Sunday 29 August 2010

The story of a long run

I haven't been following any structured training plan for the Great North Run - just trying to build up my long runs, keep to a good pace, and include a variety of hills and interval sessions in the week. Today was just 3 weeks away from the race, so I thought it was probably about time to get near the 13.1 mile distance, and I planned a route that was just under 13 miles. I thought I could always add a bit on at the end if I felt like it.

I set off at 9.30am after breakfast of a bowl of Cheerios, a glass of water and some Lucozade sport. As I started off down the road, I realised how very windy it was, and decided to change my route - I had planned to go over the bridge again, but that can be hellish when it's very windy, so I thought I'd do a route I'd done in marathon training that I knew was about the right distance.

The first few miles were downhill, and appeared on my Garmin as being too fast (8m50; 9m05; 8m45). Still, what runs down must run up, and I knew I'd be slowing down later. I turned off the main road and down a country lane, where I overtook another runner. We had a brief exchange about how unpleasant a hill was, and I'm sure I ran a bit harder than I would have if I'd been unobserved.

At about 5 miles, I turned on to a busy A road that goes to the airport. On this road, I gradually began to realise that I might as well have stuck with the windswept bridge. I was surrounded by open fields on each side, and the wind was in my face the whole length of the road - all 3 horrible miles of it! It was hard going and I reconciled myself to the fact that my time might be slower than hoped for.

Once off that road, there was a long winding uphill to contend with, and I registered my 2 slowest miles - 9m27 and 9m44. I wasn't keeping much of an eye on my time, but I noticed that I got to 10 miles in 1h32, when my previous fastest was about 1h34, so I was quite surprised. As I got onto some flatter road, I was feeling quite strong and started to increase my pace again. I looked at my Garmin, and saw that I had completed 12 miles in 1h51m. I started to wonder if I had enough time (and energy) to get near that elusive 2 hours.

(Cherished readers of my last post will remember that I had recently decided to aim to beat 2h02m in my next half, with a long-term goal of getting under 2 hours later in the year).

So I decided to go for it. I picked up the pace and kicked for home. It was starting to hurt now, and I switched my ipod from talking to music. That helped me speed up, and my arms were working really hard, pumping backwards and forwards. Eventually the Garmin beeped and I'd run the 13th mile in 8m39 - the third consecutive long run where my last mile has been my fastest!

Of course it wasn't over yet, and I turned into my street with an eye on the clock. The time read 1h59m, but there is no seconds display on the Garmin, so I had no idea how close I was to 2 hours! I watched the distance tick over - 13.04miles; 13.08miles - still1h59m! Finally it said 13.1 miles, and I smashed the stop button and stopped running. Just as I hit the button, the time rolled over to 2h! I staggered towards my front door, whispered an exhausted 'morning' to my neighbour, and had a little rest in the garden.

I felt so excited! I have been aiming for sub 2 hours since I did the marathon in May, but I really didn't think I had done enough training to achieve it yet. No sooner had I blogged my goal of getting there later in the year, than I did it! Amazing. The fact that I didn't enjoy much of the run into the wind, and I had to stop a couple of times for traffic makes me feel that I can do even better.

I'll definitely be hoping to record a sub 2 hour time in 3 weeks. I just hope the other 53,999 runners at the Great North Run don't get in my way... Woo-hoo!

Thursday 26 August 2010


Had a great session last night with my Jog Scotland group. We jogged to the start of the Forth Road Bridge, regrouped, then did intervals across the bridge. We had to run 1 minute hard, 1 minute recovery; 1.15 hard, 1 minute recovery etc, so we did 7 repetitions with the last being 2.30 hard, all with 1 min recovery.When we reached the far side of the bridge, we turned and ran back over, then recovery run back to our start point.

It was a tough session, but I felt that I was running well and my mile splits were pretty fast for me. Mile 3 was the fastest at 8m15s, and I also ran 8m25s, and 8m32s. Overall I did 6.4 miles in 57m26s (including the jog at the start and recovery run at the end), so I was pleased with that.

I love running over the bridge - the views are great. I used to run over it all the time last year, when I was training for my first half marathon, and I thought it was flat. Even though every run demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is not flat - it rises to a peak in the middle - somehow my brain refused to believe that, and convinced my legs that there was no uphill. The power of the mind is amazing.

Unfortunately at some point my brain gave up and conceded that the bridge isn't flat after all, and my legs agree.

definitely not flat

I've been rethinking what my goals are recently, and I'm still hoping to get a half marathon PB soon. I wondered about running the Glasgow half for a long time, but eventually I decided my training just hasn't been good enough recently. It's in 10 days' time on 5th Sept, and a bit too soon.

I'm still doing the Great North Run, which is 3 1/2 weeks away, but my long runs haven't been what I would like, and I've only got as far as 12 miles, when I'd like to have gone further than 13. I'm definitely hoping for a PB - I know I can run under 2h05m, but I don't think I'm prepared enough to break 2 hours yet. I'm also concerned about the crowds at this race - the biggest half in the world with 54,000 runners - they might slow me down!

So I've found another half marathon in the South of Scotland at the end of October. It's perhaps not ideal, as it's a hilly route, but it gives me a few more weeks training. Part of my training will be the kilomathon at the start of October - 26.2 kilometres (16 miles).

For now, then, my goals are;
1. PB in a half marathon
2. Run under 2 hours in a half marathon
3. Enjoy the Great North Run as an experience
4. Run at a good pace in the kilomathon

Watch this space!

See - looks flat doesn't it?

Sunday 22 August 2010

Busy busy...

After my very enjoyable 5 miles on Tuesday, preceded by 12 miles on Sunday, I had a physio appointment on Wednesday. I've been going to see her since the calf pain I had during training for the marathon, which she diagnosed as a sciatic nerve problem and completely got rid of. Anyway, on Weds, my legs were feeling very achey after the two runs, and woo-hoo we have a new problem! I've always had stiffness in my right knee, and never got round to getting that looked at, but she had a look and decided it was caused by my IT band. 'Massaging' is a nice soft sounding word that conjures up images of relaxation and soothing. That is not what happened to my legs - there was instead prodding, poking, kneading and sobbing (that last one from me, not Ms Physio).

Then she applied some of that funny tape stuff in bright pink to my thigh. It's supposed to help relieve pain and support the muscles. She told me that I probably shouldn't run that evening as my legs were quite stiff and sore. Off I went with a right leg like a camp zebra, knowing that I wanted to run with Jog Scotland as usual.

At least the kids think it's cool

Then I had a long bike ride. The kids were at the childminder, and it was my only chance to get on my bike and check out the cycle route to work, as I've been thinking of cycling there rather than driving when I start teaching again. It was only 12 miles in total (there and back), but after the pummelling my legs had had, I found it quite tough, especially the hills, one of which is horrendous. I'm really not sure about the cycling idea. Most of it would be on busy roads, and involve a lot of busy junctions and roundabouts, and obviously it would take longer and be much less convenient than driving.

Anyway, that evening, I wanted to go to Jog Scotland, as my pregnant friend was coming for the last time - at about 25 weeks pregnant she's done really well to keep coming! I jogged with her, and we did a shorter route of 5 miles at about 11.30 min/mile pace - nice and comfortable!

By Friday evening I was feeling rested, and managed a 5k in 26.50mins, whcih as my best time for a while on a hilly route.

Saturday was Pete's birthday! We saw Toy Story 3 in the cinema with the kids (at last!), then had a big Mexican lunch at Chiquitos including chocolate cheesecake - yum. Later there was also birthday cake which I made, so I know exactly how much butter and sugar went in it (loads). In the evening I surprised Pete with tickets for a couple of comedy shows at the Edinburgh festival, and we had a great time on a rare night out together. We collapsed into bed at about 1am, and that was the end of my plans for a long run this morning.

So after a tired day of supermarket shopping (boring!) and swimming (fun!) and the last of the birthday cake (calorific!), I finally went out at 6pm. I decided there was no point attempting my planned 10-12 miles when I was feeling unrested, so I went for 7 instead. It went pretty well, to my surprise! 7 miles in 62 mins, and there was one really long hill which slowed me down there. Again, my last mile was the fastest (8m25s) which is always pleasing.

So 20 miles run this week - less than last week, but I also had 12 miles of bike ride, so more exercise overall.

In other news, Robbie started school on Thursday! It was only for 90 mins for the first 2 days, and he's been to the nursery class there for 18 months so he was quite unfazed by it all, but he looked so grown up in his uniform! So begins a new stage of family life - we are now the parents of a schoolboy!

All grown up with proud little sister.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

A run for fun

I usually do a 3-miler or 5k at about 7am on Tuesday mornings before Pete goes to work, but today he was away early on a work trip. Luckily the kids had a couple of hours with the childminder this morning, so I planned a slightly longer run than usual. It had been raining, but the sun started to come out just as I set off, and it ended up being a beautiful day.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been finding the shorter runs the toughest recently, as I don't seem to warm up until I've nearly finished (sometimes not until I'm in a hot bath afterwards) and whenever I'm doing a short distance, I feel as though I should be pushing my pace. Anyway, I planned a new route, which was mainly through the local country estate - off road, under trees, great views of the water, the bridges, fields and a stately home.

This route included no fewer than 4 cattle grids!

It was FANTASTIC! I wanted this to be a run about enjoying running, rather than a timed training run. I've been feeling a bit too focused on improving my times, and getting grumpy if I run too slowly, which misses the point of this being a hobby I do for fun. So I tried to go fairly slow and steady, and avoided looking at the Garmin as I ran. The funny thing is though, when I got home, I found that my pace had actually been pretty fast - total time was 46m14s, and most miles were around 9 mins, it was just the massive hill that slowed me down to 9.53 on mile 4.

So what does this tell me? I'm getting fitter and faster? I run faster when I don't check my pace every 10 seconds? I run better when I'm enjoying a nice route? It was a fluke? Who knows. I just know that I love having goals and working towards them, but every so often I need to forget the PBs and remember the pure pleasure of a good run. Marvellous.

A very happy post-run bunny

Sunday 15 August 2010

Speeding up (slowly)

Recently I've been finding that while I've had a few good long runs, the short 3-milers in the week have been getting a bit dull. I'm never really sure what the purpose of these runs is, other than to keep me running regularly and contribute to weekly mileage. So on Friday morning, I decided to vary my route a bit. I've got a nice circular run from our house which I tend to stick to as it's exactly 5k, so it was nice to do something different, and I found that I was a bit faster than recent runs, averaging 8.27 min/miles.

It was a busy weekend, with work on Saturday and family visits, but this morning I managed to fit in a 12-mile long run. It was a cool misty morning when I set off, but by the end it was really hot and sunny. I was hoping to run around 9.15 - 9.20 min/miles, which would help me to improve my half marathon time in a few weeks, but I started with a couple of miles downhill, and they were 8.48 and 8.32 - too fast! It was a hilly route though, and I slowed down on the uphills. I started to feel pretty rubbish after about 8 miles (I think it was last night's curry and beer), but I managed to carry on, and tried to push the pace at the end.

When I got home and plugged in the Garmin, it showed that I had averaged 9.15 min/miles, so I was pleased with that. I felt very tired though, and not at all capable of running another mile.

So the miles are slowly creeping up, and this weeks total was 24.6 miles, 3 hours and 45minutes. Bring on the races!

Here's Robbie at the park last week demonstrating a sense of balance no better than my own...

Thursday 12 August 2010

Food and weight loss

At the beginning of 2008, Pete and I started planning our wedding for the following September. As we wanted to look our best, we both decided to join Weight Watchers to try to lose a bit of excess flab. After giving birth to Emma in January, I was just over 10 1/2 stone (150 pounds or 68 kilos). Of course having 2 children had done my figure no favours, but my weight had gradually been creeping up throughout adulthood - I'd been over 10 stone and a size 14 for at least 10 years.

I never really thought of myself as overweight though, and according to my BMI, I think I was still in a healthy weight range. The funny thing was, all through my twenties, I kidded myself that I was quite fit, despite not doing any exercise since leaving school. As long as I did a bit of walking now and then, and bought (but not necessarily read) plenty of Health and Fitness magazines, I thought I was doing well.

August 2006 - after Robbie, before Emma

Anyway, we stuck to the WW system, counting our points every day, and we both lost a fair amount of weight. By the morning of our wedding, I was just under 9 stone, having lost 1 1/2 stone (over 20 pounds or 9 kilos).

On honeymoon September 2008

That was the first structured diet I'd ever done, and it wasn't too difficult, but it did test my very weak willpower. It's only recently that I've realised that I have very little resistance to certain foods which are not particularly good for you, such as chocolate, cakes and biscuits. If I eat out in a restaurant, it goes without saying that I'll have dessert. Whenever I'm in a cafe getting tea or coffee, I find it almost impossible not to have some kind of cake or biscuit. Even in the supermarket, I find myself thinking I ought to take advantage of the chocolate available, seeing as it's there, and I don't know when I'll be in a shop again. (Ridiculous behaviour). If I'm in a situation where there's a box of chocolates on the table, for example, I can't stop myself from digging in, over and over again until I feel ill. And I've only just become aware of this, and the fact that this compulsion isn't something that everyone shares.

The reason I haven't put any weight back on is the running. I try to eat a reasonably healthy diet, but I don't go a day without chocolate, and I make sure I can fit in plenty of treats. If I find my weight creeping up again, I cut back for a few days, and somewhere around the 9 stone mark seems to be my personal ideal. While I was training for the marathon, I pigged out most weekends, and the extra training didn't lose me any weight. I just love food.

Highlights from our Honeymoon

My usual goal is to eat healthily during the week, then treat myself a bit at the weekend, as I'm not trying to lose weight, and that seems fairly balanced and do-able. However, I generally find that I can be good from Monday to Wednesday, then on Thursday I crack and have something indulgent; good again on Friday; then all bets are off for Saturday and Sunday.

So thank God for the fat-burning effects of running. It allows me to keep eating. Yum.

Monday 9 August 2010

An active holiday

Well, last time we went away, at the end of June, I was a very bad runner, and a very dedicated holidayer. This time I return fitter and more smug. I have been good!

On Monday we drove South for about 6 hours until we arrived in the beautiful town of Church Stretton in the Shropshire hills. This was our third year staying here, renting a big house with Pete's parents, siblings, and various partners and children. The area is a bit of a mecca for walkers, and there are paths and trails all over the hills surrounding the town. In the last two years though, I've always regretted not doing much exploring, as the children have been small, and our time has mostly been spent on doing things all together, such as playing board games and chatting over big meals around a huge dining table. All very enjoyable, but this year I managed to fit in a bit more me-time to do what I really wanted to do.

I ran 4 times during the week, and fitted in 2 short runs of about 3 miles each; a hill session which was one of the steepest I've ever attempted; and a really good long run of 10 miles. That last run also involved a lot of hills at the start, and I didn't feel particularly good until about 5 miles. Then suddenly I just started feeling stronger and stronger, and powered home, with the last mile being the fastest of the run! Overall I ran about 21 miles in the week, which was what I would have aimed for if we'd been at home.

Apart from the running, I also got in a bit of hill-walking. On Tuesday, while Pete and the kids were swimming at the local pool, I wandered up a hill behind our house, and found my way to the top of a hill with a tv mast, looking over the town.

On the way up

The empty path up

At the top - lovely skies as usual...

It was completely deserted - just me, my ipod, and the self-timer on the camera!

Friday was a rest day from running, and after taking the kids to the cafe for lunch while Pete had a break, I headed to the hills again in the afternoon. I had a vague idea where I was going, but I missed a cut-off and went a bit further than I meant to. Eventually I met another walker who had a map, and he put me on the right track to get back. It was really beautiful and peaceful. I was only out for about 1hour 20 mins, but it must have been over 5 miles, and I really enjoyed it.

Following the path

Wrong turn!

On the way down

So it was a bit more of an active holiday this time, and I think the hill-walking probably did me some good as well as the running. Now I need to keep increasing the long runs, building mileage, and aim for a 2-hour half marathon in September!

Sunday 1 August 2010

We're Off Again

Tomorrow we'll be piling into the car with bags of stuff and driving a few hundred miles to Shropshire. We're staying in a big house with most of Pete's family for a week. We went to the same town last year, and there are some really nice walks and a lot of natural beauty around there. I did a bit of running last year, and I'm hoping to do a bit more this time.

I usually run with my Jog Scotland group on Wednesday, but today I joined them for an 8am Sunday run. Most Sundays I just don't make it out of bed in time - not because of my crazy fun-packed Saturday night partying, but because I'm getting old and tired and I need more sleep. We ran over the Forth Road Bridge, which I haven't done for a while. It used to be one of my favourite routes because, although it's quite a steep up-and-down, my mind always thought it was flat, and was able to convince my legs of that. Weird, I know.

These days I know exactly how hilly it is. It was a nice sociable run though, as I chatted to a couple of different people. I did the first 3 miles quite fast, as I was keeping up with some faster women. Then most of the group continued for a longer run, while I and another runner turned back. I slowed down a bit to her pace, but it wasn't much slower than I would've gone on my own. We did another 3 miles, and then she got to her car, so I added on another 3 miles home. I sped up a little bit again for the last part.

Overall it was 9.4 miles at an average of 9.14 m/m pace. Not at all bad, and on track for a close-to-2-hour half marathon, which is my next race goal. Then we went off to the pool with the kids for a swim, and I realised how knackered my legs felt.

I'll be aiming to stick as closely as I can to my usual schedule of running next week. That's what I said before we went camping though, and it was a major fail, so let's hope I can do better this time...

In Shropshire last year