Adapting the training plan

There’s no time for my usual long run this weekend, as I’m in the big smoke (London) to see a play. To compensate, I had a longer recovery run – eight miles – earlier in the week. I had worried that it was a bit soon after my long run for an eight miles run, but it was glorious and I enjoyed every minute.
This morning I managed an interval session on the treadmill before setting off on the long and tedious coach journey. I passed time on the coach by reading The Fat Girls Guide to Marathon Running, by Julie Creffield – which left me frankly terrified. Suddenly, marathon training feels very real. What on earth am I doing taking a break from it? But then a pleasant walk, a good meal, and I feel very relaxed and sleepy. I have to trust that a change of scene, and a break in routine, can be good for mind, body and soul.
The River Thames at night

Long Run Saturday

Today was long run day. I really wasn’t in the mood. Given the choice to do any kind of run I’d have chosen an easy treadmill run, with Forest Gump playing on my tablet. Outside did not look appealing. But I needed a long run, so that was that.

When running long runs, I prefer to alternate between full long runs, where I (hope to) increase distance, and shorter long runs of about eight to ten miles. At 52, and a couple of stones overweight, this is kinder to my joints. Although this week should have been a short week, I decided to aim for sixteen miles, because next weekend I’ll be away and might not manage a long run at all.

As I arrived at Steart Marshes with my daughter Sophia, I still felt very lacking in motivation. Eventually I dragged my lazy self out of the car and got going. Sophia ran on ahead while I wasted a bit more time visiting the toilet – then I finally got going.

It was chilly, but not too cold. As I ran alongside the river and warmed up, I began to feel better about the run. If a little daunted by the idea of sixteen miles. Perhaps the trick is to not think about the number, so I tried to think about the run in terms of the route – just a trip down the road to Cannington, back to Steart, then up and down the paths where I’ve ran many times before. Not far at all, really.

On the return from Cannington, the weather looked like it was brightening up, and I was enjoying myself. I passed lots of friendly people out enjoying the morning.

A flooded field with Hinkley Point power station on the horizon
The River Parrett at high tide

After the run to Cannington, I returned to the car for a pit stop, picked up another gel, dropped off my hoodie, and set off with another 7.5 miles to go.

As I approached the end of the path at around eleven miles, I saw Sophia returning the other way. She said she felt unwell, and was heading back to the car, which was a smart choice.

I thought I’d probably cut my run slightly short too, to avoid Sophia having to wait too long for me and getting chilled.

While I was considering what to do, a sudden, nasty change in the weather made my mind up for me. Out of nowhere, the wind picked up, bringing with it icy horizontal rain. I really regretted leaving my hoodie back at the car. The rain stung my face, my arms, my legs. I’m usually too warm once I get running, whatever the weather. This was the coldest I’ve felt mid-run. Fortunately, my last gel had kicked in, and I was able to pick up the pace to get back quickly.

As suddenly as it came, the rain passed, just as I approached the car park. I felt okay, if cold and wet, so I ran for a few minutes just to round up to fourteen miles. Then back to the car. I was tempted to keep going, as I felt generally pretty good. But I wanted to get back to Sophia, and to get some dry clothes on.

The run didn’t go quite to plan but I was pleased with how I felt over the fourteen miles. I know I could have coped with more, and it’s good to finish with something left in the tank. Sophia was disappointed with herself, but I think managing a 13.5 mile run when feeling unwell is pretty impressive.

Adjusting the plan when we need to hopefully means that we can stay strong and healthy – and make up for it next time.

New Year Running

I’m pleased that I found time to get a run in on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Both were 5K recovery runs along the same route in grey, gloomy, foggy weather. On both occasions, I felt tired and sluggish, and my times weren’t great.

And then I compared with the equivalent run last year.

Social media was going crazy yesterday with people’s decade photographs. I wasn’t able to participate as I was very much avoiding the camera ten years ago. But I’m probably more excited to see this evidence of my running progress over the past year.

I wonder what my times will be at the end of this year? I would like to run 5K (although not necessarily along this route) in under thirty minutes, and I want to get my 10K time down to under 70 minutes. Every minute off my half marathon time (currently 2:44) is a triumph. As for my first marathon, I just want to finish before the cut-off and not get swept.

What are your goals for 2020?

Happy New Year

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Reflecting on the past year a few days ago, I said to my family that 2019 had been a horrible year and I’d be glad to see the back of it. We have, as a family, had a couple of truly horrific – and I mean really shocking – things happen this year. But we coped and got through it. We are strong, and we have each other.

But then I reflected some more. On balance, those couple of really nasty things have been outweighed by countless highlights and delights. So, looking at the big picture, 2019 was actually a pretty good year. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I went on some training a couple of years ago – I can’t remember what the actual training was – but one exercise has stuck in my mind. We had to list words used to describe emotions. Then we had to sort the words into those that we considered positive, and those that we felt were negative.

We ended up with a handful of ‘nice’ emotions – such as happy, delighted, contented, pleased. The list of other emotions – anger, despair, irritation, sadness, anxiety, rage, grief, sorrow, shame, guilt – you get the idea – went on and on and on. This made me think, and has kept me thinking, that we seem almost hard-wired to focus on the negative rather than the positive. We have more words for the less pleasant feelings. The range of these words conveys a rich and subtle variety of ways to feel bad. Does language shape thought, or does thought shape language? (Psychologists please enlighten me – I honestly have forgotten how this works). Either way, the connection is there.

Of course, we need to acknowledge the full range of emotions, whether we consider them to be positive or negative. They are what they are, and they are a part of our life experience. But I certainly recognise that I also need, at times, to maintain some perspective.

The sorrow of losing a loved one, for instance, is a part of our love for that person. And love is a source of great joy in our lives.

Too easily, the bad times will stand out, while the good times can retreat to the back of the mind, almost forgotten.

I don’t yet know what 2020 will bring. I know I have some exciting goals ahead. Things are looking good.

I don’t believe in resolutions, but as we head into this new decade I hope to be able to retain a sense of balance and perspective.

Have a happy and healthy 2020.

Fifteen miles fuelled by Christmas

I decided on 27th December to attempt my first fifteen mile run. I should have done this weeks ago. Since I completed my first half marathon back in September, I’ve been telling myself that I’m gradually increasing my mileage, in training for Newport Marathon next April. But, as the year comes to an end, I realise that I’ve been telling myself sweet little white lies.

My weekly mileage has not increased – and my long runs have hovered around the same distance. I’ve ran fourteen miles once, and the half marathon distance several times. I’ve consolidated. Which is fine. But – as Newport approaches – I need to get my mileage up.

The day after Boxing Day seemed like as good a time as any. The weather forecast promised light drizzle, no wind and mild temperatures. I was rested after a few days off work, and I was about as carb-loaded as a person could ever be, thanks to the Christmas feasting.

I headed off to my favourite long run location of Steart Marshes, along with my daughter. We planned our route, hoping to avoid the wettest, muddiest and marshiest paths until the second half of the run. We would run alongside the River Parrett, and into the villages of Otterhampton and Cannington (with their nice dry pavements). Then back to the Marshes for some soggy running.

When we arrived at Steart the car park was deserted. There was a moody grey sky, and the promise of drizzle.

As we set off, my daughter ran off ahead. We like to go running together, without actually running together. We have different goals (and paces) and both enjoy the solitude of a long run. But it’s good to see each other out there, and share our experiences when we catch up afterwards.

Almost immediately, I felt the benefit of the extra calories I had in my system. Because I still need to lose weight, I am living in the land of calorie deficit. This makes planning and carb loading for long runs tricky. If I eat too much, I won’t lose weight. Eat too little, and I can’t run properly. Well, that certainly wasn’t a problem on this occasion.

Once I warmed up, I felt good. I felt like I could keep going. I did an eight mile loop, which brought me back to the car, where I crossed with my daughter. I re-stocked with water and gels, used the facilities, and headed back out feeling comparatively fresh.

The second half of the route was very wet, and I just about gave up trying to keep my feet dry. I tried to embrace the joy of running through puddles. And then found my feet squelchy and heavy.

At about ten miles, I met a friendly farmer who was walking sheep along the path. There was no point trying to run, as I would have frightened and scattered the sheep, so I walked with the farmer and chatted to her until the path widened enough for me to pass around the sheep. Although this may have slowed me in the short term, I think my legs benefited from the change of pace.

After leaving the sheep, I had about another half mile to run before the path ended and I headed back. As I hit twelve miles I realised that I was still feeling strong, and better than I’d ever felt at this point previously. By the time I passed the car park again I’d completed thirteen miles. I just needed to keep going for one more mile – and then back to the car.

I headed down what turned out to be the wettest, muddiest and most disgusting path of all. I met my daughter coming back from her fourteen mile run – congratulations and high fives all around. And I kept going through the mud.

The last two miles were hard, but not too hard. Even so, I was happy to turn back for the final mile, and even happier to arrive back at my car.

I had done it. I had aching legs, soggy feet, and a big smile on my face.

The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Grief of Christmas Present

Christmas can be a painful time for many of us, made more difficult by the expectation that everyone should be having a wonderful time.

My Christmases used to be filled with nothing but joy. As a child they were all about awe, wonder new toys and chocolate. Then, as I grew up, enjoyment of Christmas centred on food, drink and good company. Until my own children came along – and then awe and wonder returned from a different, and even more magical perspective. I was fortunate, I was blessed, and all my Christmases were good.

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

Once that changes, once a ‘Bad Thing’ happens at this time of year – it stays with you. And, as misery loves company, the bad thing may be joined by other bad things.

My first bad Christmas was in 1999, when the millennium celebrations were in full swing. My Dad was very poorly, and died in the January. I went through the motions of celebrating Christmas that year (and many since) for the sake of my children.

Christmas is many things, but it is not subtle. To quote from Love Actually, Christmas is all around. It’s all around us from about September onward. We hear it, see it, smell it and taste it. Social media is flooded with pictures of Christmas trees and naughty elves. We participate in planning, shopping, cooking, card writing, present wrapping and attending seemingly compulsory works meals or parties. Each of these activities bring Christmas past flooding back, both good and bad. The joy and the sorrow, the grief and the laughter.

A friend once commented that whenever I post on Facebook I look like I’m having a ball, all the time. I was astonished. I had been going through a tough time. I was absolutely not having a ball. Then I reflected. I do only post the good things on Facebook. Snapshots of moments with my family. Race photos. Outings. Holidays. Trips to the theatre or cinema. The difficult times are personal and private, and I keep them off social media.

The past couple of months have been particularly difficult for my family. At the end of November we said goodbye to two family members in a desperately sad double funeral. But my social media presence shows me running, doing lovely Christmassy things – and sometimes being a bit political (we have just had a general election after all).

There’s a photo of my family that occasionally pops up on Facebook as a memory. It’s a photo of my children on Christmas Eve, standing by a Christmas tree in a town centre. It’s a sparkly photo. Everyone looks happy. At the moment that the photo was taken, our house was being broken into, and our dog was being attacked. We spent Christmas day at the vets, repairing the damage to our house, and crying. The dog did recover, in case you were wondering.

Every photo you see on social media is just a snapshot from a life filled with light and dark, joy and sorrow.

If Christmas is difficult for you, you are not alone. And you don’t have to enjoy Christmas. It really is okay to not be okay, especially at this time of year.

Christmas may be all around you, but so is love.

If you need help this Christmas:

Contact Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/

Contact Samaritans – https://www.samaritans.org/ or call 116 123

Weston Christmas Cracker 10K

The Weston Christmas Cracker took place on an extremely windy Sunday morning on 8th December.

The Weston Christmas Cracker was recommended to me last year as a fun race with a great atmosphere. At the time, I had just started running and was not yet ready for a 10K race. Besides, the race is very popular and was already fully booked. But I had my eye on the race for this year, and made sure to secure places for me and my daughter as soon as entries opened.

The race takes place from the beach at Weston-Super-Mare, a North Somerset seaside town, about a 40 minute drive from home. There was no parking at the race headquarters, so we parked in a multi-story car park (which was actually closer to the start of the race than the headquarters) and went straight to the race start.

People were gathering at the front of Weston pier, huddling in groups like penguins. When I entered the race at the beginning of July I wasn’t thinking much about running in the winter. Back then, I was struggling with running in warm weather. If I thought about December running at all, I would have envisioned crisp cold mornings, and imagined the joy of running without feeling like a volcano about to erupt. What I didn’t imagine, I am sure, is the fierce, biting cold wind blowing in off the sea. After a few minutes (we’d timed things to avoid too much hanging around) we heard the direction to go down to the beach to the start line.

The start line was under the pier. Around two thousand entrants gathered behind the start and waited eagerly to get moving and warmed up. Some people trotted up and down alongside the line of runners, while the rest of us jumped and ran on the spot to try and keep warm. From up on the pier, the sound of a race briefing was carried away by the howling wind. I could not make out a single word. Just was well that the race was well supported by literally hundreds of marshals. I have never seen so many marshals on a 10K course before.

Eventually, we began moving. The course took us along the beach on wet, firm sand, and straight into the wind. I quickly lost site of my daughter in the crowd of runners. A turn off the beach brought us back along the promenade with wind at our backs, which was delightful and felt like flying. Then back onto the beach, to the far side of the pier and beyond, As we turned at the end of the beach a marshal shouted out encouraging comments – and I soon saw why. In that corner of the beach the wind seemed to reach its peak of strength as it gusted around the end of the bay. I felt my face being blown sideways and my cheeks wobbling uncontrollably. Snot and spit blew away in involuntary streams. My Santa hat blew off. As my feet left the ground my legs blew sideways and I struggled to control them. People bumped into me. I bumped into other runners. What a way to spend a Sunday morning.

Christmas Cracker course

As we travelled up the beach, the wind eased slightly from this peak, but remained fierce. It was hard work. We passed the point at which we had previously left the beach, and kept going. The beach went on and on. I passed the water station without picking water up. I was focusing too much on breathing to worry about drinking (I also had my own water with me). As I passed the water station I was covered with a fine mist of other people’s water being blown from their cups.

Eventually, we left the beach to run through a residential area. Suddenly there was no wind, and I was too hot. The roads were largely open here, but the sheer volume of runners, and marshals, made it feel quite safe. I tried to pick my pace up a bit, and enjoyed the relief from the wind. But of course, the race would be finishing on the beach, so we inevitably found ourselves turning back towards the sea front. The course went along the promenade for a while, again with the wind at our backs, and then on to the sand for the final stretch. I found the last KM or so hard going (even with the wind behind me). I could see the pier, which I assumed to be the finish line. But it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Running on sand began to feel like running through treacle. It went on and on. Until I eventually got there.

As I ran through the finish funnel, I spotted my daughter already finished, and went for water. My daughter had finished a few minutes before me. I was relieved that I hadn’t kept her waiting around in the cold for too long. We agreed that the race had been crazy windy, a really good workout, but good fun. I was also surprised to see I had my second fastest 10K time.

I looked around for medals, and realised that everyone was walking towards the race headquarters. We joined them, and joined on the end of a very long queue. This was really the only negative part of the experience. We queued for around half an hour in the cold wind for our medals and t shirts. We had extra layers of clothing, but soon got chilled after the warmth of running. Runners in festive fancy dress could be seen to be visibly shivering. When we got to the area (outside the headquarter) where t shirts, mince pies and medals were being distributed, there seemed to be lots of space and people just not moving forwards. The t shirt and medal were both very nice, but I’m sure they could have been distributed without causing so much discomfort. There was a post race party going on in the headquarters, and we’d also talked about having takeaway chips for lunch, but after getting so cold we decided to go straight home for sizzling hot showers.

On the whole, I loved the race. The wind made it very challenging, but it was also fun. The atmosphere was fabulous, and there were lots of people running in fancy dress. The race itself was well organised and well supported (just not the bit at the end). And there were free photos too. This is definitely one for my race diary next year.

Before the race
At the finish line

Insomnia

Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on Pexels.com

Yesterday was a stressful day. I work in education, and we had The Special Visitor. It went okay – results pending report etc. But I couldn’t help but second guess everything I did and said. All through the night. Over and over. Now that I’m part of the management team, I feel responsible not only my own mistakes (real or imagined) but for everyone elses too.

On a brighter note, I went to see the Les Miserables Staged Concert last night, which was glorious. But Beyond the Barricades and On My Own going around in my head did nothing to help the sleep situation. What’s more, going out straight after work, with no time for processing the day was probably a mistake.

I thought it wouldn’t be a problem as I have a late start and chance for a lie in on a Tuesday. Doesn’t help if you can’t sleep though.

I tried every breathing and relaxation exercise I know. I just ended up relaxed and wide awake.

If it wasn’t pitch black and freezing outside I might have been tempted by a run (I’m not being wimpy, our rural roads are pretty unsafe to run on in the dark). So instead I’m off for an early morning swim before work.

Even though I’m shattered, I find myself craving physical activity. A vast improvement on the days when I would have been more likely to crave chocolate or pastry.

Perhaps I’ll have better luck sleeping tonight?

Do you get insomnia?

What strategies do you use to help you cope?

Hello winter, goodbye autumn

Spring and autumn are times of transition. Thinking back to the start of the autumn – I was about to run my first half marathon, and it was hot. It was too hot. It stayed hot until, all of a sudden, around mid-October, it wasn’t. Everything went cold, wet and windy. Suddenly the biggest problem was forcing myself to get out of the door, into the grim, grey, cold outdoors. But I did get out and run, and always felt better for it.

This autumn has also been a time of personal transition. I’ve started a new job, with new responsibilities. A positive change, but sometimes a challenging one. And then, more recently, my family have suffered bereavements that have been hard to come to terms with. But through these confusing and challenging times running has been my constant, my refuge, my recovery.

Today I ran my first run of the winter. Just a short after-work 5K to help work through some stress. It was cold and crisp outside, with a fresh breeze. There was a little sunshine. It felt good.

Goodbye autumn, hello winter.

Dark Woods

Who’d have thought that I’d choose to spend a Saturday evening running in the dark, through mud, in the woods?

Dark Woods was my first trail race, and my first night race. It took place just a ten minute drive away from my home, at Great Wood in the Quantock Hills. I’ve been thinking about trying a trail race for a while, and as this one was so close to home, it seemed silly not to give it a try.

Great Wood is a popular spot locally with families, dog walkers and cyclists. I sometimes go for family walks there with the little pooch. I’ve never really thought about running in the woods though. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because of the hills? Or perhaps due to the mud? Both of these things were to feature prominently on my first ever night run.

Great Wood in January

There were three race distances on offer: 6k, 6 miles and 8.5 miles. Not having done a night race before, I decided to opt for the shortest distance, in case I didn’t like running in the dark.

I arrived at the woods at dusk, about an hour before the race was due to start. I was dressed in my brightest, most reflective kit, and had was equipped with double head torches – just in case.

The weather was damp and drizzly, but calm and not too cold. Things seemed quite quiet when I first arrived, although it soon became busy. All of the races were sold out, and there was a good turnout.

There was a great atmosphere before the race. I chatted to a few people. There seemed to be a lot of other first-timers, as well as a reassuring number of people who’d done the race last year and come back for more. The consensus seemed to be that the course was hard, with big hills.

As the start of the race approached, darkness fell and people started to turn on lights and torches.

The race briefing reminded us of the potential hazards – mud, drops, mud, rough surfaces, tree roots, mud, stones, mud and more mud. I couldn’t quite believe that I was going to do this – in the dark. Me, who is usually so afraid and not at all daring. Some of the course had been re-routed because of the weather, as the usual route was felt to be unsafe. Oddly, this reassured me.

We counted down, turned on head torches, and set off. The first section of the race was straightforward – a nice downhill run that took us down to the entrance to the woods. The surface was a little rough, and it was necessary to pay attention to where I was running, but it felt exhilarating to be trotting along in the dark by torchlight.

At the end of this section, there was a sharp tun, and a steep uphill climb. The surface here became very rough, and most people began walking. I hadn’t done much running this week as I’d been unwell, and I felt ready for a good run, so I kept running. I walked when the surface became too rough, or slippery with deep mud, but I tried to keep the pace up.

I was wearing bone conducting headphones, but never bothered to use them. The atmosphere, running in the calm of the woodland, was magical.

After a while, the hill became steeper, and the surface became rougher. Large rocks protruded from the track. I walked.

About half way round there was an aid station, stocked with fruit, sweets and savoury snacks, as well as water. I was surprised to see a feed station on such a short race. I had a piece of banana and topped up my water. And was relieved to know I was half way round.

There was a downhill section that I felt was too slippery to run down, and then another steep climb. I congratulated myself here on my decision to opt for the short race. A welcome sign announced that we were at the top of the hill. Things levelled out for a while, and I ran as much as possible, slowing here and there to avoid deep mud or tree stumps. Before I knew it, we were going downhill, and then along the last stretch towards the end of the race.

By the time I got to the end, I felt it had all gone too quickly (although it had actually taken me around an hour to cover 4.1 miles).

This was a very different experience to running 4.1 miles on roads. The demands were very different, and very real. The race required a high level of concentration and was tiring. The hills were challenging. Even so, in better conditions I would like to aim for a longer race.

Overall, the race was well organised. The course was well marked with reflective signs and markers, and was easy to follow. Marshals were helpful and encouraging. The atmosphere was fabulous. There were lots of tasty treats at the end of the race, and an impressive medal. The weather and mud didn’t spoil the experience – but added to it (although I expect a clear night with moonlight and stars might also be pleasant).

For my first trail race, it was a good choice.

Edit: I was astonished to receive this in the post on 21st December. I’m a member of the Lonely Goat Running Club, and it would appear we were the fastest team. Not bad for a running club that doesn’t meet or train together.