So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish aka My First, My Last, My Everything

14 Dec

Well, this is a post I’ve put off. In November T and I went on a lovely holiday to Jersey in the first week, and then it was back to a blur of rehearsals for an orchestral concert (me), a choir concert (T) and a chamber concert (both of us – our first together!). It was all wonderful, but I was burning every single part of the candle you can think of, and so it wasn’t the hugest surprise when I then came down with a bad cold. At first I thought I only needed to miss a few days’ training, but it lingered on, and the fatigue was bad. I did regular lateral flow tests just in case it was Omicron variant Covid, but apparently not. Still, it meant that for several weeks I couldn’t really run much, and several runs were pretty bad pace-wise, showing that the post-viral effects were still there. It’s probably only this week that I’ve begun to feel a bit more normal. It means that I’ve been set even further back from a fitness point of view, and honestly, it’s been the straw which has broken the camel’s back. Right now I just cannot face another mad dash to claw back fitness in time for spring half marathons. I know that a similar mad dash in August/early September led to me wrecking my calves, which ultimately set me back further, and so on, and so on. It feels like one of those pictures showing a picture of the picture, which is a picture of the picture. Each attempt to ‘push the envelope’ results in the envelope breaking.

If lockdown 1 taught me anything, it’s that what I now really value about running is the process of training, rather than the results. When I’m in great shape, racing and the results which flow from it are amazing fun, but for me, racing when I’m not in great shape is pretty miserable. I’ve no chance of running a qualifying time for next year’s London marathon (for reasons best known to the powers that be the qualifying window closes on 31.12.2021, even though the race is in October 2022: I don’t think any other national championship cares more about your past fitness and less about your current fitness). That lack of QT is in itself an indicator of quite how bad the last few years have been. From 2007-2020 I always held a valid qualifying time, and now even that is beyond me. My body is telling me something about what is achievable, and I need to listen.

That means I’m retiring from racing, at least for now. I’ll renew my England Athletics licence, so that if I want to help the lovely Bristol & West by making up numbers at road relays or cross country I can, but I’m not entering any more races, and I’m taking some running downtime: running what I want, when I want it. No targets. No plan. If the weather is rubbish and I just fancy a 30 minute jog, that’s all I’ll do.

Racing has given me so much. SO much. I’m leaving it on my terms. The young woman who ran something like 1h46 for her first half marathon in 2002 would never have believed that she would one day run a full marathon in a little over an hour more, winning a national team title in the process. The girl whose school reports were wrecked by PE would never have believed that she would love running so much. The hard work – the late night training sessions, the bleary eyed early morning plods – they were all worth it. But now it is time for running to be only fun, and not work. As for blogging: well, I think you can guess there won’t be nearly so much of that.

London 2015. The race of my life.

Desperate Times Call For Half Measures

31 Oct

Last week I was pretty disciplined. I did 3 runs on alternate days (5 miles on Tuesday, 7 miles on Thursday, and 9 miles on Saturday), and 3 gym sessions: an hour on Wednesday, an hour on Friday and an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday. I also went for a few hours’ rambling around the beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum on Sunday afternoon with T. 21 miles of running and 3.25 hours of cardio is still not huge compared to full training (the 21 miles probably took about 3 hours, and a 70 mile week takes up about 9.5-10 hours, as much of my running is steady. Of course, on top of that there’s strength stuff and stretching).

This week, with life a little more stressful, work a little more pressured, and the lethargy which comes from the daylight reducing kicking in good and proper, I still managed 3 runs on alternate days (10 miles on Tuesday, 8 miles on Thursday and 12 miles on Saturday), but despite my intentions to do a decent number of gym sessions, it just didn’t happen. On Monday, I was definitely a bit creaky and ready for a rest day, and on Wednesday both T and I needed a lazy start to the day after some worrying family news the night before (which thankfully turned out to be less worrying once things were a little clearer). Friday was a blur of work: working late the night before with some last minute instructions, and then being sat at my desk pretty much continuously from 8.45am until 4.30pm, with all of 15 minutes for lunch (just enough time for a piece of toast and a banana). By the time the evening rolled around, I was knackered, and ready for pizza and chilling, not the gym. I finally got my act together this morning, and did 30 minutes on the static bike and an hour on the cross-trainer. Perhaps the extra hour in bed with the clocks going back made all the difference! So, not the best week: 30 miles of running (or about 4 hours) and then 1.5 hours of cardio. But better than nowt, and there’s always next week. At least I’m able to do double-digit length runs on my running days now, so 10k and half marathon races don’t sound too daunting once I’ve got my general fitness back where it needs to be. Oh, and once I can go faster than 7.30m/m-8m/m again, natch!

Champing At The Bit

17 Oct

I seem to be settling into a fortnightly blog pattern at the moment: I guess when the news is limited, and a bit up and down, the incentive to blog diminishes a bit!

Two weeks ago I started with a rest day, and then did an easy 5 miles on the Tuesday. My calves felt ok, but not great, which was a bit surprising after they’d felt pretty good during my ‘long’ run on the Sunday, and had then had a day’s rest. On the Wednesday I did 5 miles with strides in lightweight trainers, which can fairly be described as a mistake. Although the adrenaline rush of doing some faster running meant I wasn’t aware of any significant pain during the run, my calves were definitely grumbly after, and my 7 mile run to my sports massage appointment on the Thursday was a bit painful. My ever-honest masseuse pointed out that if, after nearly 3 weeks of active recovery (and trying to continue to run most days), things weren’t improving, I needed to ease back. I was told to rest for a couple of days after the massage, which was pretty intensive (read: painful). It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear. So I rested on Friday and Saturday (although rehearsals and then a fantastic concert took my mind off my frustrations at another setback).

On the Sunday T and I were off Champing (church camping) in Herefordshire. Church camping is what the name would suggest: you are camping in a church. It’s organised by the Churches Conservation Trust and you get exclusive use of the church overnight, plus camp beds, a kettle, tea, coffee and (yay!) a toilet with a security code. You’ll note there is no mention of a shower in that list, so I’d already decided I wasn’t going to attempt to run, and that meant another 3 days of rest, but with lovely walks in between. We were in rural Herefordshire, and the stars were stunning. It’s the best view I have ever had of the Milky Way, and shows quite how much light pollution alters our view of what the night sky should look like. Lying in bed (tucked up warm in thermals and a decent sleeping bag), the only sounds were the cows lowing and the owls hooting. It was just what we both needed.

The church at Holme Lacy where we stayed, bathed in late afternoon sun
As you can see, during an explore around Hereford, we came upon a very musical spot!
The River Wye was a beautiful backdrop to 3 days’ walking
The churchyard at Holme Lacy

After 5 days’ rest from running, on Wednesday it was time to try running again. I knew my calves were a lot better, as there was none of the stiffness I had been feeling some mornings. Nonetheless, having learned that being greedy simply saw me crocked again, I opted for a gentle 3 miles at a steady pace.

On Thursday, I did a strength and conditioning session in the morning and then went swimming in the evening. The pool was pretty quiet, which always helps me not find the experience too annoying!

On Friday, I tried 4.5 miles at a slightly less cautious pace. Everything still seemed ok.

On Saturday, I did a strength and conditioning session in the morning, and went to the gym in the evening. I split my hour into 3 blocks of 20 minutes (bike, rowing machine and cross-trainer) to make it a bit more tolerable, although my back-up plan of listening to music failed, because I hadn’t realised there was no 4G/5G reception in the gym. Oops! I will download something next time.

This morning I finished the week with 6 miles steady.

So, a grand total of 13.5 miles (just over a half marathon…!) for the whole week, plus 90 minutes of other cardio (and a decent amount of walking, in my defence, but I definitely don’t fall into the category of people who have to record their leisure strolls on their Garmin) and some additional strength and conditioning (I don’t count my daily maintenance session of core and glute work as S&C: it’s just what stops me falling apart if I run at all!). Realistically, I’ll need a few more weeks of alternating gym-based cardio and running, but as long as the length of the runs can gradually increase, and the gym-based sessions are a decent length I can probably get up to 6 or 7 hours of cardio a week pretty quickly, which will be enough to stop the fitness deteriorating much further.

Tri-ing Things Out aka Almost Out Of The Woods

3 Oct

2 weeks ago I was nursing very, very sore calves, and my Achilles tendons felt a bit stiff. I took 2 days of complete rest, doing plenty of stretching and a bit of core and glute work, but not much else. On the Wednesday I did a tentative 2.5 mile run, staying close to home so I could stop and walk home easily if there was any significant pain. On the Thursday, feeling slightly braver, I did a 3.5 mile loop with a a clubmate also recuperating from injury. I was still finding my calves were tight, and that any attempt to run or walk up a steep hill felt sore, but running was manageable. In my (moderately limited) experience, mild Achilles problems need a careful balance of rest and some work, as complete rest doesn’t always seem to work as well as you might expect. By the Friday I was ready for a 5 mile run, and on the Saturday I went all out with 6 miles. On the Sunday I had booked myself in to a lane session in the Portishead Lido. I must admit, when the alarm went off I felt exhausted, and cursed my stupidity at booking something at a fixed time on a Sunday which meant I had to be out of the house around 8am, particularly as it was a bit overcast. But shortly before I left the sun came out, and the cycle ride over was lovely. The sun was shining throughout my swim, and swimming outdoors in a heated pool with the sun on your back is gorgeous. The cycle ride back was pretty pleasant, too! I did a bit of work, and then a steady 7 mile run in the afternoon. Swim, bike, run? It was almost like being a triathlete!

This week the calves and Achilles have been on a slow upward improvement curve. It seems to take a lot of stretching to keep things under control, and I still haven’t dared to venture onto any hills, but I managed 5 miles on Tuesday, 6 miles on Wednesday, 7 miles on Thursday and Friday, 8 miles yesterday (in the pouring rain) and then 9 miles today. A grand total of 42 miles. But today’s run was about as comfy as things have felt in over 2 weeks, and the pace was pretty ok, too, so fingers crossed that is a corner turned.

Today was also the London Marathon. Thankfully, I’d made my peace with not being there pretty soon after the last ankle sprain in July, so I was able to watch the elite races and keep an eye on friends’ progress on the tracker without feeling envious. Although at times it does feel like I might not ever toe a marathon start line again, given how injury prone I seem to have become (and how long it now takes to recover from each niggle and setback), I’m at peace with just taking this recovery a week at a time and seeing where it goes. I’d love to be at London next year, as I think we could have a good ladies’ team and a crack at the national team title, but if it’s not to be, it’s not to be. The first step would have to be a sub 1.28 half marathon by the end of December, which feels pretty tight in terms of completing this recovery stage and then getting some quality sessions in to get back into the sort of shape I was in around May/June this year. And if the last 6 weeks have taught me anything, it’s that rushing the process ends up sending you backwards overall. More haste, less speed, quite literally!

The Sweet Spot and The Weak Spot

19 Sep

Oops, another 3 weeks (busy ones) have flown by!

3 weeks ago I got a really solid week’s training in. 3 steady 6 milers, a hilly 14 mile trail run, 12 miles with 5 x 2km at about marathon pace, and a 16 mile long run. 60 miles. That’s generally tended to be my mileage sweet spot, and after about 4-6 weeks of 60+ miles per week, I get ‘pace lift’.

2 weeks ago I had another solid week’s training: 3 steady 6 milers, a hilly 14 mile trail run, 13 miles with 4 x 1 miles (including a lovely 5km run for a friend’s birthday as my cool down) and then 17 miles for my long run. 62 miles. But… (ah, why did there have to be a but?!) my calves were left really tight by the trail run. I decided to wear my trail shoes, because the week before I’d been slipping a bit. In some ways, the trail shoes improved things (MUCH better on the uphills and on the stony/gravelly surfaces, for instance), but they are lower profile (i.e. the heel is closer to the ground), meaning my calves do a bit more work, and not particularly well cushioned, meaning my calves do even more work. And the not being well cushioned doesn’t matter too much if I’m on the trails/grass, but there was actually at least 6 miles of road in the 14 mile route. By the end of it my calves were pretty shot, and my Achilles tendons were grumbly as a result. I’d planned to do 6 x 1 miles as my ‘session’, but bailed after 4 because the calves were tight, and I had to stop a couple of times during the 17 miler to stretch them. My body was warning me it was a bit on the edge.

And so to this week. It was pretty busy from a work point of view, and had a few rehearsals thrown in (quite like old times!). I decided to take the week a bit easier than planned from a running point of view, and just did steady 6 mile runs during the week and on Saturday: and even one of those got binned when I was asked to do an 8.30 conference ahead of a hearing rather than the 9am I’d envisaged. I’d hoped this would let me legs recover a bit and allow me to do the Bristol Half marathon today. I’ll be honest, until Saturday morning I was pretty resigned to not being able to race, much as I wanted to, because my left calf/Achilles/foot was Just Not Right. It was sometimes a bit sore at the start of a run, or when I put it down at a particular angle. I couldn’t really identify the problem, and so had to just use a foam roller/massage ball relatively indiscriminately to try and loosen things off. But then yesterday things all felt a lot better, and some tentative pushing of the pace seemed to go ok. It was all systems go for the half marathon, and I cracked open the beetroot juice in celebration and preparation.

They’ve made the qualification standards for the national marathon championships a bit tougher (I suspect this is because the Super Shoes help people run several minutes faster than they could in more traditional shoes) and so at some point this year I need a sub 1.28 half if I want to do the championship race next October. I decided to have a go at 1.28, or at least 1.30 (so a 3 hour marathon pace run). Aerobically it didn’t fell too bad, but my calves seemed to be struggling with the camber on the road: unless I was on perfectly flat road, one or the other started to grizzle, and as I made my way back along the Portway towards the city centre, my left calf in particular was starting to feel quite sore, and like my Achilles was pulling a bit. My pace was dropping a bit as I was having to shorten my stride (because you use your calf muscles most to push off, and I wasn’t pushing off very aggressively to protect the calves). I knew I was not going to get a decent workout, as my breathing was too easy. I gave it another mile or so to see if things loosened off, but they didn’t, and so at 7.5 miles I clocked what I think is only my 3rd ever DNF (did not finish). I was really conscious that the Bristol course saves its twists, turns, cobbles and short sharp hills for the last 5 miles, and knew that would put more strain on my lower legs. I jogged home, although I had to stop and walk a few times on any slopes/hills as my calves were so sore. At the moment, I’m glad I gave it a go, because otherwise I’d have wondered if I could have got away with it. Realistically, I need to take a few days to see how the calves and Achilles fair, but I’m conscious that the Newport marathon was already a pretty tight and slightly risky schedule, and that I should probably accept I’m better regrouping and targeting a half marathon in November or December. The fitness is still there if I manage this right. It really is a case of more haste, quite possibly less speed.

And in happier news I had the most gorgeous afternoon rehearsing Shostakovich 5. I fell in love with the symphony as a teenager, and it still tears at the heartstrings now. This is a running blog, so I won’t blether on for ages about how amazing I think it is that someone composing under the restrictions of Soviet tyranny could produce such phenomenally brilliant works. I’m just grateful that this afternoon I had music, and such brilliant music. Thank you, Mitya.

It’s Been A Long Time aka It Was 20 Years Ago Today aka The Ups and Downs of (Running) Life aka Just What the Doctor Ordered

29 Aug

Well, I think after 2 months without a blogpost, I’m entitled to struggle to choose between 4 different titles. You can probably guess that the 2 month gap was not because things were going swimmingly. I guess the couple of weeks after the last post weren’t so bad, although I was a bit disappointed about my Cotswold Way Relay leg come race day. Other than that, and slightly tired legs, things were ok. And then, on a slightly damp Tuesday morning in mid-July, when I was 3.77 miles into a planned 14 mile hilly training run, I went over on my ankle AGAIN. It was much worse than the last one (of course, because the ankle was still slightly weak), and I went sharply to the outside of the ankle, then rolled back in. It was really sore. And I had no real option other than to hobble home. I did consider flagging down a passerby to borrow a phone and ask T to collect me, but was pretty sure it wouldn’t save much time, as the rush-hour traffic was just starting to build. There was no flat way home, and it was a dispiriting and painful hobble. I’m pretty sure the accident was on or shortly after the 20th anniversary of my first ever run/walk, although I don’t think I realised it at the time. And 20 years ago I wouldn’t have imagined being distraught that I couldn’t run for a few weeks!

The ankle stayed really painful for days (I can remember walking to the pub with T on the Friday evening, and wincing simply because my foot came down onto a slightly slanted piece of pavement). By the Sunday I could swim, and the only really good thing that came out of the whole thing was a Sunday morning swim at Clevedon Marine Lake with T. Perhaps things have been going swimmingly, really?!

I tried to make the best of a bad situation, and cycled as much as my quads could bear (chapeau to the cyclist who stopped to mansplain gear choices to me: I womansplained that I had deliberately chosen a big gear to try and get my heart-rate up to running level). I joined a local gym and made use of their pool, and I also cycled out to Portishead Lido a few times. I did ankle rehab exercises every day, and extra glute and core work when I could. After just over 2 weeks I was able to attempt a 5 mile run/walk, and repeated that on alternate days until I could see my sports masseuse. She felt the recovery was going pretty well, and cleared me to try running non-stop if I wanted. I was a bit apprehensive, but all the prehab I’d done last year and this spring had obviously stood me in good stead, and I was able to do some steady runs, albeit they felt a bit hard work. Usually I would cross-train on the cross-trainer as that is a pretty good running substitute, but I didn’t feel comfortable going to the gym and exercising indoors: needless to say my ankle sprain coincided with Bristol’s Covid rates absolutely rocketing. I’d only just had my second vaccine and was conscious that it takes several weeks for the vaccine to provide its best protection. The last thing I need is Covid followed by Long Covid!

As this screenshot of my August training to date shows, it’s been a moderate increase in mileage over the last few weeks:

You can see another gap of 3 days in there: that was getting ‘pinged’ after a lovely weekend in London at T’s sister’s wedding, and deciding that the socially responsible thing to do was wait until I had had my PCR test and then results, especially as T’s initial lateral flow test was positive. I’ve tried to keep away from Covid rants on this blog, but let’s just say that – to my layperson’s mind – it is an utter nonsense that simply because I am now double vaccinated, even if T had Covid, I no longer had to isolate to protect others from the possibility I was asymptomatic but carrying the virus. Once T and I had both had negative PCR tests, normal training resumed, and my 1 mile reps that Thursday were remarkably spritely.

If you’ve scrutinised that screenshot very carefully, you’ll see I’ve just come back from 3 days of “Cornwall Running”. My first attempt at time off work didn’t go particularly well: I’d decided I wanted to be able to watch the athletics at the Olympics properly, which (given the time difference with Tokyo) meant ensuring I wasn’t in court for those days. However, because T’s idea of fun is not spending 10 days watching hours of athletics each day, he opted to work. Which is understandable. Except that it meant that once my telly viewing stint was over, I tended to decide to ‘get ahead’ with some reading for the lengthy hearing I had coming up, and somehow ended up working most days (to be fair, there were something like 3,500 pages to read, so I would normally allow quite a few ‘reading days’ for that sort of case preparation), and feeling completely unrefreshed at the end of my ‘holiday’. So when another week’s hearing came out of my diary, I booked the time off. And T, who is a wise man, pointed out that – even though he couldn’t take that time off, because he was on call – I really, really should book somewhere away from home so that I couldn’t possibly be tempted to head over to the laptop each day. I was lucky enough to find a cute one bedroom cottage in a vineyard just outside Looe, and had a lovely stay there Tuesday-Saturday this week. I view the 50 miles I covered running as being worth a bit more than that, because I walked a fair few miles each day as well, including some rather hilly chunks of the South West Coastal Path. The weather was absolutely perfect for being outdoors and active: sunny, fairly still and crystal clear for all those breath-taking Cornish views, but not so hot that you simply wanted to lounge around. If I felt (rather selfishly) that I was due some good luck, it arrived in time.

As for future running plans, I’ve decided I’m not doing the London Marathon: it’s a mere 5 weeks away, which even with a 2 week taper would only give me 3 more weeks to train, and that’s just not enough. I’ve got a place in the Newport marathon (Gwent, not Isle of Wight) 3 weeks later, and I’ll take a decision about that once I see how the next few weeks go. At the moment, unless my legs are very fresh (see above), I’m not hitting any particularly amazing paces in training, but that is to be expected after losing about 5 weeks of proper running training. Let’s see what I can pull back in the next 6!

I’ll finish with a few shots of beautiful Cornwall. Most of the time I was away from the crowds, either running up and down hills or walking up and down them, or simply sitting and enjoying the views (and possibly the odd glass of the vineyard’s finest produce).

The view from my cottage
Walking back to Looe from Tallant on the SWCP
More SWCP beautiful views

I’m Going Up A Yonder

27 Jun

I started the week with 5 miles easy on Monday morning and then 9 miles with 10 sets of strides on Tuesday. With my earliest start scheduled for Wednesday morning I took that as my rest day, and also managed to squeeze in a massage in the afternoon. I’ve now reached the stage of marathon training where it’s not always possible to fit my midweek training runs in before work, and Thursday was one of those days. It was actually quite nice to have to run in the afternoon/early evening, as my choir master’s funeral was Thursday lunchtime. I know that far too many people are now aware of what a funeral by Zoom feels like, and I’d expected to feel quite distant, but in fact felt quite emotionally involved. Perhaps it’s because music always has quite a strong memory/emotional pull, especially as they played what I’m pretty sure was a recording of my old girls’ choir singing, and a recording of one of the male voice choirs singing, too. Suddenly, I felt like a teenager sitting on benches at the side of a church, listening to the rich harmonies of a male voice choir before it was our turn to sing again. There were smiles at quirky memories, and tears at the thought there would be no more new memories. It was then back into work mode until I was able to lace up my trainers and head out for a fairly humid 11 miles, mostly off road.

On Friday morning I did 5 miles, and then on Saturday it was time for a belated Cotswold Way Relay recce. I have run leg 8 a couple of times, but a long while ago (I think 2013 and 2014), so a reminder of the route was definitely needed. I’d hoped to recce it a couple of times because I know I lack ‘hill’ fitness right now, but the ankle sprain put paid to that. I met up with my two team mates, and we set off. We took it fairly steadily, but even so with my hayfever still really bad and humidity none too great it felt like hard work, even if my legs weren’t too trashed as a result. That just left my long run today, and I tacked on an extra mile as the CWR recce wasn’t quite the 14 miles my schedule had required. I could feel that I’d done some decent climbs and descents yesterday, and that I was a bit tired (somehow I lost track of time and ended up staying up late last night), but with a faster clubmate to tag along with my 19 miles on the relatively flat Bristol/Bath path ticked along nicely, averaging 7.45m/m (even with the climb back home). 62 miles for the week.

Half Remembered Names And Faces / But To Whom Do They Belong?

20 Jun

This week started with a gentle 5 mile recovery run. The ankle finally felt recovered enough from the sprain that I could run off-road in my new trail racing shoes and they are super light and super speedy, so it didn’t end up being at recovery pace. But I love those shoes! (Adidas Terrex something or others. But not the carbon ones, obviously.)

On Tuesday I thought I was going to have to run home from work to get the first of my medium long runs in, as I was supposed to start a 4 day trial that day, but – as is sometimes the way – it rather fizzled out, and so I walked home instead, safe in the knowledge I would at least be able to run Wednesday morning rather than having to battle with late afternoon/early evening heat and humidity (bearing in mind the heatwave didn’t really break until Thursday). Annoyingly, as I dawdled my way home on Tuesday evening I somehow tweaked the ankle a little, but by Wednesday morning, with a bit of placebo tape in place, it felt ok, and I did 11 miles including 3 hill loops.

On Thursday I did 13 miles, with another decent climb in it, and then on Friday I did my ‘long’ run for the week with 4 decent climbs in it. (The Cotswold Way Relay is in a fortnight’s time, and I’m a bit conscious that I need to squeeze in a bit more hill running to activate the muscles I’ll need to use on the day!)

This left 2 runs for the weekend: a 5 mile recovery run on Saturday (although wearing the super lovely trail shoes again – more Cotswold Way prep – was a mistake, as yet again it was not at recovery run pace!) and then on Sunday 9 miles. My schedule said the 15 miles was supposed to be on Sunday, and the 9 miles earlier in the week (and to include 4 miles at half marathon pace) but I’d swapped things around because I’d been told that – somewhat to my surprise – I was needed for the 3,000m race in the Midland League. I figured that 3,000m as fast as I could manage was probably something like 4 miles at half marathon pace for overall effort, or certainly close enough for jazz.

When I arrived I discovered that a much faster clubmate now wanted to run as a guest, but that the team managers had decided it wasn’t fair to deselect anyone who had already been selected. I very much disagreed: although Midland League isn’t as competitive as the national league is, it is proper racing, and supposed to be about winning, so I very happily suggested I ran as a guest, and popped off to do 5 miles to warm up. Although my legs felt pretty ok warming up, it became clear during the race that the cumulative effect of 11 miles followed by 13 miles followed by 15 miles was definitely still there, and that I can’t casually knock out 90s/lap pace any more without some specific training, especially when my hayfever symptoms are at their worst. And that when I’m not running for points, I really can’t force myself to hurt too much! I plodded round in something like 11.54, hanging off the back of the race. I’m pretty disappointed, bearing in mind I did 8 x 1km averaging faster than that quite recently, but I guess that was in better conditions, and I was probably more emotionally invested in something that felt more marathon specific. Still, even if the race was terrible, it was very nice to see some clubmates I hadn’t seen for the best part of 18 months (some of them maybe even longer than that). I can’t say I feel I have missed track racing, but I do miss road racing.

So Let Me Fly / Let Me Fly / Won’t You Lead / And You Know / That I’ll Follow You

13 Jun

Another 2 weeks has flown by, and despite my best intentions to blog last weekend, work rather got in the way of most aspects of life.

Two weeks ago I did an easy run on Bank Holiday Monday (5 miles), and then 9 miles steady on the Tuesday as part of week 1 of my London/Dorney build-up. I rested on Wednesday, partly because of work, but also because having run 6 days in a row on the still weak ankle it felt sensible to do so. On Thursday I did 6 miles with 10 sets of strides: my first faster running since the ankle sprain, and it felt pretty ok. I followed this up on Friday with 9 miles (well, 9 or thereabouts: having looked at my GPS trace I can see that my Garmin had a bad signal patch, and seems to have made my run about 25 metres away from where I was actually running!). On Saturday, it was time for some gentle speedwork: although the schedule said to do 4 miles at half-marathon pace, I figured it was probably sensible to err on the side of caution and aim for a fraction faster than marathon pace, but not all out. It came out at 6.46m/m, when half-marathon pace is probably more like 6.35-6.40s at the moment. And then T and I were off to London to spend the day with his family. Apparently the weather had been awful the day before, and wasn’t great the day after, but we were blessed with gorgeous weather and could spend the whole day in the garden. It was lovely to have a break from work and see the whole family again: we hadn’t seen some since Christmas 2019, if not before! I rounded the week off with a steady 15 miles, although I risked a route which had a hill at the end of it (even if most of it was flat). 55 miles for the week.

This week started with a steady 5 mile recovery run, and then the sad news that the fabulous Gwyn Arch, who conducted choirs I sang in as a child and teenager for 6 wonderful years, had passed away. When I was younger I took for granted quite how great some of the musicians were who taught me and ran the groups I played and sang in. Gwyn was not just a fantastic conductor and arranger (he used to ‘trial’ some of his choral arrangements on us). He was also someone whose love of and enthusiasm for music shone through. In my teens I suffered from pretty crippling stage fright, certainly in relation to any solo violin playing (including chamber music and solos in orchestral concerts), and at times it meant that concerts were miserable: I felt nauseous beforehand, and unless everything about the concert was perfect, devastated afterwards. Choir was a respite from that: Gwyn cared passionately about us performing to a high standard, but somehow I didn’t allow that to create the same internal pressure on me, and choral singing instead was about having fun and sharing music with the audience. Gwyn’s silly mimes to help us remember the lyrics probably also helped relax us!

On Tuesday I was starting a 4 day trial, and because the travel for my last multi-day trial away from Bristol had left me really tired (probably because I’m just not used to it any more!), I’d opted to stay away rather than do a 2.5-3 hour round trip each day. With T also away, my mum kindly stepped in to cat sit. Lucky, spoilt kitties! I took it as my rest day. On Wednesday I ran 8 miles with some strides, 9 miles on Thursday and then 5 miles on Friday.

Each morning seemed hotter than the rest, and I was pretty apprehensive about the longish marathon paced tempo run Pfitzinger & Douglas prescribed for this weekend. A quick squint at the weather forecast showed Saturday was going to be marginally cooler than Sunday, and so I decided to do the 8 miles at marathon pace as part of my 12 mile run on Saturday (a mere 14 degrees Celsius), rather than my 16 miles on Sunday (16 degrees Celsius). The 8 miles came out bang on sub-3 hour pace (6.52m/m) which surprised me a bit, because I generally struggle to hold tempo efforts for very long when I’m running by myself (it’s why I often choose to do a split tempo, breaking it into smaller chunks with jog recoveries, if I’m setting the session). Perhaps the last 15 months of solitary running has made me a little tougher! Today was a bit tougher: it certainly felt more than 2 degrees warmer than yesterday, and my hayfever had really kicked in. The route was pretty busy and I had to run to the far left of the path, which meant I kept on brushing against grass, and I ended up with blotches all over my left leg and arm to show for it. It was actually really itchy by the end, so I had to jump straight in the shower to wash any pollen off in an effort to try and ease the urge to scratch it. I’d been thinking my hayfever was really mild compared to normal this year, but I suspect the cool spring we had (with all those beautiful frosty mornings) simply meant plants were a few weeks later flowering and producing pollen. Heigh-ho. Anyway, tough or not, it brought up 55 miles for the week, and the pleasing knowledge of target times successfully achieved. 2 weeks down, 16 to go.

[That Was] The Month Of Maying…

31 May

Just over two weeks since I last blogged: how time flies! And I’ll be honest, I have needed my Garmin data to help me remember that far back…

So, a fortnight ago my week off work started. It was a staycation, and more of a life admin with actually a bit of work reading chucked in week, but still better than being out of the door at 6.45am for my running and ending each day knackered. From a running point of view, it started with 5 gentle recovery miles (although I can see from my data it was actually surprisingly spritely), and then on the Tuesday I did 7 miles with 12 sets of strides. On Wednesday I did 13 miles, and then 9 on Thursday ahead of a sports massage and a much needed rest day on Friday. Knowing I had a rest day planned, the massage was quite a lot more intensive than usual, and it left my legs incredibly heavy. They still felt a bit rubbish on the Saturday, and so I decided to do a shorter session focussing on leg speed rather than something tougher and longer: a good old pyramid session of efforts off 1 minute recovery jogs, starting at 1 minute, building through, 2, 3 and 4 to 5 minutes, and then back down the ladder. The paces weren’t great, but it’s still a fun workout. Saturday evening was lovely, as I met up with some of the B&W ladies’ squad for a barbeque. We also planned to meet for a long run on Sunday, and I had arranged to meet one of the other marathon runners earlier than the rest so that we could do an extra 10-11 miles beforehand. I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but I was running a little bit late, and so perhaps wasn’t paying attention to my feet, but somehow I went over on my left ankle (of course that is the bad ankle. Did you even need to ask?!). Because I was meeting my friend in a matter of minutes and knew that it would be almost impossible to get a message to her (most of us don’t bother running with phones), I decided to see if I could jog through it, and it was just about ok, although a bit sore. Turning corners on the left ankle was a no-no unless I took the shortest of strides and placed my foot very carefully. Being honest, I probably should have bailed on the run once I’d met said friend, but I think I was in the pig-headed denial stage at this point in time. So naturally I ran another 10 miles on it. We stood around for a short while meeting the others, and during those few minutes it started to stiffen up and probably swell up nicely. When the larger group of us started running again I was limping, and another very sensible person in the group told me, in the nicest sense, not to be a prat, and to consider going home. I did. I had to walk part of it. It just goes to show what those runner’s high endorphins do to your pain threshold at first, that I was able to run 12 miles on the thing.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t run last Monday. I managed to find a free slot at my local pool, and did 30 minutes of what passes for swimming so far as I am concerned. I can’t remember when I last swam, but it was definitely when Covid was not a thing, so my best guess is some point in 2019. That might explain why I was particularly slow and awful! On Tuesday I went for a gentle cycle ride in the morning (sticking to the flat) in the hope that would enable me to go back to cycling to/from chambers from Wednesday (now that I’m a pupil supervisor I’m tending to be in chambers most days). It was fairly encouraging.

But there was another twist in this tale (of course there was!). After dinner on Tuesday I felt really queasy, and pretty quickly went from feeling queasy to being sick. Thankfully I wasn’t in court until Wednesday lunchtime, and my goodness remote hearings really come into their own when all you are really good for is lying on the sofa sipping ginger tea with a bit of sugar in it! By Thursday morning both the ankle and the tummy felt that I could risk a gentle run, and with a double-layer of pseudoscience on my ankle (kinesio tape and vetrap), I headed off for 5 miles easy. (The vetrap was a tip from a fellow runner who does a lot of fell running: it’s cohesive tape and so needs at least a double layer, but certainly feels like it is supporting the joint and muscles/tendons/ligaments. I neither know nor care if that was entirely a placebo effect!) The 5 miles was fine.

On Friday, I was a bit braver, and did 8 miles. Also fine. I’d had to work quite late on Thursday night (as in 11pm late, due to a load of papers arriving last minute for my Friday conference: for me anything past 10pm is a very late night) and Covid lockdowns have definitely made me even worse at coping with disruption to my sleep routine, so I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in on Saturday ahead of a steady 11 miles. By Saturday the promised heatwave had finally arrived, and by the end of the 11 miles I was really hot, and pretty thirsty. Thinking I had learned my lesson, on Sunday I left much earlier, and wore as little as you can to run in without being arrested (crop top and shorts), but was still really struggling for the last 3 or 4 miles of my 16 mile run. 40 miles for the week.

As a sneak preview, I finished May (and started week 1 of Pfitzinger and Douglas’s 18 week 55-70 miles per week marathon training plan) with 5 miles this morning. 230 miles for May, so that counts as Not Bad or Fair Effort, especially given two very light weeks (and one where the long run was cut back from 20 miles to 14 miles due to the sprained ankle), but it’s a bit of a pity to lose that sense of being on a roll. Still, hopefully a few weeks of being careful, and reacquainting myself with my Bosu ball to activate all the stabilising muscles and tendons in the rubbish ankle, will keep me upright and injury free as I start my build up to London (or Dorney, depending on whether mass-participation races really do get the go ahead. Maybe in a few months’ time the current concerns about the Indian variant and rising case numbers will seem like a distant bad dream, or maybe I’ll be coming to terms with the fact that my best hope of racing at all is running 8 and a bit laps of a rowing lake, if at all. Having been distinctly unenthusiastic about such things for the last year, it’s now reached the stage where even I would settle for 8 and a bit laps of a rowing lake).