Long slow running

After a long time training without much focus and a short run in with plantar fasciitis in January, I’ve felt like my running has gone backwards recently with some hard efforts for less than dazzling parkrun times.

So, time to try something different, and, for the last few weekends I’ve been doing a long, slow run based on MAFF heart rate training. It’s a rather unscientific basis, as I haven’t managed to get my heart rate monitor working, so I’ve been running as slow as I felt I could, and definitely at a pace at which I could hold a conversation.

I hadn’t run more than 10k since last August, and only ran a few 10ks since then, so when my PT suggested I should do a slow 12k, I was a bit unsure. But off I trotted, finding the pace hideously slow at first, and then willing myself on through the last couple of kilometres on that first run.

I stopped and walked a couple of times when I felt in danger of trying to push too hard, and was, in truth, very grateful to get to the end. But there it was, my longest run since 2012, just by going slowly.

The second weekend, it was a little easier and I didn’t have to stop and walk. And last Sunday, as I stepped out under blue skies and sunshine, it was positively enjoyable. Easy pace, no stress from the watch, the chance to say good morning to every runner who passed me by. People out and about with dogs and kids, walking along beside the coast, feeling that maybe, just maybe, spring is round the corner.

I still felt strong as I approached the final kilometres, so I carried on a little further than planned. Just another 500m I thought. And then I decided to treat myself to a lap of my beach. I eventually finished on 13.5k, feeling like I could have gone on.

The long slow run has been a great pick me up. Just stripping things back, giving myself time to think, feeling the sun on my face and enjoying the freedom of running along my beautiful spot of coastline.

Swimming with the tiddlers

The forecast was not favourable for Newcastle parkrun this morning. Overnight rain and freezing temperatures bring ice to the exposed moor and just after I parked up, I learned it was off. I’d arranged to meet my friend Tove for a post parkrun swim, so I walked over to the start, spreading the word to those arriving and catching up with her as she appeared on her bike.

Neither of us fancied hanging around for two hours before the nearby pool was open for public swimming, so we deferred our session for another time. I could have done a freedom run I suppose, and a good few did choose to take their chances over the slippery paths, but I decided to save my legs for a long slow run tomorrow and went to swim at my gym instead.

I fancied a long slow swim. There’s been a 1500m set sitting glaring at me from my plan this week. With the pool nice and quiet and the lane empty, it looked like a good shot.

So, slow and steady was my mantra, a few easy lengths warm up and then into the big swim. I swim in a 20m pool so 75 lengths was the order of the day. I broke it down into 3 x 20 plus 15 but I wasn’t intending to stop, just to use this as an easy way to count up the distance without it becoming overwhelming.

During my first 20 lengths, I spotted a man bringing out floats and swim noodles and other bits of kit and putting them at the side of the pool. I figured there were some kind of lessons or an aqua class about to start. So, after my first 20 I stopped and asked him if I needed to move out of the lane. He explained that it was a babies swim session, so they’d be using the swim lane and I moved into the main pool.

I started again, reasoning to myself that if it was hard going or I felt particularly achey, I could count that first 400m provided I swam the rest continuously. But I settled into a nice easy rhythm, kept it slow and steady and by the time I’d done 1000m, I knew I could manage the last 500m to make it a genuine continuous swim.

Swimming up and down to the sound of ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ and ‘Wibble wobble, jelly on a plate’ as well as baby noises from the next door lane was quite a new experience. But I just focused on my swim, Ā visualising a smooth blue ocean and swimming in gentle waters. I let myself really relax, which meant my form was a bit scrappy and I went back to lifting my head further than I need to, but I’m trying just to focus on one thing at once when I swim. This was about keeping going over the distance. Next time I’ll do some shorter sets and be stricter about my form.

With the additional 400m and a bit of warm up and cool down, it meant my swim overall was just over 2k in 51 mins. And the 1500m took 34:35, which I’m pretty chuffed with as that was a very comfortable effort level and I know I could increase that to go faster.

I know people who regularly run 100 miles a month and see my friend Nicki who logs 30km runs at the weekends and think, ‘how do you do that?’

But it’s all about building and training for whatever it is you’re focused on. I can still remember the achievement of running 2 miles non stop and my first continuous 400m swim which I guarantee left me more out of breath than today’s 1500m.

So today, I’m really pleased that I can get in a pool and do 1500m front crawl. That I can relax and control my breathing so that I don’t have to think about it so much. I know that not so long ago, I couldn’t do that.

So, fellow swimming tiddlers, I just want to say you can do it. I’ve been there, coughing and spluttering and clinging to the side like a fresh-landed haddock after a length or two. It takes time and practice, but if I can do it, you can too.
Each swim is a lesson and each stroke a movement forward.