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The Heart Of The Run

THOUGHTS ON RUNNING AND HEALTHY LIVING FROM A VEGAN RUNNER

…And then a weird injury happens!

So there I was, ticking along nicely, completing sessions, hitting pace targets, getting my strava kudos. 3 weeks to go until the marathon, nothing could go wrong! Weekly mileage was reducing, it was nearly game time..

Cue the wierdest injury I’ve heard of.

I have a deep, wide, split in the skin at the base of my big toe, just above the seam with the foot. I think I got it walking for an extended period of time on a cold floor with bare feet, but perhaps that just exacerbated a problem about to rear it’s ugly head.

Either way, Friday the 31st March I was aware of a little sharp pain under my left big toe. An examination revealed a little bit of red; closer examination revealed a small split.

With this I proceeded to soak my feet and then set-to them with a foot-grater! The further down I got the more of the split it revealed…

I had about a 1.5-2cm long, c. 5mm deep split through all of my built-up skin down to the red raw stuff underneath. Now at this point I was aware of it but it was OK, so I kept running on it for the next 4 days. However on Monday my feet got saturated and cold at work, for about 5 hours until I could change socks. Come Tuesday morning it was worse.

At work I was limping, with my toes curled up in my boots to try and avoid flexing the toe. Even with this, and¬†especially without, there was a kind of ripping pain that was quite unpleasant. I saw a nurse that evening, got it partially glued…and on what would have been my 150th day in a row, had to let go of my run streak.
It’s 3 days without running later and, while I’m still a bit disappointed, I’m feeling pretty upbeat about the whole thing. For one, Tuesday was the worst point. The toe felt marginally better yesterday and has spent large parts of today forgotten about, a good sign.

 

20170406_191222
The show-stopping culprit

 

Secondly, I’ve put so much work in, more than I’ve ever achieved. My highest mileage week (twice), highest mileage month, fastest long runs. I’ve set myself new PBs at 10 mile and 1/2 marathon distance, as well as my fastest ever time at our monthly winter club race.

Thirdly, timing-wise it’s really not too bad. I’ve got long enough for the split to heal but I’m also at the 3 week taper point. Sure, a full stop maybe isn’t the recommended taper…but this is a real chance for muscles which have taken a pounding to truly recover and re-stock. I’m certainly noticing that an appetite which had reached a state best described as ‘raging’ has calmed down somewhat. I don’t need telling that’s probably a good sign ūüėÄ

So fingers crossed, this might even be a stroke of good fortune in the guise of bad luck. Positive Mental Attitude always.

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The Self-Indulgent Pursuit of ‘Better’

Sometimes I put myself off posting on this blog because it seems so self-indulgent. Running often seems like¬†a self-indulgent pursuit at the best of times anyway. If you have¬†read ‘Eat and Run’ by Scott Jurek, then perhaps like myself you¬†found it inspirational, but at the same time an account of a life of masochistic self-indulgence. Or perhaps it is merely too honest?¬†A¬†man searching for perfection and his purpose, to win but also reach an unobtainable inner peace.

When I am tired on Saturday morning and want to do nothing, followed by a Sunday with a long run or a race I wonder whether I will look back on this time as inspirational or utterly selfish. How will my wife remember it? Will we regret less weekends spent touring National Trust properties or cuddled up watching movies? Or will those hours foam rolling, cooking and running (or recovering) seem worthwhile?

Nevertheless, here I am. ‘Here’, as of this morning, is at a place a lot of my friends said couldn’t be done, was unrealistic or even stupid. I have run every day for the last 119 days, (that’s 17 weeks), which can look impressive or unimpressive depending on your perspective! I’m not quite at the end of my ‘journey’, but I’m not sure there is a well-defined stop point, or an end point, (or a middle point), so this is as good a time as any to pause and reflect!

I can’t pretend I’m doing it for spiritual or soul-searching reasons, or anything so noble, but then it’s all perspective, perhaps there is a something noble in anybody who works hard and changes their behaviour to strive for anything? I find such individuals inspirational and hold them up as examples to follow, whether my friends who have achieved things which they have worked hard for or fellow local runners who have put the time in and elevated themselves.

My start point was November the 6th, last year (2016). 24 weeks away from London Marathon 2017. As previous blog posts have discussed, London Marathon has become my Moby Dick since I first watched my ex run it in 2013. I set a Good For Age qualifying time as a target, achieved it the September and ran it in 2015. A lack of genuine preparation led to unrealistic aims, an excruciating finish and an overall  disappointing race experience, despite managing to get another GFA qualifying time.

You’d think that might have learned me a bit, but in all honesty my preparation for 2016 was sluggish and poorly planned once again, with only the discovery of a 2nd Edition ‘Daniels Running Formula’ in a charity shop in January saving me, putting me on the right track from the start of February. It was tough getting the training I wanted in with such a short period of time remaining but the focus it gave me allowed me to pull it out of the fire and I managed to get my PB with the magical sub-3 hour milestone (2:59:04).

I disappointed myself by dying a death with training afterwards; I ran out of steam and let my newfound enthusiasm and fitness drop off. But I was determined to learn my lessons again and give myself a full run at the training. So,¬†opening¬†with a cold, windy cross-country race I commenced running with 24 weeks to go and now, 17 weeks on I’ve not missed a day. In all honesty I’ve surprised myself! Which is always a nice thing.

It’s not entirely necessary to point this out, but it’s not always been easy! After¬†a lead-in period of 6 weeks I needed to start hitting mileage totals in line with my own ‘peak’ target and as soon as you’re in that zone it’s not about just getting out, it’s about making the numbers add up. It needs planning and determination. I’ve had weeks where I’ve run 11, 12 times. I had a Sunday where, to make it a 20 mile day, I ran four separate times in one day:¬† 4 miles pre-race, then went to run an¬†off-road 10km, followed this with¬†a long ‘warm-down’ (was already cold!), then ran with the wife after getting home,¬†showered and changed!

Over Christmas I managed to hit my weeks mileage target despite picking up a slight injury after placing 3rd in the ‘Abombinable Snowman’ 10 miler on the Isle of Wight. Very painful to run on but I kept them short and easy, kept icing and rolling and it cleared up.

 

2016-12-28 09.52.59
3rd in the Abominable Snowman; a bit chilly!

 

After Christmas I had a pretty aggressive chest cold (I’m asthmatic), and¬†a few weeks ago I had a significant calf injury, which required me to¬†completely rearrange my training to incorporate¬†a highly-involved foam-rolling and icing regime.

The whole process of training, and overcoming setbacks, has taught me so much about what it takes to improve at running: the mistakes we make and some of the key elements in good training. For me the number one element to training well and improving is:

PLANNING.

You have to have a plan. You have to know your timeframe, your target, yourself. For my first London I had a pace target based on absolutely nothing other than¬†a misguided notion of what PB I thought I should be able to get. Now I understand that you don’t aim for specific PB’s. You have targets, but you aim to train right. If you train well you’ll get exactly what you deserve on the day. Plucking a PB out of the air is not worth the time it takes you to think about it. Our capacity to train is limited by our personal lives and our attitudes. If you are lazy you will be found out. If you can’t balance maintenance with running you will get injured. You have to plan, you have to schedule and be realistic and sensible. But it’s more than that. If you have a schedule and a busy life then you have to look ahead. When can you run? When can’t you run? Where is that second long run going to fit in? How are you going to schedule so you don’t do hard sessions too close together?

I’m not saying that people need to be¬†this militaristic to maintain a casual, fun-running schedule. When I first started running I¬†ran every other day, averaging maybe¬†3-5 miles each time. I was injury free, improved and enjoyed it. I would run long runs on Sundays when needed for longer races and still managed to become a respectable local runner who would place fairly regularly in the top 10, if not top 3.

Which leads me onto the second most important thing with running well:

CONSISTENCY.

Nobody builds and improves with a 1 step-forward, 1 step back approach. Or, as¬†is more common with runners (myself included), 1,000,000 steps forward, then 3 months taking it easy. That way lies injury and disappointment, as you try to run at paces your body has lost the ability to support. If it’s not¬†a habit, if it’s not regular, you make it tricky for your body to become accustomed to something that it doesn’t do regularly. If sitting on the sofa is the norm, exercise will always feel a little unpleasant! Instead of just sitting on the sofa you could be doing…

STRENGTH AND MAINTENANCE WORK.

A sedentary lifestyle does not strengthen the body, it is preparation to fail. Life is busy and baby steps are essential but as the amateur Ironmen and women prove, we can develop our bodies to do incredible things. But you have to have a balance. So many casual runners fall victim to imbalance injuries as they seek to develop their legs while not having the necessary core strength and stability to keep everything in the right place! For some, running will always be a chore so the idea of having to do further work around it will never appeal. However, 10 minutes of yoga before breakfast, or doing some planks and sit-ups in front of the telly; these are achievable things which will help your body help you. Some people don’t even stretch after a run…I would say that if you want¬†to truly improve and appreciate running, (or probably any sport),¬†you must factor in maintenance work as well.¬†If 3 x 30 minute runs a week seems more than enough then I would¬†not set your targets¬†on a marathon!

 

This all brings me full circle. It’s not simply the miles you run or the time spent running them that can feel selfish once you try and test yourself. There is so much more. It’s coming back and spending¬†20-30 minutes stretching and then showering before you’re truly ready to help out around the house. It’s asking your partner/family to get you things while you sit there icing and heating for 30 minutes, or begging your partner to massage the hard to reach parts of your back. There is so much more than the time spent running that you will see on Strava and the only people who truly appreciate this and have to bear the brunt of it are those you live with. It can all feel very selfish sometimes…but once you start to achieve amazing things, as a team, it does feel very much worthwhile.

Trust me.

Goodbye, Cruel Summer

I will cut straight to the chase. This has been a bad summer for running.

Summer is my favourite time to run. The more I have run, the skinner I have become: plenty of people hate being hot when they run and prefer cold days and rain. I’m solar powered, more akin to Harvey Birdman.

The moment the layers start to come off is some kind of magic place for me. And if I can get away with just a tiny pair of shorts and shoes, then it’s a kind of wierd, sun-warmed freedom that I struggle to articulate. 

It’s real good though.

This summer, however, everything went a bit wrong. I over-did the running post-London, trying to maintain the same routine, a high mileage, etc, on my way to the North Devon AONB Marathon. I lost all my motivation. I ran the marathon, got a PB, but it is a toughie and it left me spent.

The day after that marathon I started a bit of a punishing away job. We had to work in the July sun in full protective equipment; flame retardent boiler suits, gloves, hard-hats, the works. 

Drained and de-motivated, with tough days, it was all I could do to run a few times a week. Then I got a chest cold from a colleague and a bad few weeks became a bad month; a bad month became two. I see-sawed between something and nothing.

It got to September. I was home for work again and I should have run a marathon with my sister, but a complete lack of preparation on my part meant I pulled out.

October arrived and my return to training and attempt to re-build was hammered by a vile bout of flu followed by a chest infection around long work days. I tried not to be off, so it took about 3 weeks before I recovered.

Just in time for winter.

Hmm.

The timing of my return to health actually allowed me a weeks grace before a significant race in the annual calender. My local club race, the South Molton Struggle, was my first proper race and the only one I’ve run every year. In 2014 I won it, which was fantastic. I knew there would be no chance of that this year but I wanted to support the club and make sure we had a decent go at the team prize. I never like to lose the team prize at our own race!

On the morning of the race I was incredibly relaxed. I hadn’t raced in 4 months and my prepararion was more than a little haphazard. Could have eaten more, drunk more, etc. But I was really relaxed.

I walked to the HQ so I could stretch the legs and listen to some hip-hop (Ugly Heroes).

I was relaxed all the way to the start of the race and into it. I put no pressure on myself and tried to stay away from the red line. It’s hard not to push over the early stages but I knew it would come back to haunt me if I wasn’t disciplined; 7.8 undulating mixed terrain miles is not to be trifled with after a month out! The start of this race is typically a breakneck affair, all uphill though, so I tried to stay on my easy pace.

After a mile or so, especially after a key descent (which is very much my forte), I was actually in 3rd, about 20 seconds behind a club-mate. And miraculously that’s how it stayed for miles.

Tasty little climb; Tiverton Harrier behind me finished 4th

I was very aware of somebody blowing hard trying to catch me on a long climb just after half-way, but I knew there was a shorter, tougher climb to come so I tried not to panic. I hate looking over my shoulder, it paralyzes me, so I just tried to run tactically, saving myself for tough bits and trying to keep a kick in store. 
The last c. 1/2 mile of the race is mostly down-hill, so after a final road crossing I started giving it all I had. I had the fear by now, how could I not?! I’d had no expectations and poor fitness and I was minutes and seconds away from a ‘podium’ finish!

As I wiggled through a footpath gate and joined the final road descent to the finish and the bulk of supporters, I was feeling a real range of emotions. It’s hard to remember exactly, I know I was still worried about having to pull out a final sprint but I thought I had it in me. I knew our club would be delighted to have had two runners in the top 3 and I was looking forward to seeing friends. I was excited to see my clubmate, knowing he would be really pleased with his performance. And with seconds to go, I was feeling a real sense of pride in myself, for coming in from such a patchy summer to get something out of a race that I wasn’t even sure I would run 2 days beforehand.

A wierd kind of redemption story, I know. I ran it slower than I’d run in the past, placed worse than I’d placed in the past. And boy, were my legs sore over the next few days (read: week). But I remembered how much I loved racing. It’s not just a series of minutes and seconds, it’s an experience that you live very intensely. And it reminded me that, although the training and summer had gone awry, I’ve not lost it all. I’m still a relatively good runner. You never go back to square 1. And that was exactly the boost I needed to enjoy my running again.

Overtraining and the dreaded ‘burn-out’

Sometimes running is all reward. You’re getting fitter, you’re improving times, and nailing tough workouts. Mood is good, mind is right. You’re a demi-God, proving to mortal folk what can be achieved with Positive Mental Attitude.

That was my February to May. In my head I was thinking: “why have I never done this before?! This training every day is easy! I’m indestructible!”

London Marathon came and it went perfectly, I went through the rest of the week still running and clocked 50 miles (my week starts on the Sunday!).

I kept going. “Rest weeks are for the weak!” I thought, arrogance and stupidity in perfect balance.

Next week 36 miles, no breaks. The next, 55, no breaks. I had a tough off-road marathon (the AONB North Devon Marathon) at the end of June. “Too late to stop now”, I thought, “might as well keep the mileage up!”.

The following week I was due for a biggie: 70 miles. But a busy weekend meant I only managed 13 on the Sunday which meant a week of relentless running. I was running twice a day to try and get on top of it.

This was all topped off on the Friday with a fast race; the first ‘Run Exe Relay’. A member of my team dropped out on the day. “No problem”, says I, full of swagger, “I’ll run first and last”.

It was the first time I’d raced 4k and it was hard to know how to pace it. I ran my fastest ever race average and my fastest ever 2 miles; I was delighted. While I was waiting to do the second leg of the relay my body got cold in bad weather. I tried to do the same again; I was a touch slower, a bit sore, but I survived.

And got out the next day and ran 10 miles to finish the week off.

And got out on the Sunday and ran 18 to get stuck into my new week.

Then I went to run on the Monday and a stabbing pain went through my right ankle. And the whole house of cards collapsed.

That was Monday the 23rd of May and since then I have run 11 times in 27 days, quite a disappointing tally for a man preaching the values of running everyday.

Only a minority of that missed time was due to injury. The sprain (probably due to tight calves) healed within a few days and I ran 4 days later. The damage was really psychological.
A lot of people get injured and are worried about doing the same thing again. I had an element of that but really, I had enjoyed the break. Massively.

4 months of running nearly every day; getting up at 4.45 to foam roller for an hour before work; getting into bed exhausted after a non-stop evening of domestic chores and running, it was relentless. The little breaks weren’t quite enough. My heart rate refused to drop down to its usual minimum, staying elevated by about 5-6 BPM even with rests.

So when the break came I didn’t want to go back. My mind sought reasons to extend it. I researched overtraining, something I obviously had done, but really as more of an excuse to rest rather than out of concern of injuring myself.

The dilemma in these situations for most runners is the fear of losing gains.
I felt I had been really proving something to myself, I could see marked progress and the feeling that a bad 2-4 weeks was going to put me right back was powerful.

The second problem is it then made me feel guilty and a bit rubbish for stopping. It was a vicious cycle of second guessing my motivations for everything and then questioning my decisions.

The third problem with that is all the uncertainty. All that self-doubt about what’s really going on with your body and mind makes you fret a lot about your decisions: “Should I rest or push through?” “Do I really need more rest?” “Should I really be going out for this run?” “Is there any point going out for 3 miles?” “Is 5 miles too much for an easy run?” “What pace?” “What route?” “What shoes?” “Is it even worth it now?”

I got decision fatigue.
I lost all confidence in my ability to guage what was best for me and completely lost any semblance of a plan.

In the end I thought, if I’m at that point might as well just relax and go with the flow. I just stopped and let it happen. I got some good advice and reassurance from a coach at my club which really helped address my fitness fears for the forthcoming marathon.

Once the decision was made and I relaxed it all got a lot easier and quieter in my head. The last two weeks I have run when it has been convenient and not worried when I haven’t. That includes long runs, easy runs and a hard run.

The hard run was a good marker of both where my head and fitness were at; the run went better than I expected but it did leave me a little crocked. However, after a day off I still got out and ran on the next day despite some soreness. I recognised the muscle soreness was expected and not an injury as such, so I got out for an easy short run and felt fine. Today it is improved. I had the opportunity to bunk off but I didn’t. Equilibrium is being restored.

I have learnt a lot from this experience. Maintaining such a punishing schedule is admirable but ultimately unsustainable. It was unhealthy and inflexible and left me feeling dependant on it to improve.

I’d like to get back to running every day of the week, I think that is healthy and achievable. What I need to change is my flexibility.

The renowned coach Jack Daniels, whose famous formula I have been following, suggests 3 days easy after races/quality sessions. I had been ignoring that to achieve mileage when really I should have worried more about my body and mind.

Another positive change was while I was resting and wrestling with my motivation, my wife and I worked out a weekly schedule for training and cooking. This means when one of us has a busy week-night, the other will use it as an easy day and sort the food out! Knowing we are covering each other and that we don’t have to work, train and be domestic every day of the week seems to have been quite liberating so far and I’m excited to see how well it works.

My final change in approach will be to target only a couple of ‘A’ races each year. The temptation as a club runner is to try and train, improve and race all year round, with no periodisation. Until an injury strikes of course! Then it’s two steps back…
If I hadn’t been worrying about the marathon at the end of June I might have allowed myself some rest time after London, letting my mind and body recover and feeling ready to go again. Moving straight on just made me view the rest of the year as one looooooong slog, a feeling that broke me! I may have been able to keep running in the week after London but it wasn’t actually a positive thing if it led to a bad month further down the line…

So next and last ‘A’ race of the year is New Forest Marathon. Then any further races in the rest of the year will be for fun with a no-pressure build-up. Fingers crossed lessons learnt now will help me train smarter and more consistently. And I look forward to some planned breaks!

Then in November start London 2017 training….!

Lessons from London Marathon 2015

I meant to write this nearly a year ago.
In fact, it was supposed to be the opening post of this blog. I was full of wisdom after a London Marathon that hadn’t gone how I’d hoped and I was trying to take the positives out of the experience.

Fast forward c. 350 days and I’m back on the train towards the ‘Big Smoke’ for London Marathon 2016. Those nerves are setting in! So what pearls of wisdom can I give myself right now?

1 – Don’t sight-see!
I was a proper bumpkin last year. Y’know, it’s cool, it’s my style. I am a bumpkin for sure. But there is a time and a place for the slack-jawed yokel; the days preceding your first London Marathon? Not ideal bud.

So I checked out the British Museum with my wife and her brother. We had already travelled to her brothers house, then back in to the city, then back out again. I was racing him up the escalators from the tube station with my rucksack on! Idjit.
This year: Expo. Brother-In-Laws. Marathon.

2 – BE SELFISH.
So, first London last year, my proud family wanted to make it an event. They came up on the Saturday and met my wife and I at the hotel, so had to carry all my stuff around London again. Then we had to travel to the Expo to get number, etc.
But after that, my parents, making a rare trip to London, had a few places they wanted to visit…
Now I love my fam and I was delighted that they’d spent their hard-earned pennies coming to see me but there was a point in the late afternoon where we were at a Whole Foods Market, (possibly at Piccadilly Circus), and I had a proper energy crash. My mood darkened, I stopped caring, I had to sit down! Tired legs, tired body.
NOT IDEAL.
This year my family couldn’t make it and my sister made her own arrangements, meaning I can just travel to the Expo, then travel to accommodation. No faff.

3 – Eat whenever you can!
Being vegans, and amateur athletes as it were, my wife and I eat all the time! When you are in a strange place for a couple of days relying on other people who have their own lives, it’s easy to lose that routine. Eating out is tricky and needs further travel, while snacking doesn’t really tick the box.

Last year I was doing all that travelling on foot and eating irregularly, certainly not as well as I would normally. My last evening meal was a box of mixed vegan stuff from the Whole Foods Market, followed by more trudging.
And come the next morning, with nerves and no hotel breakfast, I didn’t get much food in me until the last hour or so before race time. Not great!

This time we are travelling lighter but with a ton of food. Muffins, lentil dahl, fruit, nuts, oat cakes, nut and protein bars, the works. Oh, and some Rich Tea biscuits y’all. Plus a restaurant booked for tonight! Weight gain assured.

4 – Don’t fret over your pre-race sleep!

So the Saturday night my sister put us all in a nice hotel thinking it was exactly what I needed to get a nice nights sleep. I’m sure it helped as much as it could, we were en-suite, big room, clean, etc.

How did I sleep?

You know how I slept before you even read this…

It was a…tormented nights sleep. It was hard to drift off, I slept lightly and woke often, panicking I’d overslept. We set an alarm early to ensure we had no drama over the travel and it was nearly a relief when it went.
Do I think I’d have slept better anywhere else? Probably not.
Do I think it affected my race. Nah, not compared to all the above factors.

So this year I am not stressing. Will set two alarms, go to bed when I feel tired and not worry about the rest. Literally.

5 – Go easy on yourself.
Last year I got it into my head that London was the race. Honestly, it felt like London and my finishing time was the be-all and end-all, that I had to run the race of MY LIFE.
How did this happen? Was it the money invested in the race, travel and hotel?
Was it the time invested in the training (which was sporadic and…gentle). Was it the presence of my family far from home? I know I had unrealistic expectations based on a number I plucked out of the air, rather than performances.

Needless to say I missed my target; heck, I was lucky to re-qualify. From mile 21 I suffered from increasingly frequent and severe hamstring cramps which were so debilitating, any friends watching witnessed me limp across the finish line in a grimace, desperately trying not to cramp again.

I had started slowly in the cold and when I eventually started to pick my pace up, I tried to make up the time too quickly. By the half-way point I was on for a 2:51 finish, too quick too soon.

What was I thinking? This:

“I know this is a bit quicker than I probably need to do but what if I’ve got a stupendous marathon in me right now?! What if I slow down and miss out on the chance of glory?! I feel ok at the moment! Let’s just keep ticking along and see what happens. I am a good runner, I am a good runner, (repeats)…”

In the end I missed out on a sub 3 time. My last few miles were terrible, crushing affairs that I only remember as snapshots of being passed by a friend from Ryde Harriers, support from spectators and trying to stretch. Desperately. It is a blur of misery in my head.

This year I have trained better. I have learned. And my mindset is different. I know I have some great marathons in me. But not tomorrow. Tomorrow is not the last marathon, it is a step on the path. A step with thousands of supporters urging us on and a load of water stations. And Lucozade. And gels!

6. Enjoy
There is nothing like this in the UK, possibly most countries in the world too. I have friends running from other running clubs, friends from my club. There are friends running for charity. Even better, my training partner and constant source of motivation is there this year (running dressed as a beekeeper, orange coloured) after heartbreak last year when we missed out due to an email spam filter logistical nightmare.
There is nothing else like this.
There will be parts of the course where the spectators are 4, 5, 6 people deep. Where the noise will be a warm, welcoming wall of sound. Where you can revive your morale and feel like a celebrity with a well timed ‘conducting’ of a rowdy row of spectators. Where out of the blue you’ll hear a brief snatch of “go on Young Horse” (tip 7: have a distinctive nickname). Where you’ll hear a snatch of a familiar voice and see your partner/family/friend/clubmate roaring you on.
There is nothing else like this. So Paul:
Be grateful of your presence there. Be mindful and aware of the spectacle. Be kind yourself, you’ve earnt it! And enjoy, amigo!

Oh.
And listen to ‘Witness The Fitness (1 Hope) by Roots Manuva on the drive t’station.

Epic First Post (for Wewine.com)

So this blog was an idea that started and then failed, which isn’t the most positive way to start proceedings again but I guess I’m often a little too honest for my own good! Belonging to a running group on facebook, the runners who constantly talk about their own running eventually start to irritate me, so a blog of simply talking about my own running would be hypocritical and super boring. Sure, some real-life stuff to give it a framework and ongoing story is fine, but just discussing run after run after run is not cool. It’s why non-runners (and probably a good percentage of runners) hate runners.

Fortunately, inspiration and motivation (minspiration?) arrived in the form of my good friend Gretel, who had recently started a blog with her friends that was really fun and, well, fun! It pretends to be a blog about wine, but really it’s a wonderful romp through life as experienced by 3 buddies. Check it out:¬†http://wewine.co.uk/

It looks great as well…but¬†I digress.

Gretel asked me if I would like to answer a few questions about running to put on their blog. Gretel has actually trained for and run a half-marathon of her own making to prove something to herself, so she certainly doesn’t need my advice! But I was flattered to be asked. So here are the questions they asked, with my responses. It didn’t quite scratch the surface of all my thoughts and opinions on running but I may come back to this in future and add more.

 

1) When did you start running?

The summer of 2007; probably June. I was working away constantly and was really missing the indoor football I’d got used to over the winter.

I tried doing some keepy-uppy in the park but that sucked (because I sucked at keepy-uppy). I read every football magazine cover to cover. And then I thought,” if nothing else I can at least keep my fitness up”.

It was an absolute revelation; I loved it! I came back hot, sweaty and totally buzzing! I never looked back while I was working on that job, I ran every other workday and really missed it the days I didn’t run.

I stopped that September after getting shin pain; I’d been running badly in terrible shoes and really had no idea what I was doing.

I started again in 2008, actually bought some running shoes, and from then on I’d like to think I’ve been running more often than not. However I’d guess it was 2009 while studying a Masters degree where I had the time and got really motivated.

I ran my first races in 2011 and found I actually wasn’t a terrible runner and then over that winter joined my current running club (the South Molton Strugglers, represent!) and that really changed me from a casual runner to a racing runner, which I would recommend to everyone!

 

2) What motivates you to stick on some trainers and get out there?

My relationship with running has changed and become more complex over the years. (I started writing a long response to this but then it dawned on me that maybe I should save that for question 3 as you can’t consider one without another!).

Simplest way to put it is self-improvement and competitiveness. That sounds so serious! And hideously self-involved…. but unfortunately it’s the truth!

It’s not as awful as it sounds; once you join a running club, start racing and establish yourself, the way you view yourself and your achievements changes profoundly.

For example, I never thought I’d ever run a marathon, it was never in my mind when I was younger. I couldn’t have told you anything about one. Then in 2013 I ran a qualifying time for automatic entry into London Marathon and all of a sudden you’ve set yourself a new benchmark to try and maintain, or ideally, better.

Runners go one of three ways:

1 – They dabble and stop. They feel it’s something they should do but their heart isn’t really in it. Who knows, maybe that’s 50% or more of people who buy running shoes! I’m sure a lot of people try but stop for a multitude of reasons.

2 – Another group will run purely for their own fitness and satisfaction and may only race infrequently, if at all. Some people don’t like the idea of racing, or running with/against others.

3 – The final group are those most likely to join clubs, race often and talk about Personal Bests, etc. For this group running may still be fun but it becomes training. You are trying to get faster and tougher and to not run is to go backwards. It can be a slippery but very awesome slope. I’m in this group. It can be difficult to maintain perspective sometimes, but that’s a whole other topic!

3) Are there ever days when you really just don’t want to do it, and how do you change that??

The short answer, is yes! There are plenty of days I don’t want to run. When I hit bad patches a week or two could go by with me making excuses for not running!

Motivation is tricky for everybody and it is a complete myth that the better a runner you are, the more easy it is to run those miles. If anything, the better you get, the more pressure you can feel under, as you don’t want to lose what you’ve gained!

I guess running is much like a relationship; at first it’s all amazing, exploring this new thing that you are able to do. That honeymoon period can last a long time depending on the person, how often you run, how hard, etc. But then something negative can strike; loss of motivation, injuries, disappointment, lack of time, winter, life change. Once you lose that initial buzz of pride and excitement it’s hard to properly get it back again.

The answer to getting over humps, be it not wanting to get out for one run or for two weeks is ALL IN YOUR HEAD! I try to focus on a couple of things:

1 – How good those first few steps feel. Running feels good. Maybe not every step of every run but I find that the first few steps give me a little boost of adrenaline and I’m instantly awake and alive. Good to try and remind yourself to remind yourself of how the bits you enjoy feel!

2 – How good the achievement feels. Whether it was rainy or sunny (sunny is better though) you have been out in the world and run! You’ve done it! You’re home, you’re stretching and you can feel a buzz of pride that daily life doesn’t supply very often. Am I right or what?! It’s delayed reward but a totally sweet one that often lasts longer than the run by a long way.

3 – How it affects my mood. Often I can be tired and cranky after work and if I have a long time without running I get a bit like Bart Simpson in that episode when he misses the summer holidays with a broken leg.

Running actually energises me and makes me a nicer person. This doesn’t always happen and I used to run with an ex who, to begin with, would actually get a bit wound up when we ran. Maybe it was me…

But generally the mood enhancing effects of running are well researched and I would recommend it to anyone, I never stress when I run and it wakes my mind and body up.

 

There isn’t really a magic formula but a few other tips are to get your running kit out in advance; don’t give the lazy bit of your brain time to negotiate! Kidnap your brain and body, get it out of the door in your running kit and then keep going! And don’t put pressure on yourself, just promise yourself you will take it how you feel when you get out there.

 

4) What’s your number one thing to do the night before a long run?

Now this is a totally easy one! Sleep properly and be hydrated. It’s that simple! Your body can do so much more than you would ever believe if you give it the chance.

 

5) How do you cool down after a run?

Another simple one. If I go out to do a structured hard training session I will always finish with a mile run at a really slow, easy pace. Then I might leave myself a little walk back to my house and then do a couple of stretches outside, Once in the house there is about 10 minutes more stretching

I actually really struggle to keep my body temperature up when I’m cold or wet so a lot of the time I actually need to worry more about how to warm up after a run! After long runs I often have blue lips and need to sit in a hot bath! But I know a lot of people actually find running overheats them.

In which case aim to finish a little shy of your eventual end location (home…) and wind down to a gentle jog, then a walk. Give your legs a gentle swing out. Once you’re in the house, don’t collapse but try and do some stretching and drink little and often. A lot of fruit can be really thirst-quenching, try putting some grapes, pears or melon in the fridge to have straight after.

If you’re me, you’re desperate for some chilli and a pot of tea…

 

6) What’s your best piece of running advice (for us and for everyone)?

Just one?! Run light (and easy). Or read Born to Run, which is where that slightly truncated advice is taken from.

Seriously though, run light and easy. Your feet are these amazingly complicated constructions of bone designed to help absorb impact if you land on the front of the foot. Some people will give you some BS advice about running; I was initially told the correct technique was to land on the heel and “roll through” to the rest of the foot.

Think about the make-up of your legs. When you hop you hop on your toes. Never your heels. imagine how much impact would get fired directly up your legs into your knees!

So no matter how you think you run, there is nothing that means you have to stomp, land flat or land heavy. It might feel like more work but that’s nonsense, you can already lift your legs up and down and move yourself about. A lot of people think they aren’t runners, they aren’t fit, all they can do is land flat and heavy and it’s just not true. You are in charge of what your legs and feet do.

There are lots of exercises to help make it more natural but I would recommend simply practising, gently at first, short distances to get comfortable and build up the relevant muscles which will be taking the impact rather than your knees.

Remember that no matter what the blurb says, no running shoe protects your knees from the impact of running. Seriously. Find the bit in the description of your shoes that says that. It doesn’t because they can’t. You need to do that by running light and easy. Float.

(If I could sneak one more word of advice in, it would be, if you plan on running regularly, treat yourself like an athlete! Health and fitness are not the same thing. Give your body the tools to be awesome; making it do physical activity and then not giving it the tools to heal and strengthen is sort of pointless. Be mindful of your body, how you treat it in all ways).

 

7) What’s the next running event you’re signed up to?

The next I’m signed up for is London Marathon 2016! I watched other people run it in 2013 and it blew me away. It’s massive! It’s got to be one of the biggest and best supported running races in the world, where anybody can get in and run the same course as some of the greatest athletes competing each year. After turning up as a spectator I made it my aim to qualify, having missed the window to get in via the ballot. I managed to run a qualifying time in another marathon later in 2013 and ran it for the first time last year, where I succesfully re-qualified. I will have my fingers crossed to do the same again this year. As a runner, once you’ve seen it, it’s like nothing else. It’s a real privilege to be able to do it just because I can ‘run good’.

The next race I will actually run will probably be the Bampton to Tiverton in Devon on March the 28th, a very old road race in the classic ‘town to town’ style. I currently live in Bampton and had a really cracking race last year, eventually ending up 4th, beating a club-mate by a second in a brutal final mile where we had one heck of a duel! Racing is never about winning, it’s about the experience.

 

8) And finally, obviously running and alcohol are generally frowned upon (at the same time). But at wewine, we’re all about the drinking (not so much the running). Is there any alcohol you like to treat yourself to?

Well look, I can’t lie, I generally don’t drink much. But a bit of alcohol as a treat every now and again is how I operate and living in a county full of hedgerows I have been making a lot of fruit-infused liquers the last few summers. The Sloe Gin I made last year wasn’t the best I’ve ever had; I had a little batch of Blackberry Whisky which showed some promise. However the two surprises were a Rose-Hip Gin, sweetened with brown sugar, which I only made a tiny amount of but tastes like toffee with a really smooth finish… I also re-used my whisky-steeped 2014 blackberries, adding them to some Cream Sherry which has worked out very nicely indeed! Not much of the first batch of that left…

Failing that, I do like a good independent brewery bitter, especially a stout, but shared with a friend rather than the whole bottle. I find those complex flavours are best in small amounts, losing definition over the course of a whole pint. (Oh wow, did I just write that?!)

As for wine (this is for a wine blog, right?) one glass of a good red will hit the spot; two is too acidic for my palate! Rose does nothing for me, and in a white wine I like it sweet. In fact, I spent a week in the Czech Republic with friends before running the Prague Marathon and people in a lot of the villages there make their own alcohol. I tried some local white wine and I’ve never tasted anything better. Crisp, sweet and refreshing. And very more-ish. aybe you girls could track some down? Will swap for some Devon fruit liquer…

And as a final though, there are a few races which involve drinking. Maybe more on that next time? Look up the Marathon du Medoc in the meantime…

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