Sunday, 27 January 2013

How time flies...

Wow it's been almost 2 weeks since I've been on here - how time flies when you're having fun (or training!)
I've done a few good runs since then, and some fun and tough fitcamp sessions too.
Last weekend some friends were running from Bishopbriggs to Falkirk along the Forth & Clyde canal, I didn't need a 20 mile run, so John and I went by train to Croy and met up with Alan Lindsay.  There had been some snow on the Friday, so the path was quite icy at the start - this gave me a chance to try out my kahtoola micro spikes which I'd got for Xmas and hadn't had a chance to use yet.  I kept them on for about 4km then the ice diminished so I put them back in my bag - it feels weird for first few minutes of running after you take them off!  John had run the first mile with us then he headed off at his 'slightly faster than me' pace :-) Alan and I trotted along quite comfortably, blethering away, and the time and the miles passed effortlessly.  We stopped to speak to the wildlife rangers who were trying to rescue a young swan which had managed to get himself tangled up in some fishing line :-(  His parents were watching from a respectful distance as he waddled across the frozen canal and just as the ranger thought she was going to be able to catch him, he took off and flew towards his Mum & Dad!  Her colleague who was in a rowing boat breaking the ice and trying to get to him on the water, was less than impressed!  With about 1mile to go, we met up with John who had run back to meet us, and then we headed off to the cafe at the Falkirk Wheel for a heat and some well earned refuelling.  The rest of the crew, Noanie, David and Angela joined us and after they were fed and rested, we all set off again to head up the hill and through the tunnelto join the Union Canal.  2.5miles took us along to Falkirk High station, where we had parked our car and where the others got on the train to head back to Croy/Bishopbriggs.  It was a fine sunny day and the chat was good, and I got 12.5miles in my legs.
Sunday, we went out in foul weather, it had snowed from about 4pm on the Saturday, pretty much all night, so it was slushy, grey, cold and windy but off we went... We had planned to go up the hill for a wee session, but I was struggling with tired legs so we did a 5.5mile loop around the hillfoots into a blizzard and home again.  I had had a sore foot on Saturday evening, from the base of my toe up towards my ankle, on the top of my foot, which on Sunday morning was swollen and slightly coloured so I rested it for most of sunday afternoon, applying ice and heat.  It is still a bit achy but the swelling and bruising have subsided and it doesn't cause me any pain when running... not sure what I've done but will keep an eye on it and if it doesn't improve over this week, I'll go to see my wonderful physio 
I had a good interval session on the treadmill on Tuesday, I was a bit worried about my foot, but it didn't hurt, then on Thursday I did another treadmill session, I'd a tempo run on my program, and the treadmill makes this much much easier.
Running down the hill
We had a great weekend of running in totally contrasting conditions! Yesterday we could have been in the Swiss Alps, it was glorious sunshine and deep, crisp, white snow - my legs are still cut from the ice-crystals!  We ran round the back of our local hill - Dumyat, up to the Sherrifmuir Road, then onto the hill itself.  We then decided to run down the back of the hill :-) There was no obvious path so we just picked a slope and headed down!  The snow was 3 feet deep in some places!  It was a fabulous day, the weather was amazing, I love being out in the snow and the sunshine there's something very special, and peaceful about being away up in the hills where there are very few other people.  On the walkable side of the hill, we met a few walkers in the full gear, and a couple of young Chinese students in totally inappropriate footwear - who were slipping and sliding their way back down!  I don't know how they managed to get up the path in the first place!  Scary stuff... though not quite as scary as the 4 30-something guys on mountain bikes heading back downhill!  There were ski tracks on the back side of the hill too, though the only other footprints were sheep and the highland coos.
Today it was a 4 seasons in 1 day run, 12 miles on the canal in deep puddles and real clarty mud - both tough workouts in their own way, but feels good to have done them!  I didn't manage to get quite as many miles as my program had for me this week, but I am pleased with the quality of the workouts and looking forward to next week's challenges...

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Does size matter?

A friend recently posted a question in a running group which set me thinking...
He asked peope to say Big or Small - whether they preferred the Big event or a Small race?
I've been mulling this over for the past few days and decided to jot down my thoughts, they are my thoughts, my personal opinion nothing more, and in no way judgemental.
My answer will always be Big, and here are some of the reasons why...

I have now completed 14 full marathons, 1 full ultra, a couple of ultra relays, a number of half marathons and 10ks and I have been fortunate to experience both Big and Small.  I guess the unasked question in amongst all the comments was quantify Big?  For me, Big is 35,000 people or more, lining up at the start in Chicago, New York, London or Berlin, these are, in most people's opinion, Big events.  However, it's not just the number of participants that make an event Big, it's the event itself.  My first ever full marathon was Chicago in 2007, I will never forget arriving at Logan international airport to be greeted by 12 foot high banners welcoming marathoners to the city!  Then when you get into the city itself, there's the thrill of spotting the banners which hang from the lamposts along the actual route, you see where you're going to be running!  Then, there's the EXPO... having been very fortunate to have travelled to many wonderful cities in Europe and N America/Canada, I still think that the Chicago expo is the best.  It's held in a huge exhibition centre and you start by picking up your bib and race packet then you wander round all the stalls, other races touting their race to prospective participants, stalls where you can try gels, drinks, get your gait analysed, have a massage, shops selling merchandise, selling other sports gear, celebrities signing their latest books etc etc etc... it's not uncommon to go twice to a big expo :-) Berlin expo is held on the no longer used airfield at Templehof, where you enter past the memorial to the pilots who flew in the Berlin airlift and where John F Kennedy famously proclaimed himself to be a doughnut :-)
The trip to the expo can be fun too, in the US and Canada you are often offered free transport as part of your entry and it is invariably a yellow school bus!  These are not overly comfortable, but you do get to meet other runners on the way and it's all part of the experience.  Then there's race day itself and the organisation of these events is something to behold... even just the sheer number of portapottis!! The corrals are all labelled and marshalled the baggage drops run with military precision, you get chatting in the queue for the loo, you share anecdotes and good wishes for a great run, with complete strangers but there is a camaraderie unlike any other I have experienced in my life. 
Then there's the support - if like me you are a slower runner and often near the back of the pack, it can be a long and lonely road in a small event.  That's not to say that I am not trying my very best, and if I pass specatators then I do get support from them and this is hugely appreciated, but in a big event there are many many more people in the same place as me, and the spectators give us the same if not even more support as they did to the front runners racing past at the head of the pack.  I can never write eloquently enough to explain how it feels but it is a very emotional experience to be swept along on the wave of support that I have been fortunate enough to experience, to have my name called out in many different tongues especially when you are getting a bit tired, is hugely uplifting.
I could go on and on because for me, it's not just about the race itself, it's about being taken to the hearts of the host City and it's people, to be encouraged along the whole 26.2miles and then to be congratulated by complete strangers as you hobble back to your hotel or appartment with your medal hanging proudly around your neck is fantastic, and if you're really lucky, in Chicago you can even get a free beer in a bar if you wear your medal :-)  In Barcelona, the day after the event we had a really enjoyable meander round the city the next day, spotting the 'blue line' and noticing things that we hadn't seen on the race itself... like where the blue line disappears into a film set!!  This wasn't there the day before when we ran down this street!

I have also taken part in small events, as well as many medium sized ones, and I enjoy them all, however it can get a bit lonely in a smaller event if your near the end - there aren't as many spectators, there aren't as many runners around you and whilst you still get your medal and your banana at the end, it's not the same... that's not to say there's anything wrong with it, it's just different.
So there you go, I did as I was bid on the original posted question which was to answer Big or Small, no opinions or explanations were to be given, but it has been bothering me since, I felt I had to try to write down my reasons - and maybe I've managed to do this here... and in conclusion, whilst I am happy to take part in small local events and will always support them if I'm not participating, it has to be for me the Big event for my first choice.  I hope that I will be fortunate enough to continue to travel and participate in many more Big events :-)
The caveat to all of this has to be that none of the above applies to the Ultra scene, by there nature, Ultra races are smaller, with fewer participants, but immense organisation and a 'family feel' unlike no other, this is a totally different world inhabited by some very strange but lovely people :-)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

And so it's begun...

That's my training for the Highland Fling underway!

I kicked it off with a good run last Sunday on the West Highland Way, a couple of decent sessions during the week, and another awesome run on the West Highland Way yesterday then a wee recovery run today to finish the week.
Yesterday I ran 30km from Dumgoyne to the end of the Garadhban forest and back again.  We joined the WHW at the back of the bonded warehouses belonging to Glengoyne Distillery, this meant a lovely wee trudge through a very boggy (boggy in this case means a mix of sheep, cow, and other unidentified muck!!) field of sheep then onto the Way itself about 1km before the Beech Tree Inn.  This is a great spot for spectators watching the race as they open their outside 'hut' early and serve teas/coffees and rolls with sausage etc... Once across the road, off you go along an old railway embankment, towards Drymen.  I counted at least 4 different styles of gate on this section, and John said you should get a certificate in gate-opening just for completing this section :-)  I agree!
The path runs out after about 3miles and there's a couple of miles on a rather 'undulating' road - which is fortunately almost traffic free, through a wee hamlet called Gartness up another great big hill and then back into a field - also very muddy and with the biggest molehills I've ever seen!  It's a fair climb up through the field to the first relay changeover point which is just outside Drymen.  A wee trot up the road and you're back onto the Way again and heading up into the forest on an old brick road.  I don't really like this wee bit as it's one of those deceptive uphills that doesn't look like much of a climb, but saps your legs as you run along it.  It's about 1km and then you're up onto the forest road and that is a climb!  However, compared to last year it's a decent enough surface to run on, especially at the moment as there's been a lot of logging going on which means there's been a lot of heavy traffic on the road which has tamped down the surface (and left a lot of distinctive red mud!)  This time last year, which was the first time I'd ever been here, they had just laid new stones and it was hellish to run on, like really huge gravel!
There's quite a climb on this section but the view as you crest the hill makes it worthwhile, you can see down to Loch Lomond and have a perfect view of the islands in the loch which form part of the Highland Boundary Fault Line.  They reach out from Conic Hill right into the water like a wee 'Nessie'...
As always, what goes up has to come back down (to some extent) so there are some good downhill runs to reward the hard work of climbing.  I was getting a bit tired and a wee bit down at this point til it crossed my mind I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast which had been almost 3 hours ago so I nibbled on a nakd bar and felt much better almost immediately!  I'm not good at eating and drinking on a run even though I carry a drink with me in my backpack, so I do have to remind myself  to fuel, and this is going to be very very important on the Fling proper so I need to practice and get better at it.

Not the prettiest half way point but a significant marker ...

The Gate with Conic Hill in distance
When I reached the gate at the end of the forest -15km, I was quite pleased to note that it had taken 1hr 50 to get there, this time last year I couldn't run 15km on the flat in that time and that was when I was trying hard!  Yesterday I'd been trotting along quite happily just enjoying the day, the views and the lovely weather, no attention whatsoever to the time, and this was the uphill half of the route!
Some friends were also running from Drymen to Balmaha and back, and I had tentatively arranged to meet up, but we were a bit later starting than we'd planned, so we didn't meet up with them until afterwards.  John had run ahead of me on the brick road and just as I had reached the gate, he texted to say he was at the bottom of Conic hill and couldn't see them.  He then proceeded to climb the hill then turn and head back,  I thought he'd have caught up with me on the last section of the route, but he didn't so when I got back to the car I told him to stop at the Beech Tree Inn I changed into clean shoes* and drove along to wait for him.
I was really pleased with how good I felt when I finished yesterday, I am usually absolutely shattered after a long run, but yesterday was different, I don't know why, but I felt strong and quite elated :-)
I got to the pub, got changed into dry, clean clothes, downed a can of full fat coke - I only ever drink this after a long run - then John arrived, he got changed and we ordered lunch.  We both had the daily special which was Bison steak and it was delicious - they say that you should refuel as quickly as you can on completion of a long run, and should have some protein, so this fine slab of bison fitted the bill perfectly :-) 
As we were finishing, our friends turned up at the pub so we swapped tales as they ate their soup.  One of the group Emma, unfortunately went over on her ankle at the top of the hill, but still managed to run back!  She has since been to A&E and is heavily strapped with a query over a break :-(  I hope she's ok as she's a keen athlete and has a snowboard holiday coming up soon...

Today I went out and did a gentle 5mile recovery run - found it really hard not to keep trying to push on and could hear the voice of my mentor reminding me 'when you feel like you're motoring on' pull it back a bit... I didn't do that very well today, but will keep practising!
So, all in all it's been a good first 'proper week's training' and for what it's worth I don't feel any older since my birthday on Friday than I did before it :-)

* shoes after coming back through the field!   

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Back in the Groove

And loving it!
I can't believe that's us at Thursday again...  The week has flown by, it will soon be the weekend and long run time :-)  It's funny but I find we reach a point where the LSR is the pivotal point in the week and everything else is worked round about it, I'm sure some of my colleagues/friends find this a little bit strange but it makes perfect sense to me and in a strange way I find myself looking forward to it.  I thoroughly enjoyed doing marcothon2012 and I think I have benefited from it already in that I feel that my running is stronger and more consistent - and we managed to get all the way through December without any of the snuffles or lurgy that seemed to strike so many people down.  Last Sunday I did my first 'proper' LSR of the Highland Fling training program and I loved it!  We ran from Rowardennan to Inversnaid on the West Highland Way, 14.7miles with some cracking hills en route - 148m climb on one of them and we did it twice.
John is very fortunate in that he can run up these hills nowadays, I can't, I am getting better and can do some of them but I have adopted a run/walk strategy which works for me - I walk smartly up the hills and then fly down them!  The average pace that I get is better than if I was to try and run albeit slowly up the hills as I would stress and be exhausted and not be up for the downhill.  Running fast downhill is not as easy as you might think, there is a skill to it and it takes a lot of confidence - I know it has taken me a few years to be confident enough - but now I really enjoy it and I think I'm pretty good at it :-)  It struck me on Sunday though just how much brain processing you do, as you are running you are constantly assessing the ground in front of you and making split second decisions as to where to put your foot next, whether the wet/muddy tyre track at the side of the road is safer than the drier but rockier middle of the track or the other side of the track where there are clear puddles but the camber is harsh..... all of this information is being processed by that superfast computer we all carry about in our heads and often don't give it the credit it's due - our brain :-)  I sometimes think of it like watching a film on fast forward and when it gets to the blurry stage I know that I need to slow down because it's too fast for me to process the amount of data coming in!
I really enjoyed this run, even the scary bits, and finished it off with a nice paddle in Loch Lomond which wasn't nearly as cold as I'd thought it would be, but which did the job in terms of helping the legs recover.
It was back to normal with pinpoint-fitness on Monday too so that's 5 days running and 2 fitcamps already this week, pilates tonight and we're back in the groove :-)
Soon be the weekend and the next LSR - have a nice weekend friends, whatever you get up to!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Don't look Ethel!

(Here endeth the streak...)

Definitely NOT out!
I haven't run today... but I'm not down about it, I said I'd listen to my body, and whilst I took my bag with me today, when it came to lunchtime I was a bit wheezy ( I blame the weird aircon they have in the room I've been in for past 2 days - I always come back from there snuffly or wheezy...) so I went for a wee walk round the shops instead.  I did consider running when I got home, but decided, 'no, enough is enough'  I've managed 34 days running outdoors in all weathers with no injuries or illness and I feel pretty good about that :-)

I am going to have the evening off, a tiny wee glass of wine and heinous of all crimes, a takeaway curry!

It's back on the straight and narrow tomorrow, the eating is back on track and the running and fitcamps will be back underway too.  I've got goals to achieve in the next few months and I'm going to do my damndest to nail them.  I'm pleased that whilst I put on a couple of pounds during December, I didn't actually put any on over the dreaded Xmas/NY week, ok so I didn't lose any either but it's still a first!
I think we still had a good time over the festive season with enough indulgence to make us feel that we'd not been deprived, but definitely nothing like the gross over indulgence we used to undertake - for no reason other than I think we were conditioned to believe that that was what you did... in the same way as the hundreds of people who flock to the supermarkets on Xmas eve and Hogmanay and panic buy as if the end of the world was nigh - the shops are only closed for 2 days!!  So, if there's a moral to this post it is this - in the same way as we are conditioned to overeat and drink in December - how many times do you hear - 'oh well just the one then it is Christmas' or similar excuses from people who can't say no thanks? - We can also condition ourselves to make healthier choices, to get up out of our chairs, to park a little bit further away from the door of the shops, to drink more water etc etc...
None of these things cost us much time but they will make a difference to our health.
So a toast to all my healthy friends, and a 'come on what's stopping you?' to the rest... you decide which category suits you xx

Thursday, 3 January 2013

34/31 yeah... I know, I know, those poor old legs...

yep you did read that right, 34/31 ie I've been running for 34 days - well it kinda goes like this...
Day 32 was New Year's Day and the lovely people at Strathclyde parkrun had put on a New Year's Day parkrun so it was only polite to go along and support and thank them for giving up their time, providing mulled wine, lovely goodies for post run nibbles and a chance to get the cobwebs blown away as you head back round Strathclyde Loch at kilometre 3!  This run was an exercise for me in keeping a consistent pace which is something I'm not very good at and need to work really hard at, so I was pleased with a respectable enough time, but even more pleased with a fairly flat line on the Garmin stats - this shows my pace was consistent, only increasing in the last 500m which was a big breakthrough for me in my head if nowhere else.
Then, 2nd January 2013 - yes it WAS only yesterday!  It feels like ages ago!  We went to Lenzie to take part in the Lenzie Jog - what a great wee event, well done to Kirkintilloch Olympians, who even managed to organise almost perfect running conditions :-)  as well as soup, roll and shortbread for after all for £1!  I opted for the single loop of the course, 4.5km John and some friends did 2 loops but I decided that one would be enough for me and hopefully I could build on my success from parkrun and manage another reasonably consistent run.  I not only managed it I finished in the top 25% of a race for the first time in  my life :-)  These are for some folk, minute achievements but they mean a lot to me and that's what it's all about.
I have set my goals for 2013, and along with the desire to continue to lose weight and get fit, my A goal this year is to complete the Highland Fling Ultra  27th of April and still be upright and possibly even smiling.  I would also like to achieve PBs at various distances so with discipline and consistency I'm hoping to hit them all.
So, today it was back to work, and I really wasn't sure whether to stop for a couple of days and then resume training at the weekend, although I woke with tired legs, I found myself packing a bag this morning. I'm not in my usual office until Monday, I'm working with the police in Larbert so as the sun came out at lunchtime, I found myself changed and off out for a wee explore of 'die umgebung' (one of my favourite German words).
I was only away half an hour and it was a stiff old pair of legs that slowly plodded the first km but picked up a wee bit for the next 2.5km and I felt heaps better after I'd done.  I thought I'd found a wee path back but it was a bit brambly and although I just thought I'd got a couple of wee scratches at the time, it transpires the back of my left leg is now covered in rather large weals - oops!
Ach well I'll put some germolene on them later :-)
I don't know what I'll do tomorrow, whether I'll take my shoes again or whether I'll rest, I think I am just going to listen to my body and if it feels up for it well we'll see...
I have entered 2 races in the past few days, the D33 ultra - well it opened early on Hogmanay and I was at the computer at the time... and the Devilla Forest 15k so I have a couple of shorter term goals now to look forward to before the Alloa Half Marathon and the ultimate goal for this year The Highland Fling.
More about them nearer the time, and back to fitcamp on Monday!
To those of you who don't go back to work until Monday enjoy the last few days of your holiday, personally I'm quite happy to have gone back on a Thurs as it makes the first week back a lot easier to get through when it's only 2 days long :-)