Thoughts on today's long run

I had a tentative plan to meet up with a long time twitter pal and fellow runner this morning, but he had to look after his boys, so I was back to solo running.  Catch you next time, buddy. 

I like running by myself. I guess it’s because it’s how I started. I had to battle those ‘just stop and walk’ demons really early on; learn to get my breath, keep going and gradually, gradually get a bit further each time.

It’s really nice to know that I can pretty much always manage a 10k. It’s a long way from where I’ve come from. Did I ever think I’d be able to say that 6 miles was a comfortable run? I hope I never take that for granted. I hope I’ll always remember when a mile seemed forever.

I may not be the speediest. I may not have run the furthest. But for me, to get to where I am now and to still be enjoying it, still learning, still discovering new things about myself, well… it’s really changed my life.

I’d been a bit concerned about the hot day forecast, but a slight overclouding at the coast made me think I’d get away with a long run without being as drained as I was the last time I ventured out in the heat of the day.

I am so lucky to live right by the coast. Long flat stretches of sea, sand and scenery, it goes by in a blur on this run. And the sea breeze…well in the winter it can thwart me, stop me dead in my tracks. But on days like this, it’s a gentle balm, brushing away the sweat, stopping me from overheating.

Today I’m just focused on the road ahead, barely acknowledging the scenery on this familiar to the lighthouse and back stretch. Today it really is to the lighthouse as the causeway is dry and I need to extend my route by another kilometre.

I keep it steady and slow, ease into the run, thinking 9 minute miles, just running how I feel, but trying to make sure I have enough in the tank to complete this long run. My mental pacing seems to work.

I’m surprised to see banners and a marquee up for the North Tyneside 10k. Surely I ran that in April? There isn’t another race on today is there? I later find out it’s a walk along the same route as the Easter Sunday run.

A couple of quick rises up from the promenade and back to the coastal path set me breathing quickly, but other than that it’s smooth and easy, under control. A little mango boost just past the half way point and again as I start to tire towards the end. I’m getting better at sensing when I’m slowing down and when it helps to keep me going.

Towards the end, I start to feel tension in my right hamstring and calf, but concentrate on stretching out and keeping it smooth. I start to wonder when the Garmin’s beep will tell me I can stop and take a glance at the screen, to discover that I’ve run 0.5km further than I planned. I just forgot to start the workout session and ran in general workout mode.

It’s a good run, a solid, sensible training run. A few more miles under the belt and building up strength and confidence for the September half marathon.

So week two of training complete. And even though I skipped an interval session, because my legs just didn’t have it in them, I’m still marking this up as a good week. Quality training, focused and relaxed, and enjoying my running.

Stats: 13.5 km (8.3 miles) 1hr 15.38
Mile splits:
1. 08.42
2. 08.47
3. 08.46
4. 08.33
5. 09.12
6. 09.07
7. 09.20
8. 09.05
9. 04.02

Plus extra bonus points for a fantastic Dr Who finale.

Lessons

  • Respect the heat. Yes, you coped with it okay when you were running, but it did take more out of you than you expected.
  • Be kind to yourself. So the plan said intervals, but your legs said no. There’s nothing wrong with a gentle run/walk in the cool morning sunshine. It’s a nice way to wake up.
  • It’s training, not racing. Slow and steady pays off in strength, endurance and mental toughness.
  • This is just the beginning. You won’t get the mix right the first time.  Just decide what’s important, what will help you reach your goal and focus on that.
  • Relax and enjoy.

How come…?

I can manage 12k at the weekend and feel fit and strong, then 10k on a weekday evening leaves me feeling zonked out? Is it just the heat?

I gambled a little with an evening run on Tuesday night. I prefer mornings usually and don’t have much of a problem getting up and out bright and early. But you don’t really know unless you try and I’m still trying to work out the optimum pattern of run, rest and other training.

I did some kettlebell training in the yard (sorry… home gym with built in air conditioning) on Monday evening, so I knew it would be warm and I still had the leftovers from that in my legs. So I convinced myself to keep it steady and for once I took water with me.

One of the many advantages of running at the coast is that there’s usually a breeze of sorts, and even though it was a warm one, it helped. I wasn’t consciously clocking the Garmin, but took things at a slower pace than Sunday’s long run. I did debate cutting it short and doing around 8k, but felt I was running well and managing the heat okay.

On the return leg I lost most of the breeze and teenagers wandering along the front with ice creams were sent to taunt me. As the heat rose up from the ground and pounded my head from above, I said to myself: “This is your tough patch…this is your John Reid Road and a desperate search for shade. People have run marathons hotter than this, and you’ve only got a couple of miles to go.”

No sprint finish. I just didn’t have it in my legs. But that’s another training run in the bag, and I felt a lot better after I’d eaten and sat down for a bit. But the heat definitely made it harder work than usual.

Stats: 10k 56.17
mile splits:
1. 08.43
2. 08.59
3. 09.07
4. 08.59
5. 09.09
6. 09.02
7. 02.14 (0.2 mile)

“Right here’s where you start paying…”

I used to love the TV series Fame when I was a kid. It was the only programme I’d ask to stay up late for. So the dance teacher’s words from the opening of every episode have been ringing in my ears as I started my Great North Run training this week.

Now don’t be mistaken. This isn’t some slog, some drudgery that I have to endure. This is something that I really want to do. In fact I’m looking forward to it. I’m a creature of habit and I like to have a focus. The part of me that made a conscientious student still likes to have a plan and the satisfaction of a task well done and ticked off, even if there’s no one but myself to impress.

And so the journey begins again. But there’s so much different this year. I’m fitter, stronger and more importantly I think I understand myself and how I react to things when I’m running better than before.

From 2008 to 2009 I went from 0 miles to 13.1. And I learned to love running. It’s a relationship I’ve had to work on, and I’m sure we’ll continue to have our ups and downs. But it’s worth it.

And I’m more confident. Because, after all, I have done it before. But that doesn’t mean I’ll take it for granted. A lot could happen between now and September. But what I’m hoping will happen is that I’ll enjoy training, build up the mileage and get to that start line feeling excited confident and ready for a fantastic day.

There are many reasons why I feel an affection for this particular race. This area is my home now, and the Great North Run is part of that. Geordies, Makkems, Sanddancers may have their local rivalry and differences, but they well deserve their reputation for warmth and friendliness and never more so than on race day.

I also love it for the stories. For the hundreds of thousands who have run it and have their own race story to tell. For the millions of reasons why they do it. One of my favourite things about the race is the few moments before the start when people are encouraged to stop and think about the causes they’re running for, the memories of loved ones lost or hurting. Call me a sentimental old fool, but it is an incredibly moving moment.

I was there in 2001, when 50,000 runners fell silent in remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. And when the moment of reflection was over, they let out a cheer of such strength and life and celebration, that it seemed proved the very best of human nature.

I didn’t run in 2001, but maybe it’s where the idea first started. Last year, my first year of running, my start line story was a personal one about going from a non runner to a runner. The culmination of a long quest.

This year it will still be a personal challenge, but a poignant one too. Because I’ll be running in memory to my baby sister Ava who was sadly stillborn in February this year.

I found out I had a place in the run just days after the sad news of her death and it just seemed to help me make sense of the senseless. Believe me, I’d rather be running to celebrate her life, but I hope it will be a fitting tribute to her. And that’s why I’m also hoping to raise money for Sands, the neonatal and stillbirth trust. To help other families who are in the same situation and to help find out why such tiny lives are lost.

I’ve set up a JustGiving page http://www.justgiving.com/michelleGNR2010 and set a challenging fundraising target. So if you can help by sponsoring me, thank you. And if you can’t, then thank you at least for listening.

Note: I still intend to post most of my running related blogs in their new home: http://www.mypaceoryours.wordpress.com , but I hope you don’t mind indulging me with this one for a very special cause.

Storm tossed seas and sunny skies

Aching glutes and killer triceps are the leftovers from Thursday morning’s training session. But I welcome the strengthening strains of that tough kettlebell workout as they make it easier to quell the running twitch and enjoy a couple of more restful days.

Friday lunchtime pilates is a welcome release of tension from a couple of niggling work days and a chance to stretch out the aches. As always, as we finish, I wish I had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the pure, clean, relaxed feeling that dissipates quickly as I return to my desk.

Saturday’s a rest day. And for once, the weather agrees. The wind howls, the rain spatters the windows and the skies promise nothing but greyness. A good day for indoor jobs. I clean, I tidy, I wash. I walk into the village for supplies and check out the posh new chocolate shop that’s opened. A small haven of indulgence, as beautifully presented as its wares. But my mood doesn’t match my leisurely anderings. I’m restless and hungry, anticipating the adrenaline rush of breathlessness that will come from the promised long run.

Sunday morning and sunshine breaks through the blinds. It’s rare for me not to bounce out of bed once I’m awake, even on a weekend, but today I revel in its warmth a little longer and snooze the tension from my shoulders. Sluggishness satiated, I kit up and head out with 12km in mind.

I taunt myself with an inland start – a short loop that adds a couple of miles to my more usual route. There’s a welcome shade from the buildings and paying attention to crossings and slightly unfamiliar roads means I don’t pile off to quickly. But it feels like a slog when the scenery is grey roads and buildings.

I lift up my head as I turn towards the sea. A slight headwind, welcome for once for its coolness. For some reason, my Garmin’s measuring mile splits. At the third beep, I take my only glance and note disappointingly that it’s closer to 9 min mile pace than I’d imagined and try to push it up a gear.

The sea churns storm grey, foaming white. Yet above the blue skies burn hot patches onto my pink cheeks. As the stretch of Longsands peels into sight, the waves have commanded nearly all of the beach. An almost imperceptible mist hangs in the air. Its salty smeariness coats my glasses. Against the sunshine, cooling droplets sing out rainbows.

On and out along the water’s edge. Here I must dodge the dog walkers, the day trippers, the kids on scooters and the families that saunter five abreast along the narrow coastal footpaths. But I find my space, mental and physical and start to feel in tune with my run. Legs feel good, stretching out, pushing off the back foot, breathing natural, unfocused. I’m at ease with myself, moving forwards.

I won’t repeat my start loop on this out and back run, so I target 2 miles out and back along the coast. As I turn, the wind drops behind me and I feel the full glare of the sun. Shorts next time I think. But it’s just running home from here.

As I think that, my mental jukebox clicks over to the Lindisfarne track and I clock up another mile, enjoying the sensation of easy movement – running for home.

I’m in build up mode for the next few weeks, adding a kilometre each week to my long run to get used to the longer distances that will see me half marathon fit by September. It means my usual distance markers are no longer reliable totems and instead I begin to calculate how long I have left to run…20 minutes, 10 minutes?

Setting limits, starting to think about the finish means I lose my focus on the right here and now. I start pushing harder, stressing out the breathing and fracturing thoughts in my head. There’s no need for a kick-in sprint finish when you don’t know where the finish line is I tell myself. This is training, not racing. Calm down, balance. Run it to the end.

It seems to work, but odd sparks of fretfulness still threaten to catch me off guard and I have to consciously focus on the next few metres ahead. And I’d like to run a stronger second half, having convinced myself that I was slow in the first. My roughly estimated finish point passes without the Garmin’s valedictory beep, so I must continue.

Ahead there’s a hill, a reasonably sizeable one on this largely flat route. It seems a cruel test at the end of so much effort, but I’ve beaten this one many times before and will not wuss out now. I pile on, vowing to keep going to the summit no matter what the Garmin says. A runner coming the other way smiles wryly at my effort, but actually it’s not too bad a climb. And just as the ground begins to level out I hear the chimes that tell me I’ve reached my goal for today.12k in the bag. Week one of my Great North run training completed. Time to stretch.

Stats: 12k (7.4 miles) 64:43
Mile splits:
1. 08.38
2. 08.34
3. 08.53
4. 08.43
5. 08.35
6. 08.38
7. 08.26
8. 04.12 (0.4miles)

"Right here's where you start paying…"

I used to love the TV series Fame when I was a kid. It was the only programme I’d ask to stay up late for. So the dance teacher’s words from the opening of every episode have been ringing in my ears as I started my Great North Run training this week.

Now don’t be mistaken. This isn’t some slog, some drudgery that I have to endure. This is something that I really want to do. In fact I’m looking forward to it. I’m a creature of habit and I like to have a focus. The part of me that made a conscientious student still likes to have a plan and the satisfaction of a task well done and ticked off, even if there’s no one but myself to impress.

And so the journey begins again. But there’s so much different this year. I’m fitter, stronger and more importantly I think I understand myself and how I react to things when I’m running better than before.

From 2008 to 2009 I went from 0 miles to 13.1. And I learned to love running. It’s a relationship I’ve had to work on, and I’m sure we’ll continue to have our ups and downs. But it’s worth it.

And I’m more confident. Because, after all, I have done it before. But that doesn’t mean I’ll take it for granted. A lot could happen between now and September. But what I’m hoping will happen is that I’ll enjoy training, build up the mileage and get to that start line feeling excited confident and ready for a fantastic day.

There are many reasons why I feel an affection for this particular race. This area is my home now, and the Great North Run is part of that. Geordies, Makkems, Sanddancers may have their local rivalry and differences, but they well deserve their reputation for warmth and friendliness and never more so than on race day.

I also love it for the stories. For the hundreds of thousands who have run it and have their own race story to tell. For the millions of reasons why they do it. One of my favourite things about the race is the few moments before the start when people are encouraged to stop and think about the causes they’re running for, the memories of loved ones lost or hurting. Call me a sentimental old fool, but it is an incredibly moving moment.

I was there in 2001, when 50,000 runners fell silent in remembrance of the victims of the 9/11 attacks. And when the moment of reflection was over, they let out a cheer of such strength and life and celebration, that it seemed proved the very best of human nature.

I didn’t run in 2001, but maybe it’s where the idea first started. Last year, my first year of running, my start line story was a personal one about going from a non runner to a runner. The culmination of a long quest.

This year it will still be a personal challenge, but a poignant one too. Because I’ll be running in memory to my baby sister Ava who was sadly stillborn in February this year.

I found out I had a place in the run just days after the sad news of her death and it just seemed to help me make sense of the senseless. Believe me, I’d rather be running to celebrate her life, but I hope it will be a fitting tribute to her. And that’s why I’m also hoping to raise money for Sands, the neonatal and stillbirth trust. To help other families who are in the same situation and to help find out why such tiny lives are lost.

I’ve set up a JustGiving page http://www.justgiving.com/michelleGNR2010 and set a challenging fundraising target. So if you can help by sponsoring me, thank you. And if you can’t, then thank you at least for listening.

The language of the World Cup

So the World Cup kicked off today and as well as the host nation hoping to build its reputation on the back of football fever, there are plenty of big name brands hoping to cash in as a worldwide audience of millions turns its attention to South Africa.

It means beer and burgers in the supermarket, barbecues at the petrol station and any amount of plastic tat on sale just about everywhere you look.

There are some big brands out there hoping to draw some of that attention to themselves through their TV adverts. Nike’s done one featuring its sponsored footballers, Pepsi and Sony have taken a humorous approach, but the one that’s caught my eye, or rather ear is Carlsberg’s team talk.

It mimics a motivational team talk, putting you, the viewer, in the heart of the action; from the dressing room out into the tunnel, encouraged on by some British sporting legends, with a rousing speech ringing in your ears.

Watch it and listen to it. How does it make you feel? Inspired? Emotional? Excited? That’s not an accident. While the film itself is undoubtedly designed to push your emotional buttons, the language is designed to do that too. In fact it users a number of tricks to grab your attention.

Here are the opening lines:
“He says he knows how good you are. You know how good you are. It’s time to prove how good you are.”

Look at the repetition. It’s like poetry. Sometimes when we’re writing, we may feel that we shouldn’t repeat ourselves and will go to great lengths to find an alternative word or phrase, but here it’s used to create a particular effect.

Repetition is often used in speeches, to reinforce a point or to get a message across. And it can be stirring stuff. Just think of Winston Churchill: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Did you notice that ‘how good you are’ is repeated three times in those opening lines? That’s not an accident either.

Patterns of two and three (doublets and triplets) just seem to make sense to our ears. In fact the rule of three is often used in speeches because people tend to remember three things. For example: “Friends, romans, countrymen”, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or Tony Blair’s “Education, education, education.”

It also helps to create a rhythm to the language. And in the case of the Carlsberg advert that rhythm subtly changes as it builds to its climax. Although none of the phrases are particularly long and wordy, it starts off slowly and by the end there’s a noticeable quickening created by short, sharp phrases, like: “Enough talk. Time for action”. There are two sentences there without a verb in them. Remember your English teacher told you a sentence had to have a verb in it? Sometimes breaking the ‘rules’ can create something quite powerful. The trick is knowing when to do it.

Listen again to the words in this advert. There’s nothing highbrow, nothing fancy there. “It’s gonna take bottle,” may be a sly nod to the brand’s product, but it’s also the kind of language that you’d use with your mates down the pub. The point is that it’s simple, everyday language. Nothing poshed up, no jargon, just good old everyday words.

And that’s something that I try to explain in my tone of voice workshops. That simple language doesn’t have to be dull or dumbed down. Simple language doesn’t have to lack passion. Simple language can be strong and powerful. As strong and powerful as a ball hitting the back of the net.