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.