Category Archives: Run

Just running

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.

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.

Intervals … nemesis number two

Heiligenstein in Austria - originally named because the sun "burns like hell" on it.  Makes some exquisite wines now.

Heiligenstein in Austria – originally (1280) named because the sun “burns like hell” on it. Makes some exquisite wines now.

Here we go – interval training. Nemesis number two. Or so I thought. (See here for nemesis number one).

Interval training is supposed to be ‘hard’ where tempo training is supposed to be ‘comfortably hard’. I still don’t understand that. Running’s all hard to me.

Firstly, what is that I kept avoiding? Interval training appears to be repetitions of longer and/or shorter runs over a set distance (or time) with short recovery times between distances. For example two sets of this set: 1,000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m, with 75 second recovery between each distance. Then a five minute rest before you do the set again. The idea is you run faster for each shorter distance.

Why do it? I gather the aim is to build fitness. There’s a word I’m going to have to address in a future post. Fitter than what? Fit for what purpose?

I’ve read that interval training builds speed and endurance. In which case I should be loving it. I think it’s supposed to improve speed and endurance by getting the heart to work harder. I’ve also read more words about building lactate tolerance with interval training. Still don’t understand this lactate stuff. Oh flip, I see research coming … which I’m likely to avoid as I’m doing lots of research for the day job. This involves sitting on my backside in front of the screen, which I don’t really want to do more of at the end of the working day. Oh dear, where’s my running motivation gone?

Anyway, it turns out I’ve been doing interval training at run club, for the last couple of months, since I started up again after a lengthy London marathon reprieve period, during which I chugged along and jogged a bit. Now I’m training for the Bournemouth marathon, intervals it is (along with my long, slow run and a few hills).  Intervals are absolutely fine. Tough – I have to try to run faster which is quite tricky for a one-modest-pace sort of runner. But actually, I think I may be beginning to recognise that maybe I have more than one pace, after all. Another later post, perhaps.

So many learnings. So much to learn. Whoever said running was simply putting one foot in front of the other? Mad fool. It’s much more complex.

It turns out interval training is not a nemesis at all. I turn up to the track. Get told what to do. Do it. Go home. I’ve realised what I don’t like is the idea of creating and managing it all myself. It’s fine (organisationally) down at track because, well, because it’s a measured distance already, we’re given a schedule, we do it and that’s it. Last time the schedule for marathon training (as opposed to endurance training or middle distance training) was 8 x 1km with 75 second recovery between each 1km. I guess I’m supposed to be pushing myself to go faster than how fast (slow) I think I’d run a marathon. But that’s another story. Each of my 8 x 1km was not far off the same speed (8 seconds the difference between slowest and fastest, and the second four were quicker than the first four. Aah, the lure of completion!).

The nemesis bit, though now that sounds just a wee bit too dramatic a word for it, is that I simply don’t want to organise it myself, and measure distances out, and create a structured programme etc. etc. My inherent laziness is raising its lassitudinous head. Oh dear, where’s my running motivation gone?

Nodding to nemesis number one, in the pool I regularly get an ‘ooh, blimey, I’m swimming, I’m not supposed to be able to do this’ thought fly through my head. And to be fair, it’s typically a more robust expletive. But I am swimming, and it’s a fleeting thought.

There’s still too much to be thinking about with swimming, but I’m not solely thinking about breathing. But I do wonder why it’s so difficult to count laps. It’s a simple sequential numbering that doesn’t get unmanageably high and yet I invariably fail to remember whether I’ve done 4 or 5 laps, or 8 or 9 laps. What IS going on there?

Having mentioned the pool … interval training works in the pool, and on the bike, as well as on the track. Blimey – slowly, slowly I reckon. Let’s get used to the track first.

Do you know, even a few months ago, if someone had suggested I would overcome my two sporty nemeses by halfway through the summer I’d have wryly smiled and sadly but gently sighed at their naive and optimistic encouragement. Bugger me sideways though, I appear to have done it.

Tempo runs. Threshold runs. What is this lingo?

Clearly different! (you're SO going to have to be a certain age to get this)

Clearly different! (you’re SO going to have to be a certain age to get this … or use the tiniest bit of deduction)

The thing about wanting, or rather thinking I need, to do a bit more ‘proper’ training, rather than just ‘spending time on my feet’ which is kind of what I think I did for London, is that you need to get to grips with the lingo. And I’m really struggling.

What is a tempo run?

What is a threshold run?

The various magazines I’ve been reading aren’t really that helpful. They tend to assume you know. Here’s a summary of what I’ve gleaned from them over the last six months:

Tempo run: Talking is difficult. Tempo effort is ‘comfortably hard’. It’s controlled, sustained and efficient running.  70-75% of maximum effort. If you’re running too hard in tempo, your heart will be beating through chest, you’ll be puffing vigorously, muscles will start to ache and you’ll really want to slow down. Running at ‘lactate threshold’. Running at this level trains the body to handle lactic acid more efficiently.

I always want to slow down, however fast or slow I’m going. And talking is always difficult.

Threshold run:  8/10 effort where you can say a word or two but not hold a conversation. It pushes the boundaries further than tempo. Running on the edge of your comfort zone for longer. ‘Controlled discomfort’; 80-85% of maximum heart rate. At around 85% of max heart rate, or a perceived effort rating of 7-8 out of 10, most people reach their lactate threshold, where lactic acid begins to build up in the muscles, producing a burning feeling.

I’m already way outside my comfort zone even putting on a pair of running shoes.

It seems some people (and magazine articles) use the two terms interchangeably, which confuses me even more, because these two summaries from various mags are clearly different, apart from the lactate thing, which I really don’t get. As in understand. My legs feel like their wasted quite a lot of the time. Not sure I’d use the word burning, though I have seen it written quite often.

I’ve also come across rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which seems to link in with the above.
0 vegging out
1-3 gentle walking, moderate runs. Conversation ok
4-6 tougher. ~60% of max heart rate. Full sentences hard
7-9 very tough. Peak of 85% of max heart rate
10 very strenuous. Sweaty and inarticulate.

I’m sweaty at whatever speed I run, and I’m inarticulate almost all the time.

And if 85% heart rate is what you’re aiming for in a threshold run, what is 100% heart rate? Is it dead of a heart attack because it’s trying to beat too often?  Okay, slightly facetious.  I do know max heart rate is 220 – age.  When I’m concentrating on my running, how on earth am I supposed to gauge 85% of my max heart rate?  I probably could count how often in a minute my heart beats out of my chest cavity trying to escape the exertion. I don’t want lots of gizmos and gadgets. They’re all extra weight to carry, and I’d rather learn what it feels like to be running, develop some muscle memory, rather than have lots of gadgets I need to keep referring to. That’ll just irritate me and interrupt me switching off the mental processes during runs.

Added to which, I usually run alone. I’m going to look even more flipping stupid if I’m trying to have a 3-4 word conversation with myself that I can’t keep up because it’s too exhausting.

And surely all this changes depending on how far you’re running. My ‘full effort’ to run 100m will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 400m, which will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 800m etc.

More to the point, WHY are we supposed to run at these levels of exertion? And for how long? What is their purpose? Perhaps I’ve been struggling so long to define them, that I simply haven’t registered anything about what is their point in a training program. Do we get fitter? Faster? More Duracell bunny-like (go for longer)? Chattier?

What does fitter mean anyway? There’s a nebulous sort of word. And as I know so well, being a bit run-fit by no stretch of the imagination means I’m any swim-fit.

Drawing board?