Tag Archives: running

I’ve Looked At Running From Both Sides Now / From Up and Down: Chicago Build Up Week 7 (aka 5 weeks to go)

4 Sep

Last week saw me hit 73 miles, which is a personal best.  On Monday, my legs were pretty tired, because I’d done 57 of those miles Thursday-Sunday, so it made perfect sense to take advantage of it being a Bank Holiday to drop in and see my parents, and take part in the Reading AC’s Festival of Miles.  I was, after all, guaranteed a pb, because although I have raced 3000m on the track and taken part in 1500m races (I hesitate to say I’ve really raced a 1500m: marathon runners can’t really race effectively at that distance!), I’ve never done a standalone mile.  Now, according to race predictors, I should be able to run something around 5m15s for the mile.  The thing about race predictors is that they assume you have trained properly for that specific distance, and not done anything totally stupid such as a 21M run the day before your target race.  Still, 5m41s was a reasonable result, and faster than 3000 pace.  There was a photographer on hand to record the fact I stood next to the tall people on the start line…:

Mile race start

… and that I just out-sprinted someone to not finish last in my race:

Mile finish

In a fit of enthusiasm mixed in equal parts with stupidity, I then went to my club session on Tuesday evening and did 4 x 6 minutes (with 2 minutes of standing around between each 6 minute effort) and managed 0.99M per 6 minutes, so about 10K pb pace, which I was both pleased and surprised by, because my legs felt pretty tired during the warm up.

On Wednesday I did 15 miles on the Bike Path because I knew my legs would struggle with anything demanding.  I was surprised to come away with a pace under 8m/m, and that my legs did eventually loosen up.  It left me feeling pretty positive.

On Thursday, I did 12 miles.  This was the point at which my legs gently suggested that they’d done quite a lot of miles recently (to be precise, 100 miles since – and including – the previous Thursday, which is a heck of a lot for me), and I had a proper attack of “the plods”, only being able to bimble along at 8.20m/m.  I did, however, sleep extremely well on Thursday evening, and it’s rare for me to drop to sleep pretty much immediately!

Friday, thank goodness, was a rest day.  I also had a sports massage, which reassured me that although my legs were a bit sore, it was just general tired-muscle soreness, and there weren’t any underlying issues.  The tightness was also pretty symmetrical, which is also good, because it means I’m not favouring one side over the other, and that my left glute is finally agreeing to do its fair share of the work.  Hurrah!

Saturday was the other side of running: completely for fun.  A club mate is getting married soon, and had a hen-do with a difference where we all ran at parkrun, whilst dressed as chickens.  I’d like to thank my talented fellow club-mates for their handiwork in making the accessories I’m sporting in the photo.  Without them, I would just have looked like a confused lifeguard who’d got roped into a run:

Chicken run

And finally, to today.  It was the Chippenham Half Marathon, which I hadn’t done before, but I needed to do a half this weekend because any later could be too close to Chicago to allow my legs to recover from the effort of racing.  I knew it wasn’t ideal that I’d done so much mileage in the last 11 days, but hoped I might just about get away with it.  It’s fair to say that there isn’t much depth to the field, i.e. although I only ran a fairly modest 1.24.40, I was 31st overall and 2nd lady, whereas in one of the bigger half marathons you’d be well down the field with those times (I ran a similar time at Bath this spring and was only just inside the top 250, for instance), so I was running alone or with only one or two people for company for most of the race.  It was also a bit windy: not awful, but apparently 13mph at Lyneham nearby, and that’s enough to make you either have to work harder than you want to (or can!) or accept a slower time.  The final grizzle is that the undulations in the last few miles come just as your legs are at their most tired…  Still, my breathing was pretty ok, it was just the legs which were tired, so I’m hoping that means that today was around marathon pace effort, and allowing the wind and the tiredness I could see a modest pb in Chicago (always assuming the Windy City isn’t too windy on the big day!).

Phew: epic blog post – that’s enough!


The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Chicago Marathon Build-Up: Week 4)

14 Aug

On Monday I was a bit worried that if my neck was made worse by running, I had to be in court for 9am, so didn’t do my recovery run until the evening. The run didn’t seem to make things worse, so I went to my club session on Tuesday and did just under 3.5 miles of efforts (varying from about 1,200m to horribly painful 300m efforts: although I know they are good for me, really, because I’d never manage to run as fast as I do in those short sections if I was by myself). Unfortunately, that faster running, driving more with my arms, did seem to make my back and neck worse again, as I had trouble sleeping Tuesday night due to the pain. Humph.

Wednesday therefore saw me having a sports massage, which did seem to help, both in identifying what was wrong and the stretches and gentle exercises I could do to try and help things improve. However, having had everything loosened off nicely it didn’t make sense to run that evening.

Thursday I did my second longest run of the week: 15 miles. I treated myself to an out and back along the Bristol-Bath bike path, which is on a disused railway and so is relatively flat (by Bristol standards it’s pancake flat!). Even better, the very slight incline is on the way out (if you’re a Bristolian) and the very slight decline is on the way back, so it’s very easy to do a progressive run, i.e. start slowly and run each mile just a bit faster than the previous one. It’s fair to say that even on Thursday I could still feel in my legs that I’d had a very “big weekend” and then done that fast session on Tuesday.

Friday was a long day in Worcester and so I had to do my 5 mile recovery run in the evening, rather tired and rather dehydrated: 8.38m/m was all the legs had on offer!

Yesterday I was racing in London at one of my favourite races, the Pride 10k. Although it’s mostly a LGBT Pride event, because the course is flat and fast it also attracts a few club runners chasing a fast time. The final main attraction is that one my best friends lives a few miles away and usually rustles up a lovely lunch for afterwards (as was the case yesterday). The only downside of the race is that it is a 3-lap course and given the varying abilities of the runners the 3rd lap is very, very congested and I had to do a fair bit of dodging and weaving, just at the point that the legs were at their most tired. My legs still felt pretty heavy and a bit sore as I warmed up, but I managed to improve on my 10km time from 2 weeks ago by 29s, despite the weaving and winding (and a rather annoying headwind), so my target of improving by 2-3s/mile/week is on course. This week: just under 6.18m/m after the session at 5.50m/m.

Today, 20M on *very* tired legs. I didn’t help myself by staying up last night to watch the athletics from the Rio Olympics (although to be fair I was semi-dozing in front of the TV rather than wide awake) so it was a bit of a late start. Still, it was good to get my first 20M under the belt (psychologically that’s really important: once you’ve raced the first 20M of a marathon it’s only 10km until the finish, plus there’s a bit of marathon training folklore that your longest 5 training runs should add up to 100M, so getting 5 runs in of about 20M is a good idea).  I think that volume of training (68M: so a cutback week for Mo Farah ;)) definitely marks the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar.  Pupa awaits, to be followed by butterfly.

Finally, I got some marathon admin done this week: ESTA so that I can get into the USA, and my travel guide to plan my sightseeing:


Pottering Around (Chicago Build-up: Week 3)

8 Aug

So, after a 60 mile week, it was a case of another Monday, another 5 mile recovery run. It was fair to say that my legs were pretty tired, and that tiredness was still a little evident on Tuesday, when I ran my 9 miles into work with a rucksack. I don’t find run/commuting ideal, but in busy weeks it can be the only way of getting the miles in, so needs must. Thankfully we have a shower to use!

The week went slightly awry on Wednesday, as I’d hoped to get my 14 mile run in that day, but for various (not very exciting) reasons ended up having to take a rest day. Things were little better on Thursday and I only had time for a 5 mile run that evening. This meant only one thing: my 3 longest runs of the week were going to be on consecutive days, which is never ideal. Still, for a marathon runner it is (generally) more important to get the miles in than to overstress the odd unbalanced week (with the caveat that this is only ok if your body can take it – if I’d tried what I did on Friday/Saturday/Sunday 10 years ago it would have broken me!).

Anyway, Friday morning saw 14 miles. Funnily enough, having had 4 easy days, I found my legs felt pretty springy as I bounded up and down the hills, trying to keep a lid on things and not push too hard. After all, I had my long run (17 miles) to do on Saturday!

Saturday was a beautiful morning to be out, and so I made the most of it to go off road through Leigh Woods and along what is called the Towpath, which runs alongside the Avon. I treated myself to a climb back up the Avon Gorge through Ashton Court just to round things off. It was a lovely run, except that about halfway through my right shoulder/upper back began to feel quite tight and sore.

Unfortunately, the neck/shoulder/back tightened up over the course of the afternoon (I guess that sitting at my desk working won’t have helped) and actually woke me in the middle of the night because the pain was so intense. This was a real problem, because Sunday was the final match in the Midland League up in Stoke, I was on the team sheet, and the team coach was leaving at 7.30am. This meant that I resorted to something I would rarely do: painkillers. It was that or let the club down, and as out of the 6 clubs in the league only 1 was safe from relegation (not us), I didn’t want to do that. It feels a bit like this week’s blogpost is more about what not to do, however! So, dosed up, I set off. Things were still pretty sore on arrival, but after my lunchtime dose of painkillers the pain began to ease, and I got through the 3,000m pretty ok, albeit the windy conditions meant that superfast times were off the cards. That and the fact that my legs were properly tired probably accounts for a below par 11.02. At the time of going to press our fate in the league is not known, but fingers crossed we did enough…

In The Beginning, There Was … An Egg (Chicago Build Up: Week 1)

24 Jul

So, the last 4 weeks had been pretty up and down, with quite a lot more down than up. When I woke on Monday, I still didn’t feel great and knew that trying to ‘catch up’ on the long run I hadn’t been able to do the day before was not going to be a smart idea. There were two ways of dealing with this, psychologically: (a) see it as a failure; (b) view this week as a fresh start, when I would stick to what I had planned before the need to try and squeeze in an ‘overdue’ long run. I opted for (b), because it is time to get back in touch with my inner caterpillar. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a fan of Charlie Spedding’s book “From Last To First”, and ‘thinking caterpillar’ comes from there: you believe that you are going to become a butterfly as long as you follow your training.

It’s worth noting that a butterfly has four life stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa and butterfly. It’s fair to say that at the moment, after 4 weeks of disrupted training (calf strain, broken heart, stupid amounts of work and cold in varying proportions at different times), I feel as if I may be at the egg stage, but it is time to start believing that the egg will ultimately become a butterfly.

butterfly egg

The rest of the week followed my Pfitzinger & Douglas schedule pretty accurately: Tuesday was a rest day, Wednesday was 8 miles easy into work, Thursday was 11 miles (although I snuck in 6 x 1km off 2 minutes rather than simply strides), Friday was a nice easy 5 miles and then the weekend saw 11 miles yesterday morning and 15 miles today. It was particularly lovely to get back out on the hilly trails this weekend and enjoy the scenery, even if that means the paces were a bit slower than I would have managed on easier, flatter courses. But most importantly, the plan said to run 55 miles and I ran 55 miles. Hurrah!

It was also lovely, after about 3 months of hectic weekends, to have a quiet weekend where – apart from needing to go into work for a few hours this afternoon – the demands on my time have not exceeded that training and reaching for the TV remote to watch the Anniversary Games athletics. I’ve also had 2 consecutive mornings with no alarm when I have slept as much as I’ve needed, which has been glorious. I slept for 9.5 hours on Friday night, but required only a mere 8.5 last night. I almost feel like a human being again!

We Are The Champions

1 May

So, how was I going to follow up Frankfurt 2014?

The initial answer was to improve my 10k PB twice, taking it down to 37.23 in late November, when I was first woman and Scott Overall won overall. He was over 7 minutes faster than me, but it still looked nice in Athletics Weekly!

I also had some good cross-country results in November/December and was pleased that I seemed to have handled my post-marathon recovery perfectly. It’s fair to say I was probably pretty smug about it.

Christmas Week marked 18 weeks before the London Marathon and so a return to P&D: I’m very much of the view that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; plus I don’t have time for more than 70 miles a week so I might as well do their version of 70 miles a week with a little tweaking here and there to fit in other racing commitments.

My first race of 2015 was a bit of a disappointment: at the South West Inter-Counties Cross Country Champs I just couldn’t get my legs turning over and finished lower down the field than I should have done. A 5 mile race later than month in some of the windiest conditions I’ve ever endured also did little to rebuild my confidence as the time was much slower than I’d have liked. Thankfully, there was a glimmer of hope in my final race, the Midlands Cross Country Champs, as I finished just outside the top 20 and secured team gold for my club. Phew!

February saw a lot more racing, but it felt like only one of those (the Bramley 20) really went to plan, and even then the last 10 miles, which were supposed to be at marathon pace, felt like fairly hard work. The National Cross Country Champs was a thoroughly dispiriting affair, as I trudged along feeling aerobically strong but simply unable to run at any pace in the glutinous mud. Urgh.

And so to March: I started with the Bath Half marathon, and this was the point where my self-belief didn’t so much hit rock bottom as get up and leave the room, apparently intending never to return. For some reason I had no energy and struggled round to a time which was 90 seconds slower than the Bristol Half in September 2014, feeling like I was working really hard for a frankly disappointing time.

The Reading Half marathon towards the end of the month was a bit more encouraging: I ran 30 seconds faster than Bath but felt like I was running much more within myself. I can’t say it was quite marathon-paced effort, but it definitely wasn’t flat out.

And so to April, and my final race: a ‘long’ leg at the National Road Relays in Sutton Coldfield. It was a pretty windy day, but I managed to run a fairly solid race, although probably not quite as fast as I wanted. It seemed to the story of 2015.

It’s fair to say that by the time the London Marathon came round my main difficulty was persuading myself that I hadn’t gone from being a person who had run 2.52 feeling strong and in control to someone who was going to struggle to run that time. I had done the miles and the speedwork. I just had to believe they would work.

And so to race day. I headed over to Blackheath fairly early and made my way to the national championships start area. After a bit I found Jenny, one of my team-mates, although I didn’t see my other team-mate, Helen, until shortly before the start. The weather forecast had been a bit hit and miss in terms of conditions, but it was clear that we had been blessed: it was cool, cloudy, dry and there was very little wind.

It was hard to keep emotions in check as they announced Paula Radcliffe running her last competitive marathon, and it was perhaps best that the gun rather surprised me. It took me a few seconds to cross the line and then I was running. The first mile was a bit slow (6.40) but I reminded myself this had happened in Frankfurt 18 months ago and I’d finished really strongly then. Even the second mile was a little slower than would bring me a pb (6.35) but I told myself to stay calm and see how I felt at 5K. There’s a gentle downhill throughout most of the third mile and so by the time I hit 5K I was pretty much on 2.50 pace. By 10K I was starting to feel a bit more comfortable and knew I had about 15 seconds in hand thanks to the downhill.

The amazing thing was the crowd support: perhaps there have always been that many people and I’ve simply never taken it in before, or perhaps the 2 year break where I’d run a smaller city marathon had made me forget. The noise was stupendous! For a fair few miles I was running near F1 driver Jenson Button, and the screams for him were deafening.

At 8 miles I went past my cousin, Chris, and his wife, Kim. I was starting to feel more comfortable and my breathing felt ok. Perhaps that 2.50 dream wasn’t so stupid after all.

I ran for a bit with a guy who was also aiming for about 2.50 and it really helped having someone running at the same pace: sometimes I would drift ahead and sometimes he would drift ahead, and it made me pick up the pace a fraction to keep going.

My splits show that the usual amazing cheers on Tower Bridge made me pick up the pace a little more: I ran my fastest 5K (sub 20) at this point! Perhaps it was the brilliant cheerpoint manned by a crowd from my club!

The amazing thing about this year was that I spotted loads of people who were out supporting me. Although I knew I was working hard, I still felt like I was in control, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much during a race!

At 20 miles and then at 35K I knew I still had about 30s in hand for the splits I had written on my arm, and those splits would bring me home in 2.50.10. I realised that sub 2.50 was potentially there, a target I’d postponed until the autumn given my mixed racing performances.

I reminded myself that in Frankfurt 2014 I’d had to consciously overtake people to keep my momentum going, and so I focused on my technique and stride turnover, and on gradually reeling the runners in. It was at this point that I became slightly less aware of my surroundings. Sometimes I would spot a supporter and at other times I would hear my name and not see anyone or even quite recognise the voice. One of the people I did see and hear told my later that I looked like I was hurting, but in a good way, and that’s exactly right. At 40K I did some calculations. It looked like sub 2.50 was still possible. I forced my legs to keep turning over at a rate that was just faster than they really wanted, and focused on using my arms to ensure my stride length didn’t shorten. At 800m to go my brain said it was fine, sub 2.50 was going to happen, and at 600m that was still the case. At 400m my tired brain panicked and thought that I’d blown it: in desperation I picked up my pace as best I could, wondering how I’d let that happen. It turned out it was user error: the clock was still showing 2.49 as I crossed the line, and I stopped my watch at 2.49.40, beaming from ear to ear. Official ‘gun’ time: 2.49.51; official chip time: 2.49.39 🙂

And as for the title of this blog entry? I was third scorer for Bristol & West behind Jenny and Helen. Provisional results say we won the team race, and so I am now a national champion.

Before I broke 3 hours, I always underestimated how much of racing was in the mind. Of course you have to do the training, and there is no substitute for proper mileage and proper speed work. But Charlie Spedding was right: you need to think caterpillar if you want to succeed. Suddenly, sub 2.45 is the sort of time I can realistically aim for, and 2 years ago, as I sat on a tube, crying my eyes out after dropping out, I’d have told you that was a time for butterflies.

The Dinner That Never Was

30 Mar

Had Anwen & Dan not stepped into the breach on 23.12.11, my mum and I were going to have (I use the term loosely) to try the local restaurant in Little Bedwyn. The Harrow Inn has a Michelin star, so the carbs would have been high quality. As it was, a very tasty curry filled a hole instead. However, the Harrow Inn had stayed on the list of places to try, and 15 months on mum and I finally made it there, joined by Dad, celebrating his birthday somewhat belatedly.

My train got into Bedwyn a bit early and so I walked from Great Bedwyn to Little Bedwyn along the canal. I was a bit disconcerted to realise that I must have run this particular mile or so, albeit I didn’t recognise any of it until I hit the footbridge at Little Bedwyn*. Shows what kind of shape I was in from mile 34 to mile 35 on that particular day, I guess… Anyway, it was a thoroughly pleasant meander, albeit the chilly wind rather took the edge off the sunshine.

The star of the day, however, was the food. It was very good. And the best news of all is that the fixed price lunch is (in Michelin star restaurant terms) very good value (£35/head including wine).

As always, revisiting anything to do with Running Home for Christmas is a little bit of a mixed bag emotionally: it remains one of my proudest achievements, but I’d far rather the challenge had never had to be undertaken at all.

* As I recall the day, I didn’t run past Bedwyn station.  I thought I’d rejoined the canal after that.  However, unless I’ve misremembered the bridge I crossed to get back onto the canal, it was before Bedwyn station, because I certainly didn’t go past it today…

Day 2

23 Dec

Appropriately enough for reminding myself of how I’d felt a year ago, my legs were a bit tired and heavy this morning, and so my 18M training run was ground out. The weather was probably a bit similar to last year’s: windy and a bit of rain. The terrain was generally better (albeit mostly because I was on pavements for the majority of the time, apart from a mile through Blaise which was reminiscent of the towpath at its worst!) but I’d deliberately picked a hilly route because I’m at the stage of training where I need to focus on leg strength. Job done!

Retracing my steps and counting my blessings

18 Nov

My build up for the 2013 London Marathon has begun and today I needed to do about 15 miles. I thought it would be nice to run along the Bristol-Bath bike path, but ran it in reverse to avoid having to wait at the station getting cold at the end. The 6.30am alarm call to ensure I got the 7.40am train was a bit unwelcome, and it was more than a little nippy out as I walked to Temple Meads. However, once I got going, it was one of those beautiful autumnal mornings when it’s a pleasure to be outside. The sky was clear blue with only a few wisps of cloud, there was a thick frost dusting the ground and the leaves and berries provided a burst of colour. At times the path crosses over the river Avon and so that brought back memories of 11 months ago. I’m pretty glad it was last year and not this year as the fields/paths were extremely muddy. Thankfully the bike path is tarmac!

Start of Real Relay Leg

21 Jul

Real Relay

21 Jul

I was feeling quite smug last night. I set the alarm on my phone to wake me at 1.15am so that I had about 45 minutes to get ready before leaving (I’m not great at running the minute I wake up) and I’d checked the GPS tracker and seen that the relay was pretty much on time. Lights out by 9.30pm.

The next thing I knew, it was 2.10am and I had a text message from Duncan, who was running with me, to tell me he was at the handover point. Aaaaargh! Not quite sure what went wrong with the sodding phone, but aaaaaargh! I gulped down a smoothie, changed into my running gear, grabbed my map and headed out of the hotel. The guy in reception looked a bit baffled: “you going for a run now?”. Umm, yes…

Thankfully, I managed to get to the hospital (designated handover) at 2.31am and joined Duncan. Tom (leg 261) arrived at about 2.45 with his running partner and after posing for some photos (at which point I realised I hadn’t picked up my camera: doh!), we set off.

The first couple of miles went through Croydon. Croydon is pretty lively at 2.45 on a Saturday morning, but there was nothing worse than drunken banter (and, to be fair to the good folk of Croydon, probably quite a lot of drunken bemusement) and after that it was pretty quiet. We saw the odd person who said something along the lines of “it’s the Olympic torch” and at one point seemed to attract the attention of a police patrol car, which slowed down as it passed us. Now, that would have been a brilliant conversation (“Well, officer, I wouldn’t say it’s a weapon, it’s a torch … No, I know it’s not actually lit up … It’s a representation of a torch … It’s for an alternative Olympic relay … Look, can I go, because I’m meeting someone called Jenny in Mitcham at 4.15am and I don’t want to be late?” It would definitely fall into the category of ‘things they don’t teach you at Bar school’…)

We handed over in Mitcham bang on target time, having made up the 15 minutes which had been lost at some earlier point (although to be fair our leg was only 9.6 miles, so it was easy to make up time, even with a couple of walk breaks – the light sabre is quite heavy!). Thanks to Jenny for the restorative cup of tea and I hope your leg went well. Come to think of it, thanks to Duncan for sending me a text at 2.10am, or I’d have been woken by a furious phone call at 2.45am, I should think…

Hopefully I’ll be able to get digital photos from Duncan and Jenny, given my spectacular failure to take my camera (and my phone froze at 2.42 am so I couldn’t even take any photos on that!).

6 days to go to the Olympics. And now I really feel part of it.