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.