Saturday, 31 December 2011

Who's the boss?

It's been a difficult week.  Not necessarily physically - all tendons, joints, and muscles seem to be coping with the slowly increasing mileage - but psychologically.  All four of the runs this week have been preceded by lengthy arguing with myself about whether or not I should do the run.  The only way that I could get myself out the door was to promise myself that if I really really hated it, I could turn around and come back home. 

Of course, once I was outside I felt much better and all four runs went well.  Even the 7 mile run on Friday went okay, despite being drenched by the sleet that started half-way through (leading to major head-freeze) and despite being chased at the end by one of the hunting dogs that had escaped from its kennel at the Big House.  I was kindly rescued by two of our neighbours who were having a gossip in the lane and who distracted the dog long enough for me to get home and unthaw my head, and who didn't make me feel like a big girl's blouse for needing to hide behind them while the dog meandered past. 

So what's the problem with the running?  Sigh.  I'm afraid that the problem is me.  Or, more specifically, my refusal to be told what to do by anyone, including myself.  I run because I like it, not because I have to.  But now that I've committed to the marathon, this means that I HAVE to run whether I want to or not.  It means that I don't have any choice anymore, and I don't like that.  (Yes, that was written with a scowl and a pout and a stomp of the foot.)

It took me all week to figure this out but, now that I've gotten there, what to do about it?  I'm not about to let myself get in my own way so perhaps it's time to be a grown-up and say, 'I'm the boss of myself and I can do whatever I want.  And if what I want to do is run a marathon, then that is indeed what I will do.  And you can't stop me.'

So there.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Walking by choice

I was not looking forward to today's 6-mile run.  Blame it on last night's yowling cat and snoring husband, who timed their respective yowls and snores so that just as one of them stopped, the other one started up.  So I was tired, tired, tired this morning.  If the weather wasn't meant to turn very rainy and windy over the weekend, I would have put today's run off until tomorrow.  But winter running means taking advantage of the weather when it's good, so I felt that I had no option but to gear up and get outside.

Now, one of the training programmes that I have been considering is Jeff Galloway's run-walk-run strategy.  He argues that by alternating running with walking, your muscles don't fatigue as quickly which means that you don't slow down towards the end of a long run and your finishing time can end up being faster than if you had run the whole way.  He gives lots of examples of runners who have dramatically improved their times using this strategy, including those who have finished their marathon in under 2.5 hours.  In theory, this approach makes sense.  For other people.  But not for me.  I don't want to walk, I want to run!!!

However, in my sleep-deprived state I thought that I might as well give the run-walk-run thing a go, if only to rule it out.  Focusing on my time wasn't going to happen anyway because I really didn't have any energy, so there would be no harm done by allowing myself to walk.  I randomly chose to run for 5 minutes/walk for 1 minute and to let my speed be whatever it wanted to be.

Aside from wanting to shout at passing cars, 'I'm CHOOSING to walk!', I was pleasantly surprised by how good I felt.  No tiredness in my legs, even at the end.  No pain in my Achilles tendon.  Much more relaxed and comfortable with my stride and feeling like I could have gone a lot faster during the running phases. Without even trying, my time ended up being more than a minute faster than the last time I ran this route. 

So, can I see myself as a Jeff Galloway convert?  Maybe.  I want a fast(er) time but I also want to run every single step of the way.  Is it possible to have both?  And if not, can I cope with people thinking that I'm walking because I'm not fit enough to run?  I have one week to decide.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Running update

Yesterday's run was a pain-free yomp through a sepia-coloured landscape; the only flash of colour was my fuschia jacket.  The snow on the roads was the right kind of snow to give good traction, which was fortunate as I couldn't figure out how to get the Yaktrax on.  I did manage to determine which side was the bottom and which bits went over the heel and the toe of the shoe, but I couldn't get them to go over the heel and the toe at the same time.  I was afraid to be firm with them in case they pinged off the shoe into my face and put my eye out. 

I'll have to ask Bassman to give it a go using his superior strength and spatial skills.  However, unless I can learn to put them on myself, I'm not sure how useful they're going to be. Perhaps I'll be reduced to having my lovely husband follow me around in the car (no running for him!), acting as a Yaktrax porter, ready to leap out at a moment's notice to fit them to my feet.  Actually, I kind of like the sound of that.  He could carry a flask of tea and some emergency biscuits as well.  But I digress...

Today I ran on the treadmill at the gym, as I had to be in town anyway to have winter tyres fitted onto the Mini.  Another pain-free run, and I even structured it as a pyramid run to get a little bit of speed work in.  I'd like to say that I've now begun an actual training programme for the marathon, but this feels like tempting fate.  It also feels wrong and out of balance to start a training programme in the middle of a month, much like it feels out of balance to eat three chocolates, for example.  (The rules are, it's either two chocolates or four; nothing to do with greed and everything to do with symmetry.) 

Anyway, it would feel more right to start training on 1 January (nothing to do with laziness, everything to do with symmetry) so that's what I'm going to do.  Until then, I'm just running.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The spirit of Christmas, with pictures

I accompanied Bassman to the Culbokie Farmers' Market this morning where he had a stall selling his book along with cards and prints of his photos.  My plan was to keep him company and indulge in tea and cake while doing so, as well as collecting the Christmas wreath that I had ordered in November from a local craftsperson.  Unfortunately, the wreath that was waiting for me was not the wreath that I remember ordering.  I remember lush greenery, small white flowers, and a red velvet bow.

What I got was greenery that is drying out and yellowing on the ends, a couple of big plastic white flowers that don't even attempt to look real, and a red plastic bow.  I'm also sure that I paid for it at the time of ordering but the seller insisted that I hadn't and, because I didn't have a receipt (hey, it's a local market - everyone knows everyone, so I never thought to make it formal), I ended up having to pay for it again.  With hindsight, I wish I had refused to pay and just walked away.  Unfortunately, I suffered an episode of politeness and didn't want to make a scene, so now I'm the owner of an ugly wreath that's hanging funereally on the gate outside because I refuse to have it in the house.  Perhaps the pine martens will appreciate it.

The afternoon improved, though, because I decorated the Christmas tree.  I managed to put the lights on without my usual bouts of cursing and tears, and I had a joyous reunion with the Sparkly Reindeer and their adopted son.

 The Boys, looking macho in their marabou boas

The festive spirit even made me almost forget about the woman who nicked my first choice tree out from under me at the tree shop yesterday - I turned my back for just a minute to look at other possibilities, leaving the garden centre guy holding the tree that I kind of wanted, and the next thing I knew this woman was walking away with my tree!  Bassman will say that that's what I get for dithering, but I think it's just rude.

Making the day perfect, however, was the arrival of my new boots from Susie's Sheepskin Boots.  They are beautiful, warm, and comfortable.  Merry Christmas to me!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

A visit to the physio

Today I had an appointment with Jan, the physiotherapist who over the years has seen me through several bouts of Achilles tendonitis (or tendonopathy, as the preferred phrase now seems to be), a torn calf muscle, a subtalar joint injury (it's one of the joints in the ankle), iliotibial band syndrome, and an impingement of both shoulders.  They were all running related with the exception of the shoulder impingements, which apparently are related to being middle-aged.

I phoned Jan after last week's runs in the wind triggered a recurrence of Achilles discomfort.  It seems to have settled down again -  no pain during my three runs this week - but I thought that a focus on prevention of further injury was called for.  Besides, it's been months since my last visit to Jan and I think that she misses me when I'm not there.  According to her, I'm one of a small number of her patients who actually does the exercises that she prescribes.

Her assessment identified that my left Achilles tendon (the one that is currently causing concern) is a lot weaker than the right one and that there is some minor tenderness but no lumps, bumps, or thickening that would indicate scarring.  After a friction massage of the offending tendon and then some ultrasound, I was sent on my way with some strengthening exercises to do as well as the all-clear to continue running.

It's nice to have an official sanction for what I was planning on doing anyway.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Slip sliding away

Today is the first day that I've been able to run since the disastrous Storm Run in Shetland on 2 December.  Not only was there foul weather both there and then back home to contend with, but I was struck down by a migraine on Friday that lasted until Sunday.  Sitting quietly on the sofa and trying not to move my head was about all that I could manage; running was not an option.

But today I was feeling better, the sun was shining, and there wasn't any wind - there was no excuse to stay inside.  Besides, I kind of had it in my head that my official training was going to start on the 4th, which means that I'm behind before I've even begun. 

I planned on doing an easy 3 miles, taking my time after the 10 days off, and just enjoying being out again.  And I did do the 3 miles.  And I did go slow.  Very slow.  Not because of lack of fitness, but because of the black ice that covered half of my route.  I alternated between a quick shuffle, walking, sliding, skating, and occasional bursts of normal running where the ice had melted - it took me almost 10 minutes longer than this route usually takes, but I also avoided the broken bones that my accident-prone nature invites.  The Yaktrax are still in the post, so tomorrow morning's 7am run is going to be at the gym. 

Shopping update:  After a quickish trip to Run 4 It, accompanied by the ever-patient Bassman, I am now the happy owner of a Gore winter running jacket (in a fluorescent fuschia) and a Gore mid-layer top (black with fuschia accents) - I had no choice but to buy them both, because there was a 'spend over £80 on two items and get 20% off' offer - and another pair of Saucony running shoes (with a bright pink swish along the side).  I got 20% off the running shoes too, possibly as a thank you for single-handedly keeping the store in profit.  I also looked into getting some winter tyres for the Mini (not at Run 4 It, at the Mini garage); if Pirelli made tyres in pink, maybe I'd have gone for them too.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Reasons, not excuses

My enthusiastic embracing of the '3 weeks hard, 1 week easy' training philosophy has overshot the mark a bit.  It seems to have evolved into '3 weeks hard, 1 week easy, and 1 week of not doing very much at all.'  I blame the weather.

I was awake at 1am, listening to winds of over 75mph hurl snow and hail at the windows.  I tossed and turned until 3am, when I remembered that I had some earplugs with me.  I gave them a try, but quickly took them out again as feeling the house shake without any sound attached to the movement was extremely disturbing.  I fell back asleep around 5, but was woken at 6.30 by the roofers in the flat below shouting at each other.  They probably had to shout to be heard over the wind.

C gave me a lift to work at 9 - no way was I going to attempt to walk in that storm!  By noon, when I had wearied of watching the snow squalls descend then lift then descend again, I phoned the leisure centre to cancel my induction for tonight.  Another bone-chilling trek into a headwind through the darkness did not appeal to me at all; I know my limits.

It will come as no surprise, then, to hear that by the time I left work at 5, the wind had died down, the skies had cleared, and it was an absolutely gorgeous crisp winter's evening, complete with a half-full moon shining over the water.  If the pavements hadn't been covered with ice and snow, it would have been the perfect night for a run. 

I need to do something so that this break in training doesn't happen again; I did think about not coming back to Shetland until after the marathon in April, but decided that that might possibly be an overreaction.  A quick search online turned up Yaktrax, which would have allowed me to run tonight.  And this past week has shown why I really do need a Gore winter running jacket.  (Hurrah!  I knew I'd find a reason eventually.)  A quick gym induction session on my next visit here in January, and I'll have all the bases covered. 

They say that it's a poor workman who blames his (or her) tools but, sometimes, the right tools make all the difference.  That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Defeated by bureaucracy

Depending on which programme I end up following, today had the potential to be the official start of my marathon training.  So despite being woken up entirely too early by the six roofers staying in the flat below me (I know that they're roofers because that's what it says on their van; I know that there are at least six of them because that's how many were standing outside, having a fag in the sleety snow, when I peered through my blinds at 6.30am to see who was making all the noise), having a full-on schedule at work, and coming down with a migraine, I was determined to do a 3 or 4 mile run tonight.

There's too much snow and ice on the pavements to run safely or comfortably, but there is a reportedly very nice leisure centre that is a 20 minute walk from my flat.  So despite the wind, snow, slush, freezing temperature, and lack of appropriate winter footwear, I made my way to the gym.  I arrived with my shoes and winter running leggings soaked through from the driving snow and from the slush sprayed onto me by passing buses, and successfully navigated my way past the group of local youths who were having a snowball fight in front of the leisure centre.  I presented myself at the reception desk to purchase entry to the gym...and was told 'sorry, you have to have an induction first.'

Now, if I had thought this through, I would have realised that this would be the case.  Every gym I've ever belonged to has required this; I imagine it's so that if you hurt yourself, you can't sue them.  But it just seemed So Unfair.  I've been going to gyms for longer than the gym receptionist has been alive. I was wet, cold, headachey, and had demonstrated my commitment to exercise by coming out in horrible weather.  I just wanted a 30 minute run on the treadmill.  Was that really too much to ask?

Apparently so.  The rules are the rules, and the wee receptionist was not about to bend them.  Some rules are made to be broken and others I can often find a way around, but even I knew that the only possible way of getting to use the treadmill was to give in and make an appointment for The Induction tomorrow night.

An extra day's rest can only help my achilles tendon and I'll be home from the gym in time to watch MasterChef:  The Professionals, so it's not all bad.  Smiling in the face of adversity, that's me!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Relaxing in Shetland

Despite yesterday's post-run fatigue, I had a lovely time at the departmental Christmas night out.  It was at the Peerie Shop Cafe, which we had all to ourselves.  Chef James Martin put together a fab buffet including tattie soup with reestit mutton (much praised by the non-veggies in the group), smoked mackerel pate and homemade oatcakes, roasted vegetable couscous, parmesan bruschetta, and a roast tomato pie.  There were three choices of dessert, and the tiramisu alone was worth the journey to Shetland.  The company was good too, although I did end up knowing rather more than I ever wanted to about what pregnancy and childbirth do to your body (cheers, C and S for the detailed descriptions!).

The official night out ended at 11.00.  Some of our number were continuing on to one of the local pubs, described by C as the kind of place where you want to wipe your feet after you leave, but I chose to give it a miss and was happily in bed with my Kindle by 11.30 and asleep by midnight. 

There was no running today; instead, I took a chance on the weather (wind at almost 40mph, intermittent driving rain, and very cold) and walked into town in search of Didrikson parkas.  On the way, I was taken aback to see two runners heading towards the harbour, both of them wearing only shorts and T-shirts.  Either they were tourists who didn't have a clue about Shetland weather, or Shetland runners are well hard.

I found the parkas, but none in my size, and by the time I left the shop the rain had returned with a vengeance.  I had no choice but to duck into the Peerie Cake Shop when the rain turned to hail.  Five minutes later, the hail had stopped and I was on my way again, accompanied by a 'Chocolate, Chocolate, and More Chocolate' cupcake. 

What can I say, it's an ill wind...

Friday, 2 December 2011

Defeated by the elements

I've decided to adopt the training philosophy of 'three weeks hard, one week easy' in an attempt to keep injuries at bay.  Because I've increased my mileage and speed over the past three weeks, this was meant to have been an easy week of running that should have let my body rest and recover.  The weather gods had something else in mind.

I managed okay on Monday and Wednesday.  The wind was blowing at about 15-20mph but, as the runs were meant to be a slow and relaxed pace anyway, I didn't push myself to maintain any particular speed.  However, the effort of running into the wind quickly tired my legs on both days and I even felt the first twinges in weeks of my Achilles tendon.

Today, I flew to Shetland, Land of the Perpetual Gale Force Winds.  Our department Christmas night out is tonight and, as I would have been coming up for work on Sunday anyway, it seemed like a good idea to arrive early so that I could partake of the festivities.  It's been blowing a gale here (of course) for the past week, and ferries and flights were cancelled on the worst days.  The winds dropped enough for my flight to get through today, although 50mph cross-winds still made for an interesting landing.  I've had plenty of bumpy flights to Shetland, but this is the first time that I thought that the pilot was going to attempt a barrel roll.  The right side of the plane dipped by 45 degrees, giving a close-up view of the swell of the sea beneath us.  No one screamed (not out loud, anyway).

By the time I got to Lerwick and unpacked, stopped by work to catch up on gossip and finalise plans for transport for tonight, and nipped into Tesco for some groceries, the wind was less severe and the rain had stopped.  There even was blue sky to the east.  Tomorrow and Sunday are meant to be even windier and rainier than today, and I really didn't want to miss out my long run, so I bundled up and headed out for what was supposed to be an easy five or six mile run.

Except, a mile in, it started to rain.  And then the wind picked up.  And then it sleeted.  And then the sleet turned into very heavy rain.  And then the temperature dropped.  It wasn't too bad for the first half of the run because the wind was at my back, but when I turned the corner to start the run around Westerloch (which I had planned to do twice), I was running into driving, sleety rain.  I couldn't really see because I had to keep my eyes scrunched shut to keep out the needles of sleet, so I kept running through instead of around puddles.  My shoes were so wet that their squelchiness sounded like a pair of heaving, gasping lungs.  This was so NOT FUN.

I only did one loop of Westerloch and slushed my way back to the flat.  My achilles tendon was aching by the end.  I was annoyed that I only managed about four miles.  I'm exhausted.  And I'm worried that I'm really going to struggle with this winter training.  I did have a look online to see what other runners have to say about training in the wind and the rain and the snow and the cold, hoping that the consensus would be 'it's okay to stay inside in the warm.'  Imagine my dismay to find that the advice is 'stop whingeing and just get out there.'

I'll bet that they don't have to run in Shetland.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Running, not jogging

Last week Bassman told me that one of his friends, who lives on my running route, had seen me jogging past his house.  Jogging?  As in, 'trotting at a slow or leisurely pace'?  Is that what I'm doing?

A couple of years ago, there was a debate amongst the readership of Runner's World about the number of articles that were being targeted at non-runners, interchangeably referred to as joggers.  There was a sizeable contingent who argued that running is defined purely by speed, that anyone who runs less than a 10-minute mile pace is by definition a jogger, and that there was no room for joggers in a running magazine.  There was even a bit of an outcry about the 10-minute mile criteria, with some people insisting that even that is too slow to be considered proper running.  Certainly, the pacing tables for training programmes rarely give timings for anyone running slower than a 9-minute mile, implying (to me, anyway) that if you're slower than that just getting around the course should be enough for you.

Now, I am not particularly fast.  If I go strictly by speed, some days I am a runner.  Other days, though, I'm a jogger or even a walker.  And sometimes, I'm all three within the space of one run. 

But I think of myself as a runner.  I read magazines and books and websites about running.  I have proper running clothes.  I have a fancy watch and a heart rate monitor and I know how to use them.  I run outside regardless of the weather.  I have a sports physio on speed dial.  I feel restless if too many days pass without a run.  I know what it feels like when legs, cardio, and head all work together (and I know what it feels like when nothing works but you keep on going anyway).  I enter races.  I am competitive with myself and I push myself, but I also run simply because it makes me feel happy and strong.

Words are powerful, and the meaning that we take from them affects the way that we think about ourselves and influences how we live our lives.  I am a runner; regardless of what it looks like on the outside, in my heart, I am running.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Running against the wind

We've had gale force winds here the last couple of days, accompanied at times by rain, sleet, and even a brief bit of snow.  This is not my favourite running weather.  I do like running when the temperature is cool and I even like running in a bit of light rain.  Last week two of my runs were in dense fog which lent a magical quality to an overly-familiar landscape (aside from the shrieking fright that I got when two unexpected pigs close to a fence snuffled menacingly at me).  Bright blue skies on a cold, crisp day are nice too.  I can even find something to like about running when it's a bit breezy, which is fortunate as most runs in this part of the world are accompanied by breezes of varying strengths.

But I hate running in the wind.  It's tiring.  It's boring.  And it certainly is not fun.  I seriously considered not going out today.  I thought about using my newly stitched leg as an excuse but the real reason was the wind.  I thought about putting today's run off until tomorrow, but a quick check of the weather report revealed that tomorrow would be even windier.  This was the first real test of my commitment to marathon training - would it be the sofa, a mug of tea, and the new Ian Rankin?  Or would it be a slog through mud, puddles, and fallen tree branches?

Amazingly, I chose to go for the run.  My feet were soaked within 5 minutes.  The ankle-deep puddles in some places meant that I had to walk along very squishy, muddy, weedy verges (note to self:  nettles still sting even this late in the year).  And the wind - which was blowing in gusts of up to 22mph - literally stopped me in my tracks several times.  In some places, I walked because this was faster than running.  In others, rampaging wind sweeping across the open fields threatened to push me into the drainage ditch at the side of the road.

But I was firm in spirit, if not actually on my feet.  After each mile, I  made the conscious decision to continue for one more.  And then another.  And then another.  My hamstrings were aching, my ankles were tight, and my quads were burning but, when I got to 4.5 miles, my direction changed and all of a sudden I no longer was running into the wind and it all felt fine.  So fine, in fact, that I ended up running for 7 miles in total. This is the first time in years that I've run more than 6 miles and it was feeling like a bit of a psychological barrier - but I did it, and during a gale at that.

I'm sure that there's a lesson in this about the importance of persevering in the face of adversity and about the importance of one's mental attitude to the success of one's run but, frankly, the really important thing was knowing that I had burned off enough calories to justify the Tesco's Finest Belgian Triple Chocolate Cookie waiting for me at home.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

A minor disruption

So far this week, the running has gone well.  Four miles on Monday, two miles on Tuesday, and three miles on Wednesday.  No achilles pain, and my speed is increasing without any real effort on my part.  I ran on the treadmill on Wednesday and was thrilled that my warm-up speed is now what my fastest speed was two weeks ago.  It's all looking promising.

Or rather, it was.  Wednesday afternoon found me at Mr Consultant's dermatology clinic having a mole removed from my leg.  Two of the GPs at my local practice had disagreed about whether the mole was of concern and had sent me to Mr Consultant for a third opinion.  He dithered as well, but eventually decided that we should err on the side of caution.  One of the nurses held my hand while Mr Consultant injected the local anaesthetic (I was being very brave and the nurse was being very kind), which I barely felt at all.

The whole procedure took about 25 minutes, and somehow we ended up chatting about my internet dating experiences.  I can only hope that the soundproofing between the clinic rooms was heavy-duty, because I don't know what the other patients would have made of the party atmosphere coming from our room.  At one point, Mr Consultant snorted so hard with laughter at one of my stories (about the guy that I had met once and rejected - nicely, of course - who then drunkenly phoned me a couple of weeks later to say that it was his birthday and he would like me to be his birthday present to himself) that he ended up earthing the cauterising needle on himself.  A shocking experience for him, but for me as well, because he had his arm resting on my knee at the time so that the current ran through his arm and out my knee.  He managed to calm himself before starting the stitching.

So now I have six stitches in my leg and was told, 'No running until they come out.'  But that's in a fortnight.  No running for 14 days???  That's completely unacceptable, so I did what any right-thinking runner would do - I had a good look online to find advice that said what I wanted to hear.  I googled 'running with stitches in my leg', got 1,666,000 hits, and on the first page found what I needed.

Basically, the consensus seems to be that if it doesn't hurt, it's okay to run.  And someone did warn that if you have stitches in your inner thigh and your thighs rub together when you run, you might want to think twice about running.  Fortunately, as someone whose inner thighs interact a bit more during a run than I would like, my stitches are in a place where they don't touch any other part of my body and where they don't actually have to flex very much (as they might if they were on my quad or my knee, for example). 

Because I am a grown-up person, and not a stroppy adolescent who only does what she wants to do, I will compromise on this.  Today was a rest day anyway.  I had planned to run 7 miles on Friday and 2 miles on Saturday, but I will now rest on Friday as well.  I'll move the long run to Saturday or Sunday, depending on how my leg is feeling, and will miss out the 2-miler.  And yes, I promise promise promise that if my leg hurts when I run, I will stop.  Really.  I will.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fire up the Quattro!

Along with shoes, handbags, cake, and running, I like cars.  I like driving them, I like reading about them, I like talking about them.  So when my friend Lizzie said that she was in the market for a newish car to replace her faithful but aged 1.4 Polo, I volunteered to be her support person.  We discussed her vehicular requirements so that I could keep her on track during the actual shopping phase - four wheel drive, low miles, nippy enough that she could overtake on the A9 without needing at least three miles of clear road ahead, and a cup holder - all very practical indeed. 

Yesterday found us meeting other friends at a car lot in Inverness so that they could introduce Lizzie to their neighbour, a mechanic who is selling a 2001 1.8T Audi A3 Quattro (177.5 bhp and 0-60 in 7.5 sec).  Both Lizzie and I were a bit sniffy about the Audi's exterior - it was a bit conservative for our tastes - and it didn't have the all-important cup holders but it met all of her other requirements and Mr Mechanic encouraged us to take it for a test drive.

After a couple of false starts as Lizzie got to grips with the bite point of the clutch and with a car whose brakes actually work, we were off.  Big time.  A quick left turn out of the car lot that had both of us shouting 'Whoa!' as the car accelerated led through a couple of roundabouts to a long uphill section of the A9.  Cue much discussion about the joys of driving a car that not only can make it up a long hill at faster than walking pace but that leaves all the other cars in its wake.  Also cue much discussion about whether a nippy car that isn't even red can make up for the lack of cup holders.

We did look at other cars in other lots, and even test drove some.  All red, all little, all cute.  None of them made Lizzie smile as much as the Audi.  I got an email earlier today to say that, all being well on another test drive tomorrrow, she's going for the Audi.  Cup holders can be added.  Brake horsepower can't.

Friday, 18 November 2011

It's not all about the shoes

All runs are not created equal.  Sometimes everything just flows together; other times, it all falls apart, which is what happened today. 

My new running shoes (which now don't look so new, having had to navigate the overgrown farm track that leads to the main road, giant puddles on the main road, and the Great Mud Plain that is our drive) are performing wonderfully so the problem isn't with them.  My three runs earlier this week went well; I had forgotten what it was like to run without achilles pain and have even noticed that my stride is evolving into one that actually resembles running, as opposed to the shuffling shuffle that I had been reduced to.

Today's run was six miles along a very familiar route with lovely views across the firth.  I was looking forward to it, but I knew within five minutes of walking up to the start of the run that this was not going to be fun.  I felt like I was moving in slow motion and my legs were ignoring my attempts to get their attention.  I know that hitting the wall is a risk on long runs, but surely it's not a good sign when this happens at the warm-up stage?

I gave it a go anyway but walked several times when my calves tightened up and stopped to stretch two or three times as well.  I consciously slowed my speed and kept repeating one of my favourite running mantras:  Something is better than nothing.  I finished the six miles with happy achilles tendons and legs that had perked up a bit after about three miles.  I can't say that I enjoyed it but I'm pleased that I did it. 

So why did this happen?  Well, this was the first week in months where I've been able to run three days in a row.  I added in the leg machines at the gym this week.  I didn't eat much yesterday (not by design, there just wasn't time).  And there you have it, tired and weary legs.  I can't believe I'm about to say this but, sometimes, even wonderful shoes aren't enough.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Who Ate All The Cake?

The temperature has been hovering around freezing for the past couple of days.  I did yesterday's run on the treadmill at the gym; very warm it was, too, as evidenced by the copious amounts of man-sweat that came my way from the fellow running beside me.  I like a lot of things about going to the gym, but being sweated on by strangers isn't one of them.  Nor is having someone on the treadmill beside me when there are nine other treadmills with no one on them.

To me, this contravenes the unspoken gym etiquette rule of 'always leave a space between you and the other person if at all possible'.  Bassman, however, has pointed out that just because something is a rule in my head does not mean that other people are obliged to follow it.  That's possibly true, but life would run a lot more smoothly (for me, at least) if they did.

Anyway, today's run was outside which meant that I broke out the winter running gear for the first time since last winter.  Now, I know that I have gained weight in the last year or so.  I'm not overweight by any means, but I'm still at least a half-stone heavier than my usual weight.  Not to mention the redistribution of that weight as part of the joy of the middle-aged years.  A lot of my clothes are tighter than they should be, and some I know will never get past  my hips ever again.  (Farewell, lovely Monsoon skirt!)  So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to find that my winter running outfit was more than a bit snug too.

I perservered and managed to get the GORE leggings on, squeezed into the GORE mid-layer top, and headed out for my run.  It's a good thing it was only a short one; between the leggings sliding down over my stomach and the top continually rolling up to where my waist used to be, I had serious concerns about frostbite to my exposed middle.  Plus, my gait was hampered by the constant fidgeting to pull various items of clothing back into position.

So, do I buy some running gear in larger sizes?  Do I cut out the cake?  Do I continue to live with the possibly misguided rule of 'Cake that is eaten whilst in training does not count'?  And if I go with that last option, do I then have to redefine 'training' as 'running more than once every couple of weeks'?  They say that the hardest part of a marathon is not the actual race, but the training leading up to it.  I somehow think that cakely issues are going to be more of a challenge to me than any training run could ever be.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I am a Libra with Virgo rising.  What this means for the unenlightened (or the uninterested) is that I am indecisive, but I complicate this indecisiveness even further by trying to be organised about it. When I have a decision to make, I often turn to the internet and can spend many happy hours/days/weeks obsessively researching all of the possible options.  This satisfies the Virgo part of me, but it does tend to give the Libran part even more things to dither over.  Sometimes this process works out well, such as when I had to buy a new car or when I was trying to decide between two anti-aging moisturisers.  Other times, though, I just get into a panicky muddle, which is where I am at the moment.

I need to decide on a training plan for the marathon.  Spread out in front of me are seven different plans.  There are merits and disadvantages to all of them.  The FIRST programme asks if I want to only run three times/week and improve my times.  Yes, that sounds very nice, but closer examination reveals that the runs are all high-intensity speed work.  I'm not sure that my achilles tendon could cope with that.  Plus I'm probably too lazy to push myself that hard.  I am a Libra, after all.

The VLM (Virgin London Marathon, for those of us in the know) and Hal Higdon sites have numerous plans, but I fall between the novice and intermediate runner categories.  The VLM plans want you to run six times/week.  Hal Higdon goes for four.  Jeff Galloway recommends a planned combination of running and walking, which doesn't sit well with my competitive nature (of course I'm going to run the whole way!), until I read all the testimonials from people who have dramatically bettered their times by doing this.  Some programmes run for 24 weeks, some for 20, some for 16, and one for 32.  What's a girl to do? 

Probably what I always do.  Ignore it for a while, then get myself into a tizz because I've ignored it for too long, and then convince myself that I know best and combine several elements of several programmes to make a programme that's just for me.  As my horoscope says, 'Over the next several months, it is good for you to try new approaches - don't reject challenges to the status quo.'  You can't argue with the stars.

Running update:  Yesterday I did a five mile run that was five minutes faster than the last time that I ran this route (which includes some hills).  Nothing hurt, either during the run or after.  The ways of the achilles tendon are mysterious indeed.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Normal Programming Has Resumed

Having briefly been distracted by handbags, prosecco, and cake, I am now back home again and ready to resume the mantle of Marathon Runner in Training.  I didn't have to be at work until 10.30 today and had planned to be at the gym by 8.30.  My usual morning faffing about meant that I didn't actually get there until after 9.00, which meant that there wasn't time for much more than a 5k run on the treadmill. 

Even after a 4.5 mile run on Monday in Shetland that included some hills, my achilles tendon felt great so I decided to push things a bit on the treadmill.  Just a little bit.  Just enough to feel like I might actually run at a decent pace again someday.  And it all felt fine until about half-way through when I felt a...pain? stabbing? ping? in my achilles.  No, it wasn't nearly that severe.  It was more like a tingle that disappeared as soon as I shortened my stride and stayed away for the rest of the run. 

But now it's been aching on and off for the rest of the day.  It isn't exactly pain, more of a discomfort, but it's a disappointment too.  I suppose that the sensible and adult way of looking at it is that, even though I had a couple of runs without pain, my achilles will still be recovering from the previous stress on it so I should just relax and GO SLOW.  Focus on increasing mileage rather than speed.  I hadn't planned on targeting my pace until January at the very least so it isn't like I'm behind schedule, and I know that it's important to allow myself to get healthy first before I do any pushing of limits.

Those are fine and helpful words.  I'll do my best to listen to them and not to be led astray by my inner adolescent who is whispering, 'Yeah, but look how fast you went...'

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Morning After the Night Before

Last night was our good-bye dinner for J, who is sadly leaving us to return to England.  She'll be very missed, personally as well as professionally.  When I work in Shetland, I usually stay at a self-catering flat in Lerwick, which made a good base for our evening.  By the time that C and I got to the flat after work, J and The Empress had already been there long enough to have changed into their party clothes and to have had a couple of glasses of sparkling wine apiece.  C, in her joyously pregnant condition, had to make do with some fizzy juice but I managed to catch up in the wine stakes by the time we left for dinner.

Dinner was at the Scalloway Hotel in, of course, Scalloway where we were joined by I (that's I as in the initial, not I as in...well, me).  It's supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Shetland, and its reputation is deserved.  We all had starters, main courses, and puddings and those of us who were drinking alcohol shared two bottles of prosecco.  Lots of laughing, gossiping, and laughing some more.  I'm only in Shetland three days each month but it feels like home when I'm there, and these women are a big part of why it feels that way.

After the puddings (sticky toffee for me, by the way), we went back to my flat where J and The Empress were spending the night.  They very impressively had another bottle of prosecco between them, with a bit of help from I (the initial, not I as in...bad grammar).  I (that is, me) wisely but a bit sadly stuck to herbal tea.  I would like to now make a public apology to Dee for snickering when she mourned her diminishing ability to metabolise alcohol and for insisting that this would never happen to me.  It has.

Sensible as I tried to be, I still slept the sleep of someone who had had too much to drink.  And when I did manage to drift off, I was woken up by the sound of J falling out of her single bed in the next room when she was startled by The Empress's phone beeping.  Nothing to do with the prosecco, surely.

In the morning, The Empress took herself off for a swim before work.  J and I (me again, as I the initial had gone home to sleep in her own bed) watched Breakfast news, had some tea, and eventually dragged ourselves to work only ten minutes late.  The Empress was already there, looking quite awake and ready to start our team meeting; unfortunately, much reading and sharing of Jonathan Cainer's horoscopes and the more outrageous bits of the Daily Mail on-line had to be done before work could take place.

And then we went to lunch, where J finally got to have the hang-over cure of a bacon butty; we all had coffee and cake after lunch; and then we went shopping (soft furnishings, handbags, scarves, boots, and sparkly dresses).  I love working in Shetland!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Handbags at Dawn

Bassman gave this blog two weeks before it was all about handbags and cats.  How I scoffed at this; sometimes I think that he doesn't know me at all.  Except, really, he does.  I did manage to focus on running for all of two days, but today the running has been overshadowed by The Public Unveiling of the Handbag.  Or more specifically, the unveiling of my new Mulberry handbag (oversized Alexa, in plum, for those who care about such things). 

If you're interested in how I came to purchase the Alexa, I recommend that you have a read of Bassman's account of the day, which I can't better.  He's even included a photo of the Alexa in action for your viewing pleasure.  I kept the bag in its protective cloth bag until we got home from our holiday, and then hung it on the stair post so that I could admire it every time I went into the kitchen or upstairs.  But the Alexa was crying out, if not to be used, at least to be admired by someone else besides me, Bassman, and the cat (and the latter two pretty much ignored it).

Which is why it is here with me in Shetland, to be shared with with friends who know how to appreciate a handbag.  I was up before sunrise, which is around 7.45 this far north, making the momentous decision about what to put into the Alexa so as not to disturb its sleek and classy lines. Nothing worse than a saggy bottom on a handbag.  However, I was most impressed that, not only is it infinitely beautiful, it's actually quite functional.  I filled it with my Filofax, a large notebook, two mobile phones, my new Vivienne Westwood purse (that's a wallet for my American readers), an apple, a banana, a small bag with make-up essentials, and other girly bits and pieces.  And it still looked amazing. 

At work, The Empress and J had words of high praise for the Alexa, with special consideration paid to the way that the leather feels and smells, and The Empress demonstrated a hidden talent by identifying the purse as a Vivienne Westwood from across the room.  Respect, Empress!  Our other colleague is on annual leave this week, but she's made an appointment to come by tomorrow morning to pay her own homage to The Bag of Great Beauty.  It's nice to be amongst kindred spirits.

Oh, and today the running went well too.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

New Shoes and Happiness

Just like Mma Makutsi in Alexander McCall Smith's 'Blue Shoes and Happiness', it is well known that I like shoes.  While Mma Makutsi's shoes speak to her and give very sensible advice, my shoes tend to be silent,  although there was that time when my Black Suede Boots insisted that I take their photo so that I could send it to all of my friends so that they could admire the boots' loveliness too...but that's another story.

Bassman (also known as The Husband) thinks that I am a shoe snob.  Not so.  My £10 Tesco boots are as much loved as the more exclusive, demanding Black Suede Boots, and I can be as excited about new running shoes as I can about a new pair of Irregular Choice heels.  Even more so at the moment, because my new running shoes appear to be the answer to my achilles tendon problems.

Over the last nine months or so I've been plagued by achilles tendon pain, but it has only really been a problem when I've increased my mileage or increased my speed above certain limits.  As long as I did short runs at a slow speed, and with a shorter stride than I normally would use, it was okay.  Not entirely satisfactory, but I got by.  It was only when I started training for the recent 10k that the pain escalated and persisted.  Before taking myself off to the physio or to the sports podiatry specialist, however, I did what comes naturally.  I investigated the option of some new shoes.

I went to our local branch of Run4It where a very helpful sales person watched me walk and run, and then completely contradicted the advice I had been given years ago at another running store.  Not only am I not as severe a pronator as I had been told, I apparently have an almost neutral gait.  And the version of Asics that I was wearing - and which I bought nine months ago - were completely inappropriate for me.

The choice came down to Asics versus Saucony, but both with only mild support as opposed to a higher level of motion control.  The Asics felt fine - but when I tried on the Saucony shoes, I burst out laughing because they felt so good, and I'm sure that I heard them say, 'Buy us, and we'll take you around that marathon course on white and pink and silver cushions of air.' 

So of course I bought them.  Comfort plus a bit of sparkle.  I took them for a 3 mile run on the treadmill at the gym - no achilles pain at all.  I took them for a 2 mile run outside yesterday - not only was there no pain, but I increased my speed and my stride length and it felt fine.  They have now accompanied me on a work trip to Shetland, so we'll see how they do on hills.  The real test will come with longer distances, but I am cautiously optimistic.

More evidence that the right shoes can indeed change your life.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A Perfect Storm

I've been running on and off for over 20 years, and had always said that I wanted to run a marathon before I was 40.  But 40 came and went.  As did 45.  I had planned on running the Loch Ness Marathon in 2006, but tore a calf muscle at the end of a 13-mile run and that was it for that year.  The dream didn't exactly go away, but somehow I never quite organised myself to do anything about it.

In 2010, I turned 50.  Four months after that most difficult of birthdays, my mother died.  The resulting struggle with issues of aging, mortality, and loss took me by surprise and I saw a therapist for a while.  She was very helpful in many ways, but I was horrified one day when she said, 'You have to get used to the idea that you can't do the same physical things at 50 as you could when you were younger.  You'll need to find some gentler things to do, like gardening.' 

The quickest way to get me to do something is to tell me that I can't do it.  The marathon goal was revived. 

On 17 April 2011, I sat on my sofa, drinking tea and eating cake, and watching the London Marathon.  I was half-way through reading Haruki Murakami's inspirational 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running', and it was lying bookmarked beside me.  I watched the elite athletes and the ordinary athletes and the non-athletes making their way around the course, all with their own stories and reasons for running.  I thought, 'I could do that.'  I thought, 'Maybe 50 isn't too old to still challenge myself physically.'  And I thought, 'If not now, when?'   It was a Perfect Storm moment. 

On 26 April, I entered the on-line ballot for a place in the 2012 London Marathon.  I didn't really expect to get a place, but I was looking forward to receiving the official London Marathon fleece that was the consolation prize for non-successful applicants.  I carried on with running as regularly as nagging ankle and achilles tendon pain allowed me; entered a local 10k race that was being held in October with the notion that this would be a good prompt for doing some proper training just in case I got a marathon place; tried doing some proper training which made my achilles tendon very unhappy and resulted in reduced mileage and reduced speed; and had several tearful, ranting tantrums in which I vowed to pull out of the 10k because what was the point of running it if I couldn't better my PB and, anyway, if I couldn't manage a 10k, how could I possibly manage a marathon. 

And then I got the letter that said, 'Congratulations!  You're in!  No fleece for you, but you get to run 26.2 miles instead! Woo hoo!'  Which snapped me out of my adolescent sulkiness (aside from feeling a bit miffed about the fleece).  I ran the 10k, slower than my PB but still not bad for only a couple of months of training, and my achilles tendon didn't hurt at all.

So that's where I am.  Excited.  Scared.  Dithering over which training programme to use.  Worrying about how my achilles will cope with the training.  Obsessing about which charity I should run for.  Trying to convince myself that I need a GORE running jacket for those cold, wet winter runs.  And reassuring myself that cake has a place in a healthy training diet. 

Last night I dreamt that I finished the marathon in 3:24, a time so ridiculously out of reach that I was smiling when I woke up.  Still, it's nice to know that my unconscious has faith that all will, indeed, be well.