Snow, sand and sunshine

Yesterday I ran in the fresh snow and sunshine and it was glorious, but oh so tough. Patchy breath in the cold air. Eyes and nose streaming into the wind. Slowly picking out footsteps through the fresh snow. A deceptive softness gave way to iron ice and aching arches, struggling to find that perfect rhythm of breath and stride.

My usual route was slippy and I took a couple of diversions, having to slow down to a walk on some steps and slopes. I’d gone out thinking I’d do a 10k, but the depth of the snow in places surprised me, and I decided to cut it short and turn back at a local landmark. Gerty the Garmin beeped to say 4k, and I thought ‘8k, in these conditions… that’s not bad.’

I treated myself to a trot along the beach with the wind behind me and tucked my gloves into my pocket. I’d slowed my pace to master my breath and just couldn’t seem to pick it up again. My legs felt heavy, hamstrings constricted. Across the hard packed sand I could feel my feet and knees turning inwards. Where were my long lolloping strides?

But the snow and sunshine brought the best out in the people I passed on my return journey. Not many runners, save a group who overtook me early on. But the dog walkers and parents with kids on sledges stopped or sidestepped out of the way.

Down to the beach again for the last stretch, avoiding paths now churned and rutted with snow. But I’d miscalculated, and as Gerty rang up 8k, I was still at least 1k from home. So I carried on and ground out a last couple, abs pulling and legs protesting as I doubled back on the sands to make up the distance.

On reflection, maybe not the best decision, as my goal is now speed, rather than endurance. But having let myself off with a slower pace, I felt the least I could do was finish, even if it was my slowest ever 10k. And I do enjoy running on the beach.

Back home and time to reflect. There was a slight pull at the top of my right leg that I eased through the afternoon with stretches. So it was an unwelcome surprise when I felt that familiar bruised feeling at the top of my left thigh this morning. I’d forgotten what a tight ITB band feels like.

Was it running on such an uneven surface? Running in the cold (even though I didn’t feel cold), or just a symptom of picking up the training again? It’s not the sharp ouch that told me I really needed to sort it out last time, but a dull reminder, as though I’d slipped and fallen on my side.

Or is it my shoes? On a couple of runs now, they’ve felt kind of flat, like some of the bounce has gone. I had to take out the insoles to fit my orthotics, but that combination saw me through plenty of mileage in training for the Great North Run.

I examine the soles of my trusty trainers and see some signs of battle scars. It seems I land more heavily on my right foot than my left, and near the ball of my foot and at the front, some of the tread is heavily worn.

I have new shoes, as yet un-worn. Still box fresh and sparkling as the snow. Maybe this week I’ll give them a run in on the treadmill. Just so long as I can soothe out these niggles that remind me – this won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

10k in 59.21
1. 5.31
2. 5.58
3. 6.12
4. 6.18
5. 5.46
6. 6.29
7. 6.05
8. 5.51
9. 5.35
10. 5.29

Don’t think I’ve run a 6.xx kilometre since I worked out how to do splits on the Garmin. Blame the snow.

Tough 9

I was brimming with confidence for today’s run. A decent solo run on Saturday and a couple of good swims and I felt like I was back on form and much more settled in my head now I’ve decided to put all my efforts into my next 10k race.

I meet up with Ian and we’re off and the pace is hot, faster than I’m used to and I’m trying to settle my breathing, find a rhythm.

And I fought it pretty much the whole way round. Today it just felt like I was putting in more effort than I was getting back in return. It never felt smooth and zen like and it was all in my breathing and my head.

I had to constantly think deep breaths, in and out, control it, ease it to stop the panicky catch. I had to keep on reminding myself to stretch out, lengthen the pace.

At least four times I really wanted to stop. I was even grateful when the traffic meant we had to jog on the spot before crossing the road. But I didn’t stop. I ploughed on and kept on trying to catch him and keep up.

And he was being his usual brilliant coach, and lord knows I was trying to stay positive, but it was hard going. We were aiming for a fast 10k, but my mean old Garmin only gave me a 9, against my Nike’s 10.

I felt the rush of adrenaline when I finished and was pleased I hadn’t completely caved in, but I’m quite tough on myself and I thought I’d managed a similar pace on Saturday when I felt reasonably comfortable.

Quick shower and back to my desk for salmon, veggies and couscous that didn’t hit the sides. Good job there was nothing too taxing this afternoon, just some copy checking and edits, as I was a bit zonked out and shivery. It took a hot chocolate to sort me out.

Back at home I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about today’s run. It was tough, yes. And scary, because I have to run faster than that and more sustained if I want to get that sub 50 10k. And actually comparing the real stats and splits, I ran a lot harder and faster than I did on Saturday, so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

But that’s good, because it stops me getting too cocky. It’s a reminder that I’ve set myself a challenging goal and it won’t be easy to reach it. And I’ll have to push myself, and sometimes that will be hard. Right now I’m wondering how on earth I managed 51.55 in my last 10k back in November.

But think back and remember when practically every run was tough like that. Or more recently when every swim was like that. When every breath was a challenge and every step or stroke a small victory.

I can do it. I know I’ll get the best training and advice and support I can from Ian. And I know it’s there in myself now I have the focus and determination and desire. And I know there will be tough days, when it doesn’t go right and the doubts creep in. But those are the moments that count, that make you appreciate the times when it all goes well, and everything feels smooth and easy.

I’m just paying my dues.

9km in 47.33

1. 4.32
2. 5.08
3. 5.10
4. 5.27
5. 5.06
6. 5.25
7. 5.39
8. 5.30
9. 5.25

Steady run Saturday

I was feeling the effects of a tough end of the week training. Boxercise with lots of push ups and leg draining exercises on Wednesday, a punishingly brilliant PT session with weighted intervals and a swim on Thursday night.

Saturday’s often a rest day. A day when I get my chores done – shopping, washing, the usual stuff. But the forecast was for rain all day Sunday, so I did my chores thinking all the time about getting out for a run mid-afternoon.

I set off with two goals – to run for an hour and to test out my new contact lenses. An hour’s not much more than I ran on my long run last weekend, but psychologically the time, rather than the distance goal made me pace more steadily.

I started off and my hands were cold, so I pulled down my sleeves to cover them. I was pleased I’d opted to go back and add a short sleeve top over my long sleeve one. But I knew I didn’t need gloves and my hands warmed up before I was really aware of it.

I settled quickly, running steady, steady, keeping the breathing easy and even. I stretched out the pace and pushed off the back foot, keeping it smooth and easy. I took a couple of inclines, little steps, little steps and leant forward slightly into the wind.

It felt smoother this week. Easier because I wasn’t wrestling with my thoughts so much. My legs were still carrying the remnants of the week’s training, so I eased them out gently, warming through the muscles, stretching out and keeping it steady, steady.

I passed the usual markers and turned for home after 30 minutes. The half way point was not so troublesome this time. The wind dropped and I took advantage of a long flat straight to push on.

I barely glimpsed at the Garmin – back to running the time, never mind the distance. But when I did catch a glimpse the pace looked good, and the breathing felt easy.

I began to feel my calves and hamstrings tighten in the last couple of kilometres, but it wasn’t far to go and by focusing on rolling through my feet and trying to lessen the impact, I pushed on.

I finished within sight of home, stetched out my tight muscles, feeling a weirdly satisfying pull across my abs and jogged back.

So what did I learn on this run?

  • Steady, steady is good. My kilometre splits have been pretty consistent on my last two runs. I seem to find my pace and stay there. And I’m getting faster.
  • Relaxed in my head means relaxed in my breathing and overall running.
  • I don’t need my iPod for this kind of run any more. I’ve raced without it and now I can train without it. The music was great for distracting me and encouraging me, but I’ve got it within myself to do that now.
  • The contact lenses are great – no noticeable difference from when I’m running with my glasses, but maybe more of a sense of freedom.
  • I surprised myself by knocking a minute off last week’s 10k time – 53.54.

    11.19km in 1 hour

    Splits (km):
    1. 5.05
    2. 5.21
    3. 5.24
    4. 5.36
    5. 5.26
    6. 5.17
    7. 5.16
    8. 5.24
    9. 5.24
    10. 5.21

    400m front crawl in the bag

    Regular readers will know that I’ve been trying to improve my swimming. I took some lessons in November to learn how to breathe properly when swimming front crawl, with a view to completing a sprint triathlon this year.

    It’s been incredibly frustrating at times, unlearning my bad habits and trying to get my body to learn new ones. I also had to fight a panic instinct about breathing out under water, but I had a very patient teacher.

    Since my lessons I’ve just been practising and practising. But progress has felt incredibly slow. I could barely string two lengths of a 20m pool together swimming properly, whereas if I stuck my head out of the water, I could pootle up and down all day. Back in November I managed 5 lengths in one go – a whole 100m. And then never managed to do that again…until last night.

    Last night I got in the pool and had about 15 minutes before my aqua aerobics class. So I challenged myself to swim 200m – which I did with a set of 4 and 2×3 lengths. Then I did a 45 min class, splashing around in the pool.

    After the class, the pool was clear, so I thought I’d have another go. This time I wanted to see if I could swim 200m in one go.

    Now here’s the thing… I actually swim better when I’m a bit tired. It means I slow down and don’t thrash my arms so much trying desperately to get to the side of the pool.

    So I started nice and slow, giving myself plenty of time for the in-breath. And I just kept going. I did 10 lengths easy and I said to myself, ‘Just see how many more you can do.’ And I kept going, and going until I reached 20 lengths. That’s 400m or the distance I’ll have to swim in a sprint triathlon. And I did it in 10mins 30 secs.

    Woohoo! I can’t tell you how fantastic I felt. It was like the day I ran to the roundabout and back without stopping last year. Something just clicked and I’d got it.

    And now I’ve done it, I know I can do it again. And maybe I can get a bit faster, a bit smoother through the water too.

    There are still challenges to face with my triathlon goal – like getting on a bike for one and then stringing all these separate disciplines together for another. But it’s coming together and I’m starting to have faith in myself that I can do this.

    Now all I need to do is pick my event and enter it.

    First 10k of the year

    Christmas, family, snow, ice, wind, rain, having a cold…there are lots of reasons why I haven’t done a long run for a while. In fact, I just checked my training log and my last run over 5 miles was on 12 December.

    So it’s kind of been hanging over me until today when I got out there and did it. And it was a great day for a run, sun shining, not too windy – even the threatened ice failed to appear out at the coast on my regular route.

    I settled into the familiar pattern. Go off quick and start questioning what’s possible, how far I’ll go, what’s a valid excuse for cutting it short. And then relax and slow down a little and find my feet and my breath and my rhythm and stop thinking so much.

    Not sure whether to push on or hold it here, where it feels relatively comfortable, mechanical even. I start reversing my old mantra – never mind the time, just run the distance. And slowly, slowly the landmarks are ticked off.

    I know every incline, every camber of the pavement, every rough patch of this route. And today I take all of the harder options; all the little inclines, the rough bit of tarmac I’m cautious of stumbling over, the short run across soggy grass.

    The halfway point approaches and I’m flagging. And somewhere quietly in my mind, I say to myself, ‘you could take a 30 second walk, just get your head together for the return leg’.

    I spot a marker and determine to run to it. It’s past the halfway point, so I know the return leg will be shorter, and I’ve already run further than I have for a long time. Playing mindgames with myself, the temptation of a breather is forgotten as I turn into the sun.

    And once I’m through that little wibble, I start to relax again and stretch out. Take advantage of the flat sections and push on. And now I start thinking, ‘What would be good? What would you be pleased with?’

    Because I’ve got enough experience to know that I won’t automatically be back where I was last time I ran a 10k race. It’s not like the early days, where every run I was pushing to be faster, further than the last and tying myself in knots if I didn’t succeed, never mind the weather, never mind what other training I’d done that week.

    There’s a point on my route at which I always think, ‘It’s just running home from here’. Which is illogical as it’s way past the point at which I turn and reverse my route. But it’s a good psychological boost. It’s the same point that I marked the very first time I ran this distance. The point at which I knew I could do it.

    And the runners are out today, enjoying the sunshine, smiling as they pass. I wave at my friend Kathryn at the start of my run and wonder how far she’ll get today. There’s a tangible sense of release, of relief, of freedom in the air. It’s a new year, a new start, new goals, new opportunities. And today I’m out there with them again. It feels good.

    I push on a bit more towards the end, not wanting to be a slave to my Garmin, but to give this run a good honest challenge. I haven’t got the legs for a sprint finish, but I fix my eyes on a lamp post and tell myself to run there at interval pace. My legs are heavy and won’t move as quickly as I want them to. My breath comes in catches, which always frightens me. But I make it and the glorious Garmin biddly boop signifies the end of my run.

    10k in 54.39
    1. 5.01
    2. 5.28
    3. 5.25
    4. 5.29
    5. 5.42
    6. 5.24
    7. 5.34
    8. 5.28
    9. 5.34

    More ups than downs

    There was a day this week when I was all grrr, and fed up and cynical and wondering ‘what’s the point, really?’ Now I can’t even remember what that was all about.

    I love my PT sessions on a Thursday morning. We’ve got a great venue down the beach and Ian is just brilliant at keeping things interesting, motivating me, moving my fitness on a bit more each time.

    We’ve done all sorts of different types of training – from running intervals to working with the boxing pads. Ian builds each session around what his clients want to achieve. So, at the start I needed to work on my cardio. Then when I started running on my own a lot more, he developed training that would help me build up my leg muscles and endurance for longer distance races.

    Now my sessions mainly focus on weights and resistance. I’ve even got my own kettlebell now. It’s been a fantastic training tool, and I love the whole body workout.

    But Thursday’s training session is about more than just an hour throwing weights around on a beach. The effect lasts much longer. That positive rush of endorphins and adrenaline sends me bouncing into work, knowing that whatever happens I’ve achieved something with my day.

    This week it carried me right through to an evening swimming session.

    I’ve decided my big goal this year is to complete a sprint triathlon. It’s a big challenge. As big as running the Great North Run was for me last year, maybe even bigger, because I’ve got other boxes I want to tick too.

    So I’ve been swimming. Taken some lessons to learn how to breathe properly when doing front crawl and practised, practised, practised. On Thursday, for the first time, I timed myself swimming 400m front crawl (including a few breathers at the end of 3 or 4 lengths) and I did it in 13.20.

    I know that’s not startling, but I was kind of surprised. And I know I can bring that time down, even if by nothing more than stringing those four lengths into six, then eight, then ten and so on until I can swim the distance continuously without a break. I also did another couple of 200m sets that came in around the 5.30/6.00 min mark.

    So that’s a marker – a base point from which to measure my progress. It’s about challenging myself to do better, not necessarily measuring myself against others. I’ve already made great progress with swimming, undoing old habits and learning a new way to move through the water more efficiently and I know I’ll get better. Thursday night was really the first time I believed that my triathlon goal wasn’t so ridiculous.

    So where are the downs then? Well, I didn’t get a place in the first ballot for the Great North Run. I must have checked my email a hundred times on Friday – hoping, hoping. I still have a chance in the general ballot – fingers crossed. But I was a bit disappointed.

    I’ve also missed out on a triathlon that I was eyeing up as it’s already full. I’d debated and questioned whether it realistically gave me enough time to train for it, and by the time I’d been convinced, it was no longer an option.

    But I’ve dealt with both those, in the grand scheme of things, rather small disappointments, better than I would have in the past. Because there are always other races, other events, other challenges.

    And there are always Thursdays training on the beach.

    I've changed…

    So, my first target race isn’t until April and I’m not training for a marathon. I’ve run 2.7 miles this week in the snow, done half a boxercise session (before they decided to close the gym), a full hour PT session on the beach, had a wee swim and a couple of good 30 min walks in the snow.

    So why am I driving myself nuts over the fact I haven’t run today?

    With Christmas and this white stuff I haven’t managed to fit in a long run (10k ish) for a few weeks. So the option was there today, and quite frankly, I dithered. Fresh snow on the ground, bright blue skies, nowhere particular to be, and I didn’t get my trainers on. I pottered around the house this morning, looking at the sky thinking, “I’ll get out for a run in a bit”.

    But by the time I was set, the wind had picked up and the skies were threatening more snow. So I decided to be cautious. Get wrapped up and take a walk to my local shops to pick up some ingredients so I could make soup, and get an idea of the wind chill factor.

    A lovely walk through the snow, extended down onto the beach, and I was still undecided. At times my cheeks were freezing as the wind slapped them, but mostly I was warm and snuggly under my layers.

    At least I’d shrugged off the threat of cabin fever and wore out my legs a little. So I’m thinking, “Run tomorrrow. Outdoors if it’s not too icy, indoors if there’s no other choice.”

    And now there’s soup on the stove, about half an hour of daylight left, and I’m still asking myself if I made the right decision.

    So what do I do?

    A 1.4 mile run, made up of a joglet down to the beach and a quick once along the sands and back.

    1.44 miles in 13.31 mins – 8.31, 5.00

    It was a lot colder out there than when I was dithering earlier. And the icy wind coming over the waves made me glad that I wore my hat.

    My home-made soup is just as tasty and warm as I hoped. And I’m a lot happier 🙂