Tapering did you say? Leicester half 2014!

2014-10-26 09.12.45I picked the Leicester half marathon as the transition, if you will, from marathon training proper to tapering and as a way to check how my training had gone, with all its interruptions and hiccups. I intended to run this as the training run I had scheduled for that day, i.e. a 1h 30′ progression run (ok, I never expected to run the half within 90′, but what’s an extra 10 ‘- 15’ between friends?)

It didn’t quite work out that way: the first 2.5km of the course were downhill and I let myself go a bit too much and for a bit too long: and to make matters worse, after about the 3k mark, I spotted a speed of Harriers (I’ll settle for that as the collective) in the distance who had started ahead of me in the race, so… I would be lying if I said that pacing considerations weren’t hampered by a desire to edge closer to them… After seeing their bright vests appear and then vanish again through the throng, I eventually caught up with them at around the mid point mark, but the impact of the faster-than-planned first half was showing, so any thoughts of still running this as a progression run and accelerating, and then upping the pace again 5k later went out the window!

In the event Chris and Andy were out for a relaxed race (I never would have made up the distance otherwise), so after staying with them for a bit, I eventually went past and – mindful of the uphill last mile (and the small business of the upcoming marathon) – I tried to take it relatively easy for the remaining 8km, not digging deeper than I had to and using whatever downhill to catch a breath.

I was impressed by Sarah though (who I occasionally called ‘Claire’ in the race for no apparent reason! Sorry!) who also detached herself from the speed of Harriers and stuck stubbornly to my shoulder! As the race went on we traded places a few times but she set off up the New Walk hill faster than I did, which I think is what made the difference in the end: For all my faults, I’m reasonably good at judging the pace up a hill (it should be slow!), so I had enough left for a push over the top and a decent 500m strong run to the finish.

Photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Harriers charging (after a fashion) up New Walk – photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Where I promptly folded in half and gasped for dear life, but that’s ok, that was on the other side of the finish line! 🙂 My (chip) time was 01:40:39 which is a PB with a decent margin, which I’m very pleased with, especially as I didn’t set out to blast this. So I don’t begrudge the 40”, I see it as an opportunity to break the 1:40:00 mark on another occassion.

What I’m less happy with is my lack of discipline at the start: something I will need to be more careful with in Athens. I could also tell the lack of strength and core training, I felt my abs and glutes complain a bit after the 18km, which isn’t great news with a full marathon coming up in less than two weeks’ time!

On the positive side, I did much better than I thought I would overall, I was pleased with my uphill running (ok, not the hilliest course in the world, by a margin, but the last 3km were all uphill, the New Walk mile in particular was the course’s sting in the tail) and with the fact that I still had enough in the tank for a very strong last 500m culminated by a final sprint.

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But the highlight of the day was once again being part of such a great running club! I arrived at Victoria Park alone (Demi was looking after guests at home), just one of over 3,000 runners, and within minutes I was in a huddle of Harriers keeping each other company till the starting gun. And it didn’t stop there: I already mentioned that the first half of the race was haunted by a vision of a speed of Harriers in the distance and the other half was ran just ahead or just behind Sarah. But the majority of the Harriers I saw were lining the streets offering very loud support, many of them were cycling or walking around the route to cheer us over and again! It makes a massive difference to our running, perceived suffering and enjoyment of the day!

And of course, once again congratulations go to the organisers, all volunteers and everyone involved with the race: I’ve run it two years in a row now and it’s becoming a favourite – especially the last stretch: yes, even the New Mile uphill but mostly the last few hundred meters along the tree lined Granville Road and across the finish line!

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After I had regained my breath (much to the relief of concerned spectators, who didn’t want their enjoyment of the day spoiled by a noisy fatality), the day kept getting better: Home for a quick shower and to join the guests I had been neglecting all morning (their fault really: I had offered them the opportunity to wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday to stand in a windswept park for a few hours but they – quite unreasonably – passed on it!) and then back to town for a runner’s very lengthy lunch in The Globe, followed by a relaxed afternoon watching footy, sipping autumnal ales and generally taking the sting out of Sunday evenings…

Dash and I

I don’t know about valets, but every man is a hero to his own dog! Photo curtesy of @Elemil

So, full speed ahead for Athens now! I’m really pleased I ran the half at the point I did: it gave me an idea of where I stand running-wise (I love the absurdity of this phrase, so I’ll keep it!), things I should watch out for and it reminded me that running is always different on a race-day. It also gave me a sense of confidence. Even if I’ll probably miss the target I had set myself when I started my training, I am still in the race. I’ve done all the long runs I’m going to do, I’ve balanced work etc. the best I could and have come through all the surprises, upsets and spells of self-doubt that past few months had to throw at me faster than I was this time last year, stronger and more self aware.

I’ve no idea what will happen in Athens (you can never take even finishing any race – let alone a marathon – for granted), but – all things considered – I’m happy with my prep. Bring it on!!!

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Still in the groove!

I am pleased to report that my new attitude to training and running persists! I wrote last week:

“I also feel much calmer somehow, no longer worrying about the November date or the training that I will or will not be able to fit in my schedule over the coming months; I just run each session at a time, not worrying so much where it fits in the whole, each run a gift to myself…”

And it seems that there was more truth in that than I thought when I was writing it: my running workouts have stopped being a chore and returned to being a real treat – yes, even the intervals that really test you and make you feel your chest can no longer contain your panting lungs! It’s that new (or rather re-found) outlook that has meant I’ve sought out every opportunity to go for a run – and for a second week in a row, I’ve used a work-related overnight stay in London to will myself out of a warm comfy bed much earlier than I needed to and go for intervals in Regent’s Park – today sporting the new Huncote Harriers training top no less! I was really proud of myself (I know it’s commonplace for most runners out there, but I’ve repeatedly admitted that early morning runs are not my thing) so I rewarded myself with a decent omelette and croissant for breakfast in the hotel and walked the 2.5km to the office in the sunshine!

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That was on top of the first Cooper test I did after work yesterday: not part of my plan, but I think I’ll include them on a monthly basis, just to give me an indication of how my fitness is (hopefully) improving as a result of my training. Thing is, every training session feels very tough (ok, apart from easy run days), so I think an objective measure of my fitness would help.

On other news, there was no long run for me last Sunday (every so often my plan will substitute these for a progression run, which is actually crueller in its own insidious way!), so I took the opportunity to do a strength workout as well. Unfortunately the miCoach app has been playing up recently (I think they are preparing to launch v3.0 and for some reason that has necessitated messing up the current version!), which meant I couldn’t start my next Strength and Flexibility programme, so I went with one that I had designed for me at the gym in my last three-monthly assessment. It’s short and sweet (over in about 25′), but it seems to hit all the bits that matter and how! I think it is the kettlebell swings that I find particularly hard, not necessarily when I’m doing them (although I do try to go as heavy as I can), but 1-2 days after… They leave me feeling aching all over and most surprisingly drained of energy in a way I’ve not experienced with strength training before… I read about them a bit, and they seem to provide a comprehensive workout (which could be why they seem to tax me so much), with low risk of injury so they are staying!

So I’m pretty pleased with how things are progressing training-wise, although of course there is a long way to go still. The only change I think I’ll make to my routine is to add something to strengthen my upper back: My shoulder / shoulder blade area seems to get stiff on long runs, and I think it’s calling for some attention… a desk job doesn’t help much, I suppose! Any suggestions?

My only regret is that I haven’t been on a club training night for a long time. It’s usually because I’ve been away, or because I had a specific workout of my own to do on that day, but I’ve hardly ran with the club all summer! I’ll see if I can tweak the sequence of my runs in a week to keep Tuesdays open for a general run with the Harriers.

 

 

Livingston Relays

Whenever I try to rationalise what it is about running that I like so much, I come up with the usual array of explanations: it keeps me fit; it acts as a release of the tensions of the day; it gives me a sence of accomplishment. While all along, the truth probably is because it lets me experience days like the Sunday past:

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The annual Livingston Relays were on (a team event of 4 x 3m running, mostly in park paths) and, truth be told, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to them, despite the enthusiasm with which I had entered… That began to change on the day however and by the time I reached the start area, where all the club tents and standards were, I was slowly getting in the mood!

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I was a bit unsure about running the first leg, as that meant that I would have to endure the stampede at the start, but it didn’t turn out too bad either: it gave me the opportunity to get my run out of the way and enjoy the rest of the day and it meant I didn’t get lapped by any of the faster teams. Indeed, it felt more like a normal race, reeling in slower runners that had started ahead of me, enjoying some little duels of my own, while not getting in the way of the faster lot coming from the back.

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The course itself was quite fast, with only one 1/4 mile incline (can’t really call it a hill) after the 2nd mile, which however I really felt – probably because it was in contrast to the rest of the course. I consciously slowed down there to recover a bit from the fast pace (I’m not used to short, fast races) and then picked it up again, before putting in a little kick for the camera:

 

My time wasn’t anything to write home about, but a reasonable performance nonetheless. But the day was just starting – there was an hour and a half of running still to watch, including some great intra-club competition, like Ryan chasing down Andy on the final leg of the race:

 

What I like with the 3m – 5k distance is that while it translates into 21′ of agony, it at least leaves me much fresher and energised for the rest of the day (compared with a half, or even a 10k race which, though they don’t leave me so much out of breath while I am running, I feel it for the next day or so). I’m sure the sunshine and party atmosphere in the park contributed to my buoyant mood greatly, and the suggestion that some of us meet at the beer festival at the Exchange was just the finishing touch to a great morning!

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Never one to turn down a gentle cooldown and hydration session, a great morning’s running was followed by an equally great impromptu evening out, getting to know a bit more of the people we run with every week or so, tasting some decent ales… Can’t complain really!

So a massive thank you to all Harriers, but especially Andy Ball and Marie Wilford (men’s and ladies’ captains, respectively) for all their hard work organising us for the even, coming up with very well balanced teams (in terms of the runners in each team, but also setting up some decent races between them). Also Chris, Ledders, Trudi, Sam, Stuart, Lesley, Sarah and Jen for the night out. And as ever, Demi for… where do I start?

(yep, still on a runner’s high!)

The Huncote Harriers

The Huncote Harriers

 

 

A runner’s blues

The week started in the glow of the London marathon, checking the results for familiar names, even if there was a running commentary on Facebook as each Huncote Harrier came home on Sunday afternoon… And though it may sound like a cliché, they truly were all great, some completing their first marathon, most posting a PB and in some cases smashing their previous times by 10′ or more! I wish I could mention them all with the superlatives each and every one deserves, but with 35 runners from the club running, you will understand it would far exceed the scope of this humble blog!

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I will mention two names though, Andy Wilford who proved exactly how much he has improved in the past year or so by making it round in a brilliant 3h 15′ 24” and Julie West who also brought her PB down by over 10′ finishing in an impressive 3h 37′ 10”!

For someone who is at the start of the road to his next marathon (my marathon-specific training is not due to start till July), such results can at the same time be an incredibly motivational force (proof of what hard training and dedication can do) and fill you with dispair as you see your training partners get ever faster with every race and leave you with all to do just to keep up! And a 16 – 20 week training programme is a long time to try keep up!

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Which of the two (motivation or dispair) affects you more at any one time has to do, I suppose, with your particular frame of mind, how your training is progressing etc: And I’m in a grumpy mood today, and the road to Athens seems long and arduous and the whole idea a bit of a fool’s errand…

I’ve spent the week trying to keep on top of my running, while doing some research on different training programmes to see which one suits me best and what a realistic target time would be… and I’m tired just thinking about it! It’s been one of those weeks I suppose, workouts I can normally see through and feel strong leave me hurting and out of breath; as for the idea of running a marathon, never mind at the pace most online calculators tell me I should be aiming for… no thanks!

That’s the downside about experience… you don’t have to imagine how hard training for and running a marathon is, you know it!

So what’s a runner to do? Rest I suppose… Concentrate on the key workouts for the rest of this week and next and cross-train as much as possible to give those legs a chance to recover. And mentally? Nothing: Such ebbs and flows in mood are as much a part of marathon training as the rythmic sound of footsteps on tarmac. Training will improve, I’ll be pleased with a race I do between now and then and my moods should pick up in no time!

LRRL Desford 6M

30 Harriers took part in the last of the Winter League races in Desford this Sunday past, which was a great turnout given that 10 of our most commited racers were in Ireland running the Connemara half and whole marathons, Graham was running the Manchester marathon (smashing his PB in the process!), Nicki did not run the Sheffield half and many more were taking it easy, tapering for London on Sunday.

After the setbacks suffered by the Winter League, which had two of its six races cancelled due to more stringent safety requirements and – what seems to me at least – poor communication between the organising clubs and the councils in the planning stages, it was great to see an event go ahead as planned. The marshalling left nothing to be desired, the route (along pathways and roads) was well marked and we while all roads had live traffic on them, I personally felt that appropriate measures were taken to make sure it stayed away from the runners who were kept safe at all times.

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Harriers on the charge!

Race results can be found here, while Harrier photographs here.

There were two things that struck me most and I take away from the day though. The first was how many runners talked openly about pre-race nerves. Even on an event like this, which – fun though it is – I doubt is the climax to anyone’s season and even amongst runners who had come along for a gentle plod before London next week, quite a few of us admitted that we were feeling quite tense in anticipation and were eager to be going… I wonder why that is and why, even though I suppose we all feel the same before every race, most times we don’t admit to it while on some occassions it becomes the main topic of conversation…

But the main thing is that this blog is doing its job (even if I’m not sure exactly what that is!) and the journey to Athens is slowly but steadily picking up momentum! It transpires that another runner from the club, Karen, has entered the New York marathon (also in November, a week before Athens) and we had a good chat about training, programmes and the possibility of planning our long runs together, closer to the time. Anyone who followed my run2rome will know that consistency when it comes to going for my long runs is certainly not my strong suit in training, so a training partner to make sure you are out of the door when the programme says you should, will be of great benefit!

So, early days still, but it’s good when small pieces of a puzzle start falling into place…

Happy runner! 🙂