A race and a tough run

I keep trying to find perfection with my training plan, and I think I’m just going to have to accept that there’s no such thing. Balancing running, cross training and resting isn’t a precise science and some weeks are going to be easier than others. 

I fully intended to take it easy on Wednesday, thinking that I’d skip my boxercise class and at most go for a swim, but otherwise, treat myself to an extra rest day. But after a rather frustrating day at work, I felt like I needed to let out some of that aggression. So I zoomed home, got changed and sped off to punch out the blues.

Thursday morning, bright and early sees me hit the beach for my regular PT session – still my favourite workout of the week. A few new complexes to keep me on my toes and quite a few ‘well dones’ and I felt fantastic after this session. We never really do the same thing each session, so I can’t make direct comparisons, but I know I’m so much stronger and better balanced for doing it.

I’d actually forgotten there was a race on Thursday lunchtime. We have a gym at work with an informal running club that holds a series of summer handicap races over a mile. When the email reminder came through, I did a mental checklist of the kit in my car and decided I did actually have enough gear to be able to run.

So, I lined up on the startline alongside Jill, with a couple of minutes headstart on the next runner, wondering if it was really a good idea, and again, intending to take it easy. We’re quite evenly matched over this distance and last time I raced, my sole intention was to beat Jill (sorry Jill). This time I thought she could beat me if she wanted, because I wasn’t going to push it and I knew my legs wouldn’t be at their best straight after my session on the beach.

We set off together and I kept with her for the first section of the race. Then as the path began to straighten out, before the half way point, I began to stretch out my legs a little more to see if it gave me any advantage. Gradually it took me ahead, but I didn’t want to blow up, so I just focused on keeping the strides long and relaxed and trying to increase the distance between us.

About half way along the home straight I sensed a runner closing in, but just kept my focus ahead, running my own race. One of the guys passed me and soon strode into the distance to win. I half expected the next one to power down after me too, but I kept my pace and at the last turn pushed on for a bit of a sprint finish and came home in 2nd place with a time of 7:34. It’s not my best mile time, but it’s not far off and 2nd place points (even though there were only 4 racers) will be very valuable in the overall competition. Plus that’s my best race finish since primary school!

I made sure I did some quality stretches on Thursday night, before setting the alarm clock for another early wake up call ready for a Friday morning run. The plan said 12k – a step up from last week’s distance, and you know me, I stick to my plans.

It was pretty much a perfect morning for a run, not too bright or warm, just a hint of a breeze and the gentle sounds of the waves. But like last Friday’s run, my legs began by complaining a bit. Nothing really painful, just feeling dull and heavy, with muscles and joints creaking a bit. Once again, I tried to tell myself to keep it slow and smooth.

It was two miles before the feeling wore off, and it’s only experience that told me this was likely to be the case. Once I finally eased into it, I began to enjoy the run a lot more. A little mango boost just after the halfway point, ahead of the tiniest incline to keep me going and I managed most of the return leg okay.

My hamstrings and calves started to strain again with just under 2 miles to go. But by this point I’d spotted a runner up ahead who seemed to pick his feet up rather high in his running style. At one point we took different routes, but we came together again and I was close enough to think I could reel him in.

Unfortunately, as I got close enough to overtake we were passing through the narrowest points of this route, and I noticed a man walking a boxer puppy who was getting noticeably excited at these strange people out for an early run. The dog walker pulled the puppy in on his lead and put himself between the dog and us – no easy task on the narrow path. I said thank you as I passed, but my running nemesis was now well ahead.

Even so, the sniff of competition had been enough to distract me from my aching legs, and I was now within a few hundred metres of my distance target. I picked up the pace a little, and then a little more, focusing on a landmark, promising myself I’d do a bit of a sprint finish to that point and then jog to the end if needed. I’m not sure if my running nemesis was running intervals or fartlek, but with 200m to go I sped past him and finished almost bang on my target. What a show off – eh? Needless to say he kept going passed me as I stopped to get my breath back and stretch.

This Friday run, after a weights and whole body workout session is still the hardest one of the week, the one I have to tough it through. But I’m hoping that experience of running on tired legs is good for endurance training and mental focus. As nothing really ‘hurts’, and I’ve managed it twice now, I figure it’s just a case of Geordie up and get on with it. But I might play around with my running days again next week and see if I can give myself a more restful Friday ahead of a long weekend run.

Stats and stuff:
12k (7.4 miles) 1hour 9.38
mile splits:
1. 09.08
2. 09.17
3. 09.32
4. 09.17
5. 09.20
6. 09.21
7. 09.14
8. 04.25 (800m)

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You shall have a fishy

Fishing boat heading out on the Tyne
Fishing boat heading out on the Tyne
It couldn’t have been a better evening for my first ever fishing trip, organised by Lee and Beth of G&S Organics. Eight of us motored out from North Shields under balmy summer skies onto smooth waters, taking photos of familiar coastal landmarks from a new perspective.

Out beyond the breakwater and the piers marking the mouth of the river, feeling the gentle pull of the sea. At some unidentifiable point, still in sight of the coast, our crew powered down the engines and turned their attention to showing this fishing novice how to work the rod and reel.

My usual mechanical ineptness found me getting twisted up in someone elses line and getting my own rather tangled in my first couple of attempts, but the guys were on hand to sort me out and start me fishing.

Fresh mackerel in a bucket
First catch
It’s not long before one of the gang scores the first catch as Neil reels in a fine couple of mackerel. Their green and silver scales gleam in the bottom of the bucket.

At first I find it hard to tell the difference between the pull on the line of the lead weight and a genuine bite, and on a speculative reel in, find I’ve caught my first fish. Sadly they’re coalfish, small and not great for eating, so they go back in.

Around the boat everyone’s reeling in mackerel and it’s not long before I land my first genuine catch. I rely on a trusty helping hand to unhook them from my line, but soon I’m catching two or three at a time.

These are beautiful, slippery creatures that wriggle wildly, red gills flailing as we drop them in the rapdly filling buckets and haul our lines over the side for another try.

mackerel on a barbecue
Cooking the mackerel
As the catch begins to slow, we move on to another spot and Lee and Beth prepare our onboard feast. Cool boxes unveil bread, cheese, salad leaves, tomatoes, herbs and dressings as Lee gets to work chopping up a salad. Soon fresh fillets are sizzling on the disposable barbecues.

It’s an informal picnic, but when fish is this fresh it needs nothing more fancy. We’re soon licking fingers and lips, tasting the sweet, salty, delicious catch.

All too soon we’re stuffed and return to re-stock the buckets. This time I take on landing duty, unhooking the fish as Gary reels them in. The first one escapes my clutches and slithers around the deck, comedy style until I get the knack of a firm grip on its slippery scales.

Soon I’m unhooking and filling the buckets with relative ease, oblivious to the slightly messy process that leaves my hands covered in tiny transluscent scales that glisten like salty sequins.

Lighthouse at sunset
Heading home into the sunset
By now the boat’s surrounded by a bevy of gulls. Martin, from Northern Experience Wildlife Tours helps us identify herring gulls, fulmars and a couple of gannets both on the water and in the air.

As the sun starts to set, we raise our rods for the last time and head back towards the mouth of the river. We land our catch, transferring a fine haul of line-caught mackerel into cool boxes and re-discover our land legs after a fine evening fishing and feasting on the Tyne.

Speedwork

I got up early and did an interval session this morning. Wee jog to warm up then 4 mins tempo run, 2 mins recovery x6 reps. Little joglet to cool down and some stretches.

Distance = 7.4km
Time = 41.36

Wasn’t sure I was going to manage the whole set on the first interval, as my legs felt heavy from a kettlebell session last night, but I warmed into it.

And it was warm out there. According to the forecast this morning, the North East is on the edge of a rain band that’s supposed to be travelling across the country and you can just feel the humidity, heavy in the air.

I think I ended up running through one of the nicest parts of the day, bright sunshine, clear beaches below. I certainly felt the effort as I sat down to the computer today, but a little walk at lunchtime eased that out too.

Well that was a bit tough

Long run today, and I’ve just noticed that the plan said 13k and I actually ran 14k.  It was a good day for it, not too warm, bit of a breeze, but bright enough to lift the spirits and make it enjoyable to be outdoors.

After checking the maps, I set off on my usual route, planning to lengthen it by adding on a bit of a trail around near the lighthouse.

My legs were a bit grumbly to start and I just kept saying to myself run slow, there’s a long way to go, let yourself warm into it. I felt like I was plodding, jogging along and despite telling myself to take it slow, was finding it frustrating. My right hamstring and glute felt tight and I focused on trying to run evenly.

I often catch my gremlin very early on in a run, usually less than a mile in. It’s annoying because I know I can run a good distance, but on the other hand, that makes him easier to shake off, because there’s no way I’m going to give up with less than a mile on the clock.

I kept picking at the gremlin until a brief pit stop where I shook him off and plugged in my headphones for a bit of a boost. I’ve really enjoyed running without music this year, but maybe for some of these longer solo runs, it’s good to have a distraction from my own thoughts.

I pitched down from the promenade and along the beach for a stretch. My feet enjoyed the change of terrain, but I felt it pull on my muscles more. Up the steps and along the cliff tops towards the lightouse, looking for the point where I joined the trail.

Out along the dusty pathways through the grasses, running alongside plenty of cyclists and dog walkers enjoying this coastal pathway by the dunes. The deal was to run to the halfway distance and then turn back and take the road more tarmaced on the return leg. I spotted a bench and signpost just beyond the halfway beep, and took a few seconds out to stretch my tightening right calf and eat some dried mango.

Although wide and flat and not particularly rocky or uneven, I still felt I wasn’t running smoothly along the trail, so when I emerged back onto my regular pavement route, something kicked in and I began to stretch out a little more and relax.

My sole glimpse at my Garmin showed that my last mile on tarmac was around 9min mile pace, which is more like my target race pace. I’ve been really conscious this year of trying not to push myself too fast in training. I know that training pace and race pace are very different, but mainly I just run how I feel. And after a bit of a niggly grumpy start, I was feeling good, running smooth, and I didn’t want that to stop.

So, telling myself that I’d probably run the first half really slowly given my mindset and the terrain, I pushed on for as long as it felt okay. Which it did just about all the way home. I even managed to pick up the pace a little in the last quarter of a mile, but even so, I was glad when I could stop, stretch and walk the last little bit back home.

Now, my hips and and glutes are definitely aware of having worked hard, and I’m a little zonked from the humidity. But I’m pleased with that run, especially as I was by no means as slow as I thought at the start. 

Stats and stuff 14k 1hr 19:58
mile splits:
1. 9.00
2. 9.18
3. 9.22
4. 9.13
5. 9.13
6. 9.05
7. 9.09
8. 9.03
9. 6.32 (1020m)

Great North Run training – 8 weeks to go

I could hardly believe I’d run my longest distance of the year to date last Sunday as there were no signs of aches (even the good ones) on Monday morning. My legs felt fresh and I began to congratulate myself on how strong and fit my running had become and remind myself that the slower pace and a day’s rest beforehand may have played a part in that. I’m sure the company and post race fuelling helped too.

I’d already decided to mix up my training days this week, and was half-minded to throw in a run on Monday evening, to test my ‘legs feel fresh’ theory, but I remembered the benefit of that reluctant day’s rest before my long weekend run. And when it came to it, by the end of a busy day at work, the effects of a later than usual bedtime caught up with me, and although my body felt fine, I was tired. With the rain pouring down, and a muzzy head, I opted out of my planned kettlebell session and settled for an early night.

Tuesday morning, I’d dithered over the options. Wake up and run 10k before work, or drop my car off at the garage and run a similar distance into work. I woke before the alarm and peered out to see grey, overcast skies and light drizzle – good running weather. So up, kit on, ready to go.

As I opened the door the rain was bouncing off the pavement. But I’d dithered enough. A quick dash back upstairs for a light jacket and a cap and out, before I could change my mind again.

I actually like running in the rain, provided it’s not too cold. I’ve gone out in the drizzle before and been caught in a downpour, but I’ve never deliberately headed out when it’s been pouring. The cap did the trick of keeping the raindrops off my glasses and I enjoyed the slightly crazy solitude of a run, splashing through puddles, surrounded by the soft grey damp of the coast.

One solitary fellow runner smiled and shouted “It’s a lovely day for it,” as we passed in opposite directions.

By my half way point, the rain had eased and the sun was braving the grey clouds. I paused at a bus stop to de-steam my glasses and decided to take off my jacket as the sleeves were clammy, wet and sticking to my arms.

I was happy to see my fellow runner on the way back, enjoying the improving weather as we waved and said hello again, both satisfied that we knew what we’d been through to get there.

That run gave me energy. Energy enough to plough on through a good chunk of work, and energy enough to tackle that kettlebell workout in the evening – even if the rain did chase me indoors for the final set.

And so to Wednesday and the session that I know I can drop if I need to, and probably will over the next few weeks. But I do enjoy my boxercise class. It’s always a whole body workout and it’s a good way to get rid of any frustrations and untapped aggression. This week we did a circuit style class and kept changing partners, so at one point I was with a big guy who punches hard. So I was really chuffed when we got to the push-up station and I managed to keep going, while he had a little rest.

My training normally builds towards Thursday morning and the best session of the week with my PT down the beach. This week I had to remember that I still had a run to do on Friday morning, so I asked Ian to leave me with something in my legs.

I love training with the kettlebells. They really do offer a full body work out. They’re relatively simple to use and I like the fact that you’re not isolating muscles, like you do using weights machines in the gym, but using your body more dynamically, like you would do naturally.

We had a really good session, with a lot of combinations of exercises that kept me moving, and tested my brain and co-ordination. I switched to a lighter weight for some of the exercises and it was amazing how easy it was to move it around after being so used to my 12kg.

I also got absolutely covered in sand as it was as blustery and chilly as a November day down on the beach. I poured piles of it from my shoes before I headed home, but still managed to create a mini seafront in my bathroom as it escaped from my top, my socks, my hair… it was even in my ears (don’t ask).

Friday morning was the first time I’d attempted a run the day after a PT session. A nice cool morning and good conditions for a 10k. My glutes and hips were a bit niggly to start and I had that ‘oh so tedious’ conversation in my head about whether or not I would make it within the first mile or so.

I’m always in danger of overanalysing, of trying to work out all the what-ifs and in my mind I was running through all my training permutations, trying to find the perfect solution. What if I ran Monday, Wednesday and Saturday? Should I drop boxercise? Sure I can cope with doing it, but it all adds to the cumulative effect. I’m normally better when I allow myself more rest and my focus now is on running. Or should I run Tuesday, Friday, Sunday?

That kind of stuff doesn’t really help, so I had to consciously remind myself to relax, not fret so much, keep it steady, roll out the feet, stretch out the legs. By the time I got to the turning point I was in a more relaxed and positive frame of mind, so I picked up the pace a little. Having done that, the challenge was to keep it going and run the return leg faster than the out leg. There may have been a little wind assistance, nothing particularly noticeable, but I did. So that bodes well for pacing longer runs and the big race.

And so today, finally I am actually pleased it’s a rest day. That does have something to do with me dancing around like a lunatic at the Newcastle Arena last night. My legs were definitely saying ‘Are you mad woman? We did six miles this morning. When will you give us a break?’ Can I log major bouncing up and down for a good couple of hours as cross training?

Still, looking forward to a long run tomorrow.

26 ways of looking at direct mail

I’m in the middle of producing a lot of copy for a marketing campaign. And I mean a lot of copy in the sense that I’m essentially writing about the same product for a number of different audiences and formats, including a whole heap of direct mails.

It’s great that my client is trying to communicate with their customers in a personal and relevant manner, but it does pose a challenge for me as a copywriter – how do I make sure that the last thing I write about Product X is as fresh as the first?

It usually starts off being quite straightforward. Whenever I’m drafting out some new copy, I start by writing a simple sentence about what I’m trying to do at the top of the page, for example:

‘Write an email to customer Y, telling them when product X will be released, explaining why it will help them and directing them to website Z for more information.’

This helps me create the structure of the copy, sometimes gives me restrictions like word count for example, and gives me a clear understanding of what I want people to think, feel or do as a result of reading the piece.

But once I’ve been writing about something for a while, it can be tempting to fall into a patchwork approach and steal a bit of copy from here and another from there. And whilst I won’t deny that I do re-use copy that I’ve already written, especially where I think it’s explained something very clearly, this approach can lead to lazy writing and the trap of the cliché.

So how to re-invigorate a brain that’s already found 21 ways of writing about the same thing?

I turned to a few copywriter mind tricks (not quite so impressive as Jedi mind tricks, but they work for me). The first is to write using a different style, so imagine you’re writing a fairy story, or a detective novel for example. In this case I imagined I was writing it as a Barrack Obama speech.

Another trick is to set yourself a constraint, such as starting with one letter of the alphabet and finishing with the next or writing your copy in exactly 50 words.

Now I’m not saying that the results of either of these mind tricks will find their way into print, but within those early drafts were some phrases and ideas that I can use that I wouldn’t have come up with if I hadn’t made myself take a different view of the words I was using.

It’s a useful writing experiment that writing guru and tone of voice expert John Simmons employs in his book ’26-ways of looking at a blackberry’. He takes a rather ordinary piece of writing and re-writes it in 26 different styles, ranging from William Shakespeare to Plain English. Now, not all of them work, as he’ll admit, but the results are sometimes surprising and delightful. And they certainly offered me a way of freshening up my words today.

Just a lovely run in the woods

I often find it hard to live in the moment. I’m a little too apt to look forward or backwards. To anticipate some treat or to reflect with nostalgia on time that’s passed. Even in the moment, I have a tendency to analyse, to compare, to try and pigeonhole how I’m feeling, what I’m experiencing. Or even, dare I say it, imagine how I’ll write about it later.

And then sometimes none of that matters. I just throw it all away, relax and run.

Travelling down to Beamish with an invitation to go over to the dark side and try a trail run in the woods. This is different ground for me, literally. But I have no expectations beyond an enjoyable day. I know I’ll be in good hands with LisaT to guide me and there’s a promise of a sausage sandwich at the finish.

A quick hop, skip and a jump and we’re under the shade of the trees, running along the wide trail paths. The pace is steady, but I’m learning not to rush things. This is trail running. It’s different and there are hills ahead.

Lisa keeps me straight on the downhill stretch and warns me of muddy sections where I might lose my footing. The chat flows easily. We talk of nothing and everything. Of races and experiences. And the miles click by in the dappled sunlight.

I pay little attention to the route, relying on my guide to take us through the wooded pathways, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow, sometimes up, sometimes along. We run beside a steam railway, breathing in clouds of sooty smoke as the engine blows its whistle. We run over bridges, passing walkers and riders, through gates and styles, brushing aside long grasses and tree branches.

It’s deceptively warm beneath the shade of the trees and we stop before a couple of climbs to catch our breath and remind ourselves to keep it steady. This isn’t about haring away, but rarely have the miles passed so quickly.

Today, it seems the smaller strides and gentler steps suit my legs. Yes, there’s a pull or two on my calves and glutes as we pick our way up a couple of inclines, but nothing I can’t handle. I’m surprised at how strong my legs feel as we tackle the final incline and I give them a bit of a stretch.

Back to the warm welcome of a sunny back yard, a cool drink and that promised sausage sarnie is as delicious as anticipated. More easy chat in fine company and the bright prospect of future runs together.

The stats? 14.1k or 8.7 miles in a moving time of 1hr 36 mins and my longest run of the year to date. But with friends like this, it’s not about the miles, it’s about enjoying the moment.

Thank you Lisa and Jason, for a truly lovely run. Can I do it again soon?