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.