Sunday, 20 July 2014

A rambling run

I can only think of three times in my running career that I've run off-road; I like the idea of it, but I've always harboured a fear that my delicate ankles and inflexible calves wouldn't be able to cope with more varied terrain.  However, the past year has been all about breaking through physical and psychological barriers so today, after months and months of promising myself that I would do it, I finally took myself off to do a trail run.

I loaded up the car with my long run equipment (Camelbak, bottle of Lucozade, jelly babies, banana, sunglasses, running hat, phone, iPod, and camera) and drove 45 minutes to the Wellhill car park of Culbin Forest.  It's a place that I know fairly well in a walking sense, including knowing that the trails are more or less flat and well maintained, and it seemed a logical place to test out whether this trail running lark is for me.

It occurred to me, as I drove into the car park, that I had never been there in the summer.  The sheer number of shouting parents, shrieking children, and snarling dogs reminded me of why I had always given it a miss during this time of year.  However, operating on the maxim that the majority of people don't wander far from the car park in any given outdoor situation, I optimistically set off on an eight mile run.  And sure enough, as soon as I turned the first corner, I left everyone behind me and didn't see another soul until I was back in the car park at the end of the run.  Bliss!

I had my route mapped out - it's one that I've walked many times before - and I thought that I knew where all of the turnings were.  I even had a map with me.  But the forest looks different at a running pace and I got a bit disoriented, went straight where I should have turned left, and then had a not unpleasant five miles of wondering where the hell I was.  The wide forestry road that I thought I'd be running on had morphed into a lovely narrow trail, so no complaints there, and I figured that I'd eventually come across a junction that was on my map.  I didn't, not until I surprisingly ended up back at the car park, but it all felt very adventurous in a safe and contained kind of way.

I was a bit disappointed that the beach with views across Findhorn Bay that I had planned the original route to take in wasn't on my alternative route.  In fact, there were no views at all, aside from the trail and trees.  There were, however, lots and lots and lots of flies.  It wasn't too bad while I was running but, when I stopped for a drink or to dither over the map, they pinged off my head and tried to climb behind my sunglasses and a horsefly bit me twice on the arse through my tights and they generally made it so unpleasant that running was a relief. 

Culbin Forest:  trees, trees, and more trees
Findhorn Bay:  what I had hoped to see
So, what's my verdict on trail running?  I didn't enjoy it as much as I thought that I would but that could be because it was so hot (22c) and I am definitely a cool weather runner.  I wish that I had seen the bay and been able to run a bit on the beach.  But then, I liked venturing away from my usual running routes, I liked being out in nature, and I liked not having to dodge 4x4s, boy racers, and tourists driving on the wrong side of the road.

On balance, I think I'll try it again.  But next time, I'm definitely going to the beach!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Running with a half-full glass

It's been three weeks since the Midnight Sun HM, there are three months to go until the Aviemore HM, and I have to confess to feeling a bit baffled as to what I do next.  I am so used to finishing a race and then taking at least the next month off due to either injury, illness (curse you, Malta HM!), or apathy that I don't know how to structure the start of training for Aviemore.

I haven't lost any fitness because I haven't taken any time off so there's no physical  need to cut back to the usual level that I'm at when I start training for a half marathon but, psychologically, it feels wrong (and scary) to run more.  Today, for example, my brain was saying, 'You're tempting fate, you're going to get injured again!' but my body was saying, ' Eight miles?  What's the big deal?'  And it wasn't a big deal.  At all.  I did an easy eight miles out and back along the Cromarty road.  It was very windy, it was very hot, and there were so many cars forcing me off the road that it would have been faster if I had leaped into the firth to swim home - but the running itself was fine.

So, following the advice of Cathy, Paul, and Adam (who are all agreeing with each other, so they must be right), I'll keep my long runs between 8-10 miles for now.  I'm not sure what to do with the rest of the running week but, now that my ankle has mysteriously fixed itself, I have options again. 

And if the Running Gods are reading this and think that I'm being complacent, let me assure them that I am as neurotic, hypochondriacal, and pessimistic as ever - but I am getting better at running as though I am not!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

A run in the (midnight) sun: Part 2

And so we were off!  I had a vague plan for this race.  I really really really wanted to finish as close to 2 hours 10 minutes as possible which meant that I had to run at a more or less 10min/mile pace.  For 13.1 miles.  I hadn't done any speed work in training as running faster than an 11min/mile made my ankle hurt, so my brain was telling me that this was an unrealistic goal and that just to finish without puking in public (yep, I'm still haunted by the Malta HM) would be a success.  But secretly, I kind of thought that I could do it.  Slow and steady, don't get carried away, and relax.  Simple, right?

The first couple of kilometres wound through some of Reykjavik's neighbourhoods and included a bridge across the motorway.  Not hugely inspiring scenery, but it was nice that some of the local residents turned out to cheer us on.  Cathy and I more or less kept pace with each other for a lot of this.  We chatted a bit but otherwise were in our own worlds, me plugged into my iPod with its 170-180bpm songs to keep my cadence up and Cathy plugged into the thoughts inside her own head.  I kept an eye on my Garmin and was pleased that I finished the first mile in 10:06.  I finished the second mile in 9:39 and, even though my ankle had stopped hurting and I was feeling strong, I panicked.  Too fast, too fast!

So, without any evidence that it was necessary, I slowed right down and this, plus walking through the first water stop, meant that I finished the third mile in 10:20.  Because Cathy is physically coordinated enough to be able to carry her water with her (I've tried, but I can't manage to freely move the arm and hand that are holding the water bottle, and then I get annoyed and distracted by the sound and feel of the water sloshing around), she sailed past the water station and then I watched her sail into the distance as I walked and sedately sipped from the paper cup.  That was the last that I saw of her until we met up after the race!

My memories of the race become a bit of a blur after this.  It felt like we were running uphill for most of the first half.  The 'of course it's a flat course!' advice that I had gotten at registration was SO wrong.  I did my best to embrace the hills and to float up them in a Chi Running kind of way and was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn't need to walk.  If I could figure out how to import my Garmin data to this blog, you would see that from about mile 1.5 to mile 7.5, there is a steady and consistent climb upwards.  Just goes to show that one person's flat is someone else's 'Oh FFS, not another hill.'

The first half felt like it was all into the wind as well as being significantly uphill.  I didn't do too badly at keeping a consistent pace, although I can see from my Garmin splits where the wind picked up at mile 5 and I thought about walking.  But I didn't.

After the first water station, I let go of the idea of keeping to a specific pace.  I decided to run at a speed that felt comfortable and that allowed me to take in the views because, by that point, we were running alongside a lovely stream with waterfalls.  I, again vaguely, thought that if I was feeling strong by miles 6 or 7, then I'd pick up the speed.  Or maybe I'd only do that at mile 10 if I had anything left.  Basically, I didn't have a plan.  I just wanted to have a fun run.  And that's what I proceeded to do.

I had a brilliant time.  Aside from the wind, the weather was great.  A bit sunny, a bit cloudy, a bit of misty rain towards the end.  The field was a good size:  small enough that I often could pretend that I was running on my own, but large enough that I could target runners in front of me to give me something to aim for.  The scenery was distracting in a good way - streams, flowers, fields, mountains, a golf course, Icelandic horses having a bit of a prance, and a black bunny. Fab.

Looking back to Reykjavik from the top of the Elliðaárdalur valley

Waterfalls in the Elliðaárdalur valley
Icelandic horses having a bite to eat

Watching the runners go by
Did anything go wrong?  Need you ask?  I wouldn't be me if something didn't go wrong.  Miles 7, 8, and 9 nipped along at a pace that felt easy but that was faster by almost more than a minute and a half than anything that I had done in training.  I was thrilled!  And then, at the start of mile 10, my iPod started to skip.  And then it started to freeze.  And then it froze completely.  With only three miles to go, and with my most inspirational songs still to come (deliberately organised to perk up tired legs), the bloody thing stopped working.  And this completely threw me.  I spent most of mile 10 fighting with it trying to get it to work.  I spent mile 11 fighting with thoughts of 'I need the songs, I can't run without them, I'm so tired, I just want to walk,' and I gave in and walked up a hill during the first part of mile 12.  The whole thing was purely psychological and, once I realised that (hey, it only took me 2.5 miles to figure it out), I forced myself to start running again.

Cheers, Tom!
I sang 'Runnin' Down a Dream' out loud to get my cadence and my mood back up.  I ignored my tired legs.  I ignored my blisters.  I told myself that this was a race, not a long run, and it was supposed to be hard at this point.  I told myself that I would be really hacked off with myself if I missed out on a 2:10 finish because I was having a strop over my iPod.  I focused on the woman in the pink top who had been overlapping with me since the first water station and who was now far ahead of me, and tried to catch her up.  The last 1.5 miles were good.  I was tired, I hurt, I was breathing hard but for the first time in a half marathon, I crossed the finish line feeling like I had actually run a race rather than just trying to get to the end without injuring or embarrassing myself.

I finished in 2:10:50 and with a huge smile on my face.  A 5 minute PB and only two seconds behind the woman in the pink top.  Yay for me!

Cathy finished in 2:06:18.  She and I were more or less in the middle of the pack, which is lots better than the joint last that we thought we'd manage.  Paul finished in 1:32:01 and was third in his age group. Yay for us!

I think that I'm safe in saying that we enjoyed the course, hills and all, and majorly loved Iceland.  I hear that Paul is thinking about going back at some point for an Icelandic trail race.  While that is not necessarily for me (although I'd be up for one of the multi-day walking treks through the interior), Bassman and I would be more than happy to show up to cheer him across the finish line. visit is not going to be enough.

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon:  Go, Paul, Go!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

A run in the (midnight) sun: Part 1

The Reykjavik Midnight Sun Half Marathon has been and gone but here, only delayed by a couple of weeks, is my report of the race (or what my middle-aged lady brain can remember of it, anyway).  If you're looking for a travelogue of our Icelandic adventure, have a look at Bassman's blog as what follows is going to focus on what's most important - the running.

Killer spices.
My training in the couple of months before the HM went well, not that you would know that from this blog.  (I wasn't going to do anything to attract the attention of the Running Gods, and that included writing about how well things were going.)  My ankle continued to twinge for the first 20 minutes of every run but remained discomfort rather than pain and I was SO HOPEFUL that I was going to FINALLY get to the start line of a half marathon without carrying any injuries or illnesses.  Imagine my distress when, the night before we flew to Iceland, I dropped a full glass bottle of dried sage onto the top of my foot whilst engaging in a last minute panicky clean of the kitchen.  I calmly remarked to myself that that was going to bruise and that I had better be careful.  And then I dropped a second full bottle -this time of cinnamon - on the exact same spot.  Oh FFS.

In all of the excitement of getting to Reykjavik, I didn't pay any attention to my foot until we were safely tucked up in our Reykjavik 101 (that's the central area of the city) flat late Friday night.  'Bloody hell,' I said to Bassman, 'my foot is really throbbing.'  I took off my sock and was horrified to see an emerging deep purple bruise across the (now swollen) bit where my toes joined the rest of my foot.  Arrrggghhh!  A broken toe!  What if I had a broken toe?!  Another race where I was going to be injured!!!  Arrrggghhh!

Fortunately, our well stocked flat had ice cubes in the freezer so I put on my compression socks, elevated my foot, and iced it for the rest of the night.  By morning, the swelling and most of the pain were gone, but the bruise was an impressive combination of purple and green and yellow.  Phew.  Panic (and another over-reaction from me) averted.

Because we arrived on Friday and the race wasn't until Monday, we had lots of time to sightsee.  And eat.  I kind of forgot about the race as we explored the city and its restaurants and bakeries.  Especially the bakeries.  I'm not sure that what I was doing was carb loading so much as it was pastry, cake, and biscuit loading.  Cathy and Paul arrived on Sunday - they were doing the HM as well - and we met up for lunch and a pre-race sharing of anxiety.  No cakes, but that's because Cathy and I were full from the huge bucket of polenta fries, Bassman was full from a massive bowl of meatballs, and Paul was full from the burger that was as big as his head.  I tried to make time to rest in the afternoon each day, usually accompanied by a biscuit or two and a cup of tea, and by the time that Monday rolled around I felt ready to take my newly expanded muffin top for a run.

Registration was on Monday afternoon so I took the bus to Laugardalsholl (or, the sports hall) in Laugardalur (or, the swimming pool/park complex where the race started and ended).  It was all very organised and the registration queue moved quickly, leaving me plenty of time to shop and to ask one of the support staff about the course. 'Flat?  Of course it's flat.  There's just a small downhill and then an uphill in one of the valleys and then that's it.'  Ha.  If the Running Gods weren't going to get me with injury, they were going to have a go with misinformation...I met up with Cathy and Paul at registration, passed on the course (mis)information, and we shared a taxi back to our respective flats where we all tried on various running gear combinations (separately, I hasten to add, not together) before sharing a taxi, with Bassman, back to the start.

Laugardalur.  The sports hall is the white building in the centre.

My t-shirt purchase.  (Body not blogger's own.)

I had been obsessively watching the online weather the previous couple of days, tracking the rain as it moved in and out of Reykjavik.  The forecast for race evening was for rain and 18-20mph wind.  Sigh.  Just like running in the Highlands. Driving up to the sports hall, we saw a large cardboard sign fly past us through the air; hmmm, very windy indeed.  Still, at least it was sunny.  Sunny.  At 9pm.  Fabulous!

So, we did our stretches and had our photos taken by Bassman and went to the loo and did some more stretches and tried to go to the loo again but the queue was too long and the race was just about to we lined up, Paul at the front with the Super Whizzy Runners and me and Cathy towards the back of the pack (but, being brave and optimistic, NOT at the very end).  A bit of a countdown, and our bruised feet and dodgy ankles (me), dodgy hamstrings (Cathy), and Super Whizzy Runner niggles (Paul) were off.

Tune in tomorrow for 13.1 miles of fun!