Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Bumblebees have landed

My brand new, bright yellow Saucony Guide 4s arrived a few days ago.  Hurrah.

My first response to seeing them in all of their yellow glory was to put them in the muddy shoe box under a pair of Bassman's well-used boots.  I could still see the yellow, though, and spent the evening glowering at them from across the room.

However, because I am striving to be more Sensible, I reluctantly have come around to the idea that I'm going to have to wear the Bumblebees eventually so, today, I did just that.  I wore them to and from work.  It's a 5-minute walk - IN PUBLIC - from my car to my office, through wet leaves and hidden puddles which, unfortunately, left no mark on them.  They aren't just yellow, they are teflon as well. 

The Bumblebees visit my office.
No one reacted in a horrified manner or pointed at my feet and snickered, but perhaps they were all being polite.  I must admit, Their Supreme Yellownesses are comfortable and it is clear in comparison that my current pink and silver Guide 4s have lost a lot of their cushioning.  My first run in the Bumblebees is tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes.

My feet may thank me for this, but the rest of me is still sulking.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The week in review

This week was a reduced mileage week, which was a Good Thing as I was way too busy with work stuff to have been able to manage much more.  Here is what I got up to:

Monday:  A visit to the gym for an upper body work-out, followed by an appointment with Adam to sort out any niggles from the previous day's 17 mile run.  Except there weren't any niggles.  Aside from some to-be-expected tightness in my hamstrings and calves, my legs were fine.  We were both impressed.  We also had a chat about my strategy for the upcoming Inverness Half that went something like this:

Adam:  You have 3 choices for how to run this.  I'm not going to tell you what they are.  Think it through - which one do you think fits best with your reason for doing the half? 
Me:  I want to beat the time that I did for the Aviemore Half. 
Adam:  (big silence followed by big sigh)  Okay, you have four choices...

We agreed that I would try to run the half at what I'm aiming for my marathon race pace to be.  Consistent AND faster than the AHM - everyone will be happy.

Tuesday:  5 miles easy run before work.  My easy run pace is getting faster, which worries me a bit as I fear that I'm going to stress out calves that have been quite happy at a slower pace.  I tried to keep it to the pace set by my training programme, but failed.  Curse you, happy legs!

Wednesday:  Work work work.  Blah blah blah. 

iPod dressed for winter
Thursday:  6 miles easy run before work.  Again, I settled in to the new easy run pace (which is somewhere between 11:00 and 11:15 minute miles).  My legs were happy with this.  It was so cold though that my iPod stopped working which left me with only my own thoughts for company.  Yawn.

Friday:  For the first time in weeks, I had a niggle!  I knew that something was wrong before I even got out of bed; the back of my knee was sore and stiff and, when I put weight on it, it was even more sore.  This, however, was not a running related injury.  This is what happens to me either when I try to kick backwards in bed to give a snoring Bassman a shove to stop the snoring or when I use that leg to lift the two duvets, one heavy blanket, and three sleeping cats off me during a hot flush.  I suspect that it was the latter that did me in this time.  I limped off to the gym to do my leg exercises; obviously I should be doing more of them to avoid pulling a muscle in bed-related activities. 

I would have liked to have worn my compression leggings the rest of the day and to have iced my knee, but I had a chiropodist appointment (calluses taken care of, blister advice consisting of 'most runners get them' - not the most helpful of attitudes) and the car was in for its MOT (which meant that I spent three hours wandering around the shops in Inverness, although I did break that up with a lovely lunch of falafel salad, olives, hummus, and guacamole.  And some carrot cake.).  Still, I did RICE when I got home.

Today:  6 miles easy run.  The back of my knee felt fine, as did the slightly faster pace.  And I was thrilled when, in the last mile, something clicked (no, not my knee) and I suddenly shifted from a slight heel strike to a proper mid-foot strike.  This happens occasionally and I still don't know what I do to make it happen.  What I do know, however, is that I also suddenly felt like I was running without effort.  If only this would happen on race day...

Eight weeks to go.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A blistering run

I wasn't sure what to expect from today's long run given how under the weather I've been feeling for the past week.  Even Adam, in his weekly night-before-the-long-run supportive text said, 'Are you sure you really need to do this now?'  We eventually agreed that I'd start out and, if it felt like it wasn't going to go well, I'd cut things short and try again in a couple of days.  Oh, it's frightening how sensible I've become with my training.

Fortunately, though, there was no need to activate my Sensible Side.  The run - 17 miles, I'll have you know - was fine.  I didn't necessarily have happy skippy legs, but it wasn't a slog either.  It was just an enjoyable long run on a beautiful, sunny, warm day.  I had to take off my jacket after an hour; what a pleasure to run in just my t-shirt after months of bundling up against the cold.  And I am really really enjoying my new audiobook (The Moonstone, another Wilkie Collins novel, which is an 18-hour unabridged version and which should see me through the rest of my long runs). 

Part of my usual long run route
Although my legs weren't feeling hugely energetic, they felt good enough for me to up the pace at mile 14.  I did that mile 30 seconds faster than my target pace and briefly considered trying to maintain that for the remaining three miles.  But a slightly tight calf and an awareness of upcoming hills triggered the Voice of Adam in my head and I slowed back down.  Sigh.  I could have done it, though.

The only source of pain in the entire run was the blisters under the calluses on the outside of my big toes.  They've been niggling on and off for a couple of weeks but I've been hoping that they would just go away.  And, as long as I keep the runs under 13 miles, they stay as a bit of a hot spot but nothing more.  And then I forget about them, until the next long run.  I did put some Vaseline on my toes today and on the hot spot on the bottom of my left foot, which worked well up until 14 miles.  I really thought that I was going to get away with it but no.  I could feel the hot spots heating up and, by the last mile, I was having to make a conscious effort not to change my gait.  I'm now hobbling around the house, not because my legs have seized up (they haven't; they feel fine), but because my blisters HURT.

Because the blisters are under the calluses, I can't really get at them with a needle to drain them.  Time for a visit to the podiatrist, I think.  Some things, even Adam isn't able to do.

As painful as they are (and as unsightly - Bassman exclaimed, 'Wah!  Look at your toes!' when he caught a glimpse of the Blistered Ones), they still aren't a torn muscle.  And for that, I remain incredibly grateful.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Bumbling along

Lately, I've been giving some thought to my footwear for the marathon.  I would love to be able to wear the Triumph 9s because they are comfy and light and make my legs feel happy, but I'm still cautiously transitioning my calves into the lower heel drop and there's no way that I'll be up to a long enough distance in the Triumphs by April. 

Which leaves the Guide 4s, a stability shoe that is probably a bit more stable than I really need but which I'm used to running the longer distances in.  I have two pairs but both of them are nearing the end of their working lives.  By the time of the marathon, they'll be just about ready to replace.  I thought, therefore, that if I ordered a new pair now I could have them comfortably broken in by the time that London rolls around.  In shoe terms, they're quite an old model - Saucony is up to the Guide 6 these days - but I don't want to faff around with a newer model that may or may not suit me.  I just want to run in what I'm used to.  That's not much to ask for, right?

Wrong.  Because they are an older model, there are none to be had in my size ANYWHERE IN THE UK.  Except for these:

Oh. My. God.  They are yellow.  I haven't worn anything yellow since I was 11 and my mother sent me to church on Easter Sunday dressed in a bright yellow scratchy polyester trouser suit, having first told me that I should never wear yellow because it makes me look sallow.  Which it does.  Which is why I don't wear it.  Ever.

But now, because my first allegiance is to running rather than to vanity, I have broken the rule of a lifetime.  I ordered the shoes.  They look like bumble bees.  They don't match any of my running gear.  And they are yellow.  (I know I've already said this, but I'm feeling a bit shell-shocked by the whole thing so a bit of repetition is called for.)  I can feel my legs stiffening up in protest already, but I'm trying to be sensible.  Perhaps it's better to wear ugly shoes than it is to run 26 miles in shoes with no cushioning?  

Looking on the bright side (but not as bright as the yellow on those shoes), in a couple of months I'll have run through enough muddy puddles that the yellow should be quite significantly toned down.  And if it isn't?  Maybe I'll just have to run the marathon in fancy dress after all.

Buzz buzz.

Friday, 15 February 2013

When the going gets tough...

Coach Joe English, whose blog I follow, has been musing lately about how everyone, not just beginners, struggles and hurts at various points during their training and how even elite athletes (including Coach Joe himself!) sometimes don't get it right during a run or a race.  As one of my unhelpful beliefs is that Proper Runners never hurt or want to give up and walk, this was hugely encouraging. 

Anyway, Coach Joe's most recent posting included the line, “Every workout should have a purpose.”  Given the struggle that was today's run, I initially didn't think that it had a purpose at all aside from being able to say that I did it but now that I've had a chance to reflect, I think that I did learn something.

I was supposed to run 6 miles yesterday (with 4 of those miles being at tempo pace).  However, I was SO TIRED once I got back home from my Shetland adventure that it made sense to put the run off until today.  Which would have been fine except that I woke up with a killer migraine at 2am - the kind that comes with nausea, intestinal distress, blurred vision, and an inability to speak coherently.  Run with a migraine???  Perish the thought.

But as I sat (very still) on the sofa, and as the pain killers started to kick in, I thought that I'd give it a go, just to see what happened.  I fully expected to walk to the top of the lane and then come back home again, and I would have been fine with that, but the cold air helped to clear my head and I decided to carry on.

This was probably the toughest run I've done in weeks and weeks.  I gave up on the idea of any sort of tempo run after running the second mile at 10min/mile pace and then needing to stop as I really really felt like I was going to be sick.  I wasn't, but it was an unpleasant couple of minutes nonetheless.  I walked a lot during mile 3 (into an unexpected headwind and then uphill) and mile 4 (still windy and still up a hill); I told myself that I was doing fartleks, but really I was just walking. 

The start of mile 4 saw me back at The Rural Retreat and I was SO TEMPTED either to quit right there or at least to nip inside to use the loo.  However, by this point my stubbornness had kicked in and I kept on with my pretend fartleks.  And then something odd happened.  I started to feel better.  By about 4.5 miles, my calves started to feel more relaxed, my hamstrings stopped burning, and my breathing settled down.  My head still hurt but it was bearable.  My bowels realised that they weren't being pandered to and stopped grumbling.  My fartleks stopped being pretend ones.  The last mile was just a little bit off tempo pace and felt fine.  I would have been happy to continue on.

I'm in with a chance then!
So, what did I learn?  I learned that I don't have to feel at my physical best in order to run.  I learned that I can walk when I need to and that it doesn't mean that I've failed when I do so.  I learned that, at least sometimes, I might be able to run through my physical discomfort and that I won't always know what I can run through until I try.  I learned that I can tell myself 'I'm going to stop now' all that I want to, but ultimately I don't have to listen.  And I learned that even when a run is pretty much shite, it still can be a worthwhile thing to do.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

A night on The Rock

I'm not normally a nervous flier, but the last two windy flights to Shetland have seen me clutching at the arm rests and muttering 'We're all going to die' as the plane descended sharply and bumpily towards the sea in the dark, sounding all the while like one of those planes in old war films that spiral out of control after having been shot down by the enemy.  Horrible, and not something that I was keen to repeat on tonight's flight home.

I kept a close eye on the weather report all morning but really, all I had to do was listen to the wind howling between the gaps in our office window to know that it was fierce out there.  Nevertheless, everyone has told me that Shetland flights are NEVER cancelled because of wind so I resigned myself to the inevitable.

Except it wasn't.  As we waited to board, there was an announcement asking for volunteers to bump themselves off the flight.  Apparently the plane was too heavy to fly safely in the wind.  No one volunteered until the second announcement, when £200 compensation and accommodation for the night was offered.  I jumped at the chance, along with four other people.  (Good thing too, because the flight was later cancelled but no one else got compensation or accommodation.  Lots of hacked off passengers at that point!)

An hour later, we were all snugly tucked up in a van on our way to the B&B.  Except we first had to stop at the shops so that the guys - three off-shore oil workers and one long-distance lorry driver - could buy alcohol for the night.  One of them bought 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of gin, a bottle of vodka, and a 6-pack of beer.  And that was just for him.  And then we had to stop so that one of the other guys could hop out for a pee since he insisted that he couldn't hold on for five more minutes.  My heart sank at the prospects for the rest of the evening.

Except it was surprisingly okay.  They might have been tipsy but they were funny and charming with it, although there was a bit of a heated discussion over whether to watch Corrie or the football.  Corrie won.  The B&B owner whipped up an amazing dinner and, despite the copious amount of wine that was flowing, everyone behaved well.  Except for the guy who fell asleep with his head on his plate, but then he had had a bottle of wine to himself before dinner as well as whatever he had had at the airport.  At least he was quiet about it.  

Fingers crossed that the wind will die down enough by tomorrow morning for me to get back home, where Bassman has been entertaining roe deer, pine martens, and kittens.  In the snow.  Some people have all the fun.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The sharks of doubt

One of my favourite songs - for running or otherwise - is Jim White's 10 Miles to Go on a 9 Mile Road.  I originally heard this on Desert Island Discs way back when I was training for my first ill-fated marathon.  I was doing my first ever 9 mile run, was worried that it would be too far for me, and then 10 Miles to Go started to play.  I misheard the chorus as 'I've got 10 miles to go on a 9 mile run' which made me gasp at the serendipity of it all as this perfectly captured how I was feeling. 

That one minor word change aside, I still think that this is a brilliant song and I think that it is as relevant for running as it is for life.  Have a listen:

  Look, he's on a treadmill!  This really is about running!
(The song itself starts at 1:26.)

The Sharks of Doubt ('Sometimes you throw yourself into the sea of faith, and the sharks of doubt come and they devour you') were definitely my companions before yesterday's 15 mile run.  I was a bit excited about giving it a go, but I really didn't expect to be able to do it.  I told myself that I could walk whenever I needed to and I took my phone so that I could call Bassman to come and collect me when my body gave up.  I even decided not to do the run along the canal path in Inverness or on the forest tracks at Culbin Forest because I didn't want to have to walk for miles back to the car if I injured myself.  Definitely rehearsing for disaster.

So, in that frame of mind, I went running.  I kept waiting for my calf to seize up or my hamstrings to pull or my achilles tendon to protest.  I  kept waiting to find it...well, difficult.  But it wasn't.  I had the occasional tightness in my calf, but that was only a sign to shorten my stride and as soon as I did so, my calf was happy.  My achilles tendons did what they were supposed to do with no grumbling and, while my hamstrings were definitely burning by the end, that was due to running 15 miles as opposed to them being unfit for purpose.  The most  painful part of me was the blister that's developed on the ball of my left foot; still, it wasn't painful enough to stop and I discovered that paying attention to my form and trying to make my running more Chi meant that the blister hurt less.

In fact, by the end of mile 4, I knew that this was going to be one of those runs where everything fits.  I was tempted to up my pace at that point but, with Adam's 'SLOW AND STEADY' ringing in my head, I decided to make my goal for this run be just that - trying to run a consistent pace from beginning to end (something that I really do struggle with).  I imagined flicking a Cruise Control switch in my brain and just let myself go along for the ride.  Looking at the data from my Garmin, I managed surprisingly well.  My target pace was an 11:30min/mile and, with two exceptions (when I walked briefly at mile 6 to take a gel and then again at mile 10 to have half a banana), I was pretty much bang on that pace for the entire time.  How unlike me. 

The last 4 miles saw the return of my happy skippy legs, although I did rein them in for the sake of consistency, and I finished the 15 miles feeling strong.  I could have gone further and I could have run faster, which was a huge confidence boost.  I almost cried at the end of the run (okay, I did cry, but just a little bit) because I was so euphoric at having not only run further in a single run than I ever have before but having now run more miles in a week than I ever have (24).  For the first time, I am starting to believe that I might just be able to run a marathon. 

As I write this the morning after the Big Run (and after having been out last night with Lizzie for dinner - during which I felt that I could justify 3 courses, including a very yummy dessert of toasted pannetone and vanilla fudge ice cream - and then to watch Bassman's band but not dancing, as I wasn't about to risk a dance-related calf injury), my legs feel a bit tired but otherwise I'm fine.

Sharks of Doubt?  For now, they have been vanquished.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Still here, still running

Now that Janathon is over, I'm back to my old blogging habits which basically consist of thinking about writing something and then not writing it.  I've also been thinking a lot about going to the gym and then not going.  Fortunately, this pattern has not (so far) applied to running. 

I'm keeping up with my training schedule.  Today's effort was 7 miles, including 4 miles of intervals.  To fit this in before work, I had to be up at 7am (oh, the horror!) and out the door by 7.30 WITHOUT BREAKFAST.  I seem to have developed a bit of a phobia about running on an empty stomach, fearing that I'm going to crash and burn by the roadside if I don't have a full tummy and pockets stuffed with gels, sweeties, bananas, cereal bars, etc.  This despite having run in the early hours before breakfast all the time back in the days when I had a proper job that started at a proper time.  Although I felt a bit anxious, I reassured myself with the fact that running on an empty stomach helps your body to burn fat.  Yep, an appeal to my vanity works every time.

Anyway, the run.  Far from being in a weakened state, I felt fine.  My legs were a bit tired but that's because I am tired, being in the midst of one of my insomnia cycles.  I had promised Adam that I would listen to my body and not do the intervals if my calf didn't feel right.  I listened and didn't hear any complaints, so I did six half-mile intervals interspersed with a quarter-mile of easy running.  The speed of the intervals increased from 11min/mile pace for the first one (as I said, I was tired) to 9.30min/mile pace for the last two.  No calf pain, no pain anywhere else.  And I wasn't aware of being hungry until I stopped. 

Next up, a 15 mile long run on Saturday.  Folks, I'm now entering uncharted territory.  I'd better stock up on supplies just in case.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Janathon and beyond

Janathon 2013 is over.  Although I wimped out of three days due to panic over my Cramped Calf, I am pleased with what I did accomplish:

Total hours of exercise:  26
Total miles run:  65
Cake eaten:  none
Pounds lost:  3

Did I learn anything about myself, about running, about life during Janathon?  Well, I surprised myself by enjoying the daily activity.  And I think that being active every day has helped my legs to recover after the long runs in particular, which I wasn't expecting.  The Cramp aside, I'm happy with how my running is going.  I'm much more relaxed about it and about the marathon, which perhaps is contributing to a more relaxed running style.  Adding in the gym sessions has helped me to be less obsessed with the running side of things and, while my triceps still dingle dangle, in the right light there is now a hint of muscle definition.  I fully intend to carry on in the spirit of Janathon up to the marathon in April (after which I'll revert to my usual slothly behaviour).

Blogging every day turned out to be more of a challenge than exercising every day, which I wasn't expecting either; however, I'm an even slower blog-writer than I am a runner and I seem unable to write less than epic-length blog entries, no matter how hard I try, so that doesn't help.  Something to work on for the future, no doubt (but, unfortunately, not for today).

Although not officially part of Janathon, my NoMoreCake-athon was a success too.  This also was a surprise.  After the first couple of days, I honestly can say that I did not miss cake, cookies, cupcakes, and all other manner of doughy sugary goodness.  I did not miss chocolate either.  I was hopeful that a sugar reduction would result in more energy, but that didn't happen.  Either I don't react to sugar in the way that I thought, or I'm packed to the gills with the stuff and it will take longer than a month to clear my system.  My bets are on the latter.  Nonetheless, I did lose a bit of weight and I can now fit back into my favourite work trousers and my belt is back on the 4th notch.  I'm inclined to carry on with the absence of cake and chocolate, especially after having a cake-like muffin (raspberry and white chocolate) after today's run and finding it a bit...meh.

All in all, Janathon was a Good Thing and I think that it has changed my behaviour for the better.  So what goals have I set for myself in the coming months?  Well, aside from carrying on with my training programme, I've decided to enter the Inverness Half Marathon which is on 17 March.  (You might remember that I had to withdraw from it last year due to injury.)  My long run that week should be 16 miles, but I figure that a 13 mile race is sort of equivalent to a 16 mile long slow run.  I can practice my marathon race pacing (Adam's suggestion) or race it like a half-marathon (my secret plan, which I haven't shared with Adam.  Ssshhh.).  I've also entered the Aviemore Half Marathon again in an attempt to actually get an official time (and, of course, to beat my unofficial time from last year).

And that's about it.  I'll maybe write about today's long run - 13 miles!  Woo hoo for me! - tomorrow.  But for now, back to icing my calf (preventative, not rehabilitative) and enjoying the artichoke and feta pizza that Bassman kindly has gone out to fetch for me.  Carbs and salt - the perfect post-run meal.  And not a cake in sight.