Achievements and setbacks.

The last few weeks have been a series of highs and lows as regards running.On February the 19th I completed the Village Bakeries Half marathon and hated every minute of it. I can’t quite put my finger on the issue but I think my head just wasn’t in it. I was running alone, the course was dull (country lanes and an industrial estate), and I think frankly I was bored! I just couldn’t be bothered with it. I had signed up for the event primarily as a training run with the advantage of getting some bling and I think I hadn’t quite decided if I was trying to beat a PB (currently set at 1:59:44 in Conwy in November ’16) or if was just having a run without time pressure. Because of this I kept allowing myself to walk (training run – doesn’t matter) and beating myself up for not keeping a good pace (trying to beat a PB!) I didn’t settle into a rhythm at any point and my legs just hurt and said ‘no’. I finished the run grimacing and pathetic only to see my dear friend Thandi and her family in the crowd cheering me on. I couldn’t have been more pleased to see such a welcome face but I did feel like a bit of an idiot for pulling my ‘help me, this is horrid, I’m about to cry’ expression (I may have been being just a little dramatic).  I crossed the line to be confronted with some well meaning folk handing out flyers for further long-distance events. Err – no! I want to die. I may have shot them ‘the look’ (Sorry!!) I collected my hard earned medal and was duly presented with my pack of crumpets. This, frankly added insult to injury. What the heck am I supposed to do with 6 untoasted crumpets when I’m exhausted, hungry and at least an hour away from a toaster!!! On balance I have chalked this up as my least favourite event ever. The mile walk back from the finish line to the car park confirmed this as fact.

Video of me finishing the Half Bakeries – thanks for that!.

So old misery here picked herself up and started grading some blogs written by students on the ‘Born to Run’ module. I am so hugely impressed, humbled and inspired by them all. They have learned so much during the module and have applied it to their running, themselves and to their lives in general. Time to get my head back in the game. The following weekend saw the Ruthin 10k – another race I thought  would be running alone when I signed up, but it turns out that about 5 of my students were also doing the run. We met up at the start and I was a little bit hyperactive and excited. It was really nice to be able to chat and chill out with them before the run. I sneaked a look at the bling before the race and was suitably impressed (I also noted some flapjack) – game on. This was going to be ok. We walked to the line together and then off we went. I applied my usual ‘make hay while the sun shines’ approach to down hills and flew off. The course was pretty up and down and it was quite a nice day for run. Buoyed by the fact that this was a mere 10k (when did it become ‘just 10k’?) I set of at a good pace and managed to keep it up. I think i had various songs from Grease going around my head but hey – it seemed to work. Crossed the line with a PB (54:22 and 10th in my category) and made a beeline for the flapjack. Best ever.  I then cheered the students over the line and seriously impressed by their determination and ability. Some of them had been injured in the lead up to the event, some had fallen behind in training, some had only had 4 hours sleep but all were utterly AWESOME!

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Happy faces pre-Ruthin

A week later I watched about 16 of my students from the cross the line for the Anglesey Half marathon on 5th March. Huge High – they’re amazing and I feel terribly impressed and proud of them. Most of these students hadn’t run more than about 5k at the beginning of the year – in fact most of them hadn’t even done that – and there they were completing 13.1m. Each and every one of them completed and they seem to have had an awesome time doing it. Crashing low – the weather was absolutely FOUL. I have never seen such disgusting, cold, bitter, damp weather for running a half before. I suspect if I had been signed up for the race I may well have turned around and gone home. I was worried that this experience might have put them off. It is only when you run 13.1 miles and are truly grateful to cross the line that the enormity of 26.2 really hits you. On top of this they were drenched through, had blisters, were freezing and felt that their hands were so cold they might never feel them again! But no – they were buzzing and spurred on to continue training hard for the marathon in May.

James, Nat and Imogen finishing Anglesey

The 12th March I took part in the Wrexham half marathon and ran with my friend Emma. She had done the Anglesey the week before so wasn’t gunning for a PB and was quite happy to run along with me. We had a really nice time and it was so much better running with someone than on my own. I decided to apply science to this race and have a plan. I worked out what pace we would need to run for 5k, and then how much to pick it up for the remainder in order to secure a 1:58 and I applied all the advice I had heard during the module from Rob Samuel and Russell Bentley. These guys know what they’re on about so I took heed and did as I was told. Had myself a little ‘power pose’ before the start (thanks Russell) and took my first gel after just 30 mins (thanks Rob). I don’t think my fitbit was recording pace properly so my ‘science’ went a bit out of the window and I had to rely on good old fashioned maths at every marker, but we were doing a good steady pace. I had a bit of a head wobble around 6 miles and my legs stopped running. This is what I have to work on – mind over matter (still rubbish at it!) Emma managed to get me started again and we then consumed huge amounts of energy gels and jelly babies, and finished the race with a PB for me (1:59:04). Happy with that. Bumped into Rob after the race, who was under strict instructions not to push it following an injury and joked ‘did you win then?!’ To which he replied ‘yes’. Brilliant! What a legend. I then found out that Russell had won the full marathon so our Psychrunners really have been learning from the best.

I wasn’t hurting too badly after the half and I delivered my lecture on Monday on the relationship between anxiety and arousal and how we can harness that feeling to improve our performance. I reflected on my recent runs and really enjoyed giving the class. I had a quick swim that afternoon whilst the kids were having lessons (50 lengths in 25 mins). The next day was the seminar for the module – on perception of pain and psychological strategies for pain reduction and then we went for a run. we did about 8k and covered a couple of pretty steep hills. All good – no pain.

Wednesday this week was the usual Brigantia Harriers (a bunch of academics who are actually pretty serious runners who I fail to keep up with on a regular basis!) and we went off at the pace of a Huskie. No, actually we did. Rich took his lovely big dog Bowie along and we all trotted after him. I got a few cups on Strava but I hurt. A lot.

 

I think the weekend was catching up on me. I had Piriformis pain, and the top of my hip was also hurting.  I turned back, whilst the others went off for a crazy long run, but managed to turn my ankle on the way home. My ankles are my achilles heel so to speak. I have sprained my ankles so many times over the years, and I have sprained them badly. I have a calcified tendon on my right foot because it has been sprained and healed so many times. However, I have escaped my own stupidity and clumsiness for quite some time now and I think that running has actually helped strengthen my ankles. This is also the reason I run on pavements rather than off road – I am scared of uneven ground. Anyway, I managed to run back on my ankle and its definitely not the worst I’ve ever done but it is inflamed and it does hurt. I shall take a forced rest for a few days and try something gentle at the weekend. I am supposed to do a 7 mile this weekend but I shall see how it goes. Plenty of ibruprofen, rest and foam rolling and I should be ok the for 14 mile next weekend!!!

 

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Adjusting my plan for injury

Its week 4 of the module (Born to Run) an marathon training has been going pretty well. I am super impressed with our students and how they have all committed to this crazy idea. We have all learned so much about the psychology of endurance running and have had some great runs together. Here they are, making their implementation intentions known by leaving the class by the ‘I am a marathoner’ door (rather than the ‘way out’)!

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Our students have also been documenting their journeys through a number of blogs which I have LOVED reading. Here’s a great one discussing Grit.

We now all have training plans and are heading in the right direction, but inevitably niggles and pains are cropping up and we are all having to learn how to adjust our short-term goals in order to maintain our long term goal of running the marathon on 28th May.

I have struggled for a couple of years with a dodgy Achilles but if I look after it, its ok and  I have been able to get some good long runs in. However…(and perhaps in compensation for my Achilles) the inside edge of the arch of my left foot is now hurting and is inflamed. This has been threatening for some time but I thought it might go away. Its not debilitating but it is concerning. Its particularly concerning since I am running a half marathon on Sunday 19th Feb (in 3 days!) I think I have now self-diagnosed with Abductor Hallucis Strain which is a new one on me and took a while to research. Its basically the tendon running along the inside of my foot and sorts out the alignment of my big toe. Problems here are related to weak ankles (tick), over pronation (tick although I have good shoes now), Achilles tendonitis (tick) and bunions (tick – but weirdly not on that foot!!!) Advice seems to be rest, ice, and some kind of taping of the foot – this I shall look into.

I have already got a 10 mile and an 11 mile run under my belt in preparation for the run, and I know I can do the distance since I have run two half marathons before. With the need for ‘rest’ in mind I decided to not do my longer run last weekend (should have been 6 miles) and instead let my foot rest. I have been taking Ibruprofen and have been applying ice (when I remember) to the area. It seems a little better but not great. I tested it out on a group run on Tuesday when we did just under 10k (which I guess is the 6 miles I didn’t do at the weekend). My foot was sore to start with but eased off as the run progressed and I really enjoyed being out there. I have chosen not to run on Wednesday or Thursday but will try and get a 30 minute run in on Friday just to remind my legs of what to do before the race on Sunday. I also have to bear in mind that the event on Sunday is really only a training run (with bling!) for the full marathon. Therefore I need to set aside any thoughts of setting a new PB. The problem is…once I get there and start running I will be clock-watching! Maybe I’ll leave the watch behind….?

Its really frustrating when you can’t stick to your plan, and I used to worry and panic about it. However, I am feeling pretty relaxed about the whole thing and I think listening to my body and having strategic rest is just as effective (if not more so) then logging extra mileage. On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the worst) I am only rating this as about a 2 have decided all will be fine. Better nip and get some more Ibruprofen!

 

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Well Friday nights have changed….

So we are into week 2 of the Born to Run psychology  module and now 17 weeks away from the Liverpool Rock n Roll marathon. Along the way, and to promote my sense of achievement, I thought it a good idea to sign up for some interim events. So at the end of January when my overdraft was already straining under the weight of Christmas and various family birthdays I signed up for a bunch of races including the Wrexham Village Bakeries half Marathon on the 19th February. I figured that if I am going to have to do long runs at the weekend to train for the marathon I may as well enter events and get something for doing them (I am all about the bling!)   I don’t why I signed up to this one – I have never done it before, nor do I know anyone who has. Perhaps there was some subconscious hope that, along side my highly sought after bling, there may be some cakes at the finish line…?

Although my full marathon plan is ticking along nicely I realised I had better get some serious mileage in a few weeks before the half so I adjusted my plan to include a 9 mile run last weekend. All good. And then the juggling began!  It turned out that my husband was going to be away all weekend and would therefore not be able to have the kids whilst I indulged in some pavement pounding on Sunday. The length of the run (over an hour and a half plus stretching, recovering, showering and eating!) meant that I couldn’t really impose upon anyone to have them all for me. This unforeseen inconvenience to my plans would, in the past, have given me a perfect excuse not to bother. Not now – now I MUST run 9 miles! No problem, I know what I’ll do, I just swap the Friday 45 minute run with the Sunday long run and leave the kids with their Nana for less than an hour on Sunday. Perfect – I can even leave work a little early and get on with the run on Friday afternoon since I am not on school run that afternoon. Perfect, except it turns out I was supposed to do the school run (oops, sorry school for being a little late) and hubs was stuck in traffic and would be super late home.

Got home, fed the kids a snack, got them ready for rugby training, got myself ready for a run, took the kids to training and stood around freezing cold until gone 7pm. THEN I could go for my run. I had my 9 mile route planned, taking in a few extra paths to increase a previous 8 mile route. It was pitch black outside and I found myself running along a farm track with uneven ground and no streetlamps at all. My trusty Ronhill LED jacket light would have to do. So carefully I jogged along the uneven section until I returned to a nice sturdy pavement. As I ran around various towns/areas I must have gone past at least three pubs. Nice pubs. Warm pubs. Pubs serving Gin and Tonic to people relaxing after a working week. In that moment I acknowledged that Friday nights have changed – I am now a marathoner.

I never used to call myself as runner, and frankly I still struggle to marry up the image of long-limbed lean athletes with my sweaty, wobbly mess of a frame (shop windows do not yield kind reflections!) However, it is moments like these when my running has to come above anything else that I realise I have been bitten by the bug. There is no return. Either that or I have fully lost my mind. But I am not alone. There are tens of thousands of mad fools like me across the country and 22 of them have agreed to do this marathon with me. The joy of Strava means that none of us can hide and all of us know that when we get home from those runs the silent ping of ‘Kudos’ will make it all worthwhile. And just to prove it to myself I did 10 miles that night – and then had a Gin and Tonic whilst checking Strava!

 

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The necessary evil of hill repeats

So its still 11 days until marathon training officially begins, but having built up to a half-marathon at the end of November I want to maintain my fitness and shed a few further pounds before the serious distance training starts. My history of running, albeit short, has been punctuated with injuries. These haven’t been too major but they have been as a result of ill-informed training, increasing mileage too quickly or (and most likely) carrying a little extra padding! Whilst the effect of weight on injuries is under debate I would certainly feel much better running alongside my 20-something year old students if I could shift a bit and I feel certain my running will improve.

The problem with distance running is that you practice long slow mileage, increasing your mileage either every week, or intermitently over a longer period, until you reach your goal. Long distance running is great for overall health but if you want to improve your race time and speed up fat burning then High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)  is where its at. The basic premise is short sharp bursts of intense activity interspersed with moderate activity or pace. This could take the form of short fast sprints followed by easy effort running to recover such as Fartlek or, as was brought into sharp focus this week, hill repeats.

Monday this week I bit the bullet and, after a half mile warm up jog I attacked a short steep hill 10 times. The hill in question is about 100 metres long and reasonably steep without being silly. I have done this hill repeat before but not for a while and I only managed 8 last time. Needless to say these were not ‘sprints’ as such – just me trying really hard to get to the top at something faster than a tortoise pace. But, 10 reps were completed and I finished my run with a half mile cool down all the while feeling thankful that I wouldn’t have to do that again for a while.

I have started running with some colleagues at work recently – colleagues who are significantly better than me but generous enough of spirit to accomodate my novice running. Over the few months I have been running with them we have gone for some nice 8-10k lunch time runs up and over a few hills sometimes, or occassionally around the running track. Having this regular week day run blocked out in my diary has really helped me to stay on track (pardon the pun) with training. If the run is in my diary no other meetings get booked over that lunch time and, so long as my running gear makes it into work with me, there are very few excuses left as to why a run won’t happen. Running with a buddy or a group is a great way to stay motivated and to ensure that you don’t let them (or yourself) down.

This particular wednesday the running gear made it into work, I had kept the time free and I was ready to run – and then came the suggestion of hill repeats. No – not again!!! However, these were like no hill repeats I have ever done – the hill is about 300 metres long and gets steeper towards the top! Horrendous. I did protest and confess to having winged everso slightly (!) about this but I actually managed to do the 5 required repeats and didn’t die in the process. I was, of course, the slowest but my running chums waited for me at the top before we all went back down again for another go. Possibly they were grateful for the extra 30 seconds rest in between reps… What struck me during this training is the same thing that was pointed out to me at the end of a race once (where I came fourth from last!) I was feeling slightly embarrassed about being so rubbish but my husband, who had watched everyone else cross the line before me, noted that yes I was purple, exhausted and lying flat on my back at the finish line, but so had everybody else been. I was knackered and had run my heart out but so had everyone else. We had all given it all we had, and the same was true of the hill-repeat session.

Its really important to remember that training isn’t competition. Yes, its good to use some friendly competition to drive yourself to train your hardest (and for some people that is a real motivation) but if you support each other and recognise each other’s achievements then you have all ‘won’. I am very thankful for my running buddies and intend to continue running with (well, just behind) them for as long as I can. I’m never going to win races – that just isn’t my motivation or my ability – but I can try and beat myself and beat my previous times and hill repeats are all part of that tactic. Train hard, race easy I think is the phrase. Needless to say, my lovely long slow 8 miler that I have planned for saturday is looking lush right now.

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New year – back in the trainers! A new module is born.

So after two weeks of a stinking cold and far too much booze and mince pies, the serious business of marathon training begins. From now until 28th May 2017 I will be training to run my first marathon. Just to make sure I don’t shirk my training or back out at any point I am running this marathon as part of a brand new module at Bangor University called ‘Born to Run: achieve your goals’. During this module Prof John Parkinson and I will teach theories of positive and motivational psychology to 20 year three Psychology students. These theories will be applied to distance running in a series of workshops and ‘practical sessions’! Yep we will all be running together once a week and then completing additional training in our own time.

As we build our distance, strengthen our muscles and improve our performance we will also be developing skills of resilience, determination and positivity. The characteristics required by, and developed in, marathon runners are the same qualities which can be applied to success and goal achievement in all areas of life, including employment. We aim to develop 20 individuals who, at present, are ‘non-runners’ (run less than 5k regularly) and give them an awesome experience which will stay with them for life. Each of the students will be writing and publishing a blog every week documenting their progress and applying the theories they have learnt to the running practice they undertake. I will be linking to these posts and collating interesting elements from them in my own weekly journal, or blog…or ‘jog’!

My running history is relatively brief but worth sharing. I am 38 years old (a squeek away from 39!) and began running in late 2013. I have never been a runner and actively avoided all running at school and from then on. I was, however, a very keen and competent swimmer and have also thoroughly enjoyed rock-climbing during my time in North Wales. After three kids and with a busy job I decided the time had finally come to get back in shape, but I needed something cheap, flexible and regular as an activity. I can’t commit to always being free at 7pm for Zumba, or being able to attend a gym enough times a week to make a membership worth while but being able to stick on my trainers and go out of the door when there’s a free half an hour seemed to work for me.

I started off slow – really slow, by running 2k along the sea front to the next village and then walk-running back. I build up gradually to being able to run about 5k which i did a two to three times a week. My activity came and went and there were long periods when I did nothing at all. Summer, Christmas, visitors, too much work were all excellent excuses not to go running. I watched the Twin piers 10k race take place in Jan 2014 and thought that I would like to have a go at that. I hurt my knees at some point that year so had to have some physio and strengthen up some muscles that clearly both I and my body had forgotten existed. Later in the year I was able to run a bit more and started also going to the athletics track once a week to do brutal speed training work. Seriously hated that, but it stood me in good stead and I ran the twin piers in Jan 2015 in 58 minutes. Later that year I ran a 5 mile road race and a 10k trail for race for life but managed to damage my achilles in the process. This is an injury that hasn’t quite left me, but I have learnt to manage it and I now know when to push myself and when not to. I then started going to my local Parkrun and improved my 5k time (until the weather got too brutal!)

Jan 2016 I missed the twin piers due to tooth extraction (a valid, but painful, excuse), but signed up for a few other 10ks and got my time down to 56 minutes. In May I ran the Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon in 2:05h  which was awesome fun! It is this event that we will be running with our students this year, since its such a fun event is organised brilliantly. I have since completed another 10k and also the Conwy Half Marathon, in which I squeeked under 2 hours with a chip time of 1:59:44!

And so it is that the runner in me has been born. It seems I am a runner. More than that – I am a marathoner – and it is these such positive and affirming statements that i will be repeating to myself as I undergo the next few months of training for the big 26.2!

 

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