Slow and Steady

15 Apr

It’s been a busy fortnight, so here’s a recap.

On Easter Monday, with the gym closed again, I did a 45 minute swim.  When the pool is quiet I don’t actually mind swimming nearly as much, and there weren’t many people desperate for a swim at lunchtime on Easter Monday!

On the Tuesday I went to my club session: hills.  It sounds quite straightforward, and the slope in question isn’t too bad when you run up it the first time: we do 8 x 5 minutes, with the first 3 minutes being run hard, including going up the slope, and the 2 minutes being a steady jog back to the start line.  But the steady slope seems to get steeper every time, and before you know it you have jelly legs and screaming lungs!  With the run to the start and then back to T’s it was a total of 8 miles.

I took Wednesday as my rest day, did 8 miles steady on Thursday and then 45 minutes in the gym on the Friday.  On Saturday, it was time for a bit more speed: 8 x 1km off 2 minutes.  I was pleased that my kilometre reps were faster than when I had done 6 x 1km a fortnight before (between 4.02 and 4.11, whereas 2 weeks previously they had been between 4.05 and 4.15), so my fitness/speed is gradually coming back.  I rounded the week off with 13 miles along the towpath on Sunday, at 8.17m/m.  40 miles for the week, and 90 minutes of cross-training, so equivalent to about 50 miles in total.

This week I started with very sore legs.  Doing 24 miles over 2 days at the weekend, including 5 miles of quality, had been a big ask for my muscles at this stage of my return to running, and so I could just about manage 30 minutes very gently on the bike in the gym, but it was little more than turning the legs over on low resistance to push blood through the achy muscles.  My legs were still a bit sore on Tuesday, and my 8 mile steady run was about 40 seconds slower than the one I’d done the previous Thursday: that’s the glory of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is quite often at its worst 48 hours after a tough session.  I guess that longer run the day after speedwork counted as a tough session, even if I used to cope with more.  On Wednesday I did an hour in the gym on the adaptive motion trainer, and my legs finally felt a bit more receptive to the idea of working hard.

On Thursday, it was time for a bit more speed.  I went to my club session, which was on grass.  It was the first time I had run on grass in spikes since the hamstring injury in November, and the session coach mentioned I was running slightly unevenly, which hadn’t been the case in the road sessions he’d seen me do.  I guess that although the ankle is a lot stronger, I still don’t feel I trust it completely, as it can get a little tired after a tough run, and I didn’t quite feel able to corner on slightly slippery mud without checking my stride a little.  I spent the rest of the session trying to focus on form and running evenly rather than stressing about pace, but was still pleased that in the 24 minutes of effort (albeit in 1 minute chunks!) I had covered almost exactly 4 miles.  Hello, 6 minute miles!  It’s been a while…

On Friday, I did a steady 9 miles.  It was a welcome relief for the body and mind after a stressful day.

Saturday was my rest day for the week.  This was to allow T and I to go and view a house together (T has very bravely decided he can contemplate living with me all the time.  He must love lycra and muddy trainers more than I realised) and then go and meet my parents for a fancy lunch (The Harrow at Little Bedwyn: worth travelling for!).  By the time we got back from the fancy lunch there was only really time for a cup of tea and a quick sit-down before heading out to see Education, Education at the Bristol Old Vic.  A real trip down memory lane for those of us who came of age in the 90s!  With all of that to squeeze in, I’d known from the outset I needed Saturday to be my rest day.

Today I rounded the week off with 13 miles.  The pace was the best of my long runs in a while, although still fairly steady (8.12s), but it means a third week in which I have run 40 miles and done 90 minutes of cross-training.  I’m not sure I’m ready for any significant increases to that, except that I’d like to gradually increase the long run to 15-16 miles, and perhaps get my midweek medium long run up to 12 miles rather than 9 or 10, because I don’t want to overdo things as my body adjusts back to doing speedwork.

Marathon season is now well under way, with Paris last weekend and Brighton this weekend.  There is a little bit of me that feels a bit wistful, but I also know (given how the ankle is faring) that I took the right decision.  I’m not decided as to whether I’ll be an armchair supporter next weekend, with the athlete tracker loaded up with lots of names to follow, or whether I’ll go up to London in person, but I’m ready for some vicarious pleasure in others hitting their times!


My Kind Of Clubbing ft. Plastic Free Lent

2 Apr

First, the running:

I started the week with a rest day.  Never ideal, but I had a longer day than expected in court and had a bit to read for the following morning, so that was how things had to be.  On Tuesday, determined not to end up in the same boat twice, I went to the gym before going to work, and did 45 minutes of cross-training.  On Wednesday, I managed 8 steady miles.  T was away, and I was missing him, so I felt a bit flat, but also better for running.  And then on Thursday, a pleasure long absent from my life: a club session.  I hadn’t trained with Bristol & West since late November due to my succession of injuries, and although I’m far from fully fit, I am at least now at the stage where I will benefit from doing the tougher sessions again.  The session plan was 3-4 x 2km off about 2 minutes.  In November, when I last did the session, I managed a slowest 2km of 7.50 and a fastest of 7.35.  This time, it was 8.13 v 8.04.  But on a really positive note, each km was faster than I managed the previous week.  That’s both the benefits of club training and the slow return of fitness!  On Friday I went to the swimming pool for the first time in ages (the gym was closed because it was Good Friday) and swam for 45 minutes.  On Saturday, I plodded a slow 10 miles.  That speedwork had definitely made my legs work hard, even if my lungs had felt pretty ok.  And on Sunday 12 miles around the park opposite T’s parents’ house, at a rather more respectable pace.  So this week, a moderately respectable 40 miles run and 90 minutes of cross training.  That’s equivalent to over 50 miles, and is almost the early stages of marathon training in terms of volume!

And now, Plastic Free Lent.  If you only read this blog for the running, farewell!

T was really keen to give PFL a go.  The name is a little flattering, because it’s really about trying to do without single-use plastic.  However, there’s a lot of single-use plastic out there: bin bags, tea-bags, fruit and veg, bread, toiletries, household cleaning products, cheese…  And crisp packets.  Dammit, I love crisps.  At times, it felt like almost everything I wanted to buy came in plastic and was out of bounds.

PFL has meant some pretty significant changes: I now buy most of my basics at a ‘scoop shop’ (i.e. you put your rice/lentils/nuts/dried fruit/tea/herbs in a paper bag, and it is sold to you by weight).  I’ve gone back to buying fruit and veg loose from the greengrocers’.  And it’s actually so much cheaper, especially for fresh herbs.  Cheese does involve a trip to the farmers’ market, which is a bit of a faff.  Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and face wash now come in bars, which can be popped in a paper bag.  Farewell plastic bottles!  Household cleaning products also come from the ‘scoop shop’, where they can be re-filled.  Fruit juice and milk are now delivered by the milkman in glass bottles: rinse and return.  Just like when I was a kid!

I went back to making my own bread, although was a bit annoyed to discover that the yeast sachets are non-recyclable.  Short of only ever making soda bread, there’s not a perfect solution there.  I guess the yeast sachets are much smaller than the bread packets so perhaps that will have to do (and I do find bread-making quite therapeutic, so I don’t want to have to give that up, having re-discovered a forgotten pleasure).

No more disposable tea/coffee cups, but I carry my brilliant folding cup with me everywhere now (thanks, T, for sourcing that!).  It does take about an extra hour to do the shopping compared to whizzing around the supermarket, and I have to be more organised/stick to planned meals, because popping out for a missing item can be nigh-on impossible outside ‘core’ shopping hours.

The main sticking points are bleach (I remain to be convinced that the toilet, at least, can by without being cleaned with bleach once in a while, and refills don’t seem to be an option, presumably for safety reasons), cosmetics (my best effort is to reduce the amount I wear – which was never a huge amount anyway – and only wear it for ‘smart’ work days) and contact lens solution (I don’t think there is an alternative there, short of only wearing glasses: both vanity and practicality preclude this).  At the risk of over-sharing, I also didn’t get around to investigating/experimenting with more environmentally friendly alternatives to sanitary products.  When at work that’s probably a bit tricky, as plenty of court toilets are not very nice and certainly don’t offer much privacy, but I do want to at least find a better solution for weekends/days out of court.

So, with Easter behind me, what have a I decided to stick with, and what will I ditch?  I currently intend to stick with most of it, which I think will reduce my disposable plastic consumption by about 90%.  This Lent I’ve only filled my kitchen bin once with non-recyclable waste, whereas usually I would fill it weekly.  And most of the rubbish was left-over wrapping/packaging from things I’d bought before Lent and was using up!  I’m not sure I could look myself in the eye and claim that I don’t have that hour each week to do my bit.  I’m sure that I will occasionally give in (fresh tofu has been almost impossible to buy, which is sad for a vegetarian, but I was delighted to find both seitan and tempeh in jars, and pasta and plastic appear to be almost inextricably linked, save for the ‘scoop shop’ furthest from home which does sell loose dried pasta).  And I’ve missed crisps a lot.  I cracked once, last week, when very stressed.  T and I tried to make some at home, and it is actually fairly straightforward (they can be baked, not fried, which is helpful).  It just takes a lot of time to cut the potatoes.  And some care.  T lost a bit of finger second-time around to a mandolin.  Those crisps were not strictly suitable for vegetarians, but they still tasted good 😉

Hello Speedwork My Old Friend

25 Mar

On Monday I was pretty tired, but forced myself out of the door in the evening to do 9 miles.  I didn’t ever feel great, but it was still done.  I didn’t get back from Plymouth until 7.30pm on Tuesday and then had some emergency work to do on several cases so didn’t get to exercise at all.  I also fell off my Plastic-Free Lent Wagon.  I was so miserable and stressed on the train on the way back that the call of the crisps was too much.  And then I gave in to plastic-wrapped biscuits in chambers when I was sat at my desk working until gone 10pm.  And I’d been doing very well! (I’m planning to write properly about Plastic-Free Lent next week, once Lent is over).

Wednesday saw me working until about 7.30pm.  I could (and from a pure exercise point of view should) have gone to the gym, but having not seen T for 2 days I opted to meet him for dinner at one of our favourite Chinese restaurants, instead.  Sometimes you have to ask yourself what really matters, and spending some time with T was definitely more important than 30 minutes on the cross-trainer.

Thursday I had another lateish finish (Plymouth yet again: it’s starting to feel like I should just move there) but managed to squeeze in 8 miles to T’s.  It was also my first run with a rucksack of stuff since the ankle sprain, and with no adverse effects afterwards it’s good to know that run-commuting could be back on the menu again!

By Friday I was pretty bushed, and so as all I really wanted to do was slump in front of the telly, I compromised with 30 minutes on the bike in the gym.

And so to Saturday: my first attempt at speedwork for 4 months.  I opted for something simple: 6 x 1km with 2 minutes of jogging between each kilometre.  The pace was very slow compared to me when fully fit (4.06-4.12 per km) but was actually not as bad as I feared!  And I covered 10 miles in total: a bit longer than I intended, but my legs felt ok during the session.  Hopefully I can make some improvements quite quickly, at least in terms of getting down to 4.00/km.  I suspect getting back to 3.40/3.45 will take a bit longer!

Today I rounded my week off with 11 miles.  My legs felt pretty heavy before I started and stayed that way throughout.  Who knew 6km of speedwork could leave my legs feeling that tired!

So, 38 miles and 30 minutes of cross-training, plus 4 strength and conditioning sessions.  That actually marks my biggest mileage week this year, despite being about one-half of peak mileage for a marathon (although I would run 6 days a week in marathon training, so 45-50 miles for 4 days’ running would be the same daily average).  Still, good things come to those who wait.  I hope!


18 Mar

T and I got home around 2.30am on Monday after our delayed journey back from Norway. I went straight to bed and didn’t set an alarm. But naturally I woke up at 7.15, just because I didn’t need to!

I did some chores/food shopping then went into chambers to prepare for some of this week’s hearings. Although I’d had good intentions to run, I was tired and hungry, so headed home for a big dinner and an early night.

Tuesday I ran 8 miles after work. My quads and triceps were really sore: skiing uses muscle groups that running doesn’t! But the pace wasn’t too bad.

Wednesday was a long day. I left at 6am to go to Plymouth, and got back to chambers at 7.30pm, needing to deal with some last minute papers for my hearing the next day. I got home at 10pm, had a quick supper of eggs on toast and did my best to get to sleep ASAP,  despite my brain buzzing with all the information it’d had to absorb. No time for exercise!

Thursday evening I ran 8 miles again. The pace was better than Tuesday although my quads were still tight… I ran another 8 miles on Friday and the pace was better again.

Saturday was a busy day. I was in chambers for 8.30am to interview prospective pupils (trainee barristers).  It’s always a full on but interesting day. I was back home just after 4.30pm, which gave me just enough time for a quick cup of coffee before squeezing in a gym session before it shut at 6pm.

Sunday morning saw Bristol covered in snow again. I hadn’t used my yaktrax in about 8 years and now I’ve had to use them for 2 separate snowfalls in as many weeks!


This snow was lighter and shallower, so my pace wasn’t affected as much as last time.

So, 5 sessions of exercise not 6 as planned, but in a busy week that’s plenty good enough. 5 sets of strength and conditioning, too, so about 10 hours devoted to running/fitness in reality.

Next week it’ll be 9 mile runs. Double digits just around the corner. I’m starting to feel just a bit more like a runner again!

The Importance Of Staying Upright!

11 Mar

So, one week ago I headed off to Norway. T is a keen skier, especially cross country, and the plan was for me to learn the basics and him to fine tune his skills.  I’d found a company which offered various courses for different standards this last week, so we made our bookings.

It’s fair to say I was a bit nervous before the ankle sprain and more nervous as a result of it. I’m not a naturally co-ordinated person.  But I was really determined to give this my best shot, so that maybe in the future T and I could go on a ski touring trip together.

I was the only beginner there: eek! In some ways this was great, as I had one to one tuition. It did mean it was a slightly lonely experience where I was under the spotlight a lot, however.

Track skiing is – to an outsider – a little odd. You’re skiing in precut tracks, with a groove for each ski. In some ways that’s easier, as for gentle slopes you can just stay in the tracks and not steer. In other ways it’s harder because you have to learn to jump in and out of the tracks so that you can steer/brake as necessary.

Skiing also uses muscle groups that running doesn’t. I’ve now got very tired triceps and quads, especially at the top near my hip flexors.

At times, it was a bit demoralising. I fell over a lot, especially when I was out of the tracks, and a couple of the falls on Thursday left me pretty sore. Thankfully T has a massage qualification and was able to loosen my neck muscles a bit so that on Friday afternoon I was able to ski again. He also has the patience of a saint, and went around an easy course at my slow beginner’s pace to help me test out my muscles and rebuild my confidence.

Saturday, our final day of skiing, was a real breakthrough. The sky was bright blue and the snow glistened in the sun. The views were breathtaking. I can’t see skiing replacing running in my affections, but I can see why T loves it. It was good enough to head out again after lunch!  Maybe this photo can help explain:


Perhaps less excitingly, our flight from Oslo was cancelled, so this blog comes from Copenhagen airport. It’s going to be a late finish. But I’m looking forward to a run tomorrow. Let’s see if my legs can remember how it’s done!

How Time Flies!

3 Mar

The past 3 weeks have been mostly a blur.  For some reason I’ve been super-busy at work, and had to cram strength & conditioning, swimming and gym around that, plus rehearsals and orchestra meetings.  No time for blogging.  No rest for the wicked, apparently, so I don’t know quite what that says about me!

The headlines are that the very gradual build-up continues.  3 weeks ago I did 4 runs of 5 miles and gradually re-introduced some hills: a necessary evil in Bristol.  Urban legend states the city is founded on 7 hills, just like Rome.  The similarities probably end soon after that!  I also managed a swim and a cardio session in the gym.  20 miles for a week.  A marathon training long run!

Last week I did 4 runs of 6 miles and 2 cardio sessions in the gym.  I also introduced some strides just to get my legs used to the idea that I don’t just do plodding running, and that at some point I’m going to have to run fast again.  Hopefully not all that far in the future.  I’d guess I can look to return to racing in May when I’ve got the endurance back in my legs and a bit of the speed back in my legs and lungs.  It was a bit of a relief to clock weekly mileage of 24 miles: almost a marathon.  Psychologically that felt better.

This week was particularly hectic as I sat down to contemplate it: 4 days in Plymouth, a day in Swindon plus a rehearsal in the evening and then a Saturday spent interviewing candidates in the morning for pupillage (the final stage of a barrister’s training) followed by a rehearsal and a concert.  And then the weather intervened.  I was pretty tired on the Monday afternoon and a bit dehydrated, so I took it as my rest day.  I ran Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning (7 miles each time), but a bit cautiously on Wednesday as there’d been a scattering of snow overnight and there was a bit of ice.  On Wednesday we were sent home from Plymouth, not to return the next day, as the snow arrived.  On Thursday I went to Gloucester in the morning.  Around lunchtime the snow arrived properly in Bristol and I took it as a second rest day: not ideal, but there it is.

On Friday Swindon court was closed, and so I went for a 7 mile run in the snow, once I’d managed to find my Yaktrax (unused for about 8 years, I think: that’s how mild it usually is in the southwest).  It was a good workout: the snow was pretty deep in places and also very shallow in other places, so I needed my wits about me!  Today I did another 7 miles in the snow.  It was a bit easier, because plenty of people had been out walking in the snow, so about 70% of the time it was fairly evenly compacted.  The exceptions were still hard work!  Tomorrow looks like another busy day, and so I’m getting the blog in early.  Hopefully see you all next week!

The Past Is A Foreign Country; They Do Things Differently There

11 Feb

Ah, the joys of social media.  Reminders keep on popping up in my Facebook feed, reminding me that around this time last year I was able to do an extra-long long run, getting all the way to Wales and back, or that I did the Wokingham Half Marathon around this time most years, or that I had a bit of a grumble about a recovery run (presumably 5 or 6 miles) being in tough conditions on tired legs.  The days of 55-70 mile weeks feel a long way off, and they are.  Here’s how this week panned out:

Monday.  A day of rest.  I was pretty tired from all the travelling over the weekend and had a longish day in court, followed by working until gone 9pm.

Tuesday.  Out of the door by 6.45am for a 4 mile run.  No walking.  Just 4 miles straight.  It was cold, it was dark, I was restricted to doing mindless short loops to avoid any hills, but it was 4 miles straight.  First time in 3.5 weeks.  In a lot of ways, it marked real progress.  After working so late the night before, it was nice to get a proper evening with T.

Wednesday I ran 4 miles in the evening.  It felt pretty ok, and the pace (8.17m/m) was better than the previous day’s (8.29m/m).  I trusted the ankle a bit more, and didn’t feel quite so tentative.

Thursday I went to the gym for an hour before work.  30 minutes on the bike, including some HITT stuff to raise the heart rate a bit and get the legs turning over fast (10s hard, 10s easy every 3rd minute) and then 30 minutes on the adaptive motion trainer (bit like a cross-trainer, but feels a little closer to running).  It was lucky I did go to the gym in the morning, because I was working until gone 11pm.  Dinner was pizza al desko.  Everyone’s favourite…

Friday I went for a swim (15 minutes) and then tried 30 minutes of aqua jogging in the teaching pool, which was empty.  It’s apparently 4 feet in the shallows, which works for me, because at not much over 5 feet that means only my head was really above water (I’ve bought an aqua-jogging belt, but didn’t have it with me).  Having belatedly watched some Youtube videos, I’m not sure my technique was textbook, although frankly there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on quite a few things, but it definitely made my legs and arms work hard.

Saturday I did my third 4 mile run of the week.  The weather was a bit grim, but the pace was a further improvement (8.11m/m) and the ankle felt pretty good.  Swimming/aqua-jogging seems to help the ankle: I guess it’s the movement coupled with the support from the water.  Or perhaps it’s the coolness of the water.  Or all of the above.

Today I did my fourth 4 mile run of the week.  I’m delighted to say I maxed out pace-wise and broke the 8m/m barrier.  Storming!  And the ankle felt ok.  I think I could have done another mile or 2, but I’d rather finish a run feeling I could do another mile or 2 than push things too much at this stage.

And so this week I’ve done 16 miles.  In normal marathon training my second longest run of the week would be 15 miles, which is why that blogger who used to knock out 55-70 miles without a thought seems like a slightly alien creature just at the moment.  Realistically, it’ll be a case of adding a mile or 2 to my daily runs each week over the coming weeks.  Perhaps I’ll add some strides to some runs in a couple of weeks’ time and introduce some very gentle speed-work once I’m comfortably running 30-40 miles per week without trouble, with a view to returning to racing in April/May (only shorter distances).  When a runner is injured it’s pretty common to have a phase of denial, followed by acceptance.  I’m in the acceptance phase now, and if I do a marathon this year, it’ll be in the autumn, if at all.  With some weaknesses remaining in my glute and my ankle on the left-hand side, I really need to get those fixed before I contemplate the sort of mileage and intensity that I used to run, otherwise I’ll be adding my knee to that list before you know it!