Monday, 31 December 2012

Ending on a positive note

Today was my last run of 2012.  This was the eight miles that I should have done yesterday, and I'm pleased that I waited.  Although there still was a bit of a brisk wind, it was manageable.  The temperature was on the mild side, the rain stopped, and the sun even made a bit of an appearance.  Aside from the steady stream of traffic that kept me hopping from the road onto the verges to avoid the stream of 4x4s bearing down on me, it was a good day.

I had a bit of an Achilles tendon niggle for the first mile or so, which only seems to occur now when I wear the Saucony Guide 4 shoes, but my legs felt fine after this.  So fine, in fact, that running at my previous long slow run pace just felt...wrong.  It was harder to keep my form and my legs felt more tired at the old pace.  So, I ignored the Garmin and ran what felt comfortable.  I finished the 8.15 miles in 1:34 which, considering that I had to stop a lot to let cars pass, isn't too bad (for me) at all.

I'm getting a little bit faster but, more importantly, the running is feeling easier.  There are several factors that I think are contributing to that - changing my form, lower heel drop shoes, stretching, weights, cross-training, and regular visits to Adam - and I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can keep building on my progress to date in a sustainable way.  As opposed to getting all excited about how good I'm feeling and flinging myself into doing intervals & hill & tempo runs which, I must confess, have somehow snuck into my marathon training programme.  Yeah yeah, I'll be sensible with it...but it's nice to be able to dream.

And now, a box of chocolates and a bottle of prosecco are calling my name.  The last binge of'll be a fresh & healthy start tomorrow.  Really.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Better luck tomorrow

A day to stay inside
I didn't run 8 miles this morning.  Nor did I run in the afternoon, and I'm not about to venture out this evening either.  I spent much of the day sighing in front of the window as I watched the rain lash down and the tree branches bend to breaking point in the 30mph winds.  There were brief glimpses of blue sky during which I thought, 'If I get dressed now, I can be out before the next downpour,' but by the time I reached the end of that thought, it had started to rain again.

If it had just been raining, I might have gone out.  If it had just been windy, I still might have given it a go.  If I had only been going to do 3 or 4 miles, I might have braved it.  But rain and high winds together are a misery, especially on long runs.  So I stayed inside where it was warm(ish), read my book, watched the Christmas episode of Miranda that we had recorded, and did a bit of tidying of my running gear drawers.  (I now have two very full bags of outdated and unwanted running clothes to take to the charity shop, and I was pleased to have found my compression tights in amongst the dross.  I wondered where they had disappeared to.)

My plan is to do the 8 miles tomorrow when the winds are supposed to be much less.  That'll only put me one day out of synch with my training programme, which is meant to start tomorrow with a rest day.  I figure a long run on Monday, shorter distances on Wednesday and Friday, and another long run on Sunday, and it'll be like I was on track the entire time.

Flexible and laid back, that's me!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Time flies when you're faffing around

I've been having a lovely, relaxed time since the Aviemore Half Marathon. The marathon in April has been in the back of my mind, but I haven't felt in any rush to decide on what training programme to follow, including when to start training.  'After all,' I thought, 'I have plenty of time.'  So, I've been running for fun, with no real goal in mind except paying attention to my form.  I've even been leaving the Garmin at home for a lot of runs, running according to how my body and breathing feel rather than obsessing about beating my previous times or distances. 

I've started back at the gym with a basic programme designed by Adam and have learned that I really like the rowing machine as well as remembering how much I also like doing weights.  I didn't do any cross-training or weights during my last marathon attempt and thought that these would be useful things to add in now, so that they can benefit my future training.  'But,' I thought, 'there's tons of time for this to happen.'

I didn't even panic when I missed out on my long run last week after a fright when my knee seized up during the long run the week before (by the time I got home, I couldn't bend it).  A reassuring Adam speculated that the knee pain was due to 1) some non-running related minor low back pain that was making me run a bit differently to protect my back and 2) carrying water on a waist belt instead of on my back, which we think made me lean from my waist and not from my ankles, thus putting even more stress on my lower back and all points south.  It wasn't an issue to take a few days out and to miss a long run because 'Hey,' I thought, 'I have plenty of time.'

Or rather, I did.  I realised a few days ago that there are now only 17 weeks left and training should have started...last week.  I thought that I would feel worried about this but, actually, now that I think about it, I'm not.  I'm not worried at all.  I feel a lot more relaxed going into this bout of training than I have for any of my previous marathon attempts.  I think I've accepted that running a marathon may not be for me, just like learning to ride a motorcycle and to scuba dive were not for me either.  My life hasn't been ruined by realising that I wasn't cut out for them and it won't be ruined by never running a marathon either.

So, yes, I'll still train and will still be a bit obsessive about it and will still really really want to be at the start line in April, but it feels like I have a lighter heart about the whole thing.  I've remembered that I enjoy running and that's enough.  If I get a marathon out of it, that's just a bonus.

Christmas update:   Bassman has written about our Christmas here, so have a look for updates on our holiday activities and cute pictures of cats.  We've had a low key time, filled with good food, good drink, and lots of yummy treats but no Christmas chocolates.  Imagine, then, my joy when Bassman finally 'fessed up that he had hidden the Christmas chocolates because I couldn't be trusted not to eat them all in one sitting before Christmas had even started.  I'm not sure what I'm more annoyed about - that he hid the chocolates, or that he knows me so well.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Starry starry night

Because I set my own work schedule, I generally choose to start working around mid-morning.  This fits in well with my need for a slow and gradual waking up process; running only happens after I've had a bit of breakfast, a cup of tea, and a perusal of The Mail Online.  There's nothing like a bit of caffeine and outrage to set me up for the day.

When I'm working in Shetland, though, I'm stuck with traditional 9 to 5 hours and - the horror! - actually have to stay at work the entire time.  Sheesh.  In the summer, going for a run either before or after work isn't a problem (weather permitting, of course) because it's light all the time.  Around the time of the Summer Solstice, it's light until almost midnight.  However, it is now winter.  There's daylight of sorts between 9am and 4pm but the rest of the time, it's very very dark.  And, frequently, very very cold, windy, and rainy as well.  Not exactly conducive to going for a run with a spring in my step and a song in my heart but tonight, I didn't even give myself a chance to waver.

I got back to the flat after work, changed immediately into my running clothes (all four layers of them, and a hat and gloves and a buff to keep my neck warm), and headed back out into the freezing night.  Except, once I got moving, it wasn't freezing at all.  The wind from earlier today had died down and the air was cold and crisp.  Once I got away from the main road to my usual route around Clickimin Loch, where there are only intermittent and quite dim lights on the path, I realised that I was enjoying myself.  A lot.

I wasn't going very fast but I was running so lightly that I couldn't hear my footsteps.  My breathing was slow and relaxed, and my legs were happier than they've been in a while.  I felt connected to the night.  I wasn't fighting the terrain or the wind or even myself.  Everything flowed and everywhere I looked, there were stars stars and more stars.  And some horses.  It made me smile to see the horses standing in their field, watching the stars too.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Where's Waldo?

There are a lot of advantages to working for myself - no meetings to attend, minimal paperwork, and only taking on the work that interests me, to name a few - but one of the things that I do miss is having colleagues easily accessible for coffee and a gossip.  When it's just me in the office, I either spend my time between appointments doing admin (yawn), catching up with the Daily Mail on-line (only for the celebrity scandals and the cute animal stories, of course), or playing Spider Solitaire and Angry Birds.

Even though it's only three days a month, working for The Department in Shetland gives me that 'friends at work' vibe that I miss.  And, this time of year, being part of an actual department means the Christmas Night Out!  So, with my suitcase stuffed to the brim with running gear, party clothes, and work clothes as well as the multiple pairs of shoes required for a multi-purpose trip, I flew north on Friday.

When I went to bed on Friday night, it was a calm and clear night.  By the time I woke up at 10am the next morning (amazing what the absence of a snoring husband and rampaging cats has on my ability to sleep through the night), the wind was howling and the rain was torrential.  I had planned to do my long run on Saturday but there was no point in venturing out for exercise.  There was, however, a point in venturing out to shop; I braved the tempest and returned home with a sparkly pair of silver flats, a pair of skinny jeans with a bit of a flower motif (more tasteful than they sound, and they go well with the purple Laura Ashley tunic that I was planning to wear to the night out), and a Death By Chocolate cupcake from the scrumptious Peerie Cake Shop.

Two friends came to collect me at 6.30pm and we headed off to Hay's Dock for the Christmas meal.  This is one of the best restaurants in Lerwick and the food was as yummy as expected:  I had a cheese scone stuffed with field mushrooms to start, a seafood tagine for my main course, and a chocolate and almond tart for dessert.  And a glass of wine.  Or two.  During the course of the meal, our secretary informed The Empress, C, and me that a photo of us having a girly lunch was on the Hay's Dock website.  Yikes!  I do my best to maintain a non-photographic presence in the world, and then I end up featured (okay, slight exaggeration) on a popular local website.  Good thing that my back is to the camera.  Can you spot us?

Anyway, that shock aside, it was a very fun night which I reluctantly cut short as I really did want to do a long run on Sunday.  The sacrifices that I make for running...

Goose of Death (posed by model)
It was worth it, too.  I ran 7 miles this morning and it felt great.  Aside, that is, from getting caught at the top of a hill in a passing wind and sleet shower that utterly froze my head and face because I had forgotten to wear my hat.  I had to try to protect my skin by taking off my gloves and sticking them to my face.  The wind was so strong that it held them in place as I ran back down the hill; I'm sure that it looked as ridiculous as it sounds.  Even the Geese of Death by the lochan at the bottom of hill looked askance at me.  But at least they didn't rush me like they usually do.  Perhaps they couldn't move for laughing.

Yep, the sacrifices that I make for running.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Triumphs are a triumph!

You may recall that I  bought a pair of Saucony Triumph 9s a while ago. The Triumphs have an 8mm heel drop as opposed to the 12mm drop in my Saucony Guide 4s and I thought, after a bit of obsessive research, that this might help with the transition to becoming a mid-foot striker.   

But, during my training for the Aviemore Half Marathon, I was fearful of doing anything to upset my temperamental calves and worried that even a slightly flatter foot would put so much stress on already-stressed muscles and tendons that I'd do myself a serious injury and NEVER get to run a marathon.  Ever.  So the Triumphs have sat on the bedroom floor for months, looking all lovely and blue but not really going anywhere near my feet. Until last week.

I think that, since the AHM, my running form has taken a turn (or a lean) for the better.  I'm finding it easier to feel the lean through my ankles and my feet are landing more softly and less markedly on the heels (and sometimes there is indeed mid-foot striking), and I'm starting to understand how to keep my core strong and my arms and legs relaxed.  But, no matter how Chi my running feels, my heels still drag and my ankles and Achilles tendons still hurt.  Rather than assuming that this was somehow injury related, though, I started to wonder if maybe my evolving running form meant that the Guide 4s weren't so suitable anymore.

So, with the encouragement of Adam (who said, 'No, I can't guarantee that you won't tear something but stop being a baby and just give it a go!'), last week I took the Triumphs for a 2 mile run and then for a 3 mile run.  And I was AMAZED at how much better I felt.  No scuffly heels.  Landing softly.  And no pain during the runs or after.  My 6 mile run yesterday was back in the Guide 4s, as I don't want to push things too quickly.  Although my Achilles tendons hurt for the first half-mile (until I relaxed my ankles), it was easier to maintain good form for the rest of the run and I was able to stop the scuffling each time it started by leaning a bit and upping my cadence.  Again, there was no pain afterwards.

I ran a fast(ish) 10 minutes on the treadmill at the gym today in the Triumphs and, still, no pain as long as I kept my ankles relaxed.  Even more impressive, I can't remember the last time that I was able to run any distance AT ALL the day after a long run.  I'm usually too sore and too tired, but not today.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  New shoes make everything better.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Weighty matters

During the process of training for the AHM, I managed to lose four pounds.  This was despite refusing to give up the joy of cake(s).  My clothes fit a bit better and I felt better; I had high hopes for the weight loss continuing as my pre-marathon training carried on.  Unfortunately, as we now all know, my running stopped and it was only the eating of cakes that carried on.  I regained the four pounds plus one extra.

Now, I know that running at a lighter weight would be kinder to my joints and tendons and also enhance my speed.  I read one estimate that said for every 10 pounds lost, you could gain an extra 20sec/mile.  Over the course of a marathon, this amounts to being 9 minutes faster.  Woo hoo!  But what is the optimal running weight?

Enter this month's edition of Runner's World and an article on Your Perfect Running Weight.  There were two options for figuring this out.  The first was for recreational and/or fat runners, the second for proper runners.  Although I consider myself a 'proper' runner, I don't have access to a body fat composition scale as required for Option 2, so I had to do the more basic Option 1.  Already, I was annoyed.

To calculate the baseline weight, you start with 100 pounds for the first 5 feet of height and add 5.5 pounds for each additional inch.  Then you measure your wrist to see if you have a small, medium, or large frame.  Mine is small.  Teeny wrists but not so teeny hips.  Anyway, for a small frame, you subtract 10 pounds from your baseline weight and voila!  You have your Perfect Running Weight.

Now, at the moment I am already 6 pounds above my RW baseline weight.  I have to lose SIXTEEN POUNDS???  The last time that I weighed that particular weight was in 1994 when I spent five months walking from England to Scotland via a series of long-distance footpaths, carrying a 40 pound rucksack on my back and covering up to 20 miles a day.  The weight dropped off and, by the end, I could majorly see my hipbones.  My periods also stopped.  Yep, that's a healthy weight, no doubt about it.

So, here's my plan.  First, I'm going to make myself stand really, really tall to add an extra inch to my height which will make the target weight be a bit more realistic (this would be the weight where ALL of my clothes, not just the ones with elasticated waists, fit).  Then I'll forget about that weight because, unfortunately, it just isn't realistic for this middle-aged stage of my life.  However, a couple of pounds over that probably is doable, if I keep running and (more importantly) limit the cakes.

Except for cupcakes.  They're small and therefore don't count.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

I'm back

And some cookies while you're at it...
Has it really been over a month since the AHM and since I was full of good intentions and grandiose plans to maintain, if not expand upon, my fitness in the two months before marathon training starts?   How come the only thing that has expanded is my waistline and the only thing that I'm full of is cookies?  Yikes, what happened to me??? 

Well, I didn't run for two weeks after the race.  My initial happy legs gave way to a painful calf following the wearing of my favourite boots (they don't even have much of heel compared with some of my other footwear, but there's something about them that has been making my calf hurt; I am now phobically avoiding them).  I couldn't walk without pain for a week.  The 3rd week post-race, I did a gym session on the advice of Adam to get a baseline for my cardio and ran 3 miles on another day.  This was hard hard hard, and I twinged my calf a bit.  Cue sore and aching calf, and no running, for the rest of that week.

The 4th week post-race, I ran three times (3 miles, 3 miles, and 5 miles).  My calf felt okay, if a bit stiff, and I was confident that I could carry on the momentum the next week when I was working in Shetland.  Except the weather was abysmal and I couldn't face running outside, and the Lerwick gym was doing some kind of promotion whereby you got points and prizes for doing the equivalent of 5km every day for a month so the gym was heaving and the Gym Police were limiting people to 10 minutes at a time on the cardio machines and even the weight machines had queues, all of which is my idea of Gym Hell, so I didn't run at the gym either.  There was a bright side, though; I didn't miss Masterchef: The Professionals. I did manage a 3 and 5 mile run once I was back home, both of which felt okay physically but a bit meh emotionally.

And then this week, I had no motivation whatsoever.  I even entertained the idea of giving up running altogether.  I finally dragged myself out for a 3 mile run yesterday, but that was only because I had an appointment with Adam that afternoon and I wanted him to see my calf immediately after having run on it.  I was relieved to notice that 1) I enjoyed this run 2) my calf didn't hurt and 3) I enjoyed this run (worth saying twice).

Adam gave me a verbal kicking (in the nicest possible way) to remind me to look after my legs (e.g. stretch, stretch, and stretch again), a physical pummelling (not so nice, but a good test of the treatment room's sound-proofing), and then a nagging text later that night complete with shouty capital letters to WEAR YOUR COMPRESSION TIGHTS.  I did, and my legs felt tons better.  So, funnily enough, did my psyche.  I think I'm ready to start again.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The first Half (part two)

And we’re off like a herd of turtles…

I'm not panicking, I'm watching the scenery.
Mile 1 to Mile 3:  When running a race, especially if one is more enthusiastic than fit, it is very important not to start out too quickly.  Otherwise, you risk crashing and burning well before the finish line.  The sub-2:30 group (and the sub-2:45ers who were masquerading as faster runners) must not have been aware of this critical piece of planning.  According to my Garmin, we started out at a 9:30-10:00 min/mile pace.  This was not my strategy so I slowed down, only to find myself a quarter of a mile in as THE VERY LAST PERSON IN THE ENTIRE RACE.  I briefly panicked but resisted the urge to keep up with the pack.  I looked at the scenery, I watched where I was placing my feet (so that I didn’t trip myself up on any rocks), I focused on my form, and I thought about how nice it was not to have to be dodging a huge crush of people.  It helped.

What helped more was that, by a third of a mile in and on a very slight incline, I overtook my first person, a largish woman who had stopped and was leaning over, hands on her knees, gasping for breath.  Strategy, people, strategy!  I carried on, steadily passing people who were stopping to walk and who were stopping to –well, to stop.  At 1.5 miles, I passed an older gentleman (obviously a Vintage kind of guy), who was wearing a T-shirt that said, ‘Choose your own pace, run your own race.’  Indeed.

I finished Mile 3 feeling fine, and had the cautious thought that this was going to be one of those runs where everything just clicks.  My legs felt relaxed, my breathing was in a steady 4:3 pattern, and I had stuck to my plan of running the first three miles at around an 11:00min/mile pace.  More importantly, nothing hurt.  When I saw the marker that said, ‘You have 10 miles to go!’ I felt a burst of confidence because 10 miles is my favourite distance to run and I KNEW that I could manage that.  I wasn’t too sure about 13 miles but 10?  No problem.

A proper runner on the Big Hill. 
Mile 4 to Mile 6:  I knew that there was going to be a Big Hill early on.  Some of the women in the queue for the women’s loo who had run the AHM before had been warning the rest of us about it.  The first three miles had been undulating, with a longish but not too steep climb to finish off Mile 3.  I thought that might have been the big hill and was feeling smug at how well I managed it.  Hah.  Following a short, quick downhill, the next mile was a Very Big Uphill.  I ran about half-way up it and then decided to walk the rest of the way.  Frankly, when I can walk faster than I can run, it’s time to walk.  And, even walking, I was passing some of the people who were running so I didn’t feel too badly about it.  Plus, I figured there was no sense in stressing out my calf this early in the race just so that I could say that I ran up a big hill.  Next time, though…

The first water stop was just after the steepest bit of the Big Hill.  I had decided not to run with my Camelbak as there were 3 fairly evenly spaced water stops along the way; I assumed that the water would be in a small bottle which I could then carry with me to the next water stop.  Unfortunately, the water was in small paper cups - sensible, I suppose, given that the organisers probably didn’t want discarded water bottles littering the National Park -  but this meant that I had to stop running and walk through the water stop because it was impossible to keep the water in the cup and run at the same time.  It also meant that I was probably going to be pretty thirsty by the end of the race, and I thought that perhaps I might have made a slight hydration miscalculation.  Still, it was very nice local water  – icy cold and peaty.  Shame I couldn’t have carried it with me.

After the Big Hill, we headed on forest trails towards Loch Morlich, which tantalised us with spectacular views from between the trees.   Miles 5 and 6 were pretty much all downhill, and I gave up trying to keep to a consistent speed and let myself be guided by my breathing and by the music on my iPod.  I continued to focus on my form, on landing lightly and keeping my cadence high, and on passing people.  If I had been running a 10k, I would have been thrilled with my time at this point!  As it was, I thought that it might bode well for my ultimate finishing time, as long as my calf held up.
 Mile 7 to Mile 9:

Loch Morlich
The route around Loch Morlich was flattish and took us back out to the main road, where there was another water stop at Mile 8.  I walked through this stop as well and drank ½ cup of water before setting off again.   As the road wasn’t shut for the race, a running corridor had been marked by the judicious placement of traffic cones along the left side.  There also was the option of running on the verge, where there was a narrow path through the grass.  This proved important as most of the runners kept to the road which, given the narrowness of the running corridor, meant that it was virtually impossible to overtake unless you ran on the verge.  Or overtook outside of the cones, if you felt brave enough to dodge the traffic.  I did a bit of both.  I was pleased that I was still doing mainly overtaking, rather than being overtaken, and that my breathing and my footfalls were lighter than those of the people around me.

Also Loch Morlich
I actually don’t remember very much about this section.  It was road running and there weren’t any views to speak of, and so it was not hugely interesting.  I do remember thinking that there were more uphills than I had expected and that, after running so many downhills, even running on the flat felt like I was running uphill.  But mainly I kept to a fairly consistent 10:00min/mile pace and tried not to think about what might happen when I entered Unknown Mileage Territory.

Mile 10 to Mile 12:

I managed to maintain an approximate 10:00 to 10:15 min/mile pace for most of Mile 10 and Mile 11 but I could feel that I was getting tired.  It was more of an effort to keep my legs moving and I started to get some random pains in my hip flexors.  My left calf, the bane of my running life, was getting a bit tight too.  But hey, only two more miles to go! 

I had planned to stop at the water stop at the end of Mile 11 but, when I checked my Garmin, I was astonished to see that I was on track for a sub-2:10 finish.  (Only sub by a few seconds, but still sub!)  I began to slow down to grab a cup but made a last second decision to carry on; I was willing to run two more miles without a drink if that meant a quicker finish.  Unfortunately, this ended up being a Bad Decision.

The water stop was on a hill.  Not a huge hill, but enough of an incline to feel difficult at this late stage.  By hesitating and then by slowing down, I lost momentum and my legs immediately spoke up with a hopeful ‘Are we there yet?’ query.  I passed the water providers at a slow shuffling jog but, when faced with the rest of the incline and a tight calf, my body chose to walk.  My brain was saying, ‘Noooo!  Run, you fool, run!’ but the legs weren’t listening.  I broke back into a run at the top of the incline and managed a short distance before I knew that I had to stop.  My calf was so tight that I feared that carrying on would tear something and it was more important to finish the race healthy than it was to finish the race quickly but then be out of commission for the next couple of months.  
The Running Gods have their say.
So I stopped.  And stretched.  And then walked.  And tried not to sulk when people overtook me.  And then I ran, but about a minute/mile more slowly than I had been.  I had lost the feeling of being a finely tuned machine.  Nothing fit together.  My legs were heavy, I was heel-striking and over-striding, and my breathing was ragged.  My calf felt okay, but nothing else did.

Mile 12 was a bitch.  I spent the first half praying to the Running Gods, ‘Please don’t let me be sick,’ and having visions of myself being one of those poor people who puke as soon as they cross the finish line.  I spent the second half thinking, ‘Please don’t let me do a Paula Radcliffe,’ in response to a sudden onset of intestinal distress.  I also had been aware for the previous couple of miles that I had blisters on both of my big toes but I had been able to block out the pain.  During Mile 12, though, they really hurt.

And then it started to rain.  Hurrah.

Mile 13:

This wasn't me!!!
One more mile (and a wee bit) to go.  I was so tired.  The nausea and intestinal cramps had gone, but my legs had nothing left.  And my toes hurt.  I was annoyed by my iPod - the music that had been so helpful suddenly got in the way of me pulling myself back together - so I unplugged myself, the better to hear the spectators clapping me onwards and shouting encouragement.   Funnily enough, this helped.  I didn’t really get any faster but I did feel an increase in determination to cross the finish line looking strong.  The short, steep incline 200m before the last 50m to the finish line almost undid me (and judging by the amount of cursing that was going on, several other people as well), but I powered to the top of it and then it was a run across the grass to the finish.  I saw Bassman and our friend Richard cheering me on from the other side (of the finish line, not The Other Side – I might have felt half-dead, but I wasn’t really) and I think I waved to them.  One of the women that I had been leapfrogging for the last half of the race nipped by me at the very end, which surprised me enough that I had to stifle a shriek at her suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

An interchangeable design
Then I was across the finish line and being herded towards being processed.  There was no goody bag, but we did get a bottle of water, a squished banana, and a small pack of shortbread.  Oh, and a medal.  Which, on closer inspection, doesn’t have the date on it and is the exact same design as the medal that I got for the Moray 10k five years ago.  But hey, this is for a charity and I’m sure that the money is going to a much better cause than a flash medal and a bulging goody bag for greedy competitors.  But I was still a bit disappointed.

 After the race:

My friends
As soon as I stopped running, my calf and hamstring tendon tightened up so much that I could barely bend my leg.  My Achilles tendon was grumbling a bit too.  Bassman, Richard, and I walked verrrry slowly to the building where the rucksacks were being stored.  I hobbled off to fetch mine and then sat down to put on my compression socks.  The size of my blisters when I took off my running socks was appalling and I quickly pulled on the compression socks, lest any of the children milling about nearby caught sight of them and were traumatised for life.

I limped into the main room where Run4It had a stall set up.  I might not have been able to walk, but I'm never too sore to shop; unfortunately, there was nothing worth buying.  I did find the massage room, though, and booked myself in for a 15 minute massage.  The lovely Wendy assured me that my calf and hamstring tendon were just tight, not injured, and I was able to bend my leg once she was done.  I met up with Bassman and Richard, who had gone into Aviemore to have lunch while I faffed around with shopping and massages, and had a bit of lunch of my own (outrageously expensive stale but oddly soggy sandwich, stale cake, and stewed tea but hey, it’s for a charity). 

I kept checking the race results as they came in, really wanting to see my official time, but it never appeared.  I did, however, see the woman that I had been chatting with at the start line.  She finished five minutes faster than she did last year, coming in at 2:35.  When I told her my time, she said, ‘Wow!  That’s really fast!’  I could have kissed her, since that's something that I've never heard before!  It just goes to show, it’s all relative.

For what it's worth, my Garmin showed a time of 2:17:15.  That's total time.  If you look at just running time (which takes into account stopping to stretch my calf), it's 2:13:23.  My average pace overall was 10:33.  My best pace was 7:35.  If I had started out just a bit faster for the first three miles, if I hadn't walked up the Big Hill, if I hadn't had to walk and then run more slowly after my calf tightened...but that's what next year is for.

The next day:

I was very achy all night but, when I got up the next morning, I was amazed at how good I felt.  Yes, my calf and hamstring tendon were still tight, but nothing else was.  Even my hamstrings, which had played up on every long run leading up to the race (and even on the some of the shorter runs), felt good and I realised that they hadn’t hurt at all while I was running.

I had an appointment with Adam at 12.30, and he confessed to having been a bit apprehensive as to how I was going to be, both physically and emotionally – more because he knew how much I wanted to do well than because he was fearful of my potentially foul mood.  (That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.)  However, he was as pleased as I was with the state of my legs.  They were tired and a bit sore in places, but nothing more.  In fact, I’d felt a lot more incapacitated after some of my training runs.

So, that’s it.  I ran a half-marathon in a time that I was happy with and didn’t get injured doing it.  There’s a lot that I would do differently, though, which is what I’ll write about in my next post.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The first Half (part one)

I follow a lot of running blogs, and I quite like when the authors write a mile-by-mile critique of their races.  So, here is my version, which will be spread over several entries for ease of reading and because I’m too lazy to sit here and type it all out at once.  

It's the day of the Aviemore Half Marathon!

Not my actual cat
0550-0610:  I woke up with Maia sitting on my chest, her nose pressed to mine which meant that her Elizabethan collar was over my face, clearly hoping for an early breakfast.  I knew that I needed to be up by 6am if I wanted not to feel rushed, but I still hid under the blankets for another 20 minutes anyway, feeling nervous and wondering if I could come up with any acceptable excuses for not racing...lots of excuses, yes.  Acceptable ones?  No.

0610-0710:  After a quick shower and my usual breakfast of porridge, I taped up my calf with my pink KT tape (and FINALLY got the perfect taping), put on my already-decided-on running outfit, grabbed my pre-packed rucksack (which contained several optional running tops and jackets, because a girl can never have too many clothes), and headed out the door.  I managed to forget my bottle of water for the car and my change of clothes for after the race.   I was now 10 minutes behind schedule and the thought crossed my mind that, if there were too many lorries on the A9, maybe I’d be so late that I’d miss the last bus to the start line.  This made me feel panicked, but there also was a smidgen of relief that maybe I wouldn’t have to do this race after all.  After all, getting held up by traffic on the A9 is a very acceptable excuse...However, as they say in Shetland, ‘Put your big girl panties on and deal with it.’  And I was indeed wearing my big pants, so I was all set.

Perhaps not what the organisers had in mind
0800-0845:  I got to Aviemore in plenty of time.  I parked outside of the town centre so that 1) I didn’t have to worry about not getting parked in town and 2) I could use the 15 minute walk into town as a bit of a warm-up.  Registration went very quickly and smoothly, but I was a bit disconcerted by seeing that I am old enough to have been classified as a ‘Super Vet.’  The next age category up is ‘Vintage,’ which at least conjures up images of gorgeous classics. 

Lodges at Badaguish
0845-0945:  After a 10 minute bus ride, we had to walk 10 minutes through the forest to Badaguish, where the race was to begin.  All of the women rushed to the indoor loos while the men, who seemed to be much more hardy (or maybe they just don’t worry so much about having to sit on an icy toilet seat), started queuing for the outside toilets.  Even though the queues were long, there still was enough time for a cup of tea and a biscuit, warming-up exercises, a pre-race energy bar, and a glass of water.  There also was enough time for another visit to the indoor loos where, after discussing clothing strategies with several women in the queue with me, I changed from my T-shirt to my running vest.  It was absolutely freezing at that time of the morning, but I was going to be wearing my middle-weight running jacket and the last thing that I wanted was to realise that I was too hot half-way through the race.

I'm at the back - waaaay at the back
0945-1000:  We made our way to the start line, where finishing times were helpfully provided so that you lined up with your own people, rather than hanging with the elite athletes and getting under their feet when the gun went off.  I lined up with the sub-2:30 runners, of whom there were many; this was because no one wanted to admit that they actually should be starting in the last section, which was for sub-2:45 finishers.   

I had a nice supportive chat with a woman who looked to be a bit older than me (which would still place her in the Super Vet category, of which I am sure she was grateful) and who did the AHM last year as well.  We talked about training plans, injuries, and what we had forgotten to pack (she forgot her iPod, which I fortunately had checked and triple-checked was in my rucksack and, more importantly, had remembered to charge).  I also talked with a Japanese woman who suddenly realised that she had forgotten to leave her rucksack with the transport van for taking back to the finish line; she rushed off to find the van and I didn’t see her again, but I'm sure that this would have been a nice warm-up jog for her and would have gotten the adrenaline going quite nicely.  I started to regret my last drink of water and wondered if I had time for one more loo visit, but then the gun went and it was too late to do anything except start moving forward.  

And my thoughts at that exact moment?  'OMG, I’m running a half-marathon!'

To be continued...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I'd be doing a happy dance right now...

if only my feet weren't so blisteringly sore.  Thank you to everyone who sent me positive vibes, crossed their fingers, offered encouragement, and volunteered to do the race with me next year (yes, Cathy, I'm talking about you!).  I'll write a longer post in the next day or so giving a step-by-step accounting of myself but, for now, here are the highlights.

Yes, I finished the race!  In 2:17, according to my Garmin.  No idea what my official time is, as it isn't on the website yet and I couldn't find my name on the list of times that was posted after the race.  On the one hand, I'm thrilled with my time.  I would have been happy with anything under 2:30 and, based on my training runs, was expecting to come in around 2:20.  On the other hand, I was on track for sub-2:10 until I had to stop, stretch, walk, and then reduce my speed at mile 11 following major grumbling from my calf. 

My legs feel amazingly okay tonight, aside from some residual stiffness in my calf/hamstring tendon.  I had a 15 minute massage after the race to loosen my calf, and the massage therapist thought that it was just tight as opposed to being injured.  Whew.  It'll be interesting to see how it feels tomorrow.  Fortunately, I'm seeing Adam then for a post-race massage, which I am expecting to be soothing rather than something designed to make me cry. 

My main source of pain tonight is from the blisters (which are under the callouses) on the outside of my big toes.  I have no idea why I've suddenly started getting blisters, although Chi Running would suggest that this is because my lower legs are still too stiff and I'm pushing off with my toes rather than just letting my foot float up behind me.  Aside from non-floating feet, however, I think that I maintained my form pretty well through most of the race.  I felt very Chi.

I wouldn't say that it was easy but, aside from the last two miles, I really enjoyed myself and I am now feeling cautiously optimistic for London.  188 days to go.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Fingers crossed...

I've had a query from Cathy as to whether all of my ministrations were making any difference to my calf and ankle.  I didn't want to draw any further attention from the Running Gods but perhaps it's safe now to say...unless something goes drastically wrong in the next four days, I WILL be lining up for the Aviemore Half Marathon!

It took 7 days for me to be able to walk without pain, and I gave it an extra couple of days of rest just to be sure, but last week I ran 3 miles on Wednesday, 4 miles on Friday, and 2 hours on Sunday.  Nothing felt injured, although my legs were VERY tired by the end of the 2 hour run.  I'm not sure how far I went - I forgot to charge up the Garmin - but I took it slowly and walked a bit every mile for the first couple of miles, and then walked even more the last couple of miles because I was heading into the wind and I could feel my calves tightening up.  The middle miles felt fine. 

Reassuringly, although my legs were quite achey the rest of Sunday, they had recovered completely by Monday morning.  I went to the gym today after work and did an hour on the cross-trainer, bike, and rower (combined, not an hour each!).  I'll do a small run on Thursday and then that's it until the race.  I'm sure that I have under-trained but, frankly, given the past year, I view getting to the start line in one piece as the mark of successful training.  Actually finishing the race, in whatever time I manage, will only be a bonus.

AHM:  If I get tired, I'll let gravity do the work!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Why why why? (Or, whine whine whine)

I've diagnosed myself with a posterior tibial tendon issue.  I don't think that it is truly injured, more irritated and annoyed (much like myself at the moment).  I know that I didn't have any pain in my ankle when I was running on Sunday but, now that I am trying to connect the dots, I was aware during the run that I was developing a blister on the outside of my big toe.  I suspect that I was unconsciously adapting my gait to avoid the pain associated with rolling off my toe (a function of my overpronation) and therefore put more stress than usual on the PTT.  This also explains the completely new pain/tightness in the inside part of my calf (as shown by the light red section in the drawing) which then explains why the weak part of my calf popped again. 

Why did I suddenly develop a blister on my big toe?  The most likely explanation is fatigue.  I had done two fast (for me) runs earlier that week, and then got carried away by how good I felt during the long run and let my speed increase then too.  It makes sense to me that my foot and ankle muscles will have been tired, leading to poor biomechanics.  In other words, my foot got tired of working.  Maybe I've finally learned that 'long slow run' really does mean 'long SLOW run.'    

So, here I am, still not able to walk without pain (although it is gradually getting better).  I'm strapped up with KT tape, am using the foam roller and The Stick a couple of times each day, and am doing gentle stretching.  No running until I can walk without pain.  At least that's one lesson that I have learned!

Here's to you, Running Gods!
A leap of faith:  Yesterday, my official Virgin London Marathon 2013 acceptance pack arrived.  Today, I booked our hotel room in London.  It feels a bit presumptuous, given the current state of affairs, but I felt compelled to make a statement to the Running Gods.  Give up, me?  Never!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


I am injured.  Again.

Last week's relaxed, enjoyable runs culminated in a long run of 11 miles on Sunday.  The first 10 miles were great.  My legs were relaxed, I felt that my form was good, and I dared to think, 'It's all going to be okay from here on in.'  I should know better than to tempt the Running Gods.  A few steps into mile 10, my left calf muscle popped. 

There was no sound to it and no pain, but there was a definition sensation of something giving.  Just like last time.  There was minimal pain (more a feeling of stiffness) as I made my way home.  I gently stretched, put on my compression socks, iced my calf, and hoped that it all would be better by Monday.  It wasn't. 

It wasn't better by Tuesday either.  The pain seemed to be not just in my calf but also in my ankle and was sharp enough that I was limping.  Fortunately, I had an appointment with Adam after work.  His assessment, after causing me great pain as he worked on my achilles tendon, ankle, and soleus muscle, was that I hadn't done any serious damage to myself and that the AHM might still be doable.  He said to not run today and probably not tomorrow, but to go for a gentle run on Friday to see how it feels.  I still have time to fit in a 12 mile run before the race but, even if I decided that one more long run wasn't a good idea, I know that I'd be able to do the 13.1 distance anyway.  Assuming, of course, that I don't need to be stretchered off the mountain.

I'm not upset because of the implications for the race; the AHM was primarily to give me a goal for structuring my training so if I can't do it, it isn't that big a deal.  What does upset me is not knowing why this has happened AGAIN.  I increased mileage very gradually, I listened to my body and took days off when I felt that I needed them, I warmed up thoroughly before the runs and stretched thoroughly after them, and I put a lot of effort into running lighter and more efficiently.  What else is there to change????  Maybe I just am not meant to run long distances.

Feeling sorry for myself?  Yes, indeed I am.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Just along for the ride

Although I am following a training programme for the half-marathon, I haven't faithfully stuck to it.  I've either been too busy with work and/or cats, unwell with migraines and now a cold, uninterested in venturing out in the wind and rain, or giving yet another niggle an extra day's rest.  Missing out a day here and there could be seen as progress for me, as I usually follow training programmes without deviation regardless of what my body is telling me to do, which possibly goes some way to explaining all of the injuries.

Anyway, today's run - according to the schedule - was supposed to be 4 miles.  However, given that I've missed out a run in each of the last two weeks, doing a 4 mile run today and the planned 11 miles on the weekend would be a big jump in total weekly miles.  I've been trying to stick to the 10% rule (where mileage only goes up by 10% each week so as not to stress your body too much), but the ease of Tuesday's run briefly tempted me to do the 4 miles anyway.  

My sensible side prevailed - I'm so close to the race now that I don't want to do anything that means that I might not make it to the start line.  But my 'go on, do it anyway!' side needed to be appeased, so I compromised by running only 2 miles but running them at a faster pace than normal.  I wasn't about to run flat out, but thought that a pace that put my breathing into a 3:2 pattern would be a sufficient challenge. I had no idea what that pace might be because I'm paranoid about pushing myself during my normal runs.  Bopping along at an 11:00 to 11:30 minute mile pace doesn't stress out my breathing but it also doesn't stress my ankles and achilles tendon.  Much. 

But I was up for a challenge today.  My 2 mile route naturally divides itself into four half-mile sections:  flat, downhill (good practice for the AHM!), flat, and uphill.  By the time I got to the downhill section, I was running at 10:00 mile pace.  By the end of the downhill section I was at 8:30, the second flat bit was at 9:00ish, and I managed to maintain a 9:15 pace on the uphill for all except the very last bit.  I finished in 19:00.  Nothing hurt.  And I could have kept going.

I was thrilled, but I don't understand what I'm doing differently.  ChiRunning is about the 'aha!' moments, where everything clicks and you say, 'I got it!'  My moments are more like, 'WTF???'  Everything clicks, but I don't get it at all. 

I'll just enjoy being clueless.  Even if I don't know what I'm doing, my body obviously does.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I almost didn't go...

But I'm glad that I did.  Go running, that is.  After a long day at work, my throat hurt, I was sniffling, and I just wanted to come back to the flat, read my book, and have a nice cup of tea.  But the half-marathon is looming and there aren't that many running days left before I start the taper, so I told myself that it was better to go out for even a short run than it was to do nothing at all.

When I left the flat, the sun was shining and there was a brisk but manageable wind.  Normally it takes me at least a mile to warm up and to relax but today, for some reason, I felt great.  The first mile came and went, nothing hurt, my speed was reasonable, and my breathing was settled.  Weird.  I carried on past the lochan where the Geese of Death lurk (no sign of them and their vicious beaks today) and up the steep hill that gives an amazing view back over Lerwick, and still felt good. 

Half-way back down the hill, it started to rain.  Then it sleeted.  The wind picked up.  My hair froze.  It briefly crossed my mind to go home, but my running felt so relaxed that it seemed a shame to cut it short so I headed on towards the loop that runs around Clickimin Loch.  I saw a runner in the distance coming towards me who stopped on the path, walked back and forth a bit, then minced his way forward through what looked like a bit of water.  'Wuss,' I thought scathingly.  And then I got closer and saw that the puddle was actually an ankle-deep flood that had to be forded since there was no way around it.  I minced my way across too, leaving me with shoes and socks that were soaked by icy water.  I'd like to be able to say that it felt refreshing, but actually it was just really cold.

And still I carried on.  I ran up all of the hills and didn't need to stop to stretch out my calves once because they DIDN'T HURT.  I ran until I had completed 5 miles, which is what I had been scheduled to do today, but felt as though I could have run a lot further.  Some days, it all just fits together.

Monday, 17 September 2012

A bit of this, a bit of that

If I didn't leave so long between posts, they would be 1) easier to write and 2) much, much shorter.  However, I will attempt to do a brief round-up just to bring everything up to date.

Running:  I only ran twice last week - 4 miles on Wednesday and 10 miles on Sunday.  I gave the Friday run a miss because I felt a cold (helpfully supplied by Bassman) coming on.  It still hadn't fully developed by Sunday and I was loathe to miss a long run, so I dragged my sore throat and aching muscles out into the rain.  And then dragged myself 5 miles down the Cromarty road and back again.  The rain stopped 10 minutes into the run so I was over-dressed and over-heated, and there was such a stiff head wind for the last 5 miles that I frequently gave up and walked.  My legs were exhausted, my achilles tendon wasn't happy, and my iPod died so all I had to occupy myself with was my thoughts.  And very cheery they were, too. 

I'm in Shetland:  I don't write about work because, well, it's work.  And if it isn't interesting to me, it certainly won't be of any interest to anyone else.  Although I love Shetland and I love my Shetland work colleagues, I don't love my Shetland work.  After much soul searching and obsessive discussions with anyone who would listen, I flew north yesterday planning to resign from my job here.  However, after a long chat today with the lead person for my department, we came up with a way of restructuring my job that would allow me to give up the bits that I hate and start doing some different things that are more in line not only with my skills but also with my interests.  I still might give it all up eventually but, for now, I'll hang in there.

My throat hurts:  My cold is still at the sore throat stage with some sniffles just beginning to emerge.  I had planned to go to the gym after work but instead left work early to bring my infectious self back to the flat, where I am dosing myself with LemSip, vitamin C, and echinacea.  I'm meant to be working on some reports but I'm afraid that I got sucked into watching Wanted Down Under.  And then Helicopter Heroes.  And then Deal or No Deal.  I have no work ethic at all.  Nor do I want to develop one.

Cats:  They are fab cats and I'm so glad that we have them.  But I still miss Tess.

There, all caught up.  And just in time, too, for Come Dine with Me!

Monday, 10 September 2012

We have cats!

More accurately, we have one cat and two kittens.  These are the ones that I liked when I was at the SSPCA last week; following the debacle that was the Cats Protection visit (and I STILL haven't heard back from them as to whether we have been deemed appropriate to have cats), I went to the SSPCA the next day and reserved the black cat and the two kittens, all of whom were awaiting the final vet visit before they could be rehomed.  And, on 7 September, they came to live with us.

Maia is a 2-year-old black cat (best guess by the SSPCA, although she might actually be younger than that).  I don't know what made me think that she was petite; compared with Tess, she is huge!  She is 9.5 pounds (or 4.3 kg) of sleek, muscular gorgeousness and is almost frantically affectionate.  She quickly has become a lap cat and has staked out her territory on the sofa.  She has begun to play with the cat toys and seems to enjoy a very lively game of 'chase the mouse.'  The only difficulty is that she's on steroid tablets to help control the itching from a stress-related skin condition, which make her absolutely ravenous.  We can't move without her leaping from the sofa and racing to the kitchen, where she meows piteously in the hopes that we will feed her yet again.  Mostly, we manage to hold firm.

The 8-week old kittens are Willow (grey with a tidy white bib) and Pandora (grey & white tiger stripes; yes, she is a tabby!).  Willow is much smaller than her sister and was close to death when she was found; she's healthy enough now, though, and more than keeps up with Pandora in their rampaging romps in the second bedroom.  That's where they're living for the moment, as they're too little to be given the run of the house and too little to be given unsupervised access to Maia.  We're doing a very slow introduction.  A few days ago, Maia did some major hissing at their little paws poking out from under the bedroom door.  Today, after a day or two of exchanging bedding so that they could get used to each other's scents, Maia calmly looked at them in their carrier (from a distance; even treats couldn't convince her to go closer).  I'm sure it won't be too long before they are snuggling up with her just as they snuggle up with us.

As I write this, Maia is softly snoring on the sofa next to me.  Willow and Pandora have just gone quiet, after 15 minutes of bouncing off the walls in the bedroom.  It's lovely having cats in the house again.  It definitely was the right decision, but it's funny how it's taken three of them to fill the gap left by one very small puss with a very big personality.  She's still very missed, and always will be.

Running Update:  Just in case anyone is wondering, I am still running.  It's going well, too.  I did a long run on Sunday of 9 miles, running all the way (except for brief moments of walking when cars came zooming around corners and I had to leap to the verge to avoid being smooshed).  The niggle in my left leg, which I self-diagnosed as originating in one of the peroneal tendons, has been addressed by a vigorous sports massage and the use of that miraculous KT tape.  No pain at all over the past week.  Everything feels good, but I worry that I'm going to jinx it by writing too much about it, so that's all I'll say for now.