…but it should be fun!

Seeing me in the state of mind that led to yesterday’s post, Demi gave me a good talking to and reminded me that running is supposed to be fun and something we do to feel better.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment and promised to get my act together, but the recollection of our “running should be fun” conversation while doing my 15 x 1′ strides in near horizontal rain on the more exposed paths of Regent’s Park made me smile…

At least the rain stopped in time for my cool-down so I could take these photos as dusk was setting in:

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And taking my time under a hot shower afterwards wasn’t bad either…

A bit of love, a bit of hatred, but something…

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So the results of the vote last week are in, and a clear majority of 60% recommend that I keep smiling in the face of the unfriendly and sometimes downright contemptuous runners I tend to meet when I run in London. You are obviously a much more civilised bunch than I am, because my instinctive response was to meet unfriendliness with a scowl; but there lies the slippery slope into anarchy, chaos, the breakdown of society and – worst of all – discourtesy! And that we shall not tolerate.

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But as a lovely contrast to my post from last week, today I became the object of a very vocal outburst of support and encouragement: I was staying in a different hotel than usual, so my morning run (6 x 4’ intervals) took me along the south bank of the Thames, from Lambeth Bridge to HMS Belfast and back. On the way back, I was holding on for dear life on my fourth interval past Borough Market and the Clink when a big black guy standing under the railway bridges saw me approach him and cried in an American accent “way to go man! Drop me five!” and offered his open palm for me to slap. He carried on offering encouragement and as I re-emerged into the sunlight I could still hear him shout after me “looking good, looking good, keep going man!”, which made me feel I was in some Hollywood film and that if I turned back I would see that a crowd of children had followed me out of the market and up the steps to the nearest monument!

I love it when little things like that happen, even if I know full well that it is all a bit of fun and not intended as an earnest compliment or in-depth-appraisal of my running form, pace or physique (none of which usually move the masses to vocal expressions of adoration!) I suppose the only earnest compliment there, if there is one, is for being out at that time of the morning / afternoon / evening and putting miles in. And not giving up when you look as beat as I am sure I did then. At least that’s what gives me the urge to spur another runner on, when I’m doing the watching.

There have been a number of such incidents lately: on my Sunday long run, I passed a boy with his father in the village of Thurlaston and he too (the boy that is) started shouting encouragement, gave me a high-five and run next to me for a while. And then, on the same run, after many miles, detours and loops in the countryside, I was leaving Huncote in the direction of Narborough when a lady cyclist who looked like she had struggled up the hill to Huncote, still found the energy to tell me to “carry on, well done!”

Encouragement is much more common in races of course, but there are still stand-out instances that stay with you: Demi, Alexia and Niko at the 32nd km of my first marathon (in Athens), when I had resigned myself that no-one would see me run; the girl in Rome that egged me on in Piazza del Popolo, when my cramp had gotten so bad that I had to walk; or the old lady, again in Athens, who – almost in a whisper and with a lump in her throat – offered the equivalent of “well done boys” (“μπράβο ρε παιδιά”), more to herself than us; there was something about her that has left a great impression on me, something that suggested there was a story behind what brought her out to that stretch of road between villages to see us pass…

I love running, and the memories it gives me. Alone, not passing another living soul for miles; alongside someone else, at pace or more relaxed; or interacting with people I pass, whether earnestly or in jest. And in the end, it seems it wasn’t the “rudeness” of the Regent’s Park runners I minded: I now know it was their indifference.

So I will leave you with this (a line of which I stole for today’s title):

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.

 

 

Exploring London, rediscovering Athens

It’s been a strange three weeks, but at least one good thing came of them, running-wise: I’ve stopped thinking!

To put it into context, I had to do a lot of travelling (much of it unplanned) for work and personal reasons, all of it involving long, tiring days and strong emotions. Every time I packed though, I made sure my running shoes went in the case first (and my Garmin last) and (most importantly) I made sure I put them to good use when I reached my destination! Here’s the running highlights of these past three weeks:

 

1. Early morning in Regent’s Park

I’ve previously lamented that not being a morning person, I miss opportunities to get runs in before breakfast. I genuinely regret it, since on the few occasions I’ve managed to get out for an early morning run, swim or other workout, I’ve absolutely loved that time of day and the buzz it leaves you with afterwards. Well, finally I managed to do something about it, and despite another disappointing business dinner the night before (the advertised “dinner” turned out to be a few canapés and chunky chips) and maybe a few too many glasses of wine to compensate the calorific deficit (well, it was a “networking event” -hics- after all!) I dragged me and my empty stomach for an easy morning run up to and around Regent’s Park.

I loved running up a sunny and empty Tottenham Court Road, over the remains of the night before, past the first commuters of the day and into the park (ok, stopping at traffic lights and still almost getting run over wasn’t as fun). I was surprised at the lack of other runners on the streets at that time, but that changed once I got to the park: A true cross-section of the running community, from casual joggers, serious runners and some very fast boys and girls were running along the paths criss-crossing the park. But the most memorable image of the morning, as I was glancing at my phone for news that was to come two days later, was the sun reflecting off the golden dome of the Islamic Cultural Centre:

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2. Two coastal runs in Athens

A few days later I was in Athens for the funeral of my father, who had died unexpectedly two days after my Regent’s Park run. The evening before was a Sunday and I resolved on an evening long run, as much to clear my mind as because I had already missed too many training sessions recently. As I was staying with my sister at the south suburbs, I went out for a 2h coastal run from Voula to the old airport and back. It was light when I set off and I was treated to a lovely sunset over the islands of the Saronic Gulf and on the way back it was the rising moon that was reflected on the sea.

The evening was hot and humid, so my pace was slow (speed wasn’t the goal here anyway), but I enjoyed running on the significant pedestrianised sections and along a route I hadn’t ran before. A particularly pleasant surprise was the number of other runners I saw along the way, it seems that the sport has really grown in Greece! I felt the old British runners dilemma when I came across the first few (do I smile? Nod? Ignore?), but it turns out that the norm in Greece is to lift a hand in greeting and – breath permitting – engage in a little chat with people running in the same direction as you.

It was on this run that I came across the following piece of graffiti and this remains my only encounter of running related graffiti anywhere! I like to think of it as a call to a very different uprising in Greece…

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The second run was a much shorter, steady run the day before I flew home. We started with Niko (my sister’s fiancé) and it was on the same coast, but headed in the opposite direction this time. Away from the busier pedestrian areas I had used the last time and towards some little tavernas at Kavouri. Reaching the turning point (the end of the paved path), I couldn’t resist continuing a bit further on, following a track up a little wooded hill till it wouldn’t go any further: It was dusk and turning back I took this photo of where we had come from:

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I’ve always known Greece would offer some outstanding running routes, but I always expected these to be away from the large cities and into the countryside, of the kind that my favourite Greek running bloggers (1) write about: running in the rain in the Peloponnese, or perhaps on island paths leading to some secluded beach… So it was a lovely to come across one in Athens itself, and it led me to wonder how many more unexpected routes exist in and around Athens… Recommendations welcome, and I look forward to try them out on future, happier visits!

 

3. Back home

So now I’m back, eager for a bit of normality and concentrating into getting back into a routine: catching up with work, doing all those things I had said I would around the house and (most importantly, as far as this blog is concerned), following my training schedule on a daily basis and not by exception! But 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…

Yesterday for example, after the afternoon downpour, I went out for speed intervals (12 x 1′ @5k race pace with 1′ recovery), and the only thing I can remember crossing my mind was an awareness of the brightness of the evening light on the soaked roads, and a reflection of a bright white cirrocumulus in a huge puddle, sailing on its way to rain on someone else…

I expect my outlook on a number of things has changed subtly since my last published post (in some cases perhaps too subtly for me to fully appreciate yet), and one of them is that I have returned to enjoying running as an end to itself – and that is altogether a much healthier state of affairs!

 


(1) such as http://www.athensvoice.gr/contributor/αγγελικη-κοσμοπουλου and http://42kaikati.gr/

 

Knackered after 0 miles

This week hasn’t gone that well… for some reason I have been feeling more tired each morning than the night before and my days have been filled with 6 -hour return commutes and full working days in between; on the days when I have managed to work from home, I’ve still had to wake up at stupid o’clock as we have work going on in the house and there have been workmen coming and going…

…Which has all meant that I’ve not managed to run once this week yet, but I still feel very tired, sleep-deprived and I’ve started to put back the (few) holiday pounds I had managed to lose since I came back… I’ll still try to salvage something from the week though: hopefully get some more sleep tonight, do a long hard tempo tomorrow (yippee…), Sunday’s LR as scheduled and – if I feel up to it – some stride intervals on Saturday (the last such session before tapering begins). So no core or strength training this week, but I finished one strength programme last week and I can start the next one fresh in a few days’ time.

On a more positive note, I did my first outdoor serious (> 21k / 13m) LR last Sunday on the usual hilly route around the villages and it reminded me that doing the same distance on a treadmill (whatever the incline settings), does not compare with the real thing: it does not compare in terms of the value of the workout (psychological as much as physical) and it certainly does not compare in term of the enjoyment of the run: the cool breeze that comes as an unexpected relief when you need it most, running along tree-lined lanes then next to golden fields in the summer sunset… Or letting your mind wander in a way that it cannot do in the confines of a gym, stationary on a treadmill (where as fast as you may run, you never go anywhere…) Absolutely beautiful, Bradgate park next!

So… a frustrating week where I feel I’ve moved backwards rather than forwards… No serious damage done though and at this early stage of the preparation I hope it won’t make much of a difference on race day  – as long as it stops here.

On the other hand… On the other hand, I was hoping I’d be in a very different position in the fourth week of my training: I had hoped that by now I’d have shed some of the excess weight, built some momentum in my training and even recovered most of my fitness. Instead, I feel like I’m starting from square one all over again.

But marathon training wouldn’t be any fun if it was all plain sailing, would it now?

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The curse of the black cockerel!

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It was wonderful taking a long holiday and getting away, not only from work, but also from every sense of daily routine – and yes, that includes running and training programmes as well! We spent two weeks driving back from our wedding in Greece as a mini-honeymoon and we made the best of it. The highlights were the days we spent casually driving around the country roads of Chianti, looking out for the signs of the Gallo Nero (the black cockerel that is the sign of the Chianti Classico wine region) stopping now in a tiny village, now in a hidden away 11th century castle, but all the time sampling (and buying copious amounts of) the local wine, cheeses and charcuterie…

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Our travels continued in very much that vain to the village of Luz-St-Sauveur in the French Pyrenees, where, momentarily growing tired of the rich food and easy living I thought I’d slip my running shoes on (which had up to that point hid in horror and embarrassment in the depths of my luggage) and set out for a gently 8km (5m) jog. Having had previous experience of running around Luz, I set out on what I concluded would be the flattest route and kept to the roads, as the trails were muddy from the heavy rain of the past few days.

Luz run (map)

It was a lovely run, and once again I reflected on how much I’d enjoy spending some time in the area on a running holiday (it’s already a popular ski resort and as it sits between the Col du Turmalet and Hautacam on the Tour de France, very popular with cyclists)…

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Although I think that was in hindsight, or at best during the middle downhill section of my run… Because “the flattest route in the mountains” involved an average incline of 3.8% with some very interesting hills and a long (2.4km), hot and painful climb back into the village!

And I can tell you that at every step along the way, I felt the weight of every mouthful of pancetta, every salame so carelessly consumed and each of the innumerable glasses of wine that had filled our days and nights! And above it all, I could imagine the black cockerel standing on the hilltops and looking down at me making my weary way along the country lanes and up the hills with more than a hint of irony in his small eye…

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Although, truth be told, after the first shock to the system of the steeper, shorter hills at the beginning of the run, the downhill section allowed me to recover, to remember what motions are involved in this “running” thing and regroup in order to face the final hill with some pretence of dignity, running up it at a reasonably steady pace. I even (briefly) considered going out for a repeat the following day, but… sounder council prevailed, and I decided to take a rest day instead!

Dash keeping thoughts of black cockerels away...

Dash keeping thoughts of black cockerels at bay…

Thinking of the hill…

I’ve only been out running once since the Leicester Big 10k, and concentrated instead on reigniting my strength training (and by the evidence of the first sessions, that was long overdue!) For that too I’m following one of the training plans from miCoach (as mentioned in a previous post) complimented by a core-specific day (perhaps unnecessarily so, as the miCoach programmes feel balanced enough in the first place).

On the one occasion I did run though, it was on the treadmill and I decided I’d try to simulate the long climb that awaits in the Athens marathon: 13km (from 19 to 32) at an average incline of 2%… I tried maintaining that with what I hope to be my race pace in November, and it just about killed me! To the extent that I had to take two short breathers at 0% incline… And that without the 19 (mostly flat) km that precede the climb or the final 10.2 km section into the centre of Athens (fortunately mostly downhill, but by that stage in the marathon you feel the downhill running on your hips and knees…)

So it looks like I have my work cut out for me when I come back in July and start my training proper! At least I know the route, I have the benefit of knowing that my pacing strategy of three years ago worked and with a little luck (and much training) I should be able to adapt it to my current pace… Or that’s the plan, anyway!

But thinking back at all the things that went well in 2011, the elation that I felt on completing my first marathon in 3:52:19, I feel a bit sad at the thought that it will take something very, very special to compare with that day…

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More special in fact that what I believe I have in me. So I’ve decided to settle. If I can’t expect a special race from myself, I at least want one with no regrets: regrets over missing key training sessions, or even whole weeks; neglecting my strength training & core conditioning; not practicing my race nutrition and hydration till I’m sure I’ve got it nailed; setting off too fast or too slow on the day, etc.

I think I’m saying that I want a race I can be really proud of again!

Saturday update

Status

So, day before the 10k race, beautiful morning, nice little run to the gym, felt lovely, got a new programme for core, looks great, tried to walk up the stairs and I couldn’t put any weight on my right knee! WHAT?
Looks like I’m in for a long walk back, at least the sun is shining… 😦

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!

Livingstone Relays 3

 

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 wasted opportunity

I had to spend a night down in London for work this week, and had images of a nice morning run in one of the city’s parks.

Now, before I go any further, I have to admit that I am not one of the early morning runners… In fact, apart from races, it’s only once or twice a year that I’ll run first thing in the morning, and that will be because I’ve promised someone to go running with them.

It’s a shame really, because on those rare occasions that I do go for an early morning run, I enjoy it immensely! Similar to my cheeky lunchtime runs (when I manage them) they leave me refreshed, full of energy and ready to tackle whatever the day has to throw at me!

Which is why I was so looking forward to my run first thing this morning, in a green park I’d never run in before and coming back to a ready cooked breakfast! I had even planned to post the workout map on here, together with photos of London waking up to a spring sunshine and even the breakfast I would reward myself with.

As it happens… the “drinks and canapés” session that was advertised as following yesterday’s meeting was missing the canapés but over-compensated instead with drinks and banter… which meant that I only reached my hotel at 10pm, famished, exhausted from the early morning and long day and barely able to make a call home before crawling under the covers…

Hunger woke me at 4 am, when I decided that I should reassess my priorities in favour of breakfast and – with a heavy heart – skip the run…

And in so doing dear readers, I have let you down, I have let my new running shoes down and, more importantly, I have let this blog down!

Disappointed runner 😦

Disappointed