Could I?

Here’s my running number for my second marathon – Bournemouth on this coming Sunday. All quite close now.

I’m desperate to prove London wasn’t a fluke (see previous post). It feels as though I have so much to prove. Everyone has said what a fantastic time I ran at London. What if I can’t replicate that? Will that mean I’m a fraud? A fake? A one-race oddity? It probably doesn’t really matter, but it does, somehow, to me. I hope I don’t scupper myself trying too hard. That’s probably the bigger risk.

Dare I hope to imagine I might run in a time approximating my number? Orange is a good colour. In fact, orange and purple again (my race colours for London were orange and purple). Is this a sign? Am I expressing idiotic superstitiousness?  Don’t answer that.

I’m finding all this tapering far too easy to handle. I really don’t mind not going out for a long run. In fact, my last long(ish) run at the weekend ended up being shorter, even, than it should have been. I hadn’t even managed to memorise my route accurately. How lackadaisical is that? I turned back sooner than I intended, cutting a mile (more than 10%) off my run. Not great, but I’m largely unperturbed, though I feel I ought to be more bothered. Actually I do realise there’s nothing I can do now to improve my form, so that particular mile will make no difference whatsoever.

I think I might be becoming a bit anal though. I’m away from home for the days immediately preceding the race … I’m taking my breakfasts with me. That’s just not how I behave normally. It’s a bit weird to feel compelled to take breakfasts with me. My rational justification is that I don’t eat wheat, and European breakfasts are typically wheat-based or not much else. In fact, typically in Europe, I probably just have yoghurt and maybe some cheese for breakfast. In the light of this, taking my lovely carb-rich brekkie now strikes me as hugely logical and absolutely the rational, not weird, thing to be doing. Feel free to agree.

Wish me luck!  And speed, please, in the traditional interpretation of the word, obviously.

The rule of three?

Will my legs hold out?

Will my legs hold out?

I genuinely wasn’t aware, at the time, that my London marathon time was a good one.  But everyone, to a (wo)man has been amazed, or hugely positive, saying how fantastic it is, especially for a first marathon, and even more for a first race. So I guess, in the weight of such universal comment, I have to accept that I ran a pretty decent time. Fantastic!

The challenge it creates, of course, as I approach my second marathon, is to prove London wasn’t a fluke, a completely random blip. Well that’s one challenge – I do so want to run a similar time.

The other huge challenge is the toughness of the training. OMG, these last few months have been tough. Any training I did for London 2013 was brilliant, it was a bonus, and there was no expectation of anything. I wasn’t doing anything before, so any running I did was all good stuff. If I just finished the race that was going to be brilliant. I could get away with effectively cherry-picking the bits I didn’t mind the look of – intervals simply looked way to arduous, hill training I kind of eventually did a bit of, half-heartedly.  I kind of figured quite early on that the long runs were going to be important.  If I couldn’t get it together to run 26.2 miles in practice, how was I to imagine running 26.2 miles in the race.

Actually this was one of the things run coaches said NOT to do (which I ignored). They said don’t run 26.2 miles in practice, save it for the day. I said, how do I know I can run 26.2 miles if I don’t run 26.2 miles. So of course I ran 26.2 miles in practice. And I was pleased I did. I went into London knowing I could cover the distance.  However, this is one thing I haven’t repeated with training for no. 2 marathon, at Bournemouth on October 6th. I already know I can do the distance, so my longest training run has been the conventional 20 miles. I’ve done a few of them in training.

Anyway, back to how tough has been training for no. 2 marathon. If training for London 2013 had been tough, I clearly didn’t register it. For Bournemouth I figured I should start training 18 weeks out. I didn’t even start on time, in fact not ‘til the middle of July, so it very soon turned into a 12 week training ‘plan’, and I use the term in the loosest, most inaccurate way possible.

I did manage to overcome my ignorance of interval training. Great sessions are organised at club so I just need to turn up and do what I’m told. So at least for this marathon I’ve added in interval training.  I’ve also done hill training a bit more consistently. I did a bit for London, but it was all a bit haphazard. This time I’ve pretty much done a hill session most weeks.

So training for this second marathon has all been a bit of bumpy comedown to reality. All the naivety and novelty of the first one has evaporated. My eyes are being forced open to acknowledge it’s all a bit like hard work. Not that hard work ever deterred me, it’s just, that, well, it’s hard. Training’s been tough right from the start.

And the pressure is on. I do want to prove that London wasn’t a fluke. So much expectation. I’m going to have to go out and work at running that time. I’m going to need to have some awareness of the pace I’m setting and the pace I ought to be running. I’m not actually sure I have enough experience of running yet to gauge those things. Added to which I’ve struggled to reach that (extrapolated) time in training.

Can one’s race strategy be to rely on the notion that one runs faster on race day? I don’t even know if that notion has any basis in reality. My only strategy so far has been to put a silly short time on my application form … which means I’m in the front pen … which means I’m hoping that lots of space will open up in front of me.  I just remember in London being stymied and frustrated by having to overtake so many people that I couldn’t establish any sort of running rhythm (making awareness of pace even more difficult).

There’s just too much to think about really. Maybe I will just try to switch into those mesmeric middle miles and simply hope I’m running fast enough… doesn’t sound like the smartest race strategy either.  Oh well, most of my runs still turn into ‘simply must complete’ efforts, so maybe all this theorising about strategy is entirely irrelevant, anyway.

So onto the rule of three thing.  I’ve already entered London 2014.  I love the fact there’s this ‘good for age’ category … I imagine a slightly mocking voice saying ‘oh, she was good for her age, let’s allow her back next year’ with an ironic ‘there, there, well done’ pat on the head.

Is the first race all novelty and innocence?  The second one just imagines the innocence will continue then comes crashing down to earth as painful reality hits. Actually talking about pain I had a revelatory thought the other day – if I really want to get somewhere near my London time, I’m just going to have to accept it’ll hurt from start to finish. I’m not aware of London pain kicking in ‘til about half way (which isn’t to say it hadn’t). OK. I can do pain … she said whilst sitting casually, calmly, comfortably at home.

And then the third one, I’m already thinking, is going to be all about sheer bloody mindedness and stubbornness. I’ve said I’m going to do it. I now know it’s going to hurt like buggery, but I’m flipping well going to do it anyway. Eyes really well and truly wide open. All innocence and novelty scrubbed to faded memory. The third one looks like being about grubby, gutsy determination in the face of full knowledge of how tough and painful it’s going to be. At least that’s where my imagination is taking me as I anxiously taper for the second one. I kinda hope I’m wrong.  It would be good to imagine I might even start enjoying this running thing (rather than just enjoying it once it’s over).

Training stubbed out

Hill training?

Hill training?

OMG who’d have thought a minor-ly stubbed toe would force one to stop running. Ouch. And stop running for days, a week even. I’m supposed to at the peak of my marathon training in, at that time, a month away. Actually I seem to recall I fell by the wayside a little about a month before London, too. A pattern?

I managed to bash my toe in a new-to-me swimming pool a couple of weeks ago. One with a sloping wall at the deep end that I’d failed to notice. Foot and wall met a little too abruptly. It took me a while to register why I was hobbling slightly the next day.

I mentioned the stubbing to a couple of folk the other day. HUGE sympathy. And empathy from experience – oh yes, my toe is really painful. Had to stop playing x, y, z. It’s been three weeks now.  And, oh yes, my toe is still black. Etc. Who’d have thought, eh? A toe-stubbing plague must be upon us.

Mine’s only about ten days old and I reckon it’s nearly rightish now.  I did rather make the (retrospectively) schoolgirl error of thinking it was fine after two days and so went hill training. Ouchy, ouchy, ouch, it has to be said. That seemed to re-bruise and re-swell it and add in a new bit of bruising to boot (ark, ark).

So it’s been another week and I went for a short run. Yeah, I reckon it’s nearly okay.  The toe was not so bad. The lungs and legs were a little loose and lackadaisical, though. Wow, how quickly does one lose condition, blimey.

I saw a (live) hedgehog en route. Must be my first (live one) since feeding them milk-soaked bread as a small person. Think the dog got her nose just a tiny bit too close when sniffing. Live and learn, little dog. Live and learn.

I decided the short run was OK, so I did my last 20-miler at the week end. I think it was supposed to be last week but I was wasting idly, so thought I ought to play catch-up. Now the taper begins. Oooh, I’m just so jargoned-up these days!

The run was OK. Well, ditto foot was okay, speed wasn’t, legs and lungs relatively okay but not the sharpest they’ve been. Mmm.  And definitely out of condition – my legs were really quite sore the day after, they haven’t been like that after the other couple of 20 milers I’ve done in prep for Bournemouth. Oh well, c’est la vie. It would be nice to get a PB but I guess I shouldn’t hold out too much hope.

Effort – 1, ability – 0

I imagine the slightly sardonic, droll tone of the football scores announcer on the telly. And it’s not as bad the headline suggests. This is a post about a positive learning!

Preparing to glide?

Preparing to glide?

As a swimming technique, relaxing was never really going to work for me, fearful of drowning, panicking in water, unable to breathe, even with my head above water, without hyperventilating.

Time, persistence, gentle encouragement and mickey-taking later and I can be in the water – well I use the term advisedly, I mean the pool, with no-one in my near vicinity – without panicking. Indeed I can swim. But it’s a lot of effort. Really it’s a lot of effort.

But I said at the time, I felt the playing field was now level and instead of having to concentrate on breathing and getting to the end, I could concentrate on improving form, function and technique. I’ve taken my first tentative step (stroke?) down this lane.

Recently I went to try out a swim training session at my local triathlon club. Revelatory it was. Swim coach Carol was brilliant. The first thing she said to me, after watching me do some lengths, was that I was trying to swim too fast for my ability (now the headline will make sense). Slow it down, she said. I managed to ask, with conscious, deliberate effort – won’t I sink? (rather than asking – won’t I drown?). Evidently I have not sunk, or, indeed, drowned. Focus on the glide, she explained. I didn’t know what this was, let alone ever thought about it or tried it. I did remember having read about it and not really cottoned on to what it is.

Anyway, I’m now concentrating on swimming slowly. It is less physical effort, and I’m still getting to the end of the pool as many times. Just slower. But possibly with better form. I’d like to think so. It took a bit of time to adapt the breathing – I had to hold my breath for longer because my strokes were slower; little accelerations of the heart rate. All now OK on the heart-rate front.

It had never occurred to me that rate of perceived exertion (RPE) had anything to do with swimming. I’ve read it regularly in the run magazines (OMG, am I going to be buying swimming magazines now, too. I shall need to do more day-job work, to feed my growing magazine habit), where it vaguely makes sense but I don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing.

Perceived exertion made sense immediately in swimming. After a slightly panicky warm up, which I now know will pass – it’s just my heart rate getting up to swim speed. The same happens, without the panic, when I start out on runs. Heart rate has to get up. That’s all.  Anyway, after warm-up (and emotional settling down), the new, slow swimming is about a 3 on the perceived exertion scale.

As far as I can see, increasing the rate of exertion means moving arms and legs and hips a bit quicker. Then, as Carol suggested, all-out 8-9 is a big effort when all form and technique goes out of the window because you’re trying to be quick. And, yup, that’s how it happened in training. And I didn’t panic, I just couldn’t get enough air in, quick enough.

Bottom line is my new training is to focus on slowing down my swimming, concentrating on form and technique – and the glide. Speed will come later, I’m told.

I can handle that, I reckon.

However, I have already been told that my kicking has deteriorated to virtually non-existent while I’m concentrating on the glide. Flip. Too much to think about.

The curséd killer kilometres

Crippling roads?

Crippling roads?

The curséd killer kilometres are the antithesis of the mesmeric middle miles.

They go way beyond the evil shoulder monkey telling you to quit / slow down / take a break / that you’re no good etc. etc.

The curséd killer kilometres are when every step sucks the soul from your psyche. Then it really is the time to call time on the run.  This is when discretion becomes the better part of valour. It’s time to come in. It’s time to stop, and not to beat yourself up for having stopped. Have a long, soaky bath in your favourite things. Put on your comfiest clothes and relax into a book / magazine / sleep / telly / film / shopping etc.

I got the CKKs the other day. I was off for a 20-miler (or so I thought). I tend to ignore any internal communications for the first four or five miles. These are just warm-up really, getting the heart pumping and stuff. But it was already ugly at mile 6. And at mile 7. And at mile 8. So I had plenty of time to think and talk myself round if it had (just) been the evil shoulder monkey. Not that he’s to be underestimated. He can be pretty vicious all by himself. But my form was all over the place, I kept kicking myself – literally, unintentionally obviously – my core was wobbly, my head was fogging up. Time to come in. Eleven miles done. Tolerable I guess.

No recriminations. It was the mature, sensible decision, I can occasionally make them! I do, after all, do this running lark as a leisure activity. Even I don’t deserve that much punishment.

The mesmeric middle miles

Hypnotic tarmac?

Hypnotic tarmac?

I’ve noticed a couple of things when I’m on my long runs, the 15 to 20 milers. Actually, I don’t think I view anything less than 15 miles as a long run. In fact, what is the definition of a long run? Is there an ‘official’ definition? Mine clearly self-defines at 15+ miles. Anyone else?

That wasn’t what I was going to write about at all. One of the more encouraging things I’ve noticed about the long runs is there is a period of time that just sort of disappears. The miles go by in an almost unconscious manner.  Is this what it’s like to be in the zone? A place where the rhythm of running takes over control of the body and the running just happens? What goes on there? Anyone else get this?

I don’t know how far in to the long miles they start, and I think it may vary. Indeed they don’t always happen at all. I don’t know how long they last, though – sadly – they seem to stop as soon as I realise I’ve been running mesmeric miles. I also don’t know if I’ve kept up pace during these mesmeric middle miles. I kind of think I have, though I base that on no conscious knowledge.

There’s no awareness in those mesmeric middle miles. Which means, of course, there’s no pain. That’s the point.  That’s the wonderful point. Well, and that time and miles pass without me having to consciously tick them off. I’ve never (yet) got lost, i.e. gone off route, so maybe there’s a running core that keeps unconscious control. But running just happens in those miles – the hypnotic effect of rhythm, perhaps?

Can one really concentrate and zone out (zone in?) at the same time? What if those mesmeric middle miles last just a few miles? Can one train to lengthen the mesmeric middle miles? Wouldn’t it just be great to be mesmerised for say 20 of those miles, and just have truly conscious focus for a few of them? How cool (and pain-free) would that be? As long as the pace is kept up, whatever pace it is you’re aiming to be running at.

At least I do know they exist. For a short while. Maybe for a middling while. Something to work on once I’ve imprinted a new breathing regime.

I also know the mesmeric middle miles are different from what I call steady-state running. I’m fully aware during steady state running, chugging along feeling quite positive thinking, yup, I’m doing this, I can do this, the pace is decent, everything’s working well enough. Steady state running typically doesn’t last so long either. I need to focus on lengthening steady state running too.

It’s not all positive … next time … the curséd killer kilometres!

What does a runner look like?

Ready for the London marathon 2013

Ready for the London marathon 2013

A growing handful of people are telling me I look like a runner. I’ve so far failed to explore what they mean by that. I must challenge the next person (if there is one) who makes such a comment.

Do runners have a particular physiognomy? Watching the World Championships in Moscow you’d have to say not. There are lots of different shapes and sizes out there.

Do runners have a certain form?

I might have one clue … two years ago and more no-one was telling me I looked like a runner … and I wasn’t one. I only started running – or jogging in reality, then – not quite 14 months ago.

Me in 2011

Me in 2011

Random breathing

Look at all that air to breathe

Look at all that air to breathe

Breathing seems to have come up a lot in various conversations recently, and magazine articles.

My last visit to the magical Michaela for my shoulder got me thinking, as she was talking to me about breathing to help my shoulder. It seems the shoulder is related to lots of other bits – the diagonally opposite hip for example, interestingly it is my weaker leg side. Spooky, maybe she’s right!

And maybe my shoulder issue is related to breathing too. She was describing the difference between breathing into one’s upper chest, and breathing more into the belly. I’m an ex-smoker, so talk of ‘cigarette-breathing’ made perfect sense – it’s all in the upper chest as you pull a drag on that fag.  But proper breathing, apparently, is about breathing into the abdomen as the diaphragm contracts downwards in that direction. Diaphragm down, air drawn down into the lungs. I may have a very simplistic interpretation of breathing mechanics here, just to warn you.

So I’m trying to think of my diaphragm as a separate muscle (which it is, obviously) and bring its movement into conscious control. I’m imagining my ribs are like the gills of a fish. As I breathe in the diaphragm contracts (moves downwards to the bottom of the ribcage), so I’m imagining my ribcage expanding  sideways, with the spaces between my ribs getting wider, in gill-flapping fashion, as I pull what I think is my diaphragm downwards towards my abdomen.

Apparently it’s also called yoga breathing, which to be fair, I’ve failed to get the hang of in more than ten years of yoga. It seems much more important now. I shall ask the jubbly bubbly Jyoti Pai (who’s now called Jyoti Harvey) for details on proper ‘belly breathing’ next time I see her.

I remember the first time I managed to complete 13 miles. In fact it was so notable, I did – September 16th, 2012. My chest and lungs hurt. Really hurt. Really, really hurt. I could only do very shallow breathing the next day.

Anyway, on my next long run I thought I’d try to achieve such chest/lung pain thing again, as proof that I was using some different musculature than that which I’ve become accustomed to using. I tended to remember about the breathing when I was going uphill, but that’s OK. There are plenty of hills around Winky to allow enough opportunity to practice new breathing. It kind of worked. Well something was different. Ribcage feels a bit sore; lungs feel a bit more hollow.

The weird thing is that because it was a different pattern of breathing, less, somehow, my running cadence was all over the shop. Normally I breathe in, in, out, out, or in, in, out, out, out (or something). A different, deeper, breathing pattern is going to require me to change how I link breathing and leg movement. Oh well, so be it.

I tried this ‘deep breathing’ in swimming too. That’ll need more practice, bit scary. Bit more difficult to achieve in the water, for me.

Then the lovely Lou was talking about mitochondria – things in cells that create energy, using oxygen. Ergo, more oxygen in, more energy creation. Muscles work more effectively, more efficiently, more economically. Well maybe not all of those. Well maybe all of them. I don’t know enough yet. More research needed.

But for now I’m focused on rib-gills breathing. Maybe it’ll improve my running, and my shoulder…

Club running vest

WADAC club vest

WADAC club vest

Ooh. I have taken the commitment plunge. I am now the proud, and really rather anxious and daunted owner of a club running vest. I get to wear my own colours of danger!

No more of this half-hearted, give it a go, borrow a vest, sort of mentality. I’ve made the commitment. I properly belong to my running club now!

No idea when I’ll next wear the vest, i.e. run for club. But it is compulsory attire when racing, so at least I’m sartorially prepared. To complement the top, black seems to be de rigueur on the bottom half. Maybe I’ll try to find something yellow (although I’m told the colour is gold…) to strike a different pose. Always want to rail against conformity, me. Or at least try to raise a smile, somehow.

It’s still hanging on the outside of my wardrobe, reminding me of what I’ve done. Stomach feels a little pit-like every time I catch sight of it. I really ought to put it out of sight, ergo out of mind.

Soon enough.

Leg drills

Legs gotta work harder

Legs gotta work harder

Now I can swim (!!!), I vaguely recall saying I can start to focus on form, function, technique and whatever other techy words there are to describe swimming better.

I have to say focusing on one aspect was rather forced on me due to my shirking shoulders. The magical Michaela instructed me to rest for two weeks (three as it happened as I was on hols), so no swimming and no tennis. Running was allowed, thank goodness, I’d have gone a little stir crazy otherwise.

Anyway, I still went to the pool, but just did leg drills. It’s amazing how much time one can spend doing just leg drills. It’s amazing how wobbly one’s legs are afterwards from all the exertion.

I did more of the usual leg drills that the marvellous M has had me doing all along, e.g. lying on back, hands on chest, leg kicking up and down the pool. Repeat with float on chest. Repeat holding float to knees; lying on front with float out front, kick up and down the pool. How come it’s so much easier doing the kicking drills on one’s back? I seem to go faster, marginally, on my back (ah, see below).

I’ve got a couple of books on swimming now, so I found some more drills:

Standing on the bottom step in the deep end is a good drill, I’ve found. Sideways on, one foot on step, other leg hanging loose, arm firmly hanging on for support.  Hips/pelvis fixed. Kick back and forth, relaxed leg. All the effort coming from hip, well, and the glutes, I noticed. Kick wider than you would when swimming.

Kicking on one’s side is another good one. Need flippers. Kicking up pool on side, bottom arm out straight, head looking down (apart from when you need to breathe!), top arm lying down top side.  So far I’ve been doing the whole length on one side, yet to progress to making one stroke half way and finishing the length on my other side. Too much shoulder rotation for my shoulder three-week rest period. I’ll try it soon. This drill is supposed to help with body position and rotation too. I’m beginning to think I don’t rotate enough, having previously thought my body was supposed to be fairly still and horizontal. I’ll leave that for thought evolution (well, reading), and a future post.

I’m still figuring out how to do the leg kicking thing from the hip, i.e. with straight or nearly-straight legs. Knees are not supposed to be involved really, so I gather. Definitely avoid ‘running horizontally’ in the water, i.e. bending knees – apparently this causes drag; no wonder I used to feel I was going backwards, I probably was. Knees should be ‘loose and relaxed’, bending only ever-so-slightly during the kick. Sounds like I need to move my shoulder mantra from running to a knee mantra for swimming. I can do that.

It’s all about the flipping glutes, I’ve concluded. Need to max my glutes for multi-discipline proficiency. I reckon I’ve got a new cross-sport (run-swim) mantra: core and glutes, core and glutes (imagined in a silly parrot voice). In fact I’d already decided to build myself a core and glutes strength training programme to do once a week in front of the telly. I tried one for the first time the other day.

I would just say, don’t – necessarily – do a hefty core and glutes programme for the first time the day immediately before the long run… ouchy, ouchy, ouchy.