Miles for Mind

A new month and a new challenge. May 2019 is the second offering of ‘Miles for Mind’ a virtual running event set and supported by the team at Runr (a running lifestyle brand) to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise money for Mind the mental health charity. The idea is to pick a mileage target and during the month of May run those miles and use that to talk about mental health and how, for some, exercise such as running can be really beneficial in helping to live with and manage mental health problems. I consider myself incredibly lucky that, apart from mild anxiety and sometimes low moods from the normal flow of life, I have not suffered more serious mental health problems. However, I know people who have and before I trained as a fitness instructor I worked for a local charity supporting people with severe and enduring mental health problems to get back into work so have seen how difficult it can be to have to live with mental illness. For serious mental illness medical intervention and support should absolutely be the first priority. When it’s possible, in addition to that, some kind of physical exercise and activity can be a really positive thing to help reinforce mental health and physical health. For some it might be swimming or walking, for me it’s running. I find it helpful in so many different ways: time out from normal life where I don’t have to be responsible for anything other than one foot in front of the other; a kind of mindfulness when I let my thoughts tick over but not take over as I also have to concentrate on keeping moving (and not getting run over crossing roads); a feeling of achievement from actually managing to do the thing in the first place and self-esteem that my feet, my legs, my body, ME, I did that run. Also the connection and community when you find people willing to listen and share in the seemingly endless running related chat; the sense of purpose that having and following a training plan can give. Which is where this challenge comes in…

Waaaay back about a month in the dizzying, endorphin fuelled highs of ‘this marathon training is going GREAT’ and subsequent fear ‘how am I going to keep going when it’s stopped?’ I signed up for this challenge. The ‘high’ is the only explanation I can come up with for understanding how I decided to set myself a target, which I now consider quite foolishly ambitious, of 150 miles for the month. Foolish because after the marathon tapering and recovery I really lost the momentum and will to go out and do loads of miles and perhaps I underestimated how nice it would be to have a break from that for a while! Ambitious because having now looked back at my training so far this year I was reaching around 110 miles a month so an extra 40 miles on top of that from an almost standing start feels like a big stretch! Having said that, one week in I have run 30 miles already and have a plan for how to get through the rest of the month. I’ve been been reminded yet again that the momentum and will for running loads of miles comes more from the process of actually doing it and committing to just seeing if it’s possible than anything else.

And now….. the bit where I ask for money. It would be wonderful if as well as the endorphin boost and Strava kudos for me this could inspire you to donate some cash to Mind: the mental health charity so that they can continue to do the good work they do raising awareness around mental health issues and supporting those who need it. To support the organisers of this event here is the link to the Runr just giving page – if you could help top up their total I would be very grateful and extra motivated on my next run: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/milesformind2019.

Thank you!

Please, please, please know that you can talk to me if you’re struggling with any of this. If you want to start a conversation about running or anything else I’m easy to connect with online via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Chasing Dragons – Great Welsh Marathon 2019

Marathon attempt number two! Exactly one year after the first. I learned a lot from the whole process of preparing for and running Brighton Marathon 2018 – the most important being that I can actually run that far so this time around the worry about ‘will I finish?’ wasn’t there. The second big thing was that it probably would be a good idea to make the training more of a priority so that, even expecting to have a point at which it felt horrible, that it would come at a later point in the race.

I set up a training plan via Strava which started from three months ahead of the event day, early February, but started building up to that by running every day (even if it was just one mile) during January. Last year I had decided to do fewer runs during the week but focus on doing at least one fast run and one long run and trust (blind hope) that I’d be in reasonably good condition from teaching BodyPump and Body Combat to get round. Those classes are a great way to improve and maintain fitness but it turns there’s no substitute for logging the miles week in week out. This year I committed to more runs during the week, even if I only had time for two miles, and slowing down and taking the time to run further on the weekly long run. For the stats geeks, in 2018 from January to March I ran 150.2 miles across 23 runs and in 2019 it was 340.6 miles over 73 runs. Over double the distance and three times as many runs. The longest run I’d done in 2018 was 18.41 miles in 3:10:51 and in 2019 was 20.40 miles in 3:39:46. All this definitely contributed to a different type of experience on race day.

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The first big difference was the scale of the event. I deliberately chose the Great Welsh Marathon as I wanted to do something smaller than Brighton. Fewer runners, smaller crowds of spectators and easier getting around on the day. It ended up being smaller than I’d imagined but for me that helped the whole thing feel more relaxed and more focused on the running. I travelled down with my parents the day before and after having checked into the hotel (a very convenient 10 minutes walk from the race start!) went out for a recce run to get an idea of where everything was and to see the sea! On the Sunday morning after an early breakfast my mum walked down and waited with me while the half marathon runners got started and it was time for the full marathon runners to toe the line. No waves and finish time based colour coded start funnels this time just everyone in together. Then, off we went!

The first mile went unbelievably quickly, a bonus of there not being huge numbers of other runners, we were able to get into a rhythm very quickly. Soon after that I warmed up into it and even considered taking a layer of clothing off despite the cold and wind (although very glad I kept wrapped up by the time the wind picked up later). The course was a 13 mile figure of ‘8’ shaped circuit run once or twice for the half or full marathon. The first loop was a roughly eight mile stretch along a nature walk and out to some roads around a business park which was lovely smooth road to run on. As it was a double lap course all the mile markers for the second lap were out, taunting us, which at first was a little discouraging but then I started to imagine how tired I might feel on the second time around and prepare some motivational thoughts with the hope they would pop back into my head on seeing the signs again. I think it worked as that part of the course was definitely the easier section both times. The second part of the loop, after running back past the start/finish line, went out to and along the sea front and while this was much more scenic there were more obstacles to think about, like benches and spectators, and the wind! And seemingly endless corners to go past before getting to turn around and run back to the halfway point.

The second 13.1 miles is where the marathon really starts. By this point I’d been running for about 2 hours 10 minutes and very happy with that split. So much so I started wondering if I could keep a similar pace going and finish near to 4:20 and that thought really helped boost the energy and the pace a little for the next few miles. My prep work on the first loop definitely helped. Well, seeing the mile signs again and remembering what I’d told myself first time around was something to amuse myself with other than thoughts like ‘running mile after mile like this for fun is just a little bit bonkers when I could still be in bed’. Then from mile 19/20 the pace was starting to slow and mini walk breaks were necessary but everything still felt manageable was ticking over quite nicely and, crucially, keeping ahead of the 4:30 pacers. That second loop of the second lap, the last five mile stretch, was where things really started to get ugly. Energy levels were actually okay, I’d managed to keep myself going quite well with gels and Nakd bars, but muscles were tired and I had now been running further and for longer than in any of the training sessions. Mentally the most challenging thing was the endless corners. As I wasn’t familiar with the route every time I saw a bend up ahead where the other runners went out of sight I would start thinking ‘oh it’s just past there that we get to turn around and start running back to the finish’. Five hundred times. Alright only five or six…. brutal highs of expectation then disappointment about having to keep going further away. Eventually the turning point came and now finally heading back to the finish my body decided it had had enough and various muscles started to object and felt like they wanted to burst. A horrible pain developed in my left foot so the pace slowed yet again with longer walk breaks and a shuffling waddling run type movement. But, it was forwards movement, even when it didn’t feel like it, and the determination to get over the line got me there with a finish time of 4:29:18. That’s about 27 minutes faster than Brighton. Amazing!. (Although there’s a strict PT in me that can’t help thinking ‘well, yes, that’s what you get when you actually properly train for it’ [insert eye roll emoji]).

shuffling over the finish line

Post-marathon was a surprising shock to the system. Last year, because the intensity had been lower, the recovery was fairly easy and after a good night’s sleep felt alright again but this year has been much more of a struggle. My appetite was up and down, aches and tightness in the muscles to be expected but the pain in my foot was not one I’d ever had before so that was quite worrying. For the first week when teaching classes I found I was getting much more tired earlier in the workout that I was used to. Although the physical niggles were annoying everything seemed more or less back to normal again within a week or so. I managed three miles run/walk again on the following Sunday. Mentally and emotionally the hit and the recovery has been much harder and slower. People talk about ‘hitting the wall’ in a marathon where you completely run out of steam and have to dig really deep to keep going. For me it felt like that moment didn’t happen until the Tuesday afterwards when I finally crashed and let go of all the focus and determination that had been carrying me through the training and the event. By that point the initial excitement of the achievement and sharing it all had mostly gone so didn’t have that to distract me and over the next few days I ended up feeling really, really low and lost. Even more so as my go to thing for feeling good is usually running and I wasn’t sure at that point how soon I would be able to do that pain free or have the fitness back to increase mileage again. I’d been so fired up pre-marathon I’d expected to take a few days off but then pick up and carry on going at the same rate so it was really hard to accept that wasn’t happening. But I did accept it, I decided that it was normal to feel this way after a big long-term project coming to an end (not just the marathon but strength training and the pressure of a Les Mills launch overlapping) and that it was rest time now and to take it easy. Save my physical energy for teaching classes, only do what I felt like I could definitely mange for my workouts outside of that and not try to force myself to feel better trusting that would happen on it’s own eventually.

It’s now been three weekends since the marathon and I am just starting to feel back to ‘normal’. I was able to run ten slow miles on Sunday and five slightly more energetic ones yesterday (for a new challenge, more on that in a separate post) and the difference it makes to my mood is some kind of alchemy that I’m not quite sure I will ever understand. I have new things to look forward to now which is always a nice place to be and one of those things is a non-running related project which I hope will be very interesting… (…tbc). I have started thinking I would definitely run a marathon again when I can and take what I’ve learned from this one to do even better but would be fun to try a trail event next time I think… we’ll see. Watch this space!

Run Up To Christmas 2018

What a great challenge this was!  A brilliant way to round off a year full of running.  The idea of the challenge is to set a target distance (50km, 100km, etc) and log those miles and kilometers in your own time between 1st and 25th of December.  I set a target of 150km (about 93 miles) which was high considering the distance on my runs had tailed off somewhat following the Oxford Half Marathon in early October.  I managed to get off to a good start with a medium and a long run on the first weekend in December clocking up nearly 26km (16 miles).  The following weekend did not follow suit.  It started with some Parkrun tourism in Cardiff which was a really enjoyable course and I had a good run at it but after that the focusing switched to socialising and then ‘holiday’ mode as I stayed over in the Brecon Beacons and ended up drinking more wine than expected so didn’t manage to get the trainers on on the Sunday morning.

Cardiff Parkrun Finish Selfie

The following weekend I took myself down to the Ridgeway for some trail running practice.  That was such an amazing morning.  The forecast had been for rain but it was beautifully clear, crisp winter morning and I managed 8 miles of very enjoyable but challenging running (and photographing!).  A few less than originally planned but definitely  enough of a workout for the legs.

 

Although still managing to get some shorter runs logged on the weekdays I ended up getting towards the final weekend before Christmas with around 50km still to run.  That’s a marathon (26.2) plus just less than 5 miles.  Make or break time.  The organisers of the challenge are really flexible so at this point I had the option to call it quits, claim a medal based on having run 100km already and donate any extra to another runner falling short, or keep going.  I decided to keep going and just see if I could do it.  Saturday, after having taught classes and before going to get my nails done I squeezed a 6 mile session in.  Then on Sunday, suffering a horrible hangover from work drinks the night before I somehow jogged 7 miles.  On the Monday, thankfully no work so I had time, and had recovered enough, for a 13.5 mile slog up to Oxford and back.  I was gearing up to have a double run day and finish off the final 4 miles that evening but after seeing a message pop up that Christmas Day runs could be included in the total decided to save that for the morning.  A shorter, faster push to finish the distance.  Repeatedly refreshing Strava until the total for the month to date showed 151km.  I actually did it!  Now it’s time to relax and enjoy Christmas!

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Long Run Mis-Adventure

Over recent months I’ve been finding myself more and more inspired to do more trail and off-road running and thanks to Instagram I have access to endless beautiful pictures to fuel the obsession.  Most of my running happens on suburban roads or on the cycle network through the park but I’ve been trying to see if I can find some nice routes from home rather than having to drive to get there.  Last month I used the Garmin connect hive mind (from the data logged by other GPS watch users) to find a lovely loop to the north of Abingdon which had some great views.  This time I decided to see what lies to the south and whether or not I could get to Wittenham Clumps (local nature reserve) which feels like a long way but is about five miles away.  Used Google maps to get a route and added in a cycle path I’m already familiar with, that follows the river out of town to a local village, before going across to the Clumps giving me a roughly 15 mile round trip.

The first three miles were easy and beautiful, town (Abingdon), river, cycle path, village, then I had to pull out the phone and figure out which way to go, one brief wrong turn then back on the right track.  Started heading out of the village onto paths alongside fields, opening out onto an end of a road looking bleak and abandoned, stony underfoot, rusty looking tanker thing and a view of Didcot Power Station.  Oh well.  Keep going.

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Sounds of traffic and activity emerge and I turned a corner to find myself at a waste recycling place with huge trucks thundering past in both directions.  Drivers no doubt bemused by the site of a runner as I’m guessing no-one ever runs that way.  Tried not make eye contact and not get run over while also trying to look like I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going.  Start checking the phone, apparently I was on the directed route until I got past the buildings and further out along the road, suddenly I’m lost and not going the way Google is telling me to.  I think the path I needed was blocked by roadworks and, having considered scrambling through the hedges, didn’t look passable.  So, ignoring Google, I followed the road the trucks were on in the hope that it would get me out to a main road I might recognise.  It did.  The arse end of Didcot.  Not pretty, but familiar from when I lived there years ago.  Hope returned, maybe this was just a detour and I would still get where I wanted to go.  Followed the road around to the B road the map suggested.  Then, dead end. Well, sort of.  It was one of those B roads that lots of cars drive very fast on and there’s barely a grass verge let alone a footpath.  Thought about seeing if there was a way through the adjacent fields but by this point was too deflated to keep going that way.  I’d forgotten to take any money with me otherwise at this point I would have seriously considered stopping and found a bus to take me back to Abingdon (my monkey brain did wonder whether I could fake an injury and hope a kindly bus driver would take pity on me but was overruled!).  At least by this point I knew where I was and how to get home but also getting fatigued, hungry and dehydrated (so glad I thought to take two water bottles for once and, that long run staple fuel, jelly babies!).

 

As I started running back I realised the road I was on was one I used to run on way, way back when I first started running and was training for my first 10k, in Lincoln, which was before the days of social media bragging so I can’t even really remember when it was (2006, I had to look it up).   Even with the hundreds of miles I’ve run since then and being roughly three stone lighter (although, over 12 years older) it seemed as though it was just as difficult as it used to.  Kept plodding on home, past the uninspiring office job I did while doing Personal Trainer qualifications, past the post-A Levels warehouse temp job I did pre-weight gain and pre-starting smoking.   During this stage of the run walk breaks were being dictated more by refueling needs rather than map checking.  Happily after all that my thoughts were focused more on the positive side of having run so far out, with all that to cover again (as opposed my default setting of multiple loops that could be cut short at any point), which was that I would hit my target distance as long as I could keep going and could get there quicker by keeping running.

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The last three miles were the hardest, as they often will be, but today unusually uplifting.  The river winding in to where it gets closest to Abingdon, lots of anglers along the opposite bank, the Anchor pub and overflowing flowerpots along the wharf in front, St Helen’s church  were very welcome sights.  Even more welcome was the water fountain in Abbey Meadows for me to refill my flask and start to rehydrate during the walk home from there.  Contemplating.  Although I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for with this run, a nice route and the satisfaction of getting to where I wanted to go, there were bright blue skies, warm sunshine, refreshing breezes, and it was interesting.  And I’ve learned that I need to work a bit harder at route planning in future.  If I manage that I will let you know!

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Summer Running…

… had me a blast.   Unfortunately this time referring to ‘blast’ as in the destructive sense.  Throughout April and May I was feeling inspired, energised and actually getting on with running a consistent schedule achieving slightly ahead of plan.  The excitement of this and an upcoming event, the Maverick Race Gloucestershire on 30th June, encouraged me to dream up the additional challenges of running a total of 100 miles during June and doing the Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge  which I then (foolishly?) committed to Instagram.

 

What I hadn’t factored in while deciding ‘now’ was the time to try these goals was that I had already agreed, saved in my diary and everything, to a mindfulness workshop, a wedding, a festival weekend, oh and my birthday, all in the early part of the month.

Let’s reflect on the positive first… I more or less managed to keep following the training plan all the way through the month and added in a couple of extra short runs to try and build up the mileage to the magic 100.  However, I missed a long run of 11 miles the day after the wedding (hello, hangover!) and was about that distance short of 100 by the end of June, so not too disappointed with that one.  This challenge is on again for August – one week in I’m at 35 miles so looking more hopeful this time! 

I started the 30 day challenge and managed to get a weeks worth done then ended up forgetting one day and it fell apart from there.  I’d expected to find this one hard to maintain and perhaps that thought pattern was setting myself up for failure.  I could have been more organised I think and set a specific time for when I would get it done each day rather than just assuming I would fit it in somehow.  The other thing I started wondering was how much of it I needed to do given that I cross-train anyway through teaching classes.

The final one, the FUN one, the Maverick Race Gloucestershire.  I was so excited about this race, getting to go out on the hills, I had my parents there for support, feeling confident about the distance, beautiful sunny day, but then it all ended up working out very differently than I had expected.  There’s a possibility I may have had one to many cups of coffee during the morning leading up to the start and that, combined with nervous excitement, worry about how hot it would get (seriously hot), and not going to the loo enough beforehand, all contributed to let’s say feeling ‘uncomfortable’ almost all the way around which seriously affected my pace (but did keep me moving forward).

Starting at Sudeley Castle main car park we set off from the beautiful stately home grounds then quickly out to the surrounding roads and onto the fields.  There were a few stiles to navigate and narrow sections where we had to go single file so more walking pace than I would have liked, but, that did give time to take in the beautiful views and catch my breath.  Most of my training does not involve any elevation at all so even a gentle slope made itself felt.  About an hour in, past the turning off for the shorter route I followed the middle route I’d signed up for, past the first aid station, feeling alright even with the high summer sun heating things up, had found somewhere to duck out for a wee, then reached the main hill.  I saw everyone else walking, I decided to march/run as much as possible.  This was my biggest mistake I think.  I heard my inner voice saying ‘I feel sick’ quite a few times and kept going at it.  Eventually decided an energy bar might help although I probably needed water more I wasn’t enjoying it when I did try to drink.  The rest of the run from here was damage limitation, run/walk much slower than I’m used but as fast as I could manage, another couple of energy bars from the next aid station and managing to get some water down, some friendly support from another runner I kept meeting and passing, and even more beautiful views.  I didn’t really think about the possibility of not finishing until very near the end when the quickest way to get back was actually just to get round.  I finished.  Medal and goodies.  Toilet.  Refuelling in the shade.  Immense amount of gratitude for having mum and dad there to get me home (unfortunately with an emergency stop, my inner voice was right).  Full of determination to go back next year and do it again and see if I can improve.  Physical discomfort aside, which is not unusual when running even at the best of times, it was totally worth it.  Oh, and check out the photos… such a beautiful summer day!

 

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Post-Marathon Re-Focus

In the first couple of weeks post-marathon – brimming with renewed enthusiasm for running and training ‘properly’ this time – I kept my runs to short distances of 3-4 miles and focused on going out regularly and consistently.  I also took the opportunity to do some non-running sessions to give me some different movements to play with.  Getting to another instructor’s class has is also helpful in giving my brain a break and allowing me to concentrate more on what my body is doing.  In the first week I went to a yoga class where, happily, the instructor was in need of some de-stressing so it was a lovely gentle stretchy twisty class that really helped revive the legs.

Something I noticed during excessive Instagram browsing was that a lot of other runners seemed to be running marathons really close together or ramping the milage back up again much more quickly than I was.  My competitive streak is almost non-existent but it is there and was triggered by this so that I started looking at whether an autumn marathon this year would be possible.  New Forest being a particularly appealing option for location and not overlapping too closely with the already booked Oxford Half Marathon.  On reflection I decided against.  Races are not that cheap to enter, especially the longer distances and factoring in travel times and taking time off work (yep, Sunday classes).  This gives me loads of time to focus on building up the intensity and distance of my training sessions gradually without the pressure aiming to be at a certain level in a short amount of time.  Also, for me, I think the excitement of a race might fade with frequency so spacing them out gives me something to really look forward to.

May’s training went really, really well.  I ticked all the planned sessions off as scheduled.  This included 7.5 mile ‘pace’ session, a steady but fast tempo run to increase speed and endurance, and a 10 mile ‘comfortable’ session also for endurance but at an easier sustainable pace.  The pace session was on such a hot, humid day and I was determined to challenge myself with it and ended up feeling really queasy for a few hours afterwards which has never really happened before.  Based on that I’ll aim to get future runs done earlier in the day when possible.  The 10 miler felt great, there is a magic moment in the longer runs where I zone out and running feels endless but in a weirdly good way.  Then stopping feels disruptive somehow.  Really looking forward to more of those and pleased to find that now, at the end of the month, I am still as excited and motivated to train as at the start.

Hello, June! Let’s see what you’ve got for me…

2018 Training Plans

Over the past couple of years a lot of my focus and physical energy has been on gaining new fitness instructing qualifications (e.g. BodyPump, BodyCombat) but with all that starting to tick along nicely I decided it was time to set a different challenge and revisit what got me really into fitness in the first place – running.  Having run several 10ks and a few half marathons it felt time to move up to full marathon distance.  26.2 miles.  Twenty six point two MILES. Yikes.

I entered Brighton Marathon with a WWF charity place and set myself up with a training plan.  [I use my.asics.com for this and would recommend to site to anyone looking for guidance on how to structure their running training.]   When the longer training runs started to appear on the calendar I struggled with them a lot more than I’d imagined in various ways.  For example, fitting it in the weekend around a social life, and then needing energy to have recovered enough for work, not knowing quite how to layer up effectively against the freezing cold.   The couple of snowy weekends we had limited how far I was able to run when I was supposed to be increasing mileage and throughout the couple of months leading up to marathon day (15 April) I swore I would not be putting myself through any of this ever again and couldn’t wait for the whole thing to be over.

Once the tapering phase, reduced mileage and reduced weights in BodyPump, kicked in I started to be able to look forward to a trip to Brighton and was determined to enjoy the whole experience as much as possible.  In hindsight I must have been more anxious about being able to actually complete the thing than I realised.  When it actually came around I had an absolutely brilliant day.  Getting up, fed, and on my way to the start line was relatively stress free, given I was in an unfamiliar place, and from there it was easy: dump the bag, queue up, and just… run.  The running almost continuously for five hours was about as hard as I’d expected, certainly not too much worse, and at times even felt really good.  Crossing the line was emotional.  I realised that I hadn’t been convinced I would be able to finish.  But I did.  I did it.

After the event I slept so well – a combination of the physical activity and the release of the stress of having been worrying about it – that the next day and for the rest of the week I somehow felt so much better, more motivated calmer, and more ‘myself’ than I have done for a very long time.  Perhaps, ever.  So of course I immediately started researching other marathons.  Less than a month after swearing “never again”.

In the last month since the event I have briefly entertained the idea of attempting an autumn marathon this year but decided to hold off until I can take more time to build up to it more gradually.  Post-marathon running volumes are comparatively low, doing 3-5 miles per session rather than the 7 milers and 13-16s that I had worked up to beforehand.  The next big focus for me now is to run the Oxford Half Marathon in October which will my fifth go at this event.  High on the sense of achievement from Brighton I’m looking for a personal best – to beat my 2014 time of 1:48:40.  This will mean I need to be to be around 45 seconds faster per mile (for the 13.1 miles).  So, the focus for training over the summer will need to include practicing speed work as well as building back up to longer distance runs.

To help keep me focused and on track with this, and in the hope that my readers might find it inspiring or at least interesting, I will be sharing my training progress and thoughts on the process here on this blog.  Watch this space!

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