I had a lovely active weekend, that’s shown me I shouldn’t take my fitness for granted. I know when I’m training, focused on a race or event, I get fitter and stronger, but it’s not been quite so clear how much fitter and stronger.
I’ve wound down my training over December, taking it easy to allow myself to recover from the plantar pain in my left foot. And that’s no bad thing. So I haven’t run as much. I’ve done no distance over 10k since September and I’ve only done that once, on a flat road at an easy pace in December. And I haven’t run much during the week.
But I managed 5.5 wet, muddy and off road miles on New Year’s Day and although my foot niggled a bit immediately afterwards, I iced it, stretched and rested the rest of the week and it stayed quiet.
But maybe 7.5 miles off road was a bit much on Sunday. It certainly breaks the 10% rule. And when you add on a 45 minute bike ride on Saturday and a 6 mile easy bike commute to and from Sunday’s race… what was I thinking?
I was thinking of one of my favourite run routes, great weather for being outdoors and catching up with some of my running buddies. And I did love getting out for a run. The feel of the cool fresh air and the astonished faces of those wrapped up to take their kids out on the scooters or throw a ball to their dog as around 100 runners dashed by along the seafront promenade and onto the beach.
The organisers stress this isn’t a race, it’s a run. We wear numbers, but there are no times. It encourages a friendly, low key feel. I was running with my friend Penny knowing she’s marathon training and had already clocked up a couple of miles before the start, so trying to keep my pace sensible – conversational pace we said. And we did have a nice chat for a while until I did my usual trick of hooning off over the beach. Sorry Penny. Thanks for sticking with me. I think I’ve proved I’m a lousy marathon training partner.
Up from the beach, we ran along the coastal path, a favourite route of mine in the summer. Today we were dodging muddy puddles and saying hello to the alpacas. At times the path was too narrow to run side by side so I struck out in front and then we caught back up by the road.
Ducking under the gate we ran downhill towards the marina and then on into the dene. The paths change shape here, muddier, narrower and more undulating. And I thought they would slow me down. But I was feeling good and strong and just enjoying the run, and Pen getting a fly in her eye dropped behind.
It was such a lovely day for a run. Cold, but not icy and in the shelter of the Dene, even the guy marshalling the stile remarked on me smiling. I knew there were a couple of uphills to come, but determined to run them.
The first passed easily on the road. The second came just after a fallen tree that we’d been warned about blocking our way. I ducked under the hollow and chose the road up a steep muddy bank to the top of the dene. I normally take the lower path alongside the river, with a hill at the end leading to the smoother waggonways.
I chased and passed a couple of runners on the upper path and despite keeping my eyes out for the path back down, I almost missed it. Running on my own now, I began to feel a bit of a tightness in my left leg and stopped for a few seconds to stretch out my hamstring and tighten my shoe laces.
I kept my eyes open for the other runners on the lower path and as I turned for the long straight route I knew would take me back to the start, I felt sure that Penny would be ahead.
The long road on the waggonways is deceptive. It’s a straightish path, and easier terrain underfoot than much of what’s gone before. But each brambly bush, each piece of vegetation hides another stretch of path ahead. And with few landmarks visible through the hedges, it seems to go on and on with no end in sight.
Now I started to pay for my earlier enthusiasm. Now I began to feel my form go, and my body drop. Here, where I could stretch out my legs, I could feel myself stumbling into a shuffle. I woke myself up with a shot of dried mango and told myself to pick my knees up, but it felt like I was grinding it out.
It reminded me of what it feels like to start building up distance again on the weekend long runs. For me, training for a half marathon over the summer, there’s always at least one or two that just feel like a slog towards the end. The ones where you’re really convincing yourself you have to stick to the mileage target.
Relax and enjoy, I said to myself, breaking down the remaining distance. Just about 20 more minutes to enjoy this run. Your legs will come back to you.
Even knowing the route and ticking off the markers, the underpass and the playing fields just ahead of the track didn’t make it any easier. I was afraid that trying to pick up any pace in the last half mile would mean I’d struggle to finish. Even when my feet hit the track I couldn’t wind it up.
Just 300m. I kept the same plodding rhythm down the first straight, then stuck tight to the line on the turn and forced my legs into a faster turnover. The last straight and less than 100m to go, I hit the sprint button at the relay marker and powered on for the line. A foolish trick as there was no one ahead to beat. But I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and it looks like I may be continuing TheScribbler’s sprint finishes at races in 2012. Well, it is Olympic year.
One of the best things about this run, apart from it being local, cheap and raising money for charity is the great spread of cakes and food put on by the club afterwards. I dived into the flapjacks and pop and had a lovely chat with one of the club members who had been lead bike on the course and caught up with a couple of running pals.
The ride home was quite hard work, into the wind and feeling the chill a little, but I took it steady and was soon enjoying a hot shower. My foot was niggling, so as soon as I was settled down with some lunch, I used an iced bottle to roll it and did plenty of stretching.
It does go to show the extra value that I get from training. When I’m focused on a specific event and training for it, it gives me an incentive to do the sessions, eat well and rest well. And that in turn does mean my performance improves. I’m not as endurance fit as I was in September, which shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it’s a useful reminder and another pat on the back for me for getting to that level of strength and fitness.
Stats and stuff:
7.47 miles 01:13:53
1) – 1m – 9:21(9:21/m) – 102cal
2) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
3) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
4) – 1m – 10:08(10:08/m) – 106cal
5) – 1m – 10:20(10:20/m) – 101cal
6) – 1m – 9:53(9:53/m) – 105cal
7) – 1m – 9:44(9:44/m) – 106cal
8) – 0.47m – 4:00(8:29/m) – 48cal