Making progress – reaching 8 miles

I’ve really enjoyed focusing on running as I build up the distance of my long run for the Edinburgh half marathon. I’m enjoying being mindful about planning sessions, running the mile I’m in and making my plan work for me.

But whatever’s on the plan, life does sometimes get in the way. I had booked a trip to Rwanda to do some volunteering with the charity Lendwithcare, and knew that with travel time I’d be losing 3 weekends of run training possibilities.

So I ramped up my long run distance a bit sooner than strictly necessary for a half marathon at the end of May. And scheduled a 14k run (just over 8 miles) at the beginning of February.

Another thing that I’m making an effort to do is to run different routes and on different surface, not always tarmac, so when I saw a local low-key off-road ‘race’ of around 8, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The ‘race’ is the Run for Bob, managed by North Shields Poly running and triathlon club and takes place over a route popular with one of their former runners. It follows a path from Whitley Bay, up the coast to Seaton Sluice, then turns inland through Holywell Dene and along an old Waggonway to finish on the track at the clubhouse.

It’s a really lovely route with a mixture of footpaths, grass, sandy beach and decent trails. And it’s a race insofar as you get a number, all start at the same time and marshals are on hand along the route(s). But there’s no timing, other than your own watch.

We started off in fog as we headed out from the war memorial towards St Mary’s Lighthouse. The coastal paths were empty apart from us runners and a few dog walkers, and the field soon split off into the faster and slower paced so that I was running on my own, with just one shirt visible in the distance ahead of me.

There is something about attaching a number to my shirt that makes me run a bit faster, even when I’m trying to keep the pace easy. I felt like I was bouncing along the first couple of miles over familiar ground along the seafront at Whitley Bay.  I planned to just run comfortably and whatever pace would get me through 8 miles and this was an optimistic start. 

There’s a bit of undulation along the coastal paths and a choice of running down along the beach or up along the top. At the turn in towards Seaton Sluice, some nice trail paths take you into Holywell Dene, an area of woodland with a burn or river at the bottom.

In the woods, the route diverges, with two options, one low along the river and another up and over the top. A marshal shouted directions for either route and I figured it was a choice of hill now, or hill later. I was just over 4 miles in, so I opted for hill now and separated off from the only other runners I could see or hear.

I was breathing heavily by the top of the climb, but my legs felt strong and I knew that was the hardest part of the route completed. I felt confident and happy as I turned onto the Waggonways for the last 2 miles and then onto the track for 3/4 of a lap to finish the race. And because I wanted to complete the designated distance on my plan, I added a cool down lap and a bit to clock up 14k exactly.

It’s easy to get a bit misty eyed and look back on a run with rose coloured glasses once you’ve completed it, but I genuinely did feel like this was a good one mentally and physically. Physically it was a bit more challenging than a standard training run, but I had confidence in my training and my strength in my legs.

Mentally I felt relaxed, happy, enjoying the experience, thanking all the marshals and not putting too much pressure on myself. I don’t remember any negative thoughts or down talking in my head. It would be good to stay mindful of that and to try and tap into those feelings next time I’m struggling on a run.

It feels pretty amazing to me to have clocked over 100 miles of running before the end of February. Especially when I remembered that only a few weeks before I was talking about reminding myself how to run longer distances. I know I still have a long way to go and 8 miles is still a good way off the 13.1 of a half marathon, but I feel like I’ve made a good start.

Mile splits

1: 10:18
2: 10:37
3: 10:41
4: 10:45
5: 11:29 (guess where the hills were)
6: 10:50
7: 10:43
8: 10:39

What’s on my half marathon training plan?

I’ve had a couple of questions about my half marathon training plan, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain it in a bit more detail.

There are lots of running plans that can help you start running, keep running, run further and run up to a marathon and beyond. If you’re starting out then a couch to 5k plan is a good way to get going, challenge yourself and track your progress.

For a half marathon (13.1 miles) like I’m doing, there are also plenty of free plans available online. My plan was specially put together for me by my trainer from Inspire Fitness.

Like most running plans, mine has a mixture of different kinds of run throughout the week. I run 3 or 4 times a week, gradually increasing the distance I cover on my ‘long run’ and doing a couple of other shorter distance runs that focus on speed, or help me build a cumulative distance throughout the week.

Speed focused runs help me get used to running at a slightly faster pace than I normally would. This means that even on a ‘short’ run, I get a good workout.

What does it all mean?

Runs where you focus on speed or pace rather than distance sometimes get funny names like tempo, fartlek or interval. Here’s what the terms mean in simple language:

Tempo run – a run in which you try to run at a target pace for part or all of that session.  You may target a pace of so many minutes a mile for the whole or part of the run, or you could choose to start slowly and increase your speed each mile (known as a progressive run).

Fartlek – yeah that’s a funny name. It translates from Swedish as speed play. Basically a fartlek run is one where you deliberately play around with your speed, running faster over short distances and then slowing down again. I often use lampposts or other markers in the landscape to mark out fast sections on a fartlek run.

Interval – this is a more structured session where you run at pace for a set amount of time or distance, then slow down a little, recover and repeat. For example, I might run for 3 minutes fast and then slow down for 1 minute of recovery and repeat that 6 or 7 times.

I use a GPS watch (mine is a Garmin Forerunner XT) to help me track time, distance and pace on all my runs and I log all of my training on Fetcheveryone. This is a really friendly and accessible online community that allows you to log any kind of activity including running, cycling, swimming, weight training and much more. It allows me to see stats from all my training in all sorts of different ways, compare individual sessions and tot up how many miles I’ve logged in a week/month/year. As well as all the statistical stuff it’s also a great place to chat to other people who run, cycle, swim and get advice and support.

This week my half marathon training plan included 3 run sessions and a strength training session. I’ll also add a yoga class which I enjoy for a bit of peaceful stretching and recovery after a busy week of training and work.

This week’s run training sessions were:

  • Run intervals: Warm up, then run 3 mins fast, 1 min recovery x 6. Cool down
  • 8k run over a flattish route
  • 12k run over a flattish route

You really don’t need any fancy kit other than a pair of trainers to go out and get running, but over time I’ve invested in some kit that really helps me track my progress, stay motivated and feel good when I run. More of that next time…

Back to running

Me running through Fetchppint at the Great North Run

Hello. Sorry I have neglected this running and triathlon blog for a long time. I have done a few races and events since I last wrote, but mainly I’ve been pootling along with no real focus to my running.

That’s already changed as in 2019 I decided that I’d like to run a half-marathon again. So in January I signed up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon and entered the ballot for the Great North Run in Newcastle. This week I found out that I have a place in the Great North Run, so I’ll now be running 2 half marathons in 2019 and I thought it was time to get back to writing about running again.

For those who don’t know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. It’s likely a wee bit further than your run to the bus stop. And unless you’re a dedicated distance runner, it takes a bit of training to be able to run that distance comfortably.

The last time I ran that distance was in 2015. I didn’t really enjoy the training for it and by that time I was more focused on doing triathlons, so running took a back seat to swimming and cycling.

But I feel like I’ve been drifting along, getting slower and not really doing anything much with my running for a couple of years. So I decided I needed a challenge, to shake things up a bit and to push myself to run at my full potential.

Running challenges

Whether you’re a new runner feeling nervous about calling yourself a ‘runner’ and or an experienced runner who has run hundreds of miles and loads of races, there are always challenges, both physical and mental in the act of running.

Motivation, training, setting goals and expectations, where to run, when to run, how to run, how fast, how far, what to eat, what to wear, where to find a toilet… These can all be thoughts on the mind of any runner at any time.

The plan

I’ve been running fairly consistently now since 2009, so I have a few things that I know help me. As a kid I delighted in a smart school timetable with subjects colour coded so I knew where I had to be and when.

It’s the same now that I have a half marathon to focus on. I have a plan of 3 or 4 runs a week of varying distances to help me build up to the big race. The first event I’m doing is Edinburgh half marathon on 26th May, so I’ve got a good few weeks to get ready for it.

So far I’m three weeks in and really enjoying the fact that my runs have a bit more focus to them. It’s really easy, especially over the winter when it’s cold, dark and rainy to decide not to run ‘later’ or find an excuse not to run at all. But so far I have managed to persuade myself to run all my planned sessions, even when that means getting up at 5.30am and running on frosty pavements before work.

How’s it going?

I’m going to use a technique I learned when I did some triathlon coaching to help me keep track of my running progress. It’s a good way to measure more than just time and distance and is based on answering 3 simple questions – what went well? what could be even better? what do I need to pay attention to?

What went well:

  • Ticking off all the sessions and mileage on my plan
  • Running in weather (wind/rain) and doing some hill and speed work
  • Starting slowly (mostly not having much choice) and allowing myself to warm up
  • Persisting with a run when it felt difficult at first and then feeling like I could have carried on at the end
  • Being on target for my goal of running 500 miles in 2019

Even better if:

  • I space my runs out throughout the week to allow recovery time
  • I increase my effort levels on at least one run by including more faster efforts
  • I add in another strength training session

Watch out for:

  • Niggle in my shoulder/neck
  • Warming up my feet
  • Do my post-run stretches and get up from my desk regularly at work