Sunday, 30 November 2014

Two baths and a shower later.

It was definitely a dirty Friday night. I've had two showers and a bath and I'm still not sure I'm that clean - my toes in particular still look grubby. My trail shoes stink and my formerly white socks have been washed twice but are still showering the floor in mud if I accidentally knock the airer they are drying on. It was the best run I've had in ages though.

On Friday I headed over to Wimpole Estate, a local National Trust property and one of my favourite places. This is what it looks like in the daytime. 

By the light of a headtorch, those views are condensed into the mud immediately ahead of you, the hi-viz of another runner & the glowing eyes of sheep. It doesn't matter that you can't see anything though - that's what makes it so magical.

There were about 12 of us who thought that running 10K across the estate at 7pm was a good idea and I'm pretty sure we all loved it. We took it at a gentle pace, chatting away, breaking the silence of the otherwise peaceful woods. We squelched through puddles, slid our way up the steepest muddiest hill & raced down the drier shallower slopes. 

Someone described it as running that was good for the soul and I couldn't have agreed more. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Learning to run again

I don't normally mention specific brands on this blog (ironic given the title...) as I firmly believe that just because I like something doesn't mean everyone else will too - we all like different styles of shorts for example because we've all got different bums and thighs. However there are a few brands that I am pretty loyal towards, mainly because they make stuff that works for me. I like adidas because they make brightly coloured, comfy, reasonably priced technical clothes and also because they sponsor parkrun. I like Workplay bags because they fit my small frame and make running & cycle-commuting easier. I also get a lot of stuff from Sweaty Betty because it's stylish and functional and most importantly it fits me well. It is expensive, but I'm fortunate that I can afford it and as I wear sportswear on most days then to me it's worth spending the money.  Sweaty Betty run lots of free classes and collaborations with other fitness studios and have clearly worked hard to develop a community around the brand. A lot of the guest events are based around the London stores, but the Cambridge store also organises lots of events (including the hot yoga one I blogged about a few months ago) so I don't feel too left out being out in the sticks!

Sweaty Betty also run some good competitions and I recently entered a triathlon-themed competition on twitter. All you had to do was tweet why you wanted to win a training session with a triathlon coach - my entry was a photo collage & it won! 
Sweaty Betty sent me my prize of a triathlon outfit (which so far has been great) and put me in touch with Michelle Dillon, a former Olympic triathlete & now successful coach, to arrange the coaching session. 

The session was held in Bushy Park (home of the original parkrun) which is a beautiful large park in Teddington, South London. I took the day off work and had a relaxed morning pottering around Covent Garden before catching a train to Bushy. 

Michelle was lovely - she immediately put me at ease and was very friendly. We started out with me running along whilst she analysed my running style. She quickly identified what was inefficient about my natural style and gave me some tips to improve. Although it felt strange to try and run in a different way, I could tell that when I was getting it, it felt smoother and actually more natural. We then did some exercises to work on firing up my glutes - they were very similar to those I do in my Pilates class so it was reassuring to have two coaches/teachers saying the same thing! We then did a training session (2x90 secs, 4x60 secs, 4x30 secs, 4x15 secs with equal recoveries) with the focus on maintaining form. It may have been just Michelle's enthusiasm but I certainly felt like I was running faster and I can't wait to practice some more. Having a one to one coaching session was a real luxury - Michelle was completely focused on me which meant I got constant encouragement and reminders about my form. I felt like I learnt loads and I ended the session feeling really motivated and inspired. Sadly Bushy Park is just too far away for me to visit regularly but if you live in South London and are looking for a coach then I can highly recommend Michelle (Team Dillon Coaching) - her style is very positive and encouraging which really worked for me.

Thanks Michelle and Sweaty Betty for a brilliant prize. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

100 parkruns later

Yesterday I ran my 100th parkrun, earning myself a place in the "100 club" and qualifying for a much coveted black parkrun Adidas tshirt. 
My 100th run was great fun - I ran round with my husband and some of my best parkrun buddies, one of whom had arrived early to decorate the course with balloons & bunting. They dressed me in a tiara, wand & massive 100 badge and tied a helium balloon to me - it was amazing! I got cheered the whole way round & it was an excellent example of why I love parkrun. Unfortunately I forgot my camera but I'm sure you can imagine! Thank you Michaela :-)
My first ever parkrun was on 25th June 2011 so I've run 100 events in almost exactly 3 years. My first one was all about completing the full 5K - I was nervous that I wouldn't make it, but the fact that parkrun is a run not a race really came into its own & I was cheered down the finish straight just as loudly as the front runners had been 15 minutes earlier. I completed that first one in 31.40. The first target was sub-30, then each minute after that was a new challenge. My PB is currently bang on 24 minutes and getting under it is proving tricky, but I remember when getting under 28 was just as tough. I've been paced round by excellent pacers (thank you Dr Dave, Sam and Rob) and been proud to lead my own pacing buses around a course I know so well. Sometimes when I run I push myself as hard as I can go, sometimes I run with my friends, sometimes I tail run, sometimes I just chill out by myself. 
Afterwards, however the run went, I'm always glad I got up for parkrun. 

I've volunteered 53 times, not because parkrun ask you to but because I love it - it's helped me become much more involved in the parkrun community and I enjoy it as much as running. It's also led to new opportunities - in a few weeks the Tour de France is coming to town and I'll be a Tour Maker, something that I'd have never thought of doing before I volunteered at parkrun. Without parkrun lots of things would be different. I wouldn't be a runner, which means I wouldn't have done a marathon - one of the things I'm most proud of. I wouldn't have joined a running club or have entered a triathlon. I wouldn't blog! I wouldn't know lots of people who I'm lucky to call my friends. I wouldn't have an easy way to balance the stresses of life and I probably wouldn't be as happy. 

Last week Paul Sinton Hewitt, founder of parkrun, was made a CBE. It was very well deserved. Thanks parkrun. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Trying a triathlon

I think it’s fairly common after a marathon to fancy trying something new. Despite having had a very positive first marathon experience, I’ve still not wanted to head straight back into a training cycle. I’m enjoying shorter runs but I’m also enjoying having time to do different sports and the temptation to do a triathlon has started to increase. Recently a local triathlon club advertised a “GoTri” mini triathlon event about 3 miles from my house (given that I live in a village that’s about as close as events get) and I signed up. 

It was a bit of a mixed experience but overall I’m definitely glad that I did it – I’ve summarised what I liked and didn’t like below.

Overall, the buzz I got from finishing and from the transition (particularly the post-swim transition – who knew I’d get such a kick out of that!) means that I’m almost certain that I will sign up for a proper triathlon. The event was useful for giving me a feel for that, but unfortunately it has put me off considering joining the triathlon club who put the event on – telling people off for being late, especially when they weren’t late according to the published start time, set a very negative tone and I don’t think it ever quite recovered from that. I was lucky in that a big group of supportive friends from parkrun and my twitter friend Katie were all there and that made it fun, but I can imagine that if you’d turned up on your own you might have felt a bit intimidated by the organisers. Giving out medals definitely helped regain them some favours though…

Monday, 9 June 2014

Running around Japan

I spent the last two weeks of May on holiday in Japan. Japan is somewhere my husband and I have always wanted to visit and this year we decided to take the plunge and go for it. We had a fantastic time and really fell in love with the country. We also managed to squeeze some running in, starting with a guided running tour of Tokyo for our first full day, aiming to shake off the jet lag and get a sense for this amazing city.

A quick google led us to the Tokyo Great Running Tours. The cycling tours arm of the company was well-established and had positive reviews on TripAdvisor, but the running section seemed to be new and as such we couldn't find much information about it.

The tour covered some of the main sites of Tokyo, including the Fish Market, the Kabuki Theatre and the Imperial Palace. Jogging through the middle of the enormous working fish market was quite surreal but nobody seemed to notice or mind! The pace was pretty tough for me -  definitely faster than I expected and it was also pretty warm, but the frequent stops to look at things meant that it was kind of like a 12km interval session, so once I decided to treat it like that rather than as a continuous run it was much more manageable.
Our guide was excellent - she worked in a bank during the week but led tours at the weekend and she was clearly doing it because she loved running. It made Neil and I wonder whether we could do something similar in Cambridge...

Tokyo initially seems like a very busy city that might not be great for running, but actually, running with a local meant we could head straight to the popular spots. We ran along the river and were
treated to lovely city views (and a photo stop gave me chance to recover!). One benefit of the
flexibility of running combined with being in a small group - just us and a Danish couple - was that
we could turn down any side street that looked interesting, or decide to stop off and look at a local

We eventually ended up at the Imperial Palace. You're not allowed to run in the grounds, but there is a path around the outside which is 5K long - you can guess where all the runners go! It reminded me a little bit of Central Park, with the leafy park area surrounded by sky scrapers.
All in all it was a great way to start our trip. We didn't actually end up doing much more running when we were in Japan, mainly because we spent our days walking round so much that our legs and 
feet were exhausted by the evening! We also hiked up a mountain and followed countless trails.
The Japanese are also big fans of the "sweat rag" which is basically a flannel specifically for mopping your brow. Check out my Hello Kitty version (much needed....)!
In lots of ways Japan is a runners' paradise - plenty of healthy food, beautiful scenery and natural hot springs. We particularly enjoyed treating our tired feet to the hot spring foot bath at an open air art gallery!

It you have ever felt like you might want to go to Japan then do so - you won't regret it. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Becoming a Tour Maker

I'm just coming to the end of over two weeks off work and although by now the post-holiday blues would normally be kicking in, I've instead been distracted by my Tour Makers training event today. 

The Tour de France is this year starting in England, the first time it has since 2007 (it often starts in different countries and the route is different each year). The first two stages are in Yorkshire and the third stage is Cambridge - my home city - to London. I love being involved with sporting events and in recent years have become increasingly interested in watching the Tour (due to my husband being an avid fan rather than me just jumping on the Bradley bandwagon!) so once the call for Tour volunteers went out I was quick to sign up. 

Today was the first of two face to face training events. It was held in the Copper Box arena at the Olympic Park which gave us an opportunity to visit the Park. We watched some Paralympic events here back in 2012 and then last year we ran the 'Back to the Stadium' run which mostly involved running through a building site. I was keen to see what the public park was like and I wasn't disappointed. It was a sunny morning and the park was gradually filling up with families, people sunbathing, cyclists and runners. 

Right from the very beginning I have been pro London 2012 (I backed the bid!) and although I know that some people have concerns about the vast amounts of money spent, I think the current park is clearly helping leave the legacy that was so talked about. I spent most of the time we were wandering wishing I either had my bike with me, or my swimming kit so that I could try out the Olympic pool!
A perk of being a Tour Maker was 2 for 1 entry to the Orbit. I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about going up as I don't really like the design of the Orbit but my husband was keen, so we paid our £15 (still pricey even with the deal!) and headed up in the lift. As it was a clear day, we were able to see right across London and actually I'm really glad we went up.

I'm not sure whether I'd recommend it at full price and the whole experience only took about 25 minutes - you get the lift up then walk down and there's no time limit so you could take longer - but if you're visiting the Park on a sunny day and like views then it probably is worth it as a one off. As we said, it's something we'd have done if we were visiting another city so it was nice to do it in our home capital aswell.
After a spot of brunch and a wander round more of the park, we arrived at the Copper Box. 
The event was more of an introduction to being a Tour Maker rather than a specific training session. The organisers were obviously keen to thank all of the volunteers and also to make us enthusiastic for the event itself. This meant we had lots of interesting guests - Perri Shakes Drayton chatted about how the Games Makers had contributed to London 2012 (and she encouraged us all to take lots of selfies!), Ian Stannard gave us a cyclist's perspective and several of the key organisers briefed us. We were also treated to a brilliantly funny live performance from Kate Fox, a comedian and poet who has written the official Tour poem, plus a live rendition of the (very good) official song, "The Road". 

All in all it was an excellent day and I'm really looking forward to being a Tour Maker. Is anyone else volunteering for a big event this summer?


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

New beginnings

I haven't really felt like blogging since Brighton marathon. The whole focus of my blog for me had been to record my training and experiences leading up to my first marathon and since the highs of finishing have died down I've been a bit in limbo about what to do next, so I didn't want to blog for the sake of it. 

I had been looking forward to a #summerofspeed but since my 10K race things haven't gone to plan. My knee/hamstring felt niggly for ages and then I got a chest infection. I've had about 10 days off running and exercise and I'm off on holiday shortly so won't do that much when I'm away. A small part of me is worried that I'll lose all my marathon fitness but a much bigger part of me is enjoying relaxing - I think my body needed some proper time off and the chest infection forced me to provide it with just that. 

So what is next? Well I'm hoping that a holiday will reinvigorate me & that I'll come back desperate to run! Soon after I return I'm going to the Olympic Park for my training to be a Tour Maker when the Tour de France comes to Cambridge. I'm really excited about that & pretty sure it'll inspire me to focus on cycling again over the summer. Also in June, I should  run my 100th parkrun which will be awesome and will involve friends and cake. I may even try and PB into the 100 club if my legs and lungs are up for a challenge. Just to keep things interesting I've also signed up for a mini "try a triathlon" training event, so June is looking pretty good. I better carry on resting well in May! 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Running Naked

A month or so before my marathon I had entered Trowse 10K, a race that was on Easter Sunday. It was my friend Michaela's favourite race and apparently gave out the best goodie bags as well as having a medal. With little regard to whether my legs might be up to running again,or whether I would want to be up at 6am on Easter Sunday, I signed up.

I didn't prepare very well for the race. On top of the whole marathon a fortnight before, I did parkrun the morning before and then 2 hours of hot TRX and barre the afternoon before. This meant that my legs were sore and tired before I'd even started. As a vague nod towards proper preparation I did eat the traditional spaghetti bolognese the evening before, but couldn't face getting up early enough to have porridge so just had toast. Can you tell that I wasn't really that fussed about this race?!

I didn't bother to charge my Garmin and decided I would just run naked (without a watch) by feel. I was a bit worried that that might result me settling into the familiar marathon pace so set off quite fast. I regretted that by 3K when we faced a long hill and I started to feel a bit sick and had a few black spots before my eyes! Maybe my attitude towards the 10K (it's only 6 miles, I've done 26...) was a bit blasé. The sensible runner would have slowed down at this point but my competitive instinct kicked in and refused to- luckily the hill did eventually end and what went up did have to go down so I was able to recover on the downhill. It was two laps and after the first lap I shouted to Neil that I'd gone off too fast but I still didn't really know what pace I was running. I'm almost certain I slowed a bit in the second half but I had got used to running by then so was feeling, not exactly good, but a bit less sick. At 9K I think I slacked off a bit and decided just to ease in to the finish - my legs felt heavy and my arms were also aching; my body was just understandably tired. However just before the turn to the finish Neil shouted at me that I could get under 52 minutes...what?! Apparently I did have a sprint finish in me after all and legged it to the line for a new PB of 51.37 - almost a minute quicker than my previous PB. Running naked had worked for me this time but I'm not sure whether to risk it at my next 10K in a couple of weeks time. Either way, Project #summerofspeed is off to a good start!
(A comedy race number always helps) 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Bank Holiday Weekend

Since the marathon, I have slowly eased my body back into exercise. I didn't do anything for the first few days (I was still walking like a penguin so I didn't have much choice!) but after a restorative massage on the Wednesday, I was able to cycle commute for the rest of the week and to take a gentle Pilates class. I had hoped to be back running at parkrun last week but I was concerned about one of my hamstrings which was quite tender, so volunteered instead (whilst wearing my marathon finishers tshirt!). The following day I headed down to London to cheer on everyone in the marathon. I had a great day in the sunshine and came back really motivated to get training again.

This week I've cycled more, swum in my gym's outdoor pool & been to an energetic Pilates class. I tested out my hamstring with a short run on Thursday and decided it was fit enough to do parkrun this morning. I ran without my watch & despite my aching knees (marathon training seems to have aged them beyond my 29 years!) was pleased to finish comfortably in just over 26 minutes. 

Now that I'm not in training for a specific event I'm looking forward to doing some more non-running exercise. I was therefore excited to see that my local Sweaty Betty store was collaborating with a Hot Yoga studio to offer free classes. I'd tried Hot Yoga a few years ago at a different studio & was keen to give it a go again. The package I signed up for was 1 hour of Hot TRX followed by 1hr 15 of Hot Barre. The TRX was good - I want to improve my upper body strength & there was a lot of work for my arms, supporting my body using the ropes system. I struggled a bit with some of the floor based work because I didn't quite trust my (very sweaty) hands to hold on to the ropes whilst I did back bends etc! 
I enjoyed working in the heat and it didn't seem as hot as I thought it would. The Hot Barre was in a different studio though and was much hotter!

I enjoyed Hot Barre more than I was expecting given that I am not a natural dancer by any means and tend to struggle with any kind of choreographed routine that requires co-ordination. The mention of a routine to Bolero (think Torvill & Dean) panicked me but it ended up being very short and simple so I could just about keep up. The heat meant that we were all dripping with sweat (I was glad I had taken 2 towels) and even relatively simple movements got my heart rate up. This meant that I felt like I'd had a really good cardio workout from a strength/flexibility based class.

I'm not sure if I'll go back, partly because I have a regular Pilates class which I really enjoy and it's difficult to fit in everything I want to, but if I did it would be for the TRX. I loved how the instructor combined yoga with the ropes. Overall it was great to be able to try out two completely new classes. The studio (Ethos Yoga for anyone Cambridge based) was lovely and seemed very clean and fresh despite all the sweating! 
Tomorrow I'm heading to Norwich to run a 10K with my friend Michaela - I've been promised that there will be creme eggs!

How is everyone else spending their Bank Holiday weekend? 

Monday, 7 April 2014

The day I felt like a rockstar

Sunday April 6th 2014: My day in minutes and miles.

6.15: Wake up, gingerely test legs - think, they're not sore considering I ran a marathon yesterday.
6.16: Realise I haven't run it yet. Oh. Feel a bit sick.
6.20: Check twitter, notice a Happy Birthday tweet - oh yeah, it's my birthday. The marathon takes over everything.
7.00: Attempt to eat breakfast. Manage to force down half a bowl of porridge and a banana without throwing up & consider it an accomplishment.
7.45: Walk the 2ish miles to the start very slowly as a warm up (and because all the roads are closed so it's the only way). Both my hamstrings feel tight but tell myself it's only nerves.
8.20: Arrive at Preston Park and immediately join a toilet queue. It's just like any other race and that's a good thing.
8.45: Neil takes the obligatory "before" photo before heading off to his first spectator spot.
9.00: Head to the start pen. Huddle under a bin bag when it rains. 
9.05: Rain has stopped - maybe the running gods love us after all and the forecast "heavy rain and strong winds" might not happen.
9.15: Klaxon goes. We don't move.
9.23: Cross the line, high-fiving Paula Radcliffe in the process. 

At this point the concept of actual time becomes lost and it's all about minutes per mile. Some mile highlights:

Just before 3: First glimpse of spectating team with personalised signs. These guys rocked.
3: Spot Neil - exchange high fives. Let's do this thing!
5: Spectating team (now including Neil) whooping away

The next part of the course was an out and back along the coast- I knew I wasn't going to see the team until about mile 14 so I just concentrated on keeping my rhythm and getting on with it. Quite enjoyed this part - I still felt fresh and the pace was manageable. I didn't enjoy not being able to open my gels though - I ended up squirting one all over my face to the delight of a small child watching. Sticky gel mixed with sweat - nice. 

Mile 13: Back in town, amazing support. Putting my name on my vest was the best decision ever - I felt like the whole crowd was there for me! 
13.5: Spectating team out in force again.
Miles 14-18: The hardest ones for me. Another out and back and I was getting tired but knew I still had a long way to go. 
18: Stopped for a quick hug with Neil then it was time to head to the power station, on the "Road to Hell"
20-22: Round the power station which says it all.
23: Turned for home but the pier still looked a long way away.
24: Realised I'd either miscounted or lost a gel. Panicked that I was going to run out of energy. Stuffed my face with all the jelly babies I could find- thank you people of Brighton, IOU some sweets.
24: A very long mile. 
25: Saw my team again - now I really was "nearly there"!
25-26: Loved this mile, it was through crowds who were all shouting my name - I think I smiled for the whole mile (in between the grimaces - it hurt too)
26: Suddenly I was at 400m to go - wow! Sped up, or at least felt like I did and raised my arms in the air. The sun came out & suddenly I thought that there was no better way to spend a birthday.

Finish: 4:23, consistent 10 minute miling. Delighted. 

1 minute after the finish: Learn that a sprint finish + half sobbing = difficult to breathe. Manage to calm myself down before needing medical attention. 

Later that afternoon: Reunited with the best team of supporters ever. Discover that slightly damp pebbles are heaven for sore feet. Feel high on endorphins for the rest of the day (and it turns out, all night - I couldn't sleep!). I think this photo says it all. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported me - I get the glory but so many people were there for me. Marathon running comes highly recommended. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

My first Expo

I have successfully arrived in Brighton and have already been to the expo to pick up my number. I wanted to get this over with as I was expecting to be queuing in a cramped space with lots of other nervous runners but actually there was no queue at all and it was all very smooth.

I had never been to an expo before - for the uninitiated out there, the first bit is like normal race registrations but then you get funnelled into nervous runner shopping dreamland. I managed to resist the running jackets emblazoned with the marathon logo (nice but £70!!), considered a tshirt but decided it was unlucky to buy a tshirt before I'd done the race, almost compromised on a towel but then decided to concentrate on breaking the "nothing new on race day rule".

The forecast for Sunday is pouring rain. This worries me but I've just got to deal with it. However the main issue is whether to go for short sleeves (preferred option as I've already put my name on my favourite race top!) or long sleeves. At the expo I bought some bright pink arm sleeves to hopefully solve that dilemma. I also bought a turquoise cap to try and keep the rain off. I might hate both items but I'll just chuck them away/to a supporter en route if I do, so I don't mind breaking the rule.

I also discovered that at an expo you basically get the goodie bag in advance. This one was pretty good - best item was a buff type thing, most random item was Worcestershire sauce sample!

All that remains now is to eat yet more pasta, rest & then actually race the thing.

Bring it on Brighton!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Looking ahead to life after the marathon

With only 6 days(!) until I tackle 26.2 miles for the first time, I’m starting to look ahead to life after the marathon. I’m sure I’m not the only runner whose focus has been so much on one race that it’s been hard to think of anything else, but taper time has reminded me that I won’t always be too exhausted to contemplate anything other than work, run and sleep!
The initial plan is just to chill out – I don’t intend to run again until parkrun the following Saturday and even then I might switch to volunteering if my legs aren’t up to it. I need to catch up with my friends and family, including celebrating my birthday (same day as the marathon so not been given any attention so far!) and if I make it as far as the gym it will be to sit in the Jacuzzi and steam room.  However, I have really enjoyed feeling fitter as a result of all of the training and I don’t want that to slip. Once my legs have recovered, assuming that they do at some point, I’m going to start cycle-commuting again. The realities of sweaty hair, flies in eyes and other road users have been replaced by my rose-tinted memories of rides like this:
I also want to get my 5K time down. It currently stands at 24 minutes exactly and it was one of my goals for the year to get it under 24 – I think that some focused track work, on fresher legs, should make that possible, hopefully in late spring, early summer.  I think that part of my problem is that I don’t like feeling sick/seeing black spots etc so I let myself ease off, but if I keep doing that then I’m never going to get faster. Plus the quicker I go round parkrun the less time I have to feel like that…
 Other things on my radar are some swimming lessons, to remind me how to front crawl without drowning, and to try a spinning class. I’ve shied away from spinning during marathon training as I think I put my legs through enough, but I reckon it would be good cross-training and should improve my fitness.  I’ll continue with Pilates and Yoga too so at this rate I won’t notice any respite from marathon training…good job I’ve pretty much loved it! Having said that I am reclaiming my Sunday mornings; I’m looking forward to welcoming back pain au chocolats (abandoned in favour of porridge), orange juice (rejected because acidic reflux burps when running are horrendous) and lie-ins (pointless when you’ve got training guilt). Bliss.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

From the NHS to Lycra and back again.

My posts are becoming like buses...nothing for nearly a month and now two in as many days! I wanted to blog as a reaction to some twittering about medical certificates. For those that don't know, some countries require runners wanting to enter races to submit a medical certificate certifying that they are fit to run. Some GPs charge for these and some people don't think that they should. I won't cover the same ground as the wonderful GoldilocksRuns has done, short of saying that I think being able to race abroad is essentially a luxury and I don't believe that the NHS should subsidize that. Speaking bluntly, it also frustrates me to see people who can afford to go on what are essentially running holidays moaning about the service that provides free healthcare to everyone, including people who would not be able to afford to get basic medical care if it did not exist.

Moving on from my first mini political rant as a blogger, it also made me think that there are lots of things associated with running that people pay for, lots of which aren't necessary. Personally I don't really care how other people want to spend their money and I'm as much a kit junkie as the next person (I really am - I can't stop buying the stuff), but I don't want newbie runners to see all the sponsored blog posts, matching kit and tweets about everything you can buy and think that that's what it's all about, because it's not. Ultimately for me the joy of running isn't in the fancy kit, or the big corporate races (though they do do the best medals...) but instead it's in parkrun, or a hard club session, or a long slow run where everything just clicks and you feel lucky to be able to run. When I wax lyrical about running to my ever-suffering friends and colleagues I'm generally not going on about my new leggings, or any of the other "stuff" associated with running - I'm talking about how much I enjoyed myself. 

There are some things that I would consider essential now, for my running but that doesn't mean they will be everyone's essentials. I'm not going to list items and brands as I'm not an expert - go shopping - it's fun - and buy what you like, not what everyone else says you should! 

This post has been a bit of a hastily put together ramble, but in summary - running is good, enjoy it and be grateful that you can run safe in the knowledge that if you fall over the NHS will pick you up. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Marathon Training...The Final Countdown

Firstly, apologies for the cheesy title – I try and come across as a sensible blogger with interesting ideas but really I’m just a sucker for puns, cheese jokes and clichés.

I haven’t blogged for ages – I meant to do a race report on the Cambridge Half (in summary, I loved it – sunny day, great course that showed off my home city brilliantly and a new PB to boot) but never got round to it. I was also planning to write up my disastrous yet triumphant 20 mile training run (in summary, I wanted to cry, throw up and have a little sleep at various points but I managed to complete it without doing any of those) but couldn’t face it. I think one of the reasons for the lack of enthusiasm for blogging afterwards has been that my experiences have been so up and down that I’ve usually moved on soon after so it doesn’t seem as relevant any more. I thought that I would provide a quick summary of the highs and lows, to remind me how far I’ve come (see told you it was all about the cheese). Hopefully it’ll help steady the taper jitters.

If I was to do a graph of just the last couple of weeks it would be very spiky as I alternate between panic and excitement. I’m also developing niggles in what seems like every part of my legs but I’ve got a sports massage booked for Monday to hopefully ease those out.

How’s everyone else getting on? Paris is also on the 6th April with London the following week so I guess most people are hitting Taper Time now? Apologies to those Milton Keynes and Edinburgh runners who don’t race until May and will be upping the mileage around now – your rewards will come!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Marathon Training: A Progress Check

It’s just under 6 weeks to go until Brighton, which means I’m hitting my highest ever mileage and counting down to taper time, so I thought I would update you with a progress check. Here’s a little bit about what I’ve learned during training so far.

I think I’ve got my long run strategy sorted – I have a bowl of porridge and a cup of tea about an hour beforehand and depending on the length of the run, top that up with a Nakd bar or a banana closer to when I set off. On the run I’m using High5 Isogels – they are quite bulky but don’t need to be taken with water and crucially don’t upset my stomach. One approximately every 4 miles seems to be working out for me.

When I’m not running, I seem to be eating all of the time! I’m trying to make sure that I refuel healthily which means not just eating chocolate (though I have been doing a fair bit of crème egg scoffing too). Two of my favourite recipes are Prawn Jambalaya (rainbow food!) and Breakfast Muffins (no added sugar and you can cram them full of fruit).

I need lots of it. The afternoon of a long run day is spent lazing around; if not actually sleeping, then at least completely resting. The rest of the week I’m usually in bed by 10pm and out like a light until the alarm goes off at 6.30ish.

Long runs
I’ve now run 18 miles twice – once in the Valentines 30K and once by myself. The one by myself was slower and tougher, but it helped knowing that I’d covered the distance already. I enjoyed the 30K race so I’ve entered a 20 mile race this Sunday to use as a “catered training run” again. I’ll then do 20 miles by myself a fortnight later – hopefully that’s a good combination of race experience mixed with increased mental toughness!

Midweek runs
I don’t really have a motivation issue at the weekends – I will always go to parkrun and the long Sunday run is, to my mind, the most crucial session for getting me marathon ready so I’m not going to miss one unless there is a very good reason. However, sometimes in the week I find it hard to get all of the scheduled runs in. I’ve dealt with this by using my running club more – I’ve been braving the speedy track session on Tuesdays and although I am one of the slower runners, as long as there are other runners at around my pace then it’s a really good session. Last week we bonded over bondarenko (no I didn’t know what it was either!). I had been a bit daunted by the Thursday tempo sessions but one of the running leaders has set up a women’s group which goes a bit more slowly and for a slightly shorter distance – I headed out with them last week and really enjoyed it. On Wednesdays I have a recovery run scheduled and although I’m conscious of “junk miles” I tend to just plod round for four or five miles at a slowish pace before heading to my Pilates class. It’s all time on feet at the end of the day!

Sports Massage
I thought my legs deserved a treat after the 30K last week so I booked in for my first ever sports massage. I expected it to be 30 minutes of bearable torture but actually it was lovely – a couple of tender spots but no pain and a great chat with the therapist who has been working with Jo Wiley on her Sports Relief challenge!

How is everyone else getting on with their training? Please do bear in mind that this is my first ever marathon so I’m just learning as I go along – I’m by no means an expert and what works for me may not work for others.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Valentines 30K - Race Report

This report doesn't contain any photos I'm afraid, mainly because I didn't take any. I could take one now of my massive new toe blister, but that would give a negative impression of this race and that wouldn't be fair because I loved it. 

I'd entered for the race (put on by Stamford Striders) at the end of last year when I was writing out my marathon plan. I had 18 miles to do so thought that it would be nice to do it with other people- as Marathon Talk put it, a "catered training run". Since then, it's been looming - highlighted yellow on the plan - the first real rest of how training was going. The wind and the rain of the past few weeks coupled with the repeated mentions of "challenging" and "undulating" (we all know that means mountainous) on the race website had put the fear of bad race gods into me and last week I was seriously considering pulling out and just doing a flat easy run by myself instead. I'm really glad I manned up and got myself to the startline - it was a gem of a race.

The sun was shining, registration was quick and easy, yes there were queues for the toilets but only because the lorry carrying the portaloos had broken down (we saw it- with hindsight a photo of that would have been good, sorry readers!). Stamford Striders were a friendly bunch with some of the best marshals around - they wore silly hats, they whooped, they cheered, they had jelly babies and generally made us runners feel awesome. The course itself was hilly - downs as well as ups but hardly any flat. It was tough but the hills were also a good distraction, as were the amazing km markers - heart shaped for the valentines theme and each one included a "motivational" message. My favourites were: (at 2k) "You're not almost there"; "It's all downhill from here. Apart from the uphills" and "In 3 days time you'll think you enjoyed this".
The whole race epitomised why races put on by runners, for runners are generally the best. Thanks Stamford Striders - I'll be back! 

Time: 3hrs 6mins, or an average of 10 minutes a mile, aka marathon target pace! 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The highs and lows of marathon training

Do you keep a training diary? I never have before, but I am trying my best to stick to my marathon schedule and I’m finding it helpful to tick off sessions as I go along. I am hoping that, as long as all goes to plan, I will be able to look back during Taper Time and feel prepared based on all of the sessions I’ve completed. I’m using a highly sophisticated recording method, involving the most technical of tools – smiley faces.

Unfortunately I succumbed to a tummy bug just before Christmas which scuppered training for about a week but gradually the smiley faces are beginning to dominate again and I feel that at the moment training is on track. I had a really positive 10 mile run on Sunday and I’m feeling confident about the distance increasing. This may all change, but I’m aiming to stay positive for as long as possible.

Other highlights so far have included the purchase of The Marathon Trainers (but they are too shiny and new to have actually been taken outside yet), my first attempt at taking a gel being successful (i.e. not resulting in a visit from the Gingerbread Man) and the increase in training providing perfect justification for new lycra. Let’s hope the run of smiley faces continues.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Double parkrunning

How did you welcome in the new year?

I had a lovely chilled evening at home, just about stayed awake to hear the fireworks and then woke up with a 7am alarm to head to Huntingdon parkrun. This was the first of a special New Year double and pleasingly 153 other people had decided that charging/slipping/ambling their way around a very muddy 5K course at 9am was an excellent way to start 2014! A quick change of leggings, socks and trainers and we were back in the car heading down the A1 for the second half of the morning's parkrunning.

287 runners had woken up by 10.30 and were ready to tackle Peterborough's course. The weather had worsened slightly by this point, but the course was significantly easier - all on Tarmac paths and completely flat apart from a bridge. I was just under 5 minutes quicker than I had been at Huntingdon but by the end my legs were reminding me that it might have been last year, but they had run a PB yesterday and wanted a rest.  Luckily rest and sustenance came in the form of Eggs Benedict at a friend's house afterwards together with lots of running chat and free flowing tea.

The rest of the day has been spent relaxing on the sofa - later I'm going to do a spot of yoga to get #21daysofyoga started and then just to balance things out, I'm making a pie.

Thanks go to all my running buddies for making this a great start to the year but final word to all of the volunteers for making the runs possible - you guys rock.