Monthly Archives: January 2013

Glum glutes

One of the better things I’ve read in the running magazines is to make a prophylactic visit to a physio.  After a very brief risk assessment I decided this would be a good idea. At my age I can’t be unduly risking pain, and any recovery period just gets longer the further from teenage one exists.

When an ex-professional marathon runner, local, physio is personally recommended, those are pretty good clues that this is the person to visit, even for someone as occasionally obtuse as me.

So far my knees have been holding up, and they’re what I thought might have proved troublesome, as they did through various phases of my youth, for reasons I can no longer remember. My hips, especially the left, have been getting a bit dodgy on the long runs, and I do occasionally get a bit of lower back pain, again mostly on left side, though I haven’t had this for ages, and not really since I started the jogging thing. So, not really too many symptoms to present with, I thought…

Ah, how naïve am I? I seem to recall I might have written that before. It turned into a not-so-prophylactic appointment as the lovely Michaela had me doing a few exercises (well one, actually) and quickly homed in on the issue.

The bottom line is I have no bum muscles, well a little one on the right side, but a near-absence on the left side. I couldn’t turn the other cheek if I tried. Apparently I’ve been running with my legs and hips (hence hip pain), and not much else. It appears my glutes are foetal. My gluteus maximus is a gluteus minimus. I know, I know, there really is a different muscle called that, but go with me on this, I need to wring some cheeky humour out of this asininely amusing situation somehow (if it wasn’t actually quite so potentially serious given my marathon aspiration).

I emerged from my appointment emotionally bruised but unbowed. How can an area (any area) of one’s body without musculature end up so sore trying to find some that really should be there?) I’m now equipped with half a dozen microscopic exercises to do three times a day for three weeks in an attempt to build a neural network from my brain to my bum. Apparently that’s how long it takes.

I gather this all explains why I wobble a lot on one leg, pretty much either leg. I’ve still got to do my core exercises (a later post perhaps) to stabilise me, but creating some glutes will do me no end of good with stability, strength and running efficiency.

Ah yes, increasing my efficiency was where Michaela started the appointment, after I’d said I thought I was doing OK on my long runs. Sadly she never had the opportunity to go anywhere near that, I fell (not quite literally, thanks to a nearby wall) at the very first single-leg squat she asked me to do.

I guess that’s why it’s called a prophylactic session. Better to know now and remedy it than risk doing myself major damage physically and temporally.

Obviously I’ve added a clever new running mantra to my small but growing collection:  bum, bum, bum.

Sock fetishism?

Wow, how complicated have socks become? And how on earth did this turn into such a long post. Never, I suspect, has more been written about socks by someone so previously little interested in them.

Last summer when I started this lark, I used to just put on the Coolmax liners I use in my two sock system for my walking boots.

Now I’m bamboozled by socks that are one-layer or anti-blistering two-layer; socks that are thinner or thicker – cushioned I’m told is the technical jargon; socks that are ergonomic (more technical lingo – foot-specific) or ambidextrous, as it were. Actually would that be ambipedal? Anyway, they can go on either foot. All I know is Coolmax is a must. Gotta have Coolmax.

If I’m going to spend 4-5 hours so-called running around my capital city, I’m definitely going to do some research into what’s on my feet. As it happens, I’m quite liking cushioned at the moment. That’s probably just because it contrasts so dramatically with the comfort-denying thin things I started out with.

The jury’s out on the anti-blistering two layer.  I have the sneakiest suspicion they give me blisters. But to be fair, I may have trialled them when I was wading calf-deep in New Forest flood waters. Wet feet and wet shoes is blister-forming paradise, by anyone’s standards, I reckon. Must give them another trial.

I haven’t decided about ankle length or liner length. I’m rather thinking that’ll just be seasonally-adjusted.

I’m unperturbed by ergonomic or ambipedal. Though I’m afraid Runbreeze lose out here. They have a star on one side of each sock and you’re supposed to remember whether the star goes on the inside or the outside of the foot. I so have enough stuff in my head thanks very much without adding in extra nonsense (yes, there is lots of nonsense in my head already).

Would all this new sock technology affect the size of running shoe I need? I’m aware all the socks I now use to run in are thicker than the Coolmax liners I used to use on their own. No cushioning, how stupid was I? So, I took six pairs of socks with me to try on new running shoes. I can barely believe I’m admitting to that one.

The shop got in two different shoe sizes of the same shoe for me so I could play around with sock combos and shoe sizes.

I had cycling socks (Endura, Coolmax), 1000 mile socks (they’re all two layer aren’t they?), Runbreeze single layer, Runbreeze two layer, and I had Hilly one layer (Coolmax) and two layer. The good news is there’s b***er all difference between them in the in-shoe experience, with either sized shoe, at least in-store.

The marginally perplexing news is that before I went in, I really thought I would get the bigger shoe. Bit more space, thicker socks. But I came out with the same size as I have now. I have troublesome feet, there’s a whole UK-size difference between them, so shoes are invariably a compromise. Do I consider toes too close to the end of one foot, or heel too loose and rubby on the other foot? Well, status quo prevailed (I must be missing another not-quite-right cultural reference opportunity there). I suppose if it ain’t broke etc.

What I can report with child-like enthusiasm is that the trim on my new running shoes is purple and turquoise. Two of my favourite colours. Lucky, lucky me. Except I’ll probably need another pair before April and they might have moved on to different colours by then. No I am not buying two pairs now. Money, money, money.

And the real thing I’ve discovered … I love wearing new socks!  Now I know we’re told not to wear new socks for a big run, but at this stage it’s awfully tempting. I have a prophylactic physio appointment soon with someone who’s also a marathon runner, and local, and recommended, blimey, how serendipitous is that? I will add it to my list of questions.

But the truly encouraging news is my relief that my recent sock obsession is declared cured. Not much difference to the in-shoe experience. I feel I’ve done sufficient benchmarking of the competitive set. I know Coolmax is a must, so it’ll probably be Endura cycling socks or Hilly mono-layer … unless I find some other new ones to try.

Go on, tell me…?

Update 1: for readers of ‘Running with wolves’. Yup. Recall with the words ‘jelly baby’ works. She’s not a stupid dog. Immediate attention, then trots over and jumps in the car (she almost never ‘just’ jumps in the car).

Update 2: for readers of “The 329 steps”, I made it up three times, but jelly legs on the third scaling and jelly legs all the way home. Ooof.

The 329 steps

St Catherine's Hill

Not a typo.  I repeat, not a typo (though I’m not doing terribly well with my cultural references). St Catherine’s Hill, Winky, the steps starting by the plague pits, near the weir, for those with local knowledge.

I’d been ‘running’ (shuffling) up that really quite steep hill, I think you’ll agree, for a couple of months, but by the side of the steps, so I could control my step size, i.e literally one foot just fractionally in front of the other.  The thing about the steps is you lose control of your gait/pattern/rhythm and have to follow the tune of the steps, which are of differing height and horizontal length. I find this SO much more difficult.

Anyway, the bottom line is I knew I could get up the hill without actually grinding to a halt, though it was a close run thing on several occasions. I just needed something to shift me to the steps. I think it was repeatedly reading that hill work is necessary and important to training. The steps are covered with wire netting and they’re flat. The grass was getting slipperier and muddier, not that it’s rained much this autumn/winter or anything.

Christmas morning was my first attempt (and success) up the steps. Some Christmas present I know. I also knew I was going to eat a huge(ly) delicious dinner with family later in the day, and obviously wanted to pig out. It was Christmas, after all, and I had just a slightly salved conscience. And, as it turned out, I had hideously sore calf muscles, sort of locked, painfully into something solid and immovable. O-U-C-H. I hobbled around for two days, learning some days later, more running magazine information, they really are quite informative, that the calf pain is because the heel finishes below the rest of the foot on an ascent which does (painful) stuff to the calves.

The other day, someone, with trainer, said as I started up the hill ‘let’s see the professional do it.’.  Ha! If only they knew my neophytic status … if only I’d had enough breath (and this was in the bottom third of the hill) to tell them I’d only started this process three weeks before.  Evidently a hi-vis running jacket elevates one’s status beyond its proven worth.  Note to self:  wear hi-vis jacket more often.

Another time I was there at pitch black, silly o’clock and there was a group of others doing the same thing.  I got to the top, near-collapsed, only to hear a friendly voice emerge encouragingly “keep moving”. Of course he was right, thanks for that, but it is surprising how hazardous it is even to jog down the hill when the lungs are burning and the legs are wobbly with working so hard.

Anyway, there are 329 steps up (and down) St. Catherine’s Hill. It’s a long way up. It’s a long, wobbly way down.  I’m doing two consecutive ascents of St. Catherine’s everest, twice a week, and know I need to up this to three consecutive ascents. Not actually sure if my lungs or legs will last longest.

I’m keeping in mind that running round Winky is inevitably a hilly affair, which I’m hoping will stand me in good stead. The London marathon is flat.  The website says flat and fast, but I guess they haven’t met me yet.

Running with wolves

And this is after a short stroll in the park.

And this is after a short stroll in the park.

Well, a small Cairn terrier, but that’s completely beside the film reference, which, as it happens, it not at all the film reference I’d been thinking about. I was actually thinking of Kevin Costner and Dances with Wolves of course, (probably I was just thinking of Kevin Costner). I never was strong on films.  Films you note. Not movies. I say no more.

She’s only got little legs (but she does have four of them, I counter). She comes on my short runs before sun-up during the week, and even has her own little torch, a small flashing light I bought in a bicycle shop which velcros round her collar. She’s invariably behind me so it doesn’t take too much for me to check she’s still in range. Sadly (for me) her bringing up the rear has nothing to do with our relative speeds, and far more to do with her frankly far too leisurely attitude to the whole training thing, and her much stronger desire than me to sniff things (other than wine, obviously).  She occasionally taunts me, especially if I’ve slowed to go up an incline, by racing ahead to suggest she’s really just tolerating my ambling pace.

She’s also come on the few long runs I’ve done, including the more-than-four-hours job I did last month. Then she was happy to sleep by the radiator for the rest of the day. Mind you she does that most days, so it’s quite tricky to tell if she really was tired. I absolutely believe she was exhausted. I really do.

If developing a fuelling strategy is important for me on long runs, I seem to be spending even more time on fuelling strategy for my poor little dog. Getting to grips with gels, jogging with jelly babies – I kind of figured that whatever applies to me probably applies to the dog as well with regard to eating stuff on the long run. So I get up really early – two hours before departure for the Forest – in the hope that she’ll be bored enough of waiting to go out that she’ll decide to eat her breakfast, especially if I’m piling food into my mouth at the same time.

There are plenty of puddles (more ponds and lakes given our last few seasons’ inclemency) for her to adopt her own hydration strategy, so no issue there.  And listen, I don’t force-feed her gels on the move. I can barely force-feed those to myself, that’s a gargantuan intellectual manoeuvre for me. But she has taken quite a fancy to the jelly babies. So far she gets more of them than I do. Note to self: must take more with me.

As it goes, I may just have happened across the perfect recall command for the dog. Calling ‘come’ across the park has, at best, selective success, which I attribute to her equally selective hearing.  But ‘jelly baby’ there’s a word association she’s picked up in a nano-second. I’m definitely going to try it as a recall command in the park, no matter how many strange looks I may receive.

I don’t suppose they’ll let me bring her as a running buddy on April 21st. Mind you she’d probably want to say hello to every single person there, so I might not get to run very far. She’ll be better off at home. I’ll just have to concentrate on running without my wolf.

When DOES jogging become running?

I struggle to call my quicker-than-walking movement running. As I said in my introductory post I used to jog sporadically, the same 25 minute route, 7-8 years ago. Does such mundanity preclude it from being anything other than jogging?

Is what I do now running? A personal trainer said the difference is speed. This is a straightforward, simple and easy to comprehend definition. But if it’s the only one, I still jog.

A friend of mine suggested my brain hasn’t caught up with what my body has achieved in the last six months. I only took up jogging again at the end of last June. I started out at five minutes jogging, walking, bit more jogging. The furthest I’ve gone now is more than four hours, though I was virtually crawling on that one, but that’s another story.

I “run” different routes now, of varying length, around Winky and in the New Forest. My mental approach is certainly different. Maybe that’s part if it. And I’m getting to learn some of the training lingo, so maybe that’s another part.  Not actually implementing the training lingo, but understanding what it means and what it’s after. But maybe I’m only learning the training lingo because of the marathon, and I’m actually still jogging.

I’ve started using the term fuel (more training lingo) instead of food which doesn’t make me feel great, creative or normal, but fuelling strategy is so evidently important for a long run (the long run – more lingo). Food is for savouring and enjoying, taking one’s time over, having a glass of wine with, in company wherever possible. Fuel is stuff you put in the car to get you from A to B. Fuel is functional. Not enjoyable. It’s usually solitary given the requirement to eat a couple of hours before going out on a long run. And it’s much more difficult to eat when you’re stuffing stuff in just to run – bit of a choke reflex so far.

More lingo – fuelling is so much more than hydration (I used to say drinking water) but things like jelly babies (seriously, when did it become OK to even conceptualise the cannibalisation of our young?) and gels – ooh but they’re hideous, at least the ones I’ve tried so far, takes me quarter of an hour to force one down. To the extent I’m beginning to wonder if I can eat solid food on the run. I make a mean flapjack so I’m thinking about that. Need to try it. What do folk do? Anyone come across good gels that don’t induce the gag reflex?

I read running mags and websites. Does that make it running?

I’ve joined my local athletics club.  Now there’s a random group of words I never imagined sequencing to make a sentence. Does that make it running?

Does distance make it running? By definition, is ‘doing’ a marathon running? Well I’ve walked a marathon before so I guess not. The intention was to walk it, I wasn’t wimping or anything.

I already have my Leukaemia Care running vest. Does that make me a ‘runner’?

I’m aware I’m slow and weak. Does knowing this just make me a slow, weak runner, rather than a jogger? I know I need to improve speed, strength and skill, for example, who knew core strength was such a critical component of running? Stamina I think I may have (if staying on my feet moving slightly faster than walking for four hours is the test). Though I’ve only done this once; it may have been a fluke. I have a second session planned for the end of January, well planned in my head anyway. Not yet in the diary.

I’m trying to make myself use the verb “to run” but it all sounds a bit serious and hardcore which doesn’t really sound like me.

Maybe I should just get over myself and call it running … (with apologies) … my name is Sal and I’m a runner …?

Does being a runner mean I can take a rest day when I should be training?

I realise later as I’m walking rather than running the dog, this unscheduled rest day is because it has indeed all got rather serious. I am actually doing this marathon thing in a few months. With the turn of the year it’s no longer this distant, crazy-mad, unknown idea that I sort of accidentally-deliberately fell into. Flipping Henry, I’m going to run, there you are, run, the London marathon. I think I just became a runner!

Ooh, now I’m scared-excited. A little burst of adrenalin just kicked up my heart rate.  Marathon running reality comes down to roost. Oof, need to get my head round that.

The sports bra

I’d thought I’d dive straight to the heart of the matter. This surely has to be the most important piece of kit. Ever. I think I’d rather run barefoot across nails and coals than run with cripplingly painful, bounding and rebounding boobs that would otherwise take on the momentum swing of a bridge being tramped over by an army marching in rank.

Shock Absorber is the one for me. I won’t have a bad word said about them. Firstly what a great brand name, especially given my previous comment. Secondly the clamp-to-chest (C2C) quotient is REALLY high. Barely a murmur of mammary motion on the move. Frankly that’s enough functionality in a sports bra, but there’s more – it’s comfortable and I have no chafing. And chafing has been one the first things running-type folk seem perversely to relish raising as an issue.

The reflective trim is, to my mind, an unnecessary detail. (They call it a ‘bra top’.  Get real. It’s a bra.) I vow to wear my bra only with appropriately additional over-apparel. The reflective trim remains between me and my bra.

I have to say, a fitting is essential, however excruciatingly embarrassing you may find it (not that one should). The lovely Mary and her team at John Lewis in Southampton sorted me out. Not in a month of Sundays would I have arrived by myself at the size they measured me to be. And that’s another thing that remains between me and my bra.

Definitely test the C2C quotient of whatever you’re thinking of buying. Jump up and down; you know what to do girls.

I guess I should feel lucky already. Boob health and safety has been a near seamless issue to solve for me. I’m well strapped in.

Now sock systems – there’s a different issue altogether…

London marathon 2013 – deadline April 21st.

LCS strip_cmyk

It was exactly a month ago that I learnt I had moved from the reserve list to the active list of runners on Leukaemia Care’s team for the 2013 London marathon.  Scary moment. I applied in October 2012, having done the whole ‘procrastination as active decision-making process’ thing by not applying in September when they still had spaces.  I guess I was thinking, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.  I guess that means it’s meant to be. Ooofff.

I only took up jogging again in the summer (as readers of my very occasional ‘Vineyard Joggings’ will know) after a seven-eight year hiatus (and that had only lasted for about a year with a 20-something year hiatus before that), so I hardly have ‘form’.  I guess sometimes the perfect storm of forces aligns to encourage life-changing processes to start, and this certainly feels like one of those.

So here I am, in training (!) for a marathon.  I’ve never run a running race, ah, except the egg-and-spoon when I was somewhere between the ages of four and six. Yes I remember a grassy track with white lanes painted on it.  I used to be sporty at school, but that was a hugely long time ago. And no proper athletics/running, apart from maybe in the freezing cold to get BACK from the sports fields which were exposed to icy blasts and razor-rods of rain off the English Channel at Southsea.

I thought I might chart my progress through this process, to the completion of project marathon on April 21st , (her Maj’s birthday), if only for my own amusement.