Life, Running

Remember the Yoga?

We are well into the second half of 2021 and far enough away from January past, as to quite forget our (or should I hold my hands up and say ‘my’) intentions set at the beginning of the year!

This is one of the several resolutions I made at the time:

·  New 30 Day Yoga with Adriene – followed by more yoga (5 times a week – or at the very least 3)

Back in January I did do that 30 day programme while getting a 100 miles run for the month. I felt great and my calves did not feel like the hard tight blocks that they would normally be with that amount of running.

Some people say that it takes a month to create a habit. Sadly, for me, unless it’s a bad habit, it hasn’t stuck so well even with the extra wiggle room I gave myself. The yoga has been happening off and on, but increasingly more off and there has been many a week recently when I have done nothing at all. However, I am back to running a fair bit.

And as I found out during the long run this weekend, it’s all tightening up again.

On Sunday I managed to get just over 11 miles. That was after stopping my app at just under 10 miles with a strong sudden tightening in my leg, probably cramp. I thought I wouldn’t be able to run any more that day but after a 100 yards or so of walking it seemed to calm down and I managed to do another mile before I called it a day.

Moral of the story?

Get back on the Yoga train.

I know it’s not just a simple balancing equation as  –  running shortens : yoga lengthens.

But, what I’ve found with Yoga (when I’m doing it regularly) is that it really starts helping me with my core, and I’m strengthening myself as well as giving myself a little more flexibility. Those three-legged dogs and single leg poses will eventually (once I get past the wobbling and collapsing stage) build the strength up in my arms and legs. Plus I know, from experience, that my lower back pain niggles disappear with regular practice.

And the other thing I have to remind myself of, every now and then, is that if I don’t look like the instructor, it’s completely okay. As Adriene constantly reminds people, it’s the process not the outcome that you’re looking for. For example, I can barely touch my toes but the act of gently trying regularly, will increase what flexibility I have in that area.

So, I’ve reset my intention and, at least for the full month of September, I’ll get some Yoga done every day and see if I can’t nail that habit this time!


Running

New Shoes

I don’t recommend getting new running shoes every time you need pepping up, as it would become rather expensive, but once in a while it is nice to treat yourself.

New Brooks Ghost 14 on the bed
The only time shoes are allowed on the bed is when they’re fresh out of the box!

I normally do that self-love about once a year but what with the world being the way it’s been, my current trainers are nearly two years old and I’m definitely getting to that ‘things are starting to hurt’ stage. It’s actually a good job that I was a lazy sod for a big chunk of last year as I’m not great at picking trainers on-line.

I went to The Runners Hub in Heswall. It’s a great, real-life running shop where the staff (runners themselves) know what they’re talking about and, actually, it’s a good job I went there too. Somewhere between my last purchase and this, my foot gait or shape or something seems to have changed.

I’m not great at the science of these things but I have always used shoes with arch support in the past as it has hurt my feet when I’ve tried without them, but the neutral shoe this time felt surprisingly comfortable.

I know things have changed over the few short years that I’ve been running. When I first started, I often kicked the ankle of my other foot, which was a tad painful and probably looked bizarre to anyone going behind me. Apparently it’s a common thing, and although we think we walk or run in a straight line our legs and feet sometimes do it in a roundabout way.

Partly (possibly) because my leg and core muscles have gotten a bit stronger over time and partly (possibly) because I’ve really been focussing on not landing on my heels first and using those chi running principles, this doesn’t happen anymore. Like I said, I’m not a science person so I don’t really understand the mechanics of it but it is good to know that this, at least, is going in the right direction.

Brooks Ghost 14 are the shoes I’ve gone for.  I had a little look at reviews (after I’d bought them) and one said that they were like the Margherita Pizza of running shoes, i.e. the blandest thing on the menu, yet one of the most popular shoes going! Wow, who knew there were people out there that paid so much attention to trainers!

The reviewer, to be fair, seemed to be very thorough, talking about sole types and uppers, and whether it gives you good propulsion etc. I’m sure there are people who will want to know these details but my main concerns are comfort and longevity.

My normal shoe size is 3.5 (36 in EU, 5.5 in US) but I go for about a 5 (38 in EU, 7 in US) in trainers. That gives me ‘spreading’ room. Not only to let my feet expand with all that pounding but to let my toes spread out as they land.  It has worked as I’ve only once had a toe nail turn black (that is also a common thing).

So these pristine, gleaming shoes have had a couple of short runs out to break them in. And they have been great, apart from a slight rub underneath my big toe, which I’m not too worried as I think that has happened with new trainers before and it quickly settles down.

The long run, or this week’s attempt at it, was going to be this morning but the rain looks constant and it’s just too soon to subject these shiny babies to a torrent. So it will be tomorrow morning that I try it out. Which also gives me another day to recover from trying to keep up with Anne’s family members’ drinking abilities, but that’s another story!

Life, Running

A Cat-astrophe

We have been minding a cat for the last few weeks and whenever I try and get the laptop out he insists on sprawling himself on me. I thought cats would be more aloof and keep themselves to themselves most of the time, but this moggy seems excessively social and has a thing about plonking himself on my lap or chest depending on how horizontal I am.

So I have now perfected the art of stretch typing. Laptop all the way down to my knees and fingers just about reaching to the keyboard while said cat drapes himself around my middle.

Cat, sitting on me, between me and my laptop
Yes, I’m very comfortable here thank you very much!

Ironically it keeps me focussed on the job in hand, instead of getting side-tracked by news stories or Instagram etc, as it’s not the most comfortable of positions to write in.

It has also, by dint of the cat not being human and not giving a fig about my disappointment, been a little bit cathartic (cat-hartic??!).

I had planned a long and steady 10 (or, if I could manage it, 12) mile run this morning and everything that could be prepared, was. Oats were consumed at the right time, Vaseline was applied appropriately, gels were packed and the weather was pleasantly cool.

First slightly off sign was a forced double-back three-quarters of a mile out because I knew I needed the loo. It happens, especially for runners, but I didn’t let it get me down and just thought that I had the advantage of being over a mile up before I’d even set out the door (this second time).

Then I listened to my running app training plan, which suggested I do the middle 6 miles at a slightly faster pace than my usual slow plod.

Perhaps that was the reason? But I’ve managed doing similar tempo runs before. Perhaps it was just my head going Pfffffuuuh, or words to that affect, but whatever it was, I stopped at 7.5 miles and I just couldn’t will myself to get going again. I was tired but I could have carried on, albeit slowly. I just decided to stop the app, stop my running and walk the last bit back (nearly 2 miles going the shortest route).

So now I’m very annoyed and I’m not sure if I can reason it away or whether I just have to wait, stroke the cat a bit more, and let the feeling pass.

Cat on my lap looking at me.
Talk to the paw as the ear ain’t listenin’

It could just be the culmination of a slightly unusual week.

Anne had a run-in with a hidden tree stump on the edge of a kerb a few days ago and pranged the front of our car. Our lovely, hybrid automatic has been replaced by a little, petrol, manual Skoda courtesy car. I haven’t driven a manual in years. It has been strange, trying to co-ordinate my left foot and hand to do so much, but I can report that, after the initial abject terror, it does come back to you pretty quickly.

I also went to a funeral this week as sadly, Peter, one of our fellow River Park volunteers, had died. I didn’t know him all that well but he was a friendly chap, especially to dog walkers who frequently went past us as we worked.

A few of us went, to represent this aspect of his life, and I realised, when I heard his brother’s eulogy, that it was a very small aspect.

It is rather strange and moving to hear about the life of someone that you only know a little. I knew that he was autistic but didn’t know that he lived a pretty independent life. That he had travelled all over the world including places like Hawaii and India. That he had a strong Catholic faith, and that his parents were part of a group of parents who refused to pay their rates as the Council could not find provision for autistic children in the 60s and who went on to create The Wirral Society for Autistic Children, which still runs today (renamed Autism Together) and supports a huge number of autistic people on the Wirral.

Thinking and writing about Peter has put my little run-fail into context a bit more. I still feel like it will be an uphill struggle getting fit for my half, but if I don’t worry about times and just enjoy getting out there it will be okay. I think.

Running

Seven Weeks to Race Day!!

It seems like an age since I’ve talked about running and it has been an age, or at least a good three months since I’ve run in any systematic way.

But the beginning of this week was officially the ‘seven weeks to go’ mark of my half marathon race in Scotland. That run that I’d talked about all the way back in March is actually, well, ‘racing’ towards me at an alarmingly fast rate and I need to knuckle down to something a little less piecemeal and a little more precise in my training for it.

I had hoped, when the going was really good in the first part of the year, to write some technical notes on ‘base training’. This is kind of the underlying body conditioning that you may see in the first four weeks of a sixteen week training plan. Perhaps I’ll get around to it in the build-up to another race.

However, for this race we are way past that point but I’m hoping that there is some ‘muscle memory’ from those early months. Plus, my body did get a jolly good workout during the Lincoln to Liverpool cycle ride. So all is hopefully not lost.

I gave myself a great confidence boost last Saturday when I managed a 9 mile run without too much pain and that was by far the longest run I had managed since April. I was exhausted for the rest of the day though so there is definitely still a lot of work to do.

Today I put my fair-weather runner predilection aside and went out in the cold drizzle for 10 miles.

The drizzle developed, after 30 seconds of running, into a heavier drenching. Knowing I would be out for about two hours gave me a few moments of panic. Then I breathed through it and reminded myself that I’ve been through worse. The Norwich Half in 2014 comes to mind for wettest race conditions ever and I survived that, so 10 miles here would be a cinch! It’s a good job though that the later iPhone models are waterproof as everything got a good soaking.

Muddy wet trainers and socks on the floor
Muddy and soaked

My aim is to try and do that 80/20 rule that I learnt on my Chi running course so this run needed to be slow. That is a little hard to gauge sometimes when you’re running on your own, as you can feel quite bouncy and energetic at the beginning. In fact I think that running deliberately slower than you can is almost as hard as going hell for leather.

This week I had already picked up the pace with the running club on Tuesday with a 7 mile handicap. Pensby Runners holds a mini race on the first Tuesday of every month, with the route alternating between 5 and 7 miles. It’s a handicap because you set off in the order of how long you would take to complete the route with slower runners going off first.

It was a good distance to test my ‘race pace’ for the half, which I hope will be around 11 mins per mile. A race, however informal it is, will always make you step up. Invariably you will want to keep the person in front within your sight so they will pull you along for a while. But you have to work out how much you can take without losing all your reserves to complete the full distance. My final average turned out to be 10.40 mins per mile which I was very pleased with as that included a sizeable hill at the end.

I didn’t feel dead on my feet at the end of that, but the following day when I managed half a mile instead of three I realised it had taken a lot out of me. So the rest of the week’s runs needed to be slow and purely about mileage.

Today, to stop me going off too fast I kept myself distracted with my favourite film review podcast, and periodically checking my body for any tightness. I have a bad habit of scrunching my toes until I focus on them and make them relax. And I’m very adept at slouching which is not great for your back.

I finished my ten miles in slightly over two hours which was fine: 12.07 minute miles, and now I’ve put my feet up to watch the Olympics which always blows me away! It’s not that you feel inadequate watching these people, it’s that they’re on a completely different planet.

Which is good because I don’t want to give up my trainers just yet. As I will never be one of the elite, the race will never be about competing against other people. It is all about me and how well I can improve and compete against myself.

Books

War Lord – Bernard Cornwell

front cover of book

We were given this book by a friend because of where we live.

The Wirral is a little nub of land that sticks out of the country on the west and lies between two rivers, the Dee and the Mersey, which merge into the Irish Sea. It’s a tiny strip in the scheme of things, but there is a strong possibility that this was the site that created England.

Historians know that the Battle of Brunanburh took place, and they agree that it was the clincher that would either allow the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelstan to unite all of England or lose virtually everything to the Vikings and their allies. Some serious high stakes poker game.

What has been disputed, was where the battle actually occurred. There are multiple possible locations but the two top contenders are, somewhere near the Humber Estuary in the east, or, the Wirral, in the west. Namely around Bebington and Bromborough.

Surprisingly, having a name that is really, really similar to the original battle name doesn’t automatically win you the prize. There requires, apparently, in the absence of contemporary sources fully in accord, archaeological proof which is still to be conclusively produced.

But proof doesn’t need to stop works of historical fiction from putting their theories forward and this book does just that.

War Lord is the 13th and final book in ‘The Last Kingdom’ series. I hadn’t read any of the previous ones but I don’t think that is necessary. The author provides the context where necessary for events or relationships that have occurred in the past but there is no huge exposition and we crack on with the main story from the off.

It’s not the usual type of book that I would read but it turned out to be quite an interesting page turner. There are battles, political machinations, and familial discord which are described engagingly. I read the book in conjunction with Wikipedia because although the main character Uhtred is fictional here, most of the others are real and there is a good historical skeleton on which the drama hangs.

This book doesn’t have the same depth and brilliance of that other historical fiction series, the Wolf Hall trilogy but not many books are that good. It did keep me fairly entertained, however, and I zipped through it quite quickly. I don’t think the other books call to me but we have started watching the Netflix serialisation which is less effort than reading and rather good fun.

The ending, of course, which was the reason the book came our way, is pure speculation, but is set out quite reasonably. The battle of battles takes place on our Wirral peninsula and quite possibly, but maybe not, very close to where we live!