pleased with my week. My performance in my long run tells me that taking the time to recover properly was the right decision and has actually helped to improve my fitness. Now to hope it all comes together in Paris next month…

How do you recover from a hard workout/race?
Do you have a goal event coming up soon?