Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Developing mental toughness, whether I want to or not

It’s only Wednesday morning, and so far this week I have:

  • experienced the most terrifying flight EVER - storm force winds at Orkney meant an approach to Kirkwall that was simultaneously up & down like a roller coaster AND barrel-rolling from side to side.  Not fun.  Not fun at all.
  • taken more than 20 hours to get to work in Shetland because it was even windier in Shetland than in Orkney, so the Shetland leg of the flight was cancelled and we had to spend the night at a hotel in Kirkwall.  I had room service and watched Lord of the Rings on the telly, so that made up for a lot.
  • twinged my lower back when I tried to heave my overly substantial bag onto the weighing belt at the airport.  It’s not painful, just stiff and aches a bit.  Sigh.
  • had to rearrange Monday morning’s appointments for later in the week, which has eliminated most of the time that I had set aside to do admin, which means early starts and late finishes in order to get everything done before I leave on Friday.
  • had to deal with a low tyre pressure warning light on my hire car.  The only tyre pressure pump in Lerwick was out of order so I had to take the car to the car hire company’s garage, where the mechanic took one horrified look at the tyres and said that the tread on both of them was illegal.  I obviously wasn’t allowed to drive the car away and had to hang about at the garage while another car with functioning tyres was found for me. Which, although inconvenient (I could have been using this time for admin), was actually a Good Thing, because it had been sleety haily not-quite-snowing since the previous day and the roads were icy, so some proper traction was welcome.
  • had to run yesterday’s threshold run (10 minute warm up, 5x5 minutes at threshold effort with 90 sec recovery, 10 minute cool down) on the treadmill because the pavements were so icy.  I tried to convince Coach Ben to let me move that run to today, citing the icy pavements as well as the -1c temperature, the 17+mph wind, and HATING the treadmill but was clearly told ‘Complain all that you want, you’re still doing the run.’  
  • enjoyed the treadmill more than I expected.  Having a bit of structure to the session makes it more interesting than just plodding at the same pace for what feels like forever, as I used to do. I should know by now that Ben is always right.
What does that litany of whingeing have to do with running, I hear you ask?  Well, apparently if we only run in good conditions and only when we feel like it, we never learn to persevere in races when the going gets tough.  We never learn to push through discomfort and tired legs and we never learn to ignore that inner voice that says snuggling under a blanket with a cat on your lap and a piece of cake is better than going for a run.  That determination to get out there no matter what your head is telling you is what gets you to the finish line.

For me, then, making myself run yesterday ON A TREADMILL after those stressful couple of days, is one more thing that goes into the Mental Toughness Bank.  Ker ching!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The year of running long. Very long. Like, really really long.

Immediately after the Florence Marathon, Coach Ben asked me what my next goal was going to be.  In a burst of endorphin-fueled optimism, I said 'I've always fancied an ultra.'  (For the non-running readers, an ultra marathon is any race over 26.2 miles.)  In my head, he laughed and told me to think of something a bit more sensible.  What he actually said was, 'Great, we can do that!'  I thought that he was joking and that he'd come to his senses once he had a proper think about it.

However, when we spoke a couple of weeks after Florence, he remained enthusiastic about the idea and told me to have a look online at the different options .  I sent him a month-by-month list of ultras (I was being thorough, not obsessive) with some marathons and half-marathons added in for good measure, and we came up with a plan for 2018 that made me laugh with excitement while simultaneously terrifying me.  Apparently feeling both of those emotions is a Good Thing (to paraphrase Coach Ben, 'If it doesn't scare you, it isn't worth doing') and suggests that at the very least, I'm not going to be bored!

So, here's the plan:

31 March:  John Muir Way Ultra (50k):  From Port Seton to Dunbar in East Lothian (near Edinburgh), mostly along the coast and on a combination of paths, tracks, and roads.  And a bit of sand.

26 May:  London 2 Brighton Challenge (100k):  From Richmond on Thames to Brighton, taking in the North and South Downs.  Some roads, some trails, some hills.  Yikes!  But apparently the cakes at the aid stations make it all worthwhile.

Autumn:  a marathon still to be decided, possibly Dublin or maybe Florence again, and I wouldn't mind having another crack at the River Ness 10k as well.  Assuming, of course, that my legs are still functioning by this point.

It's hard for me to believe that I've gone from, in the early days of this blog, not being able to run more than 12 miles/week without getting injured to thinking that running 100k in one go (well, running along with judicious bits of walking - no one except the top runners runs every single step of an ultra) is achievable.  I have no idea whether I'm physically or mentally tough enough to cope with an ultra distance, but that's part of the adventure - to find out where my limits are and, hopefully, to have fun along the way.

Because to paraphrase Coach Ben's paraphrase, 'If it's not fun, it's not worth doing!'

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Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm back! Hurrah!

Well.  It's  been over 2.5 years since my last blog entry and I really thought that I was done with this.  I got tired of writing about the seemingly endless cycle of injury-recovery-injury and drifted away to be injured on my own time and to just get on with running without having to think of anything interesting (or positive) to say about it.  And I have, indeed, been running.  Here are the high points:

Autumn 2015:  After pulling out of yet another marathon due to injury, I decided that I needed to get some proper guidance with Strength & Conditioning (S&C) rather than just faffing about on my own, so signed up with a personal trainer.  This was one of my best running-related decisions ever!  2.5 years on and although I still have imbalances and I'm still not very flexible, I am strong enough, flexible enough, and balanced enough to do the kind of running that I want to do without constantly getting injured.  In fact, touch wood and say it very quietly so that the Running Gods don't hear:  I haven't been injured since starting PT.  Thank you, Kim, I could not have done it without you!  For various reasons, I'm taking a break from PT at the moment but I've found some online resources to fill the gap - I've learned my lesson about neglecting the S&C side of things.

October 2016: Loch Ness Marathon.  I loved my training and I loved the race.  I finished in 4:49 (an hour faster than London in 2013 and on a more challenging route) but, more importantly, I finished uninjured and with a huge smile on my face.

March 2017:  I went to a week-long running camp in the Algarve, organised by a company called Full Potential.  This ended up being a week that challenged many of my assumptions about myself and about my running (e.g. 'I can't run two days in a row,' 'I can't run faster than 11:30min/mile pace,' 'I'll get injured if I do XYZ') and I left feeling energised and hopeful that maybe I wasn't too old to make improvements.  Huge thanks to Cathy and Paul, who also attended the camp, for inviting me along!

April 2017:  On the back of the Algarve camp and, in particular, an inspirational chat with Coach Ben, I decided to experiment with having a running coach.  I figured that I'd give it a month and if I hated it, no harm done.  So I signed up with Coach Ben through Full Potential and found myself immersed in the world of threshold runs, Kenyan Hills, easy vs steady runs, 90% effort runs, race pace runs....yikes!  And it was hard hard hard until my body got used to what was being asked of it, but I loved it.  I was never bored and I quickly started to see progress with not only my pace but with being able to run much more comfortably over longer distances.  And I didn't get injured.  Working with Ben has been another one of the very best things that I've ever done for my running.  I targeted the Florence Marathon in November 2017 and along the way ran the Edinburgh HM in March (2:13), the Nairn HM in August (2:14), a 10k PB at the River Ness 10k in September (54:14), a HM PB at Aviemore in October (2:10), and for the Florence Marathon...

November 2017:  In heavy rain and wind and with a cold, I finished in 4:31:27.  Uninjured.  And with a huge smile on my face.  I had enough energy to pick up the pace by 30-60 seconds/mile for the last five miles and had the best time.  I still smile when I think about it even now.

But now it's a New Year and I have New Goals, and I wanted to resurrect this blog to track my journey towards them.  Tomorrow's topic:  If it doesn't scare you, it isn't worth doing!

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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Half-way there

I wasn't sure what to expect from today's long run.  I wasn't even sure if it would be a long run; I was kind of anticipating it being an 'oh well, I tried' run.  But my adductor felt okay this morning and my knees weren't grumbling too much and the torrential rain had stopped, so I decided to give it a go. 

Three minutes into the run, the torrential rain started again.  I hadn't taken a jacket because...well, because the rain had stopped...and it was so warm that I was just wearing my vest (and tights and shoes, of course)...but I did have a technical t-shirt with me in case I got cold so I pulled that over my sodden vest to try to give some protection from the wind that had picked up.  I was drenched within minutes and rain in greater or lesser concentrations continued to fall for most of the first 6 miles.  But I like running in the rain, so this wasn't really a hardship.

My adductor teetered on the line between discomfort and pain for the first couple of miles.  It wasn't quite bad enough to give up and go home, but it was uncomfortable enough to wonder whether that would be the sensible thing to do.  However, by mile 3, it had settled into just feeling stiff and by mile 6, it pretty much felt normal.  So I carried on.  There was a brief respite from the rain between miles 6 and 10, but then the rain started again, and I ran the last three miles with the lovely sensation of rain dripping down my legs and pooling in my shoes.

So, 13 miles.  That's the furthest that I've run since the Aviemore HM last October and a psychological milestone.  The adductor and knees don't feel too traumatised by the distance but, as Adam says, what's important is how it all feels in the next 24 hours.  So, while we're all waiting to see whether I've gone one step too far and whether my grand plan (still to be announced) is realistic, here's a photo taken during today's run...

Between the raindrops

Saturday, 27 June 2015

This time last week...

A week ago today, I did my first ever long run in Shetland.  It wasn't possible to find an off-road route that was long enough (well, there were a couple but it's bonxie breeding season and the longer routes went through their territory and I really didn't fancy getting pecked to death by birds), so I decided to go as far north on the mainland as it is possible to go in order to do the 6ish mile loop from Isbister to the Point of Fethaland and back, and then make up the difference with some road running on quiet single track roads.

There were no cars in the small car park when I got there, which made my heart happy as being in the hills on my own is one of my most favourite things ever.  I put on my Camelbak, tightened my shoe laces, and trotted off.  I first went up a veeery steep hill, and then picked my way around a bog, and then realised that this part of the route didn't have a track.  Or even sheep trails.   I felt very adventurous indeed!

After 1.5 miles, the route connected up with a proper track which continued on to the Point of Fethaland, where there are amazing cliffs and a lighthouse.  I wandered around for a bit then retraced my steps, but this time staying on the track for the whole way back.  There were lots of veeery steep uphills that I needed to walk, and my mantra became 'run where you can, walk where you have to, and stop to look at the view.'  The downhills were fun, though.

Back at the car park, I changed out of my trail shoes and into my road shoes, and did a lovely 6 miles out and back along the road with nothing around except for hills, sheep, and assorted birds.  A very satisfying day, especially as my knees and adductor felt absolutely fine during the run itself.  Unfortunately, I could barely put weight on my right leg by that evening and am still struggling now, but that's another post.  For now, here are some photos of beautiful, beautiful Shetland...

Along coastal cliffs, through trackless fields...I'm so brave!

Looking towards the Point of Fethaland


Point of Fethaland

Running with Sheep (on the track on the way back to the car) 



If you have to run on the road, this is a not a bad choice.




Saturday, 13 June 2015

What I learned from the Grasmere Gallop

Lessons (practical, emotional, and psychological) learned from the Grasmere Gallop, in no particular order:
  • I thought that I had been training on hills.  And I had.  Sort of.  But even low-level Lake District hills proved to be a world apart from my safe forestry tracks. 
  • The impact of mind games on my running has never been more apparent.  I was convinced that I wasn't going to be able to do this, and I ran as though that were true.  Even though, with hindsight and a revisiting of parts of the course, there is no reason why I could not have run more of the uphills than I did, I believed that it was going to be too difficult for me.  And so it was. 
  • I had never run on the road in my trail shoes and wasn't sure what to expect from them on that surface.  I don't know if this played a role in how non-energetic my legs felt around miles 6-8 but, even if that were true, it still would have been a worthwhile trade-off because I finished with no shouting from my blisters.  None.  At all.  In fact, they are now officially ex-blisters.  Which lends confirmation to my belief that the blisters are caused by my road shoes being slightly too narrow through the toe box, as opposed to being caused by overpronation.  Time for new road shoes then. 
  • Although I'm never in the thick of things in road races, there still are enough people in range that I can focus on either keeping up with them or overtaking them - it's a reminder to Keep Moving!  In the GG, however, I was running on my own for a significant part of the race and hadn't thought about how to keep myself motivated in a situation like that.
  • If I had taken my iPod with me, I could have listened to my running tunes when I started to flag.  But I left it at the cottage because I thought that it would be so windy that I wouldn't be able to hear it.  Turns out that the course was sheltered enough that this wouldn't have been an issue.  But even if it had been, I still could have sung some of the songs out loud to motivate myself and to quicken my cadence.  It isn't like there was anyone around to hear me!
  • Despite 'it's only a long run' contributing to dawdling along, while I thought that it was just a long run, I really did enjoy myself.  It was only once I started the last mile and overtook someone that I remembered that this was a race.  I hadn't run it like a race - FFS, it took me longer to do this than it did my 12.5 mile training run - but somehow I still expected to get a 'racing' time.  Cue big - but misplaced - disappointment. 
  • While I don't think that my breakfast choice played a huge role in my energy slump mid-race, there's the possibility that it had some impact.   I don't know why I thought that I could get away with just porridge and a banana for breakfast, when I know that this only works for me for runs of under a hour or so.  The huge bowl of granola that I normally eat before a long run - and which I didn't bring with me from home because I assumed that I'd be able to buy it in Grasmere but which, of course I couldn't, and I wasn't about to experiment with anything new in my tummy for race day - would have set me up much better. 
  • I would wear fewer layers, remembering that I never want my jacket for more than the first 10 minutes of most runs.  And anyway, if I get cold, that's only incentive to run faster to warm myself up. 
  • I would take my Camelbak instead of the hand-held water bottle, which I hate carrying and which annoyed the piss out of me for the entire race.  I can tolerate it for shortish runs but that's about it.  But I kept remembering the overweight woman at the Balmoral 10k who had 4 gels in a waist belt, her Camelbak, and some snacks and how amusing I found this - and I didn't want to be anyone's source of amusement, especially when I already was feeling so unconfident.  But actually, she didn't give a toss and carried what made her feel comfortable and probably had a great race, and that's what I should have done too.  
  • I wouldn't stop for a lengthy chat with the marshals at various points.  They were lovely, but I was supposed to be running.  
Now that I've written this out, I'm struck by how much I deviated from what I know works for me and by the impact of my thoughts and anxieties on my performance.  After the GG, I thought that I might be finished with racing but it has occurred to me that I might as well put all of this self-knowledge to use.  So I'm giving a lot of thought to what comes next. 

But that will have to be another post, because I'm still dithering!  So watch this space.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Grasmere Gallop 2015 Race Report

Three days ago saw me and Bassman driving south, having handed over cat care to Soo and Tony, so that I could join Cathy and Paul for the Grasmere Gallop (17k distance) on 6 June - my very first trail race ever.  I had no idea what to expect but was quite looking forward to giving it a go.

Until, that is, the weather report began predicting 40-50mph winds for race day.  And until I realised that I had misread the website and that the field for the 17k was only a couple of hundred runners, not the over-800 runners that I had thought (this latter number included all runners in all races).  Cue mega-angst and a not-so-secret hope that the race would be called off due to the weather and I could then avoid being blown off the hill and, more importantly, not coming last.  I might be middle of the field in larger road races but in a small trail race, in heavy winds, with mostly club runners?  I could feel a nightmare coming on!

But Cathy and Paul were encouraging and, despite my doubts, I did turn up on race day.  The 17k and 10k trail runners, 5k fun runners, and 10k Nordic walkers all mingled on our way to the start, and then we very gradually began to run in one of the more low key starts that I've been in.  Paul was in the front with the super-whizzy runners and Cathy very kindly stayed near the back with me.  We ran together for about the first 20 minutes, up a gentle and then not-so-gentle but still manageable incline and then off the road onto a forest path where, on an uphill section, I chose to walk.  Cathy floated off into the distance, looking very strong.

I'm not sure that I absolutely had to walk at that point, but the psychological games in my head had already started.  'It's a long race, save your energy' - not entirely bad advice from myself.  But 'It's just a long slow run, no need to push yourself' - not really helpful in a race, especially when you're less than 2 miles into the course.

Anyway, we came out of the woods and onto Loughrigg Terrace, which gave me my first experience of running downhill on a trail with rocky obstacles.  I was tentative at first, especially after coming across one woman who had fallen and was sitting in tears by the path, but seemed to find a rhythm of sorts; I did a weird hoppy gallop over the larger rocks and ran on the flatter bits and very fun it was, too.

Loughrigg Terrace
All too soon we were back on the road, although it was a very quiet and wooded and pretty road.  I had ignored Paul's mantra of 'be bold, go cold' and had overdressed so, by this time, I was soooo hot.  I walked briefly while I shrugged out of my jacket sleeves & tied them around my waist but this was too uncomfortable so eventually I gave up, stopped, fully took off my jacket, tied it around my waist, and re-pinned my race number from the jacket to my shirt.  When I looked up from this, I was alone.  All alone.  I thought that everyone had gone past me & I was now last.  It didn't bother me as much as I thought that it would, but any desire to push myself had gone.  Now, I was just out to have as enjoyable a time as I could.

Somewhere around mile 5, the route veered off the road onto a VERY steep lane that turned into a VERY steep rocky path.  I walked.  I walked the whole thing.  Slowly.  It wasn't fun.  I don't know how far it was but it felt like it was forever.  When I got to the top, I snuck a look at my Garmin and realised that I was on track for a finishing time of close to 2:30.  I still thought that I was last and this just confirmed my attitude of 'why push myself?'  It even occurred me to quit....but the trail was flat and then downhill after this point, the views into the next valley were stunning, and while I was standing around chatting with the marshals and wasting time (i.e. catching my breath), some other 17k runners came into view.

I said cheerio to the marshals, and ran.  Down what felt like a VERY steep rocky path where the dangers were divided between taking a huge tumble or running full force into the OAPs walking up the path with no understanding that maybe they should step off to the side so that I could get through.  I only went over on my ankle once, though, and didn't curse at the walkers at all.  Not out loud, anyway.

The path gave way to another bit of road running, past Loughrigg Tarn and past lots of fields with lots of sheep and lambs.  I started to feel tired and had a gel, walked a bit because my quads were suddenly expressing their fatigue and my head kept saying 'It doesn't matter if you walk or not,' but eventually pulled myself together and started to run again.  I perked up when I came around a bend to see two women that I had been behind when I stopped to take off my jacket - they were walking and I passed them!  Yay!  The first people that I had overtaken since the first mile!

This road wound its way up a hill - at the time, it felt very steep and I ran/walked it (but having walked up it today with Bassman, it actually wasn't that bad and if I had been in a different head space, I could have run more of it) - and eventually a path to the right took us back through the woods and again onto Loughrigg Terrace.  It felt like I ran this more confidently the second time, and I enjoyed it just as much.  Where we had gone right at the end of the Terrace on the first pass through, this time we went left and down towards Grasmere lake itself.  A quick jog across a pebbly beach where one of the official photographers was waiting at the far end (I had to shout at three portly walkers coming towards me to get out of the way so that the photographer could take my picture), a short section through the woods, and I was out on the wide and flat path that runs along the lake.

The beach is just around the corner.
There was one last hill to tackle - a short but steep incline at approximately mile 9, when my legs had already decided that it was flat or downhill from there on in.  Sigh.  I trudged up the hill to encouragement from the marshals, who turned out to be the same ones that I had chatted with at the top of the hill at mile 5.  I stopped to stretch my calves while we discussed how I was finding the course, then I trotted off to complete the last mile and yes, it WAS either downhill or flat all the way to the finish line. 

In this last mile, I overtook two other people who had been ahead of me way back when I had stopped to take off my jacket.  My legs felt fine, my speed picked up to a reasonable level, and I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. Then I checked my Garmin.  2:06 (and some random seconds).  I almost burst into tears.  I'll write more about this in the next post, as I've done a lot of thinking about why I reacted this way and about what this race means for future running plans and this post is already way too long. 

However, to end on a positive note:  I ran 17k on terrain that I have never run on before, on uphills and downhills that are steeper than any I've ever done before, and nothing hurt.  My knees, adductor, hip flexor, calves, achilles...nothing.  Not a peep from any of them and, in fact, I didn't even think about them at all during the run.  Two days later, and there's just a bit of residual stiffness caused more from sitting around all day yesterday than from any running damage. 

So, if nothing else, that's a phenomenal result and one that I can happily live with.