Sunday, 16 October 2011

Double Figures

Distance: 10.04mi
Time: 01:50:50
Surface: Road & Trail
Conditions: Cloudy, sunny, cool

This has been a week of leaps forward but unfortunately, also steps back.

I've run the most I have in 5 months this week, and today hit double figures, hurray! I had a bad couple of short runs at the beginning of the week, having to stop and walk due to stitch after only 2 miles (I blame the huge sandwich I had for lunch at work).

I did bite the bullet and book in for my first Power Plate session since July, which was quite a hurdle. I've certainly noticed the change for the worse in my running, power and post-run agony since I started my sabbatical and, as I've written in previous posts, Power Plate has been an integral part of my running training certainly in the last year.

So on deciding to take on a mammoth hill climb today and a 10 mile run, I was a little anxious at how painful my glutes were and whether I'd in fact make it even half a mile let alone the full stretch. I decided to leave the run until mid afternoon instead of my usual morning rush before my husband plays golf. It gets harder and harder to get up early enough as my runs get longer on Sunday, before he has to leave at 10am and as I'm so bad at getting up (even earlier) to eat I thought I'd give myself a break. The weather was cloudy and on the cool side so it's been a perfect day for running and I felt good as I tackled my first hill.

I'd decided on a completely different route today, a road I drive up everyday to take my son to nursery which I've occasionally seen the odd 'nutter' run up. Today I thought I'd join the ranks of nutter and see how far I got. I surprised myself at the first section of the 2 mile ascent as I kept at a steady running pace of 10:30 min/mi. I thought I'd slow down a lot but actually the hill seemed more level when I was running it than it does when I'm driving. I managed to keep a steady pace until the steepest section of the road, which felt like looking up at an incredibly tall building from bottom, but I kept going albeit at a much slower pace until I ran out of pavement (I'd not seen that one coming) so had to detour through the adjacent village. This made the steep climb agonisingly longer but actually less steep, which I could live with and I kept with it. After about 25 minutes I managed to make it to the brow of the hill and the road thankfully started descending but the sun had come out and yet again I felt over dressed for the occasion. Thankfully the road on my route is quite exposed to the elements (as well as having beautiful views over the hills) so it was relatively windy which I welcomed, and feeling totally fantastic at having made it up the hill, managed to pick up the pace u again, collect myself and enjoy the gentle descent to my normal route through the woods.

I even surprised myself; there's a junction at the end of the wooded section which offers me the short road route home or the longer trail route (with added hill finish for good measure) and on most occasions I would usually cop out and take the short route home but today found myself drawn down the trail where I passed a woman on a bike whom I run past at the beginning of my session an hour and a half earlier. I like it when that happens, it makes me feel like I'm part of Tom's Midnight Garden or something, but instead of maids and gardeners you get to see other people in shorts and dry fit t-shirts (sorry if you're too young for the reference to the cracking BBC children's drama of the 80's - go look it up, it's a corker).

And so, I made it home in reasonable time having hit the double figure mileage mark for the first time in a long while, and feeling great! So what of the steps back this week?

I was gutted to find out my friend's Power Plate studio will be closing in November. I had always considered Power Plate as a core (excuse the pun) part of my running training plan and never considered it wouldn't be there throughout my marathon training. I'm so disappointed for both the hard work my friend has put into building such a fantastic fitness resource and for those people of Barnsley who will never know the benefits of the exercise.

I also find myself in a fit of panic, wondering what will ever replace the Power Plate classes that built up my core strength so well for the half marathon, and for which I need to get back (and some) to get me round twice the distance in now, under 6 months. Oh crap.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fat Girls Chafe

Distance: 6.2mi
Time: 59:34
Surface: Road
Conditions: Cloudy and warm
Sheffield 101010 in 2010

I've kept it quiet, but today was Great Yorkshire Run race day. I'd kept it quiet for no other reason than I'd temporarily forgotten about it and I suppose I was  unworried about it. It's a sort of 1 year competitive race anniversary too as I took part in my first race on 10th October 2010 (Sheffield Ten Ten Ten) with a time of 01:01:24. A year on and my pace is slightly improved though I'm probably a good half stone heavier. I'm reasonably pleased with the time (although if I'm being truly honest I'm gutted I didn't beat my personal best of 58:26 at Leeds Abbey Dash last November) but I have pretty much started again in the last couple of weeks, and the second hill in the last 2km was paaaainful.

No pre-race nerves!
The route was pretty flat which is a miracle in Sheffield although having run 13 miles round Sheffield for the half marathon and having to contend with only 2 hills, I do believe in miracles. I'd entered myself with an expected time of 01:10:00 so was in the green band but decided to drop back to pink to support my husband who I felt responsible for bullying into taking part. We were also running with a few friends of which two decided to drop back as it was their first races too. The atmosphere on arrival was really good, it felt quite chilled out and not as expected based on the predicted throng of in excess of 8000 people taking part. The baggage area was well organised considering it wasn't at all (obviously) attended, and wasn't busy at either drop off or pick up.

I felt like I'd packed my entire running wardrobe; the weather forecast was for heavy rain but muggy during the race, but the previous week had been a mix of sleet, freezing conditions and hot sun. Who knew? I changed twice before I'd left the house and changed again at City Hall and ended up in a sleeveless vest (having changed out of a long sleeved t-shirt and waterproof jacket). Because of the weather forecast we left our son at home with my mother-in-law rather than drag them out in the cold rain for a couple of hours, which is unfortunate as I'd really liked them to have been there. We needn't have worried though, it was sweltering (OK exaggeration police, maybe not tropical but warm enough for a reasonable run).

The starting line up was pretty relaxed but the warm up was a wash out, the further towards the back you were the more random the flailing arms got as it was impossible to hear or see what we were supposed to be doing. Still the starts were prompt and we were off just after 10:21am but what a nightmare start! The route started off exceedingly narrow for the number of people and at one point just after we started we ended up walking as we hit a bottleneck which was very frustrating. This continued for about .75km before the route widened and overtaking didn't involve death defying leaps up the pavements and dodging people in big wigs. After this the number of runners thinned and it was manageable to keep up up a straight run and a reasonable pace. Pretty much all my running companions had over taken me right at the start, even my husband whose pace in training had always been much slower than mine. I am, however, pretty good at pacing myself and keeping slow despite the wave of people over-taking and the pressure not to be beaten by my newbie race pals.

I can't say the run was easy as it wasn't; I ran pretty much at full pelt for 8k. I could tell as my face was hot and my lungs were burning and my knee was twinging, sure signs I was pushing myself beyond my usual comfortable run pace. I could really have done without the last 1k uphill slog past Fitzalan Square, as could many others I'm sure, but as I turned the corner down Arundel Gate for the last 200m, despite telling myself not to do a sprint finish, the clock showed I'd been running very close to an hour and this was my threshold. I'll be damned if I was going to take longer than my first ever race, so I floored it across the finish line at just under an hour (there is photo evidence to substantiate quite how much I gave it, but needless to say they far from show me in my best light). My husband came in not long after me and finished in a respectable 1hr 5, so we were both in the first half of the running returners. I rather stupidly dug straight into my post race booty bag and scoffed the energy bars and drinks before I'd even had my chip removed from my shoe (which I discovered I couldn't bend down to do myself), and consequently nearly threw up by the side of the road, reminiscent of many a pre-school birthday party I'd attended (and a few drunk night outs). Classy.

I did recover enough to enjoy a post race lunch and deconstruction of the morning's running events with the hubby before returning home. Especially proud, I am, of his great race time considering his training runs were a good 15 minutes longer than today, a triumph indeed (and a result of being diagnosed and treated for Asthma in the last couple of weeks). Mine on the other hand was a little disappointing, as I had hoped (admittedly in those last 200m and not before) that I might beat my personal best achieved at the Leeds Abbey Dash in 2010.

So, we returned home, husband in a glow of glory, and me, just a bit moody, licking my chafing wounds from having too fat arms.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Uphill Struggle

Distance: 7.50mi
Time: 01:28:15
Surface: Trail/Road
Conditions: Cloudy and hot

We're experiencing some freaky weather considering we're now in the full throws of Autumn, and I chose today, with temperatures in excess of 25 degrees forecast, to start tackling some hill training and add a bit more distance. All being said it didn't go too badly, I ran all the way including a steep hill half a mile long which, even at my peak I rarely relished or succeeded in completing. My average pace did suffer however at nearly 12 mins/mi (practically walking!). I ate before running this time as we were up early (child afraid of the dark) but didn't take any water with me (my bad) and I think I really suffered for it. My water consumption still isn't great on average and I'm certainly not consuming the recommended 2 litres per day so I really should have taken some out with me especially considering the heat. I have a Camelbak waist belt that is reasonably comfortable however in an attempt to make these runs as easy and as light as possible I've been shedding as many accoutrement's as I can - maybe water shouldn't have been one of them.

I did try out some new socks on this run too, X-Socks Sky Run. Basically they sound amazing and should have  cut my pace in half. OK, maybe I'm slightly over-egging the pudding, but they are recommended for controlling foot temperature and for preventing blisters by having specific protection points across the toes and heel and fast wicking away of moisture. Perhaps I was concentrating too hard on the temperature controlling properties of the socks but for the first 20 minutes my feet felt like they were on fire, not at all what I was expecting! This is probably an unfair assessment of these (pricey) socks - they were very comfortable and I didn't suffer any blisters (though blisters don't usually hit until I hit double figure mileage) - and perhaps I should have washed them first as recommended by Women's Running magazine. I'm not one for reading instructions, as my cooking prowess will testify.

Aside running up the hills, for which I employed any old method that meant I could get to the top without stopping, on the flat trail terrain I attempted my breathing technique and raising my field of vision described in my last post. I am sure this quickened my pace instantaneously by greater than 1 min/mi and at one point I'd reached a pace of around 8 mins/mi which I'd dearly love to maintain across a 10k distance (at the moment it's a good day if I make 10:45 min/mi which is my current "starting again" target. I did begin to struggle with thigh pain about half way round, experiencing quite acute tightening down the outside of my right thigh. I'm still suffering now walking down stairs too. I suspect I've over stretched myself (or maybe under stretched to start with) but it has brought a rather blunt fact to my attention - I'm a bit too fat. For the last few months I've got rather friendly with Mr Cake, and he's taken a fancy to my bottom, and my hips and now my thighs and now won't let go. Running progressively longer distance has just highlighted that my once reasonably toned thighs from regular running, Power Plate and climbing, are now just a bit too wobbly and running hurts more than I remember it.

I know I need to do 2 things to rectify this:

1. Eat better
2. Start Power Plate again

Now, I don't eat badly, I just eat a lot. I like my food and to be honest have struggled with knowing when to stop in the past. But I've lost a lot of weight twice now so I know what's possible I just need to buckle down, but that's not all. I need to find the bit in my brain that will allow me to maintain it for more than a couple of days and I think I'm nearly there, but until I am there's no point I'll only yo-yo diet and that's just within the space of a week.

The second thing I need to do is to restart Power Plate classes. During the last couple of runs where I've tried to blast it, I've suffered from leg pain, particularly calf pain which I never suffered from whilst I was doing Power Plate. I'm also not as powerful. The 30 minute Power Plate classes, twice a week saw me right; built up what now appears to be some good core strength (which means less back ache post runs) and  some fantastic muscles in my thighs, bum and calf (which gave me increased power). I've had nearly a 12 week blip in my attendance. I don't really know what happened (except for very little) once the half marathon was over. I seemed to give up on the 3 things I loved doing for exercise most - running, climbing and Power Plate, a seriously magic combination as far as I'm concerned for overall fitness and shape - which has had a knock on negative affect on my general being. More about that in another article...

So these are the things I need to work on in the next couple of weeks as I approach the 6 months threshold before the marathon.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Rough and the Smooth

Distance: 6.66mi
Time: 01:14:25
Surface: Trail
Conditions: Cloudy and humid

Distance: 3.0mi
Time: 00:31:31
Surface: Road
Conditions: Sunny, cool

I've experienced two contrasting runs in as many days. Yesterday I repeated my 10k trail route (proving Monday wasn't a fluke) and today, my usual 3 mile road route home from work. Yesterday was hard, really hard. I was on the clock as my husband plays golf on a Sunday morning with his dad so I have until 10.30am to complete whatever length run I've planned before I need to be back to take on the the childcare relay.

Within minutes I was aching all over and my lungs were fit to burst. I donned my arm warmers and had them off within minutes as I was so hot. The weather was glum but very humid, nasty weather to run in aside blistering sunshine. However all being said I ran the distance - including the evil steep uphill at the end of the trail that takes me across a main road. I'd anticipated a better time as I felt faster in my final mile but was gutted to find I'd come in longer than Monday's run. We're talking a minute and a half, but really, every second counts.

Defining features about yesterday's run?

1. Starvation run, I think it's called. Basically where you run on an empty stomach. I don't like to do this often but with a small window of running opportunity on a Sunday I rarely have time to eat, let my breakfast go down then do a I recent length run.
2. I was tired & achy. I'd been indoor bouldering with my family on Saturday afternoon. OK, it was only an hour and I'd spent most of that time spotting (catching) my little boy but it was the first time I'd been for a while and I tackled a few climbs that perhaps I shouldn't have done for someone who's put on a few pounds and is suffering from muscle atrophy. Anyway, I was suffering for it on Sunday.
3. I was too hot. After celebrating my Nike pro performance running tights in my first post, and despite having stripped off my top layer, I was still too hot. Seriously considering some pro performance capris now. I'm sure Sweatshop has a summer sale due...

And so to today's run. After a day at work, and without a lunch break I considered today's run as a means to an end - the end being getting to my car in less time than it would take to walk, however much shorter, by a tiny margin, that might be. I never considered I could actually do it in a reasonable time. I ate light today, favouring a half bowl of Rice Krispies for breakfast and an inhaled glass of orange juice on my way out of the door whilst arguing with my son about why taking a plastic Playdoh knife to nursery might be misconstrued as threatening behaviour to the other 3 year olds. For lunch, I enjoyed my homemade Peanut Butter & Butternut Squash soup (amazing Hugh F-W recipe from River Cottage Everyday - try it, it's a great winter warmer), a banana and a packet of crisps. There may have been a small baked goods incident around 4pm... but really, nothing to be concerned about. So anyway, I was travelling light by the time I left work at 5.30pm and had kept well hydrated through the day, which makes a positive change. The going was good from work; I have to cross 3 major roads before I get onto a reasonable straight so invariably it's a stop more than it is a start for the first 10 minutes, however today I was lucky with 3 green men in a row. I felt pretty good, thinking I was making good time, and so was very disappointed to have it reported by Runkeeper's dulcet tones, that my average pace would make dead tortoises look fast. So I had a word with myself. No really, I did, and it worked. My legs weren't feeling too bad and my breathing was fine so I took on some of the advice from an exercise professional friend - head up, shoulders back, and focus on maintaining core strength. I've read it's not a great idea to look at the floor whilst running, but on the trail I find that virtually impossible for fear of turning my ankle over on twigs and leaf mulch, however it's pretty easy to do whilst road running. I kept my field of vision slightly higher than my direct eye line (say, just below looking at the light on a street lamp) which had the net effect of straightening my posture and actually increasing my pace very slightly as I took bigger strides. Some more amateur theory - raising your hands higher than your heart when you run increases your heart rate and also assists with propulsion. It works you know, especially good uphill and combined with raising your field of vision a few degrees really helped improve my pace. Finally, as I sped up, I found myself employing the same breathing rhythm as I naturally fell into during the Half Marathon, breathing in through the mouth and nose, and puffing out through the mouth (all hail the ante natal class and the 5 candles technique - bloody useless during labour but marvellous for running!). All in, I managed a good 5 minutes off my recent total running time and actually ran my 4th best time ever on that route, who knew!

Defining features of today's run in contrast?

1. I ate light (excepting the 4pm scone)
2. Kept well hydrated, about 1.75l during the day (for me this is good, though well under the daily recommended amount I know)
3. Employed proper breathing technique
4. Kept my eye line and arms high to improve stride and propulsion

Instead of doing this for the final mile, next time I'll attempt this approach for the whole 3 miles. I reckon I could spank the ass off my best time of 29:51!

Next time is, by the way, tomorrow...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Big Break

Distance: 6.66mi
Time: 01:13:57
Surface: Trail
Conditions: Bright, sunny but chilly

Today I ran the longest distance I have since the Sheffield Half Marathon in May this year. In the past 4 months since the event, I've been running short 3mi distances between work and where I park the car in the morning, a couple of times a week and sometimes not at all.

Today was a big deal. I had got myself into a state about whether I could manage the full 10k (6.2mi) or not as I've been struggling even with short distances. My breath has been short, I've got stitch, my knees hurt and of all things I'm sure I'm developing a bunion. On a couple of occasions I've had to stop and walk. This is a far cry from the regular double-digit training runs I was managing before the Half Marathon. So of course I've been scared that maybe running's given up on me, lest I have given up on it, and that my leg muscles have turned to spaghetti and my arse is now just too fat for my carcass to drag around.

But, and I will spare you the details, it was OK much to my surprise. So on reflection, having had a significant break from running long distances, I have learned a number of things today:

  1. Trail running is far easier on the body than road running
  2. Running sans backpack complete with work attire/equipment is less tiring
  3. I'm a lot slower than I was but that's OK
  4. I always wear too much when I run, even if I'm freezing when I start
  5. I run faster and more effectively in the morning than after a full day at work
  6. I'm an inclement weather kind of runner - cold and bright is perfect, cloudy or wet is as good
  7. I need some new running music, my iPod is quite dull

For the last 4 months I have been running almost entirely on main road pavements and tarmac and whilst the hills have been non-existent I have really struggled with calf and foot ache which I never used to suffer on my regular long runs. I've taken this to mean that running maybe isn't my thing - if my body can so quickly repel the strength and endurance I built up for a Half Marathon maybe this hobby isn't for me. However after today's session I'm beginning to wonder whether it's just the surface that's affected me. In theory, I have read that trail running is better for the knees and joints due to the softer leafy, muddy surface providing a softer landing, but never really noticed this in practice. Since all my running, with the exception of the odd, unusual route, makes use of the trail, why would I?

I'm lucky enough to live a mile from an entry point onto the Trans Pennine Trail in South Yorkshire which provides a fantastic, off road running experience on relatively flat terrain. I will quite often run alongside fields and in some parts through woods, and, though not dissimilar to the routes forced upon me in Cross Country as a fat nerdy teenager at school (as purple as a beetroot and wheezing in a manner akin to having a 20 a day smoking habit) I actually love it. This comes as the biggest shock to me, and probably my parents who wonder what's happened to their historically stationery eldest. So more trail running for me it seems, at the very least to arrest the self doubt that running is no longer my t'ing, I can still do it.

I shall also ad-dress (excuse the pun) the clothing issue. I invariably wear too much when running. If I wasn't self conscious I should probably run about in an Olympic crop top and pants combo but people, that ain't happening ever, I can assure you. I have very bad circulation so tend to suffer from freezing extremities - cold hands and feet (and bits of bottom and stomach that are too far away from my circulatory system to benefit from the blood flow). But after 10 minutes it all kicks off. My hands get boiling and my feet sweat, so I generally need alot of very breathable and cool clothing, particularly lightweight layers that I can take off (and somewhere to pack them away when I do). I have a number of pairs of running tights but actually only 1 pair that are cool enough (and ironically warm enough) to wear in summer and in winter, a pair of Nike performance tights. Previous to this I wore capris and running tights but was forever fiddling with the ankle zips to let some air in in summer. My legs are therefore, sorted. My top half is another matter and I suffered the curse of the initial morning air blast today. I considered it brisk enough for long sleeves and a gilet (useful for iPod) but after the 10 minute gateway wished I'd worn short sleeves instead.

As we are now officially in Autumn I may dig out a rather nifty addition to my running clobber - a pair of arm warmers. There work effectively like leg warmers but are worn on your arms so you can remove them whilst running and shove them in an empty pocket or hip bag. OK, they look a bit weird, but actually for freaks like me who can't get their body temperature under control I find them really useful. So for me, wearing less is more, even in the coldest of weather, as I cannot stand being too hot when I run.

And so finally, what to include on my iPod? My current running companions are high octane drum 'n' bass mixes of old, a dash of Prodigy, and my favourite female Electronica in the form of Kosheen, Goldfrapp and Roisin Murphy. After 2 years of the same playlist I'm getting a little bored of the tunes so am inviting suggestions... as long as it's fast and upbeat I'll give it a go so let me know.