Monday, 21 December 2015

I am a Marathon Runner

I did it! I ran the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon. I am a marathon runner. Actually as the course measured a bit long (26.62- it being a traily sort of race) I'm an ultra-runner!

The last few days before the race passed in a kind of haze of disbelief. It didn't seem real that I would be running a marathon yet it was all I could think about. It didn't hit home until Saturday morning when my fella and I went for a bimble along the seafront- approaching the remains of Clarence Pier we saw the 26 mile marker on a lamp post. I concentrated on how happy I was feeling at that moment and tried to store it for the next day.

Sunday morning. Ate breakfast, got to race HQ, not long before there wasn't any breakfast left in me. Really nervous and fidgety and scared and cold.

 My fella was awesome- so patient and calm. I'd have been ok if I'd been by myself but just having him around to say reassuring things really did help. It's so easy to talk yourself into a negative frame of mind, and it's very hard preparing to do something you have never done before.
Once I started running I felt fine. None of the nasty niggles I've been feeling recently and no nerves. The plan in as much as I had one, was to aim for 8:50-9 minute miles- just take it easy and not get carried away with excitement at the start. If I could stick to that pace then I'd get the sub4 hour marathon time I wanted. Plans have to be flexible though, and mile 3 was the first indication that a sub 4 might not happen... It wasn't much further before the mud really got going at which point I thought might as well enjoy the run and forget all about time. By the time I was approaching the turn around point at Hayling Island I knew the return 13 miles was going to be hard and that sub 4 was out of the question.  There were many, many miles of mud. Thank goodness for my Innov8 shoes!
Post-marathon- the Innov8s held their own through all the mud. My legs needed a lot of scrubbing!
One of the less muddy bits. Hayling Island somewhere.
It was a strange race in some ways. The general atmosphere at start and finish was relaxed, no competitive edginess at all. During the race I never really got chatting with anyone, never got into that trading of places with a few people that usually happens. And nearing the end there was no pulling each other along with expletives, encouragement or inarticulate howls. It was a somewhat solitary experience: mostly running alone, focussed on the task in hand. At the same time there was an odd sense of companionship knowing that we were all sharing the same experience- that of journeying through our own private hells, fighting our battles silently and simply willing the legs to keep turning over. Recognising the pain in the faces around me didn't make it any easier for me but it was a kind of bond with these unknown runners.
Whilst you can follow a training plan to get you fit and strong enough to run a marathon, there is nothing you can do to be completely prepared for the mental and emotional journey of running your first marathon. I knew the last 10k would be hard- plenty of experienced and awesome running friends told me it would be beyond tough but the experience of the miles as they begin to hurt you is unique and private. I wasn't prepared for being left so raw and vulnerable in those last 4 miles or so. Running through aches, niggles, even pain is one thing in training or even in a half marathon, but running when it feels like you've been ripped open to expose your very heart and soul is something I could never have imagined or prepared for.
It's hard to explain but it's something like when you're running beyond a certain amount of time you become the running- the act of running becomes all that you are mind, body and soul, it fills the whole world. I wasn't full of pain and despair, I never thought I couldn't finish, I never thought about stopping to rest but I felt exposed and vulnerable like an injured animal. I whimpered like one at times too. It was a very strange feeling, almost frightening, being reduced to nothing but the thought of putting one foot in front of another over and over and over.
I don't know if that is being broken. Perhaps it is but perhaps not, because as I made that journey I was also being remade. It wasn't about me beating the distance or the weather or the terrain, it was about learning to accept it all. Learning that if you completely give yourself up to the experience there is no battle any more. There is no winning- simply you move, you run. You are.
Steve, you saw me start the race as one person, and you held someone reborn at the end. You knew that would happen but allowed me to make the journey myself. Thank you with all my heart.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Running isn't always pretty!

Sometimes  it just doesn't flow or feel good and the Dirt Half was one of those days

No LSR today. I had intended to do a slow 10 miles or so on the back of yesterday's race but woke up this morning very sore and full of niggles. A rest is going to be better training than a painful run. I did sneak in some S&C work though and felt better for it. Active recovery, right?

Well it was about time I had a 'bad' race. I wasn't out for a fast one yesterday; getting long slow miles in ready for Portsmouth has been more important than half marathon speed sessions. Nevertheless I was excited to be running the Dirt Half again- it's a great course, lovely atmosphere and a great selection of cake at the end- and with a lot more off-road miles in my legs I was looking forward to a strong, steady run.


No, no, no, no, no.
I didn't feel fab from the start- all a bit clunky and slow. Sometimes it takes a couple of miles to get going so I didn't worry but by mile 4 I knew it wasn't going to happen for me. Legs were empty, body and mind were so very tired. All I wanted to do was stop and go home. But my children had come to cheer me on and I'm stubborn as 100 mules so no way was I going to give up. It was time to draw on what I've learned from some of my long Sunday runs: dig deep to reach that meditative state and focus the mind on cadence, breathing and form. Make the legs turn over. Concentrate on every single step. Keep moving. Don't cry.

Crossing the bridges over the canal wasn't fun

About half way up the 1 mile hill

Almost at the top of the 1 mile hill

It was the hardest run I've ever done. Much tougher than those flat out efforts during the Tour of MK in September. Back then although I felt used up, once I was running everything just flowed and worked. Yesterday I had to battle for every single step of all 13.1 miles.
I will say right now that I walked in places. Briefly on the 1 mile hill, in a couple of places I can't remember where, over the slippery bridges and that very last short incline with about 3/4 mile to go. I remember last year yelling "who the f#@* put that there?!" at that point and it caught me out again this year. But I never stopped moving. Even managed to find a short sprint for the finish.

But although it wasn't a 'good' race I can take quite a few positives from it:
  • Completed about 4 minutes faster than last year. So that's good.
  • Lost a lot less time on the hill.
  • Felt way more confident through the woods and on downhills (it was a good call wearing my new Innov8 x-talons!).
  • I was able to keep focussed.
  • I dug deep and kept going.
  • Finding and using that meditative state and mental strength is becoming easier.
Stuff I got wrong:
  • Not eating my usual pre-race foods the night before or in fact for a couple of days before (had some trouble with food going straight through me and I fear that the veggie's friend- tofu- isn't my friend)
  • Including a few short intervals in my run the day before.
  • Not enough stretching/foam rolling in the weeks before.
  • Not stretching straight after the race (maybe keep a roller in the car or tennis ball in my race kit in future)
  • I have also underestimated what racing does to me. I think the mental fatigue was from last months Exeter GWR. I stormed that race and although there were plenty of moments where all my training just fell into place and it felt effortless, I did have to dig deep for the last few miles. It was less than a month ago and an effort like that needs proper recovery time.
So plenty to take away from it and as ever lots of things I can learn from and work on to make me a stronger, more resilient runner. Every step and every race is experience and experience is good as long as you do something with it!

And eventually I was able to smile again:

Team Bradbug

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Wandering thoughts on a wandering LSR

Today was one of those days when any plans just had to go out the window. The unravelling began yesterday when I noticed my tonsils had turned into golfballs. I didn't feel ill; maybe a bit tired but no fever or aches or anything. Nevertheless I prepared myself for the eventuality of having to ditch the week's long run. The thought of only having completed 11 slow miles for the week wasn't a happy sort of thought but if I've learned anything on this marathon training journey it's that you've got to listen to your body and do whatever it's telling you.

I woke this morning feeling ok but a bit tired and I really didn't want to get out of bed. Once the clocks go back I do struggle with mornings so the early start for today's run just didn't happen. We decided that even though I felt fine we'd not have any plans other than to see how I felt with an hour's run then take it from there, so no set route, no target mileage or time on feet,  just the intention to run 9:00 pace.

Coffee, fruit toast, out the door. Yuc- it's raining and cold and dismal. The worst kind of November morning. Now I feel really bad that not only have I made my fella start the run 2 hours later than planned but I'm making him run in the most uninspiring weather. He doesn't need to be doing these long runs with me really. But we set off anyway grumbling a bit, both of us thinking probably we'll be turning around soon and heading back for coffee and cake in the warm and dry. However the rain stops, we settle into a relaxed pace and grumbling turns into chatting.

I don't really know where we ran. Just out and about. Lots of lakes and some of the canal. A bit of mud. Oh yes, and steps! A few sets of steps just for me! We talk about all sorts of stuff and also run in silence quite a bit, both of us lost in the gentle meditative rhythm of relaxed running. I am so fortunate to be able to run with my fella and share the sheer pleasure of running. I love his sense of play when running and I do think when you run with someone who is having fun it's infectious. And anyway we're not athletes, we run because we want to so there's not much point if you're not having fun.

It's also a wonderful thing to run with someone whose pace seems to fit with your own. I think I might have said this before but very often when running with others it's a constant battle of trying to keep up or trying to stay slow so you stay together, but we just seem to be able to run together without that. It's a great gift and I treasure every moment of it.

As for the physical process of this run, it felt good. Mostly a really consistent pace too which is great and shows I'm learning a bit of discipline at last! The usual aches set in, perhaps a little earlier than before but they didn't get as bad and I felt comfortable running through them. (I think once this marathon is done I'm going to spend a month in the gym really working to make sure my muscles are well balanced and strong.) I didn't eat so much this time, and had decided to try Mini Cheddars rather than my rocket fuel flapjacks. Nice, but not so easy to eat on the go. I'd also decided to listen to advice and added electrolytes to my water. High 5 Zero Citrus flavour I think I tried. Still didn't drink enough but managed a lot more than normal. Hormones were beginning to settle too (I can say that some of last week's fatigue and reduced endurance was due to hormones). So actually there were so many changed variables compared to last week's LSR I can't say which (if any) made a difference but there was a difference for sure. We got back and my fella wanted to round up another half a mile to 15 miles but I felt really up for rounding to 20. So I did. And there was definitely a bit in the tank still when I finished: 2hrs 58min for 20 miles.

I'm happy with today's run. Very happy!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Another long run with a dip into hard-core tri

I'd meant to write this quite soon after last Sunday's long run so that it would be a fresher take on the miles but it's been a hectic week so far with lots of things vying for my attention.

Sunday's run was another longest ever run- 23 miles!

The plan was to run an early 'lap' before meeting up with friends to run 12 miles or so through the woods and fields. I slightly misjudged my early run and ended up needing to do a few little circuits of the village to get the required minutes done (I wanted to do 90 minutes), then got to the meeting point a bit early and had about 10 minutes of fidgeting around but otherwise all pretty much went to plan. I even remembered to eat and got through 3 or 4 snacks but still don't take on enough fluids though which is something to work on.
(see for my most successful running fuel)

The morning was very misty but actually you could sense even at 7am that the sun wasn't far away so instead of it feeling a bit ominous being out in the fog-filled silence there was a sense of promise.
Running by myself I was determined to keep to a sensible training pace- so I set the pink Garmin device to 9:25 I think. The solitary bit of the run was all road as I really wasn't sure I was up for doing the whole 3.5 hours on trails but knowing how easy it is for me to go off at what feels like easy pace only to discover that I'm actually running perhaps a minute quicker meant it was a real challenge to stick to training pace. I did run a bit quicker than I 'should' but not ridiculously so- in the first 11.5 miles my quickest mile was 8:45 and slowest 9:25 (which was the first mile).
By the time I'd nipped home to change into trail shoes and got up the monstrous hill which is Church Street I was feeling a bit tired. The early lap was quite hilly and I'd let myself walk up bits of incline when I felt like it but I could tell the next segment was not going to be plain sailing. And for sure it wasn't!
The start was ominous- I love running through big puddles but this time totally misjudged the depth, went in well over my ankles, stumbled and put out a hand to balance myself only to grab hold of some barbed wire that was entwined with a wooden fence. Thank goodness for my running gloves! Although they were very thin, just that extra layer prevented any injury. A few weeks back a friend sustained a really nasty barbed wire cut in the same woods so I was lucky. It was all kind of funny though- my friends just looked on and laughed uncontrollably and I must have looked a sight! Next time I embark on some kind of hard-core triathlon maybe I should bring armbands to float me through the puddles. So glad no one took any photos!

Composure regained and we settled into a lovely sunny run. We ran through the woods, out and over to Woburn Abbey, up a few steep and long inclines and over the treacherous Greensand Ridge mud. It's horrid to run on as it's quite clay-y on the top and with all the rain we'd had it was more like ice. Note to self- look out for trail shoes that do well on mud.

I can't really remember details- fatigue set in fairly early and although aches and stiffness held off until about mile 19 it was hard keeping up with the others. They were great and would ease off of stop and wait for me in places, but I'm learning that on long runs I need to go at my pace and rhythm. The longer the run the more important that seems to be. But these days I don't mind running at the back of a group as you can see:

That's my fella in the black- just checking I haven't been mown down by deer (or fallen in the lake...)

The last 3 or 4 miles were a real test. I hurt- my hip flexors in particular got really tight because I guess although there'd been lots of ups and downs, sticking to a fairly even slow pace is going to do that. As the fatigue really set in I did remember to keep checking form and cadence and I'm pleased that neither suffered too much. I only have a FR10- it can't measure cadence and so I have to count-but even the process of counting means I'm straight away paying more attention.

This is what was waiting for me at about 21.5 miles:
I call these Greg Rutherford Steps as he trains on these (photo is from previous week)

Now usually I love these steps, but at that point there was no love at all and I did say something very rude. But I walked up them and then just kept going at the top. I think at that point one of the others said something about there must be a button on my back- press it and I'll just start running again! Well, this little machine was feeling broken but very determined- at this point I could have taken a short cut home instead of facing the final long, steep climb through the woods. However when confronted with the aforementioned long steep climb I just said to my fella 'Don't wait- run on with the others and wait for me at the end; I'll just walk up this hill'. But he wasn't having any of it and told me I could run it. So we did. It was painfully slow in places, but he talked me up that hill and I didn't stop. I even kept going to round up to 23 miles when we got back to the start.


The signs of a successful trail run!

Monday, 2 November 2015


A quick post as I've promised a few twitter running friends some recipes. I haven't invented either of these, although I've given the flapjack recipe a bit of a tweek.

Green Apple Cake (from a recipe in the Guardian)

for the green goo you need:
150g baby spinach, 2tbsp water and 3 tsp vanilla extract

for the cake you need:
2 medium eating apples, grated
75g butter or baking spread of your choice
100g full fat cream cheese
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g plain flour and 100g spelt flour (or use all plain)
1tbsp cornflour
2 tsp baking powder.

  • To make the goo put the spinach and water in a pan and cook until wilted- about 1 minute.
  • Then put in a blender with the vanilla and blitz until really smooth.  Set aside.
  • For the cake, beat together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy then beat in the eggs one at a time.
  • Next stir in the green goo along with the grated apple.
  • Finally sift in the flours and baking powder and mix until well combined.
  • Either spoon the mixture into muffin tins (you will get around 20) or into a greased and lined 18cm square cake tin.
  • Turn on the oven to 180C/160C fan/ 350F or gas mark 4.
  • Bake the muffins for around 15-17 minutes or until they spring back when touched lightly. Bake the cake for about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the tin, or turn out muffins when they have cooled for 5 minutes.

These work well when topped with chocolate cream-cheese frosting and make great Hallowe'en cakes.

Sinead's Rocket Fuel aka Banana-Peanut Butter Flapjacks

These have become my rocket fuel for long runs. If you use a natural, sugar-free peanut butter like the one from Meridian then it gives a slightly savoury hint to these soft flapjacks.

80g baking spread and 60g coconut oil (you can just use all butter if you prefer)
100g soft brown or light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp. golden syrup
about 4 heaped tbsp. crunchy peanut butter
350g porridge oats
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed

  • Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ Gas mark 4. Grease a 23x33am Swiss roll or similar tin.
  • Melt the spread/oil/butter in a large saucepan along with the sugar and golden syrup.
  • Then stir in the peanut butter followed by the oats, cinnamon, and baking powder and mix well.
  • Finally mix in the mashed bananas and mix until well combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and press down firmly with the back of a spoon or a potato masher.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until turning golden brown.
  • Mark into section but leave in the tin until completely cold otherwise it will disintegrate.

Pack small squares into resealable bags to stash in your trail vest or belt for natural, energy-filled goodness on your long runs.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Ruminating on a LSR

with especial thanks to Steve for being such a generous-hearted running companion

Yesterday I ran my second 20 miler.

A beautiful golden morning, cold but full of sunlight and heart-stopping autumnal colours. I've never seen an autumn so full of gold and tawny yellow as this. It was so good to be out running in it. This wasn't a solo run- someone very generously gave up their morning to run beside me and keep me to a sensible training pace. Well, that was the plan anyway. But, like the route, we didn't quite stick to what we'd intended!

The plan (in a rather loose sense of the word) was to be out for 3 hours and cover around 20 miles, the focus more on time than miles, and to keep a pace of about 9 min/mile. It was so cold when we stepped out the door! But the sun was shining, the colours were gorgeous and we set off. Maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the brightness of the day, maybe it was just because we were being ridiculously happy but whatever the reason we did set off too fast. Not silly fast but the most of those first miles were not really at a sensible LSR kind of pace and it took until about mile 10 to settle down.

And there's a whole blog post in itself- how much do you pay later for setting off too fast when you're running a long way? Sure you can burn out if you go off too fast for a 5k or 10k, but does it make a difference in an ultra (or even in a marathon)? You're going to end up tired and slow and hurting at some point anyway. The other week I was more or less ok even though I had that speedy burst around about the 2nd third of my long run. Yesterday my average pace was a fair bit slower and the speedier miles weren't as fast as on my previous 20 miler but I was far more tired at the end*. I guess the answer is the usual running answer: it depends.

It is such a joy to run alongside someone when your pace overlaps. I can't possibly match my training partner when it comes to putting on the after-burners (Friday's little downhill sprint was hilarious!) but for a steady LSR I can keep up just fine. Except it doesn't feel like keeping up, it feels equal. That's a rare thing when running- I've run alongside lots of people and find I'm never quite comfortable. Either they are going a tiny bit too slow for me or I'm having to try just a bit too hard to keep up. That's not a problem on group runs, but in a race it means I often get a bit lonely as I end up running on my own for long stretches, and on a run with just 1 other person it can feel a bit pressured as I'm determined not to get left behind.

I've learned a great deal the few long runs I've done with my training partner. Partly through him sharing his experiences of ultra running, and partly because it's reassuring running with someone when you're starting to hurt and muscles tighten up, get that empty legs feeling or just feel sick; you know you're going to be ok and it's really good to know that everyone goes through it. For me these things happen around 18-19 miles as I'm still quite new to running further than a half marathon, but I know the more I do it the more used to it my body will get and those uncomfortable feelings will happen a bit later on. I also now know that you can run through this and even if those feelings don't disappear you can reach a stage of meditating on movement, making the legs turn over, paying attention to core, breathing and cadence as a way of managing the discomfort.

Something that I'm not finding easy is fuelling on the go. I made myself eat half a 9 Bar after an hour then at hour 2 and tried to remember to drink a little every 30 minutes or so but the problem is I simply don't get hungry or thirsty while running. I know it's vital to refuel on the go on long runs as once you reach empty it's impossible to catch up with the fluid and nutrition, but it's not an easy thing when you have absolutely no inclination to put anything in your mouth.  Apparently all I need to do is find out what my 'rocket fuel' is; that will help both in terms of keeping up nutrition and be the thing that helps me get through the tired, achy it hurts now dip.  One thing is certain- it's not jelly babies!

Still not used to the state of utter splattedness and runger that ensues for the rest of the day post-LSR though. I'm hoping that becomes less of a problem as I get used to longer runs- there's too much to do to write off a whole day each week and I'm not sure I can budget for being quite so hungry!

* to be fair to myself I've been quite unwell this week with lurgy and a nasty wisdom tooth infection, plus getting myself through a karate grading. It's a wonder that I recovered enough to even contemplate a 20 mile run!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Exeter's Great West Run

Well what a weekend that was!

It was all looking very gloomy as I'd committed the cardinal sin of doing a different workout to usual when I did my weights on Wednesday. I don't usually do squats and lunges as I know they can cause strange niggles and pains but for some strange reason I decided to do both and then do a tempo session later in the day. Stupid woman! What on earth was I thinking? So by Thursday I had very a very painful left hamstring/glute thing going on which was worse on Friday.

I tried to remedy the pain and niggles with some thorough yoga on the Friday and luckily it did the trick (although not until the Saturday morning) but in the meantime I went down with an absolutely stonking cold. And a bit of a niggly pain in a wisdom tooth which I put down to have a head stuffed full of snot. Friday evening I texted my brother to say I didn't think I'd make it down for the race as I was feeling so rough and went to bed early. Being an optimist (yes, I am one of those. Sometimes.) I pack my bag and race kit anyway and set my alarm for a 4.30am get up just in case.

Wake up, get out of bed about 4.45am and don't feel too bad. My glute & hamstring are pain free and I'm not full of snuffles. A horrid cough, but actually I feel ok so after caffeinating I get in the car and drive. -At this point can I recommend embarking on long drives wearing compression tights. I find them very helpful in reducing discomfort when driving. I still get tight muscles and niggles but not nearly as bad.- By 10am I'm by the sea in Westward Ho! chilling out at my parents. A little tiny 2 mile run along the seafront just to check my legs actually work then lots more tea, then it's time to get down to my bro in Okey as he'd offered to drive me into Exeter for the race.

To cut a long story short, I get to the race start fully determined to maybe get round in 1:50 as there's been no good pace in my legs for weeks and I now have full blown toothache. It's really cold and I just want to get the race over and done with. 
  • Mile 1 done in 7:10, mile 2 in a much more sensible 7:28.
  • The next 4 miles I run progressively quicker then settle down for the next 3 or so. This is easy- everything just feels like it's flowing. Sub 7:20 pace is just not proving challenging at all and I feel so strong, so focussed. 
  • It gets a bit more undulating from now on but the hill up to the university is really not that bad- my legs didn't notice it much.
  • Mile 11 I run a storming 7:10. Then it's pain, mental and physical doing the out and back along Pinhoe Road. They felt the longest 2 miles of my life and if it wasn't for the guy running for Team Bones I would have slowed up quite a bit. Instead we egged each other on, shouted a bit and finished strong. I don't know your name, although I think it might be Lee (so many people seemed to know you and I think that's the name they were calling), but thank you so much for the encouragement and for giving me someone to chase. And thank you too for the hug at the end. We both deserved it!
  • I approach the finish and look up at the timer on the gantry in disbelief.  I have run this 13.1 in around 1:36:45- at least 1min 30 quicker than ever before.
 I ran it in 1:36:43 and was 10th or 11th lady.

Honestly, that was the best race I've ever run. Not just because of the time but because I felt all the hard work in training come together and let me run freely. Mentally too I didn't once lose focus or panic when I felt that wobbly, empty legs thing; I knew and trusted that it would only be momentary, just my body switching energy supply. Running with everything falling into place was an amazing feeling!

All I have to do now is get through my karate grading tomorrow.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Stepping up to a challenge

Up the road and down the lane at the start of what felt like my first 'real' LSR. Not as early a start as I'd intended but still just early enough to catch some of the dawn mist over the fields.

It seems a bit daft to say yesterday's run felt like my first LSR- I ran a lovely 17 miles the previous week and there was the 16 miles or so in the Peak District. In fact each of my last three long runs has been further than the one before. But yesterday was different because I'd set myself the challenge of completing 20 continuous miles. The realisation that it's just over 2 months to the Portsmouth marathon and 3 of those weekends will be taken up with racing 13.1 miles made me panic a little bit. The fear of the unknown, not having a clue whether I can actually run that kind of distance.

20 miles felt like a significant distance to cover. I know so many people say that the first 20 miles of a marathon are easy, it's the last 10k that are the challenge, but I wanted to know what it feels like to run that far. Racing a half, I can't imagine continuing for another 3 miles let alone 13.1 so I wanted to know at what point I might begin to hurt or start imagining I can't run further.

On the previous LSR I remember really feeling sore and stiff around 13 miles in. Glutes and hip flexors just felt so tight and it was an effort to pick up my legs and move. It panicked me a bit at the time- I know in the past I've not been good a spotting when to run through discomfort and when to stop. But I ran through it and it eased although I was feeling slow and tired by the end. This time I didn't really feel bad except for the first mile or so when I could have sworn my shoes were filled with lead and my feet and legs were made of slabs of concrete, and then at about mile 18 when I was just exhausted. It felt like I'd really slowed down but actually by then I had settled into the pace I should have been keeping to all along which was around 8:50 min/mile.

That 18 mile point was where running became truly meditative. It was necessary to retreat into my head and simply be in each moment- keeping the legs turning over, focussing on form and each moment. It was hard. The fatigue and discomfort that trigger that meditative state also fight it for attention and it's not easy to ignore. It's where the doubt creeps in and feeds on the unknown- can I keep going? How am I going to get through the next mile, then the one after that? But I did it, even though I was all used up by the end and couldn't have run another mile.

Still standing after 20 miles. Unfortunately still 2 miles from home- it was a long and chilly walk back!

So to have completed 20 miles relatively unscathed feels good. It feels even better to know I did it on tired legs- it was never a good idea to have done hill reps the day before but it was a case of needs must. And karate training was mostly on kiba dachi which although great for strengthening the legs is also a killer so again not ideal pre-LSR work. Today I'm sore and walking like a cowboy,  but now I know that next LSR I can run further, that it'll be ok.

This week is easy though as I'm racing at the Great West Run half on Sunday. Look out for me if you're there, and please find it in your heart to make a small donation to support my chosen charity.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Puke Hill

That's a nice title for a post, isn't it?

Yesterday I decided to run reps of it. Should have done hills on Thursday but I was so sore post-massage I just couldn't face it. It's a hill I've run up a couple of times but never got round to giving myself the reps treatment on it and given the Dirt Half is a month away it was high time I did a bit of dirty hill training.

So just over a mile run to the barriers and then it begins:

It doesn't look so bad does it? Quite dry and sandy underfoot though. To start with...
But it doesn't stay sandy for long. It gets uneven and muddy. This is where it starts to get a bit steeper too. The first 2 reps I had to walk up some of this. Not because I was out of breath but because my quads were screaming at me to stop.
This is the last bit (looking downhill). Steep, muddy and not much fun.
Anyway. The first two reps I had to do a bit of walking. Maybe a quarter of rep 1 and a bit less in rep 2. The next two I did manage to run, just. At the top I honestly didn't know whether I was going to puke, shit myself or just cry. My guts felt like they were doing somersaults- that really awful going inside-out kind of feeling. It was interesting that the problem wasn't a cardio one. I had taken care to pace myself carefully and although I did get a bit breathless it wasn't out of control. It was just my legs.
Now I'm not certain if it really was a lack of strength or whether it was a lack of faith. Since I managed to run (very slowly) reps 3 and 4 I think it might be the latter. It is odd how simply not believing that my legs could carry me through more than one go at the hill meant that I struggled. Some of it is the fear of failing, I think. At the back of my mind was the thought that if I run up the 1st rep then my legs will be empty and I won't manage any more reps. But instead of giving in to that I could have reminded myself what's the worst that can happen? The worst- having to walk in the subsequent reps and how is that any different or worse than walking some of the first two?
Anway, after rep 4 I thought that was probably enough so bimbled back down intending to get back on the road and go straight home. But I went past the MTB track we found the other week on the Wednesday Night Woodland Bimble and though it would be fun to revisit it in the daylight. By the time I'd got to the bottom of the hill the feeling of wanting to puke etc was a distant memory (so proving that actually I'm stronger and fitter than I let myself believe) and I really fancied a bit of exploring.
It got a bit squelchy and boggy in places but ended up here:
well worth the extra mile or so! And I did feel restored...
...even if my feet were wet and muddy!

Friday, 2 October 2015

A time to play

Writing this now, I don't feel like playing- I'm shattered from my first interval training session for a while. Attempted 4x 1km repeats but my legs gave out on the last rep at about 600m. Still, surely my legs will thank me at a later date! It is also a challenging blog post because separating the weekend's running journey from a more personal journey isn't going to be easy. I don't particularly want to go into personal non-running stuff here but at the same time I guess that shows how running has become deeply intertwined with my life in general.
The weekend just gone was time to play. I was ready to never run another step after the crazy week of running but this did away with the restrictions of pace, distance and time, and helped me rediscover my love of running.

The Peak District. My first taste of fell running and what I hope was just the first of many visits there.

Saturday wasn't just a first for running the fells and tors of the Peak District. It was also a first for my longest continuous run- a bit over 16 miles, 1000m of climb and I think about 3 1/2 hours running time. I'm a bit vague on the stats as the pink Garmin device (a FR10) couldn't cope with some of the climbs and decided I wasn't moving. In any case, the weekend wasn't really about stats- I did want to manage a long run but we had no agenda. My running partner had an idea of a route but as we had map and compass we were free to go where we wanted.
The freedom to run where our feet desired was simply wonderful. At the top of Shining Tor (but it wasn't shiny at all...) the slabs of stone making a path across the ridge to Cats Tor were too tempting not to cross. I think that scamper across the stony, uneven surface was one of my favourite bits of the whole weekend. It was partly the joy of the challenge of the surface, partly just being up high surrounded by blue sky and open space- I ran and smiled the whole way!

Hard not to smile being up here in the sunshine!

In some respects the weekend's running took on a kind of dreamlike quality. It was a much needed escape from everyday life but it felt like an escape for the legs and feet too.  I found myself running to a very different rhythm. There is an almost dancing quality to running over stony and rocky ground, even for a newbie like me. I was slow and hesitant in places whilst my friend is sure-footed and swift as a mountain goat, but even so it was never a trudge even when I found it hard going; my feet just found their own pace. I loved having to run to the rhythm of the ground, letting the terrain guide me rather than trying to impose my pace goals. Some of the climbs were very steep (and sometimes my legs were just plain tired) so rather than try to run really slowly it made more sense to hike up them. I'd forgotten how much I like walking!
There was plenty of technical stuff to deal with. Over the 2 days I ran things I thought I never could. Ok, sometimes it was hardly running and more like a baby giraffe on ice, but I still did it. And sometimes with a smile too:

At the top of Teggs Nose...


Feeling a bit apprehensive about this downhill stuff... confident enough to manage a smile again!

It was a great feeling tackling some steep downhills and gradually becoming more confident. By the end I was able to run down some, not fast but still much quicker than I imagined I could do whilst staying safe on my feet. I did have one wobble, almost at the end of Sunday's run going down through a bit of woodland. It was steep and the ground was loose and full of roots. There was a moment when my legs and mind just said no and refused to let me move. I guess by then I was really tired because I hadn't properly considered how much concentrating I was going to have to do or how much that would take out of me- but a friendly hand reached out to me stopped me freezing. Secretly I had hoped I wouldn't have to hold a hand to get down a slope but there's no shame in accepting help when it's needed and it got me moving again quickly so it didn't turn that moment into a big deal.
Up and out of Lud's Church
Lud's Church or Chasm was a serendipitous find. In fact we hadn't planned on going that way at all but a suggestion from a passing fell runner led us to change route and then as we were picking our way through some woods we saw a sign for 'Chasm' which sounded too mysterious and exciting to pass by. It's a fairy grotto of a place- truly magical. And it was well worth breaking our run there to marvel at the beauty of it. So many different mosses and lichens- many I've never seen before- and ferns nestling high in the crevices above our heads. In the sunshine and late morning it was full of a friendly magic but I can imagine it is quite another thing in the grey dawn, full of mist.
As I said earlier, this was a very different kind of running. It's humbling to be amongst the tors and rocks but at the same time learning to run with not against the land is liberating. I thought I was pretty strong and fit (and I reckon I am) but the land is far stronger and once you accept that running becomes simpler. You have to be in the moment every moment because the ground takes all your concentration. And because you have to give your mind over to it the place gets under your skin and you begin to feel part of the landscape you're running in. For me that's kind of comforting- it takes away a layer of responsibility. Go with the land and it'll be ok.
Looking up. I want to keep that feeling now I've had a taste of it.
Thanks to Steve for his patience, for sharing his love of running the tors, and for the photos.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A time to think

It's now 2 weeks since 'that week'. I hardly ran at all the first week after- not only was I exhausted and really run down but I just didn't want to run. The top of left hamstring/glute niggle which seems to surface from time to time was also quite a problem and as my masseur was away that week I decided resting my legs was as good as anything. So mostly it was bits of yoga, icing the sore area, eating lots and not worrying about not running; a couple of runners I have a lot of time for have been nagging me about resting properly.

And having processed the experience of literally running myself into the ground and taken on board good advice, I've been doing a lot of thinking...

So now my marathon training plan has gone out the window. And you know what?- I'm not that worried! I have realised that in order to run better (and for longer in time and distance) I need to do less running. Better quality, but fewer runs a week. And rest days really need to be that- rest and no training of any sort. I had a really interesting talk with a friend at parkrun the other week. I had decided just to bimble around so I ran with her and her younger daughter at a nice easy pace and chatted as we went round. She likened training to having a budget. You have x amount of training you can do in terms of what is right for your body and whatever kind of training you do comes out of that budget. For example if I do 6 hours of karate a week (and it's hard training, not the lessons when it's mostly quite static stuff) then that has to come out of my training budget which means a bit less running. Or if I walk briskly to work every day that's around 15 miles- that has to come out of the budget too.

My plan now isn't really one that needs to be set out as a timetable. 4 runs a week (or 3 if that's all I feel like) with the long run being my main focus. I can start at 17 miles or around 150-180 minutes  and go from there, making sure it's easy pace. Sometimes I could add in race pace miles or perhaps run the last segment at race pace. Then all I need is an easy run, something for strength like hill reps or intervals, and a tempo run. A couple of S&C sessions a week would be good ( I already make sure I get one good session of weights each week) but if I can only manage one then to be honest I'll probably get a good short 2nd session of that at karate once a week anyway. Most importantly when it comes to most of my runs I want them to be off road. That will keep me at a more relaxed pace, I'll enjoy it more and there are all the benefits from running on varied terrain.

 I am also hoping to once again give karate a bit more focus. I haven't been practising regularly and I think that shows- I'm struggling to get my new kumite set in my head and my kicks are shocking. I have started to get my head and body around a couple of technical things- last Tuesday's lesson was a revelation in hip movement and how it powers forward movement as well as punches- and I want to consolidate what I've been learning. Progress is going to be slow now as the karate becomes more technical and expectations on standard become higher; if I don't get back to regular practice in between training at the dojo then there won't be much point in training at all. Put the right focussed work in and reap the benefits. Don't bother and all the hard work of the last 12 months will be wasted.

So it's time to get back on it and smash this marathon!

And you'll read about this little adventure in my next blog post...

Monday, 28 September 2015

A week I'd rather forget

7 days 7 races

Monday 7th September: a road/redway race. 6.8 miles in 46:59 40 sec taken off my 10k time

Tuesday 8th September: X-country race. 4.9 miles in 36:58

Wednesday 9th September: Track race. 1 mile PB of 6:19 (run in full morphsuit)

Thursday 10th September: race through Campbell park & redways. 4.35 miles in 30:06

Friday 11th September: a shocker of a 2 mile cross-country race, one I’ll be glad to forget

Saturday 12th September: park/redways race 6.44 miles in 44:38 1 more sec taken off my 10k time and finished 5th lady. It was the first time I’ve run 5 consecutive sub 7 min miles.

Overall finished in 36th place out of 91 runners and was 6th lady and first in my age category.

Sunday 13th September: Bacchus Half and I found my breaking point

 = more or less 38.59 miles and 182min 57sec of racing

It’s a little while since the crazy week finished. I got a couple of new PBs, I learned an awful lot (much of which I’m still processing) and it broke me. Mentally and physically I finished the week run down, exhausted and on my knees and not wanting to run another step.
You can see how much it was hurting here, in the final race of the Tour:

 I did not enjoy the Tour of MK experience at all. Yes, I know I was putting pressure on myself but it didn’t help racing in such a competitive environment. The Tour is primarily a MMKAC event and they are a ‘proper’ athletics club; members take everything extremely seriously and it’s all lots of track-based stuff and drills and things. None of the courses were particularly inspiring; Milton Keynes is a great place to run but I don’t think the Tour makes the most of this fact. Even the cross country race in Bow Brickhill Woods wasn’t the best. In fact that experience was terrifying- there were several steep technical descents and with runners hurtling past me I was scared of being knocked flying and breaking a hip. I really didn’t run well in that race and it cost me a better final placing.

Mentally it was very challenging racing every evening after a day at work and all the usual domestic things. From the Thursday I felt like I was running on empty but except for the Friday race I managed to pull some decent running out of the bag every night. I ran my heart out and my socks off every day but I didn’t take proper care of myself. Often not getting home until 8.30pm I didn’t stretch after races, didn’t foam roll and didn’t really eat properly, reverting to toast and bagels and crackers rather than lots of fruit and veg. I don’t know if that was because my body needed big doses of carbs or whether I was comfort eating because I was getting increasingly fatigued and sore.
What did I learn? That I can push myself very hard and get good results but there is a high price to pay. That I have to make time to recover- not just not run a couple of days a week but to do yoga and to eat properly all the time. No more late night carb binges!

Bacchus should have been fun but it was 13.1 miles too far. It was lovely though to meet up with a few UKRunChat people I’ve talked with in twitterland:
I'm not sure I would have got through the race if it wasn't for @beoutrunning and his Dragon. Thank you so much for your kind words, encouragement and hugs throughout the race. Here's a link to his blog if you're interested:
Finally here are a few pictures from Bacchus. I really don't feel inclined to write about it- lovely course, fabulous race in terms of the set up, marshals, food, great live music at most of the feed stations, but I was in no position to really appreciate it. Perhaps next year I will race it on fresh legs...


Saturday, 12 September 2015


I finally got around to setting up my Just Giving page. If you have a read of it you'll understand why I'm doing quite this much running not only this week but between now and Christmas.

It's looking like by the time I finish the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon on 20th December I will have raced 127.5 miles and covered I don't know how many miles in training.

Watch this space and the Just Giving page to see how it all goes...

and you can read about the work the DAAT do here:

Friday, 11 September 2015

Running on empty

4 down, 2 to go plus Sunday's half marathon.
Wednesday's tears resulted in a 6:19 min/mile. No wonder I was so exhausted afterwards! I have never run that fast before! Perhaps if I ever run another timed mile I should try it in normal running kit because I'd probably go a bit faster! On the other hand, maybe a morphsuit is more aerodynamic...

can you spot me?

Yesterday was a race around one of MK's many parks. It was a tough one, not just because it was race 4 of 6 in the week but because there was a lot of steep-ish downhill. My downhill running is slowly improving- thanks in part to watching one of Kinetic Revolution's fab videos - but I do still lose time. I didn't much enjoy the cattle grids either. I couldn't risk even walking over them so I had to go through kissing gates 4 times whereas everyone else ran over the grids. But I still remember some advice a good running friend gave me last year when talking me through the Dirt Half route-
 don't see gates or stiles as a bad thing, there to slow you down. Catch your breath and use them as a moment's respite.

In the end once I was running it didn't feel too bad, although at the start I did think I was running on empty. Funny what you can pull out of the bag when you think there's nothing left. There was even enough for a sprint finish! Only just though- it took quite some time to stop shaking sufficiently for me to feel ok to drive back.

So that was 4.35 miles in just over 30 minutes. Enough to put me at 4th lady for the week's races so far. No idea how when I'm racing against 'proper' runners- people who do regular track sessions and drills and all that- and whether I can keep it up I don't know. This evening is a hill race- 2 miles in the woods. My ankles are still feeling it from Tuesday's cross country and I'm mentally drained so not sure how I'll get on today. Bit short on sleep too, but it's a good time now to have an espresso.

On which note I'll make some coffee, have a snack and get ready for the 5the race of the week...

Special thanks to:
Paul and Steve for giving me a talking to (or two) this week

and to all the Redway Runners who've turned up to give support and encouragement at the Tour races

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

3 down 4 to go

Day 3 of the Tour of MK completed.

It's really late and I'm splatted.

My legs are miserably sore despite this morning's massage. I'm tired and not having fun running.

Monday was 6.77 miles. I did quite like this race because it was a long enough distance for me to get some speed and simply enjoy the feeling of running fast. I took 40 seconds off my 10k PB and finished 6th lady, 35th overall. I think I could even have gone a bit faster but I'm very happy with that unlooked-for time.

Tuesday was an old-school sort of cross country race. Now I love off-road running but this wasn't fun at all. It was brutal and there was no pleasure in it for me.

A little under 5 miles of going as fast as I could over horrid terrain whilst trying to stay safe and not break an ankle. Considering I hated every step of it and my legs were tired from the previous evening I did ok finishing 9th lady and just about in the top half of all runners.

This evening it was a 1 mile track race. So completely not my thing at all. I had already decided not to take it seriously and given how sore and bruised my legs were feeling (despite a massage this morning) I knew trying to go flat out would be a mistake. I got to the track, all morphsuited up only to discover I'd been running well enough to be in the 3rd group of runners so I was with speedy people who expect to run sub 6 min miles. I've NEVER come close to that! For the first time I was actually in tears I was so scared of racing. I so didn't want to be last and end up running the last lap on my own.

Well, I have no idea how I did- I ran without the pink Garmin device. But I didn't come last. I didn't puke, my legs didn't actually give way. I survived and so it's all ok. It was even better when I got to the pub to meet the usual Wednesday woodland bimble crew; they hadn't arrived yet but the landlord recognised me and gave me a free half of Guinness! Hugs from my two best running friends were much appreciated too. Even if I was teased mercilessly about the morphsuit and how it does make me look like a boy.

Tonight my legs and ankles are just a bundle of pain. They are sore, aching and feel bruised. Just a 5 mile race to get through tomorrow- laps of a park with big hills; a tough but short race in the woods Friday; 6 miles or so around some other park in MK and then a half marathon on Sunday...

Next week I need to do things that remind me that actually I love running.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Marathon training begins and bigger worries

For the first time I’m contemplating a week’s running with something akin to dread.

Next week is Week 1 of training for my first marathon. That’s a bit scary because right now I can’t imagine running 26.2 miles in one go. But that’s not what I’m dreading. The marathon is just a stepping stone to what I (think) I want to do next year- my first ultra. Right now I can’t imagine running 37 miles in one go. But neither is that causing me dread.

Next week I have a race every day.

None of the races are long- the mileage for the week isn’t particularly high and is less than I would ordinarily run- but it still feels like a lot of running. I guess there are two things really getting to me. Firstly, the Tour of MK is one of MMKAC events so there will be ‘proper’ runners there- people who train far more seriously than I do and I’m afraid of just being rubbish compared to them. They are also likely to be far more experienced competitors. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome runners in my club some of whom are very experienced and very fast, but the atmosphere at my club is one of friendship and support. We don’t do serious track training every week, we don’t really care about how we compare in results to other clubs; we just get together to run and chat and share our love of running.

Secondly, I know how I respond to race situations. I live off the adrenaline and nerves; they give me a bit of extra speed and focus, especially on occasions when I’ve not felt up for it. But going through that every day is something else. I’m not sure I can rely on adrenaline 7 days in a row, not am I sure that I can mentally or physically get through it all. Especially as I have to go to work, run a house and look after my kids as well.

Make your easy runs really easy and the hard runs hard.

Most of your training should be at easy pace.

Sensible people have told me to pick a couple of races to really go for and to just ease through the others perhaps using them as training runs. The snag with that is that I struggle to run easy when it’s an occasion. The now infamous Stowe ‘Ultra Half’ was supposed to be a bit of a jolly. It was fun but I very quickly found myself running it hard. Turned up at Beat the Barge with no intention of running fast but stormed through it. Even the Thursday club runs usually become tempo runs for me. On one level that’s good because by myself my tempo runs aren’t always as quick as they should be whereas on club runs I can rely on a couple of speedy guys to try to keep up with.  But it could also be said that means I’m a very undisciplined runner who has issues with pace!

I know if I run hard every day next week that will be the worst start to my marathon training; it will take ages to recover and I won’t be able to build up the miles I need in my feet. But if I don’t try my best then I’ll be kicking myself because of missed opportunities and because I am representing my club and want to do my best for them.

Marathon training is in itself an unknown for me- I have no idea how my body and mind will respond to upping the mileage and time on my feet. I suppose it’s best to treat it as an adventure. Set out and just see what happens but it is hard not to place expectations on myself.
A lot has been happening and changing in my running and life in general recently- pretty much all good things- and I'm scared of messing things up. Even good change can be scary and exciting new adventures unsettling. this space...


Friday, 14 August 2015

Taking the rough with the smooth

I'm nursing a niggle again so it's a few (I hope just a few) days of no running. It would also seem to be a few days of being permanently starving and eating almost all the time!

It's frustrating to have got a niggle just when running was going so well, but these things do happen so it's a good time to do a bit of reflecting and learning. Time to look back over my 'training' (term used very loosely!), diary. It's not a regimented, systematic thing full of tables. I record what I've done each day in terms of runs and cross training, how I've felt and any other little bits of information I feel the need to jot down, maybe who I ran with, where I went; in the case of karate useful drills, things I can see I really need to practice.

It was a salutary lesson that bit of reading and shows I should review things more regularly, the more so because me and running have got so close rather than because a plan says I have to. My mileage had dropped right off April/May to about 90-100 a month what with feeling tired, having a niggle (similar one to what I have now interestingly) and racing hard a couple of times. June the miles went up to just over 140 and July 151. This month so far I've managed around 60 most of which have been off-road and included one hard, fast, mostly off-road race:

Redway Runners inaugural Beat the Barge 5 mile race. I was 1st lady and 3rd overall

It also showed up that my days off usually include some kind of cross-training, either a long walk or (more often) 2 hours hard karate training so I don't really have rest days. So although I have been running really well the jump in miles over the summer was possibly a bit much. There hasn't really been a transition to off-road running either, just straight into lots and lots of tough terrain. This is where I need to take care with the 'just take off and go run somewhere lovely' way I've been doing things. It could be easy to do too much/ too hard running and not notice until I wake up one day with a horrid niggle or sustain an over-use injury.

So the off-road stuff is highlighting I need to do some more strengthening work on hips/ hamstrings/glutes especially on my left side. And more stretching. I can see lots of scribbled, underlined notes reminding me to get back to regular yoga practise! Probably it would be sensible to back off the mileage (and intensity) a bit for a couple of weeks or so then start marathon training to gradually build back up.

The only catch with that last bit is week of 7th September I have a race every day! It's the Tour of MK and then on the Sunday I'm off with quite a few club members to run the Bacchus Half. Whilst I can't possibly give every race my all (and the Bacchus isn't a terribly serious 13.1 from what I can tell) I don't want to be useless. And put me at a start line and I can't help but let the adrenaline carry me along. Maybe I'll go for the 2 cross country runs and treat everything else as easy/ recovery.

Whatever happens, this autumn and winter is going to be a steep learning curve and I must be prepared to accept things going wrong or not to plan. Last winter wasn't so bad- because all of running was so new to me I had no real expectations. This time round I need to keep reminding myself that really it's all new to me again- it's my first marathon and that's so different to anything else I've done I shouldn't load myself with expectation. Sure based on my half times I might want to aim for around 3hr 30 but actually just getting round will be a success. And anyway, it's a step to things I really really want to do-  this year has been the Year of the Unexpected, next year I hope to make Year of the Ultra...