Well that was more like it. A comfortable, steady 7+ miles at the weekend and another slightly faster 4, done yesterday.
My breathing seems fully back to normal, although, before yesterday’s run, I was walking around like John Wayne. Who knew that doing a few squats and lunges for the first time in an age would be so impactful on my body?!
To be fair, that probably happened the last time I tried them, and the time before that, but I seem to have filed those memories in a dusty box in the corner of the attic of my mind, as the ache has come as a complete surprise!
My aim this week, at my dad’s, was to do more indoor stuff, like regular yoga, and strength training exercises. As he needs someone close by most of the time at the moment. However, on the drive down last Friday, I heard from my big sis, that the hospital had decided to admit my dad, in order to carry out a few more tests without him getting so exhausted from the to-ing and fro-ing.
He’s still in and it’s Tuesday. They’re supposed to have a big MDT (Multidisciplinary Team) meeting at some point today but I heard, this morning, that they still needed to do another MRI on him. This is, at least, his third. Frustrating, living in this limbo land.
So I’m here, at his house, on my own, with a bit of extra time on my hands and therefore I’m getting out for a few miles each day. Alongside which, I’m trying to do these squats and lunges every day as I obviously need to.
I found this handy little app called ‘Interval Timer’, where you can set your exercise time and your rest time and the number of iterations you want. I’m doing, roughly, 5 minutes of 30 seconds ON and 15 seconds OFF. I will build this up to 10 once the aching subsides.
I have, in the past, during previous attempts of getting my strength on, written down the order of exercises, splicing ideas from various articles and videos and I may do that again, at some point this time.
However, for now I start with squats and then use the 15 seconds rest to figure out my next exercise. The only proviso is that they need to alternate between legs, arms and torso. So, that will either keep it exciting, or I’ll realise that I’m following the same pattern every day.
I know I should be doing this strength stuff more often being a woman of a certain age but, with the gyms being closed for ages I’ve been a bit sporadic. I know they’re now opening up but I think it’ll be a while before I’ll be comfortable entering them.
So in the meantime, for this current drive and impetus, I will just keep squatting at home, or at my dad’s.
I was going to do a little technical post about ‘Base Training’ because I’d had several weeks of good mileage and was feeling quite strong. However, that will have to wait for another time as I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself of late.
Not only had we lost the dog last week but I’d caught a cold the week before at some point, and the back end of it has lingered a bit. Yesterday I attempted 8 miles and managed 5 and a bit as my breathing still felt laboured, with very little effort. Although at the time I felt a bit dispirited, it just showed me how much my body usually works on a run, even though I’m a slowcoach!
Getting the cold in the first place got me a bit worried because, in our mask-wearing world, it should now be a lot harder and if that lurgy had sneaked up on me, I’d obviously let my defences down long enough for the Big Bad to potentially catch me too.
I wondered, initially, if I had got it when I was travelling to my dad’s on the ‘train’! It was the first time I’d used public transport in over a year and I was rather nervous about it. I had trains in fact, as Wirral to Leicester is not the most straightforward of routes. But, although tedious, it actually felt pretty safe as the vast majority of other travellers were also masked up and there weren’t that many of them.
So I was pleased, therefore, to learn that little Alf, who we mind on Mondays was also full of the sniffles so it was most likely that he’d passed it on to me. Plus, now with the home kits that they’re dishing out in the UK, I could double-check that it wasn’t the version of the coronavirus that had thrown the world into mayhem but the old-fashioned tried and tested one.
I have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have a few weeks of low mileage, especially as I’ll be back in Leicester for my dad next week. However I did get out for an excellent bike ride with Gary today which was the first in about three weeks.
Just under 25 miles in glorious sunshine (most of the time). And we had our coffee break at Nets Café in Burton, which had loads of outdoor sitting areas and an army of sparrows to clean up any lingering cake crumbs. I left them barely a morsel of my lovely slice of banana and walnut that Gary’s wife Wendy had baked.
I will get back on track with my running. I know I’ve had these little dips before which have sometimes turned into big sloughs of despond, but I’m determined to keep the short runs up as and when I can, while upping my yoga and working out more strength training exercises to keep me getting stronger. That’s the plan anyway!
I’ve been to my dad’s a few times recently and obviously brought my running gear. And I’ve realised that I’ve already created a default route.
I want to say that I’m one of those free, devil-may-care runners who, one day may go left and the next, right, and meander through new avenues and paths, always keeping it fresh and interesting.
I seem to pick a route and then stick to it, in this case, a 4 mile ish loop along the big roads from my dad’s. It has to be the main roads as I’m unfamiliar with the streets here and I get lost at the best of times. I know I have my phone to get me back on track, and time generally isn’t a factor, but, when left to my own devices, I appear to be a creature of habit and routine.
A little bit like my dad really. We’re trying to change his habits lately because he has become a lot more unsteady on his feet in the last four months or so. So, as I said in a previous post, he’s been lent a Zimmer frame for the house instead of his walking sticks. But we’ve had to keep the sticks out of sight for a while to get him to use it!
He’s having to deal with a lot of changes at the moment. This week alone, he’s had an x-ray on his left shoulder as he can’t use that arm very well. He’s had a phone assessment with the NHS Occupational Therapy to check out what equipment he might need to make his day-to-day easier. He’ll get his own Zimmer now amongst a few other things and they’ll come soon to do his on-site check. Plus we’ve had a trip to the dentist as my dad’s dentures have given up the ghost and keep falling out. They’re making new ones but, because we’ve had to go private, they’re costing a fortune, but needs must. Tomorrow he goes for a biopsy on a large lump on his head. They say things come in threes but my poor dad has had a lot more than that to contend with and adapt to all at once.
And, despite his natural tendency to stick to the old routines, he has taken on most of these changes with surprisingly good humour and sanguinity. He’s had moments, obviously, where it’s felt a little overwhelming, but generally, I’ve been pretty amazed at how chilled he seems about things. I can still definitely learn a few more lessons from him.
And one more thing about the Zimmer frame: He’s still trying to tuck it well out of the way when he goes for his shower instead of having it handy. I asked him why and he said he didn’t want me to trip over it. It’s telling that a man with a gazillion ailments of his own is still thinking of his kids!
I’m glad I’ve come down this week but it’s turned into a bit of a time for Anne back at home too. Rocco, the grumpy Pomeranian that I appear to have softened towards a little, had a couple of seizures on Tuesday. At first Anne wondered if he’d overdosed on the pizza he’d nicked from her shopping bag the night before. But he has had a couple more since the vet put him on Diazepam. We’re still waiting for what his blood work shows up but it doesn’t sound great for the old boy.
It’s not surprising really, with all this heaviness, that I appear to have got my first cold in a couple of years. It’s a sign, telling me to lay off my routines for a bit and take in all this change.
I have decided that Heswall should be renamed Hes’hill’!
How someone could devise a route so close to the base of our running club with three humungous hills, just shows that a) the terrain is somewhat slopey and b) the route-master is a devilish fiend.
Roy Fisher is the man responsible for the multiple downs and ups I endured today. He had been Chairman of Pensby Runners running club for 20 plus years until he had to retire at the beginning of last year. The Chairman’s Challenge has been going since 2010, 4 times a year, and I had never ever run it before. And now I know why.
Today’s run was a special event, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, an organisation that has been helping Roy and his family through some pretty tough times in this last year and a bit, but he was here, an indomitable spirit, sending each group of us on our way.
I actually had offered to help out, be a marshall, look after the cake stall, or something like that. But Lisa Grantham, who’d done the (very brilliant) organising decided that she had enough helpers and that she was sure that I’d much prefer to run it.
As preparations go, it had been a bit completely wrong. My 5K pelt on Thursday had forced my long run to a Saturday as my legs were so achy. I was planning a little 8 miler but then I went looking for bluebells in the woods behind The Wheatsheaf pub so it became a 10 plus a full mile and a bit walk just to get back home, as (too late) I was desperate to conserve a little something for today.
This morning while I ate my porridge, I foolishly watched a video of the route someone had taken on their bike in order to get an idea of where I was going (I have such a bad memory for directions). The downs seemed to take no time at all but the ups! The ups seemed to go on forever and I started feeling a little queasy and pondered calling in sick.
But Anne had already made a lemon drizzle for our contribution to the cake stall and I felt an obligation as it was for charity. So I heaved myself into the car and drove to the start with an anxious heart.
It was actually really, really nice to see lots of people that I hadn’t seen in over a year. This is the first time I’ve run with the group since the start of the first lockdown, as I hadn’t felt fully comfortable before, with the state of the lurgy as it was. There were so many faces that I recognised, and occasionally I remembered a name (I have such a bad memory for names) here and there. Sadly though we had to set off. The whippersnappers who were doing the ‘double’ (there and back again – What??!!) set off first, then it was several groups in reverse time-ability order. i.e. the tortoises got to set off first. Bringing up the rear, but beating most of us were the cyclists.
As you can see on the map, there are several sections where you come back on yourself. So the glorious downhills don’t actually feel so glorious when you know you’re going to have to haul your sorry arse back up the same way. However the first hill, for me, didn’t feel too bad. I was able to breathe steadily and my legs didn’t feel too sluggish. The middle of the second hill, on a road named ‘School Hill’ (a lot of roads around here have ‘hill’ in the names) was where I hit a mini wall. The gradient on that was incredibly steep and I was forced to walk (or more accurately stagger) up the second part of it.
There were a few more walky bits as the course went on but I eventually managed to get to the end in a few seconds over 1 hour 30. I wasn’t quite last but not far off. But I was relieved to see that finishing line.
And it all felt worth it when I got back to club headquarters and was given cake.
I also got to have a small chat with Roy to see how he was getting on. And although he would probably rattle if you shook him, with the amount of drugs he was on, he was an absolute inspiration. A lovely, genuine man, full of encouragement for us, even though he couldn’t do the runs anymore. It made me feel lucky to be doing the Challenge today. And it also reminded me that even nice people have a fiendish side!
In normal times this is a series of runs along a section of coastline of our little peninsula, happening each month from March to August. I have had a go once or twice and it is very popular. With a nominal fee, hundreds of people have pegged it from Leasowe Lighthouse to bag a personal best on their 5K times.
I know you can do Parkrun each week and that in itself is a brilliant concept. But this is the seaside, and it hails good weather (hopefully) and it’s a bit more official with time tags etc.
However, what with the big worldwide lurgy, it was cancelled in 2020 and replaced by virtual 5Ks. And this year, at least for the first few, it’s in the same format.
Last year I didn’t partake at all. I can’t remember why, but this time I thought I might use it as a way to see how I’m progressing, if at all. It’s a good distance the 5K. It allows beginners something really tangible to aim for and it gives the gazelles a chance to almost sprint.
I’m neither of the above, and I would say that I’m in my most happy place when I’m pootling along at a longish distance. But even for me, it’s good to mix it up and get out of that comfort zone.
This is the second Seaside Run of the year and this month my aim was to pretty much follow the route I did last month, to compare them. It wasn’t ideal: a loop that was nowhere near the seaside and finishing with a long upward incline. But I gave my all then and I wanted to do it again. Only this time, after a mile’s warmup.
Now this is not a normal inclination for a slow plodder who uses the first couple of miles of any run to do the ‘warm up’. I had a dread that I’d be too knackered for the real thing. But I knew that I had all those long runs in my legs and I was sure, well, pretty sure anyway, that this would help get my lungs going.
With the warm up done and a few nominal ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ drills (running on my toes, running backwards, running sideways, skipping, etc), I gave myself a minute or two and then hit the Go button on my running app.
This is a route that wasn’t going to yield any negative splits. The first bit is mainly downhill, and the last bit is mainly uphill! I wanted, therefore, to bag the time in the first gravity assisted part, but as I went for it, I had moments of panic that I was going too fast and I would have a blow-out. Luckily, if accidentally, I hadn’t lined up a podcast and I ended up with music. It was the Taylor Swift album, Folklore, which is not known for speedy beats, and I tried to breathe as deeply as I could with it to push away that anxiety.
Plus, every now and then, I’d sing (very softly)‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, or ‘Henry VIII I am’. Strange choices for a non-Royalist but they helped me work out if my breathing was okay and therefore, if I could keep going. It was more of a gasping whisper than a song but it gave me enough confidence to know I had enough in the tank.
As I said before, several times, the final mile, is an uphill, pretty much all the way, and unsurprisingly, there were zero attempts at singing, whispered or otherwise. But it was the last mile and I put everything I had into that climb. Yes, it was way slower than my first mile, but it was definitely the fastest I’ve done that section in a very long while.
My average minutes per mile squeezed under 10 minutes which is a terrific result for me. I was looking like a fish out of water at the end, desperate for oxygen, but was very, very pleased with myself. That warm up, and a round of porridge this morning certainly helped. But it will be a hard act to beat next month!
When so much writing material happens in the course of a week, a consolidation is required.
It’s great to have a mate to go cycling with. Especially when you yourself are not so au fait with bicycle mechanics (I can ‘theoretically’ fix a puncture but I haven’t had to do it in yonks!) or, in fact, decent bicycle routes on the Wirral.
And on top of all that, two is sooo much better than one when you’re contending with some of those who sit behind the wheel of a car. And it’s not always Audi drivers either (not even a joke in my experience sadly). Today a bloke in a Beemer stuck his two fingers up at Gary for cycling in the designated cycle path. The path was fairly new but well-marked and made the road the width of a single car each way as opposed to a wide load. So room for all of us and no requirement to reduce the car speed lower than the official 30mph limit. But I guess there is no pleasing some folk!
However, that small incident aside, we had a great ride to New Brighton and back. A comfortable 20 miles with a coffee break in the middle. Now that the lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, people can sit outside to drink their drinks in more sociable environs. And the weather was rather glorious for it. The sun was out and it wasn’t quite scorchio, but when you’d worked up a sweat, it was good enough to take a layer off. We happened to spot some other cyclist friends to have the break with, one of whom was 89 and still easily able to knock out a casual 30+ miles on his bike that day! If I can get half of that energy when I’m 89 then I’ll be dancing, hopefully literally!
Talking of energy, I was getting a little worried about my running mileage. Although the cycling had felt fine at the time, my legs were now feeling tired, even when sitting down and I’d only managed 4 miles running so far since Monday. I realised that I hadn’t been putting some of those Chi Running precepts into practice. Mainly that I needed to slow it down.
I’m not fast by other people’s standards, but an 11.30 minute mile is getting to be a comfortable pace for me. At the beginning of the year it was between 12/13 mins so I am getting a bit faster. But in order to include my cycling and keep my long runs long, I decided to try going slower again and add around a minute to each mile.
It is actually really hard to drop down from your normal rhythm, and you feel like you’re virtually walking. That feeling, ironically, made me smile – this pace was definitely harder at the beginning of the year. I was progressing then! I managed just over 6 miles in an average 12.34 minute miles, and it all felt good. The real test would be to see if I had enough in the tank for tomorrow’s long run.
Bev wanted to join me today so I thought we’d maybe get about 9 miles in, as she’d not done a long one in ages, which was okay with me. I would just do a bit more at the weekend.
She hadn’t slept properly the night before, having felt something akin to pre-race nerves. But she’d had her muesli that morning and found some coconut oil as her substitute for Vaseline and I’d dug out some Dextrose sugar tabs for her so she was ready.
The pleasant sunny days seemed to be continuing all week and we both had our shades on (although mine sat on top of my hat forgotten, for the most of the run!). We kept it as slow as I’d done yesterday and found some new paths that we’d not ventured down before.
The wonderful thing about long runs is that a little diverging and exploring is quite possible because you’ve got loads of miles to cover and so you’re less restricted. And it keeps it interesting, especially when you’re clumsily trying to climb over a gate and wondering if you’re trespassing!
We didn’t get too lost though and eventually found our way back to our normal stomping grounds without being chased by guard dogs (that has happened to me before!) but it was fun and made the miles go with ease.
I was feeling it by the end to be sure, but when I pulled my phone out and saw we’d passed the 11 mile mark I was ecstatic! And ever so slightly jealous of Bev that she could knock out such a great run with zero build up!
But, honestly, we were both completely buzzing from the enjoyment of it and the result. And my biggest win was the fact that my legs felt fairly fresh again after a few hours and I could go again for another small one the next day.
After a sneaky 4 miler to test the legs with Bev in the morning, Anne and I set about organising the garden for our first (in a long Covid while) hosting event, and I would also get to christen the BBQ that I’d bought last year! Gary, my cycling buddy and his wife, Wendy were already coming over. Then my brother was at a loose end that day so he, his wife and my gorgeous tiny niece came later too. The Barbie worked a treat, apart from a small accidental fire at the beginning that was put out without any trips to A&E.
Oh it was a beautiful day. The wine and beer were flowing, the food went down a treat, and Anne had surpassed herself with an amazing lemon curd pavlova to finish things off. Sometimes you just don’t realise how much you’ve craved good company until it actually happens again.
Watched the ultimate marathon GOAT (Greatest Of All Time in case you’re not sure) effortlessly wipe the floor with the competition in the NN Mission Marathon this morning. The commentators noted how Eliud Kipchoge looked as fresh in the 26th mile as he did in the first. And then acknowledged how much incredible work went into that appearance.
I was tempted by the man to go out for another myself but held back. I’d managed just under 26 miles plus my cycling this week. Which will do nicely.
I was going to create this post a couple of days ago, but then Prince Philip suddenly shuffled off this mortal coil and that news seemed to wade into my writing unbidden but overriding.
Prior to my knowledge of the Royal demise, on Friday morning, I was steeling myself for the prospect of reaching double figures. I’d got quite close a few times but this was going to be the day when that little barrier would break.
The process for me began with the porridge about two hours before. Then, while getting changed, I pulled out my trusty tub of Vaseline.
Now before you jump to any salacious speculation, I mainly use it on my feet before the start of a big run or walk. ‘Big’, for me, constitutes any mileage getting into double digits and so slathering on that Vaseline (other brands of petroleum jelly are available) was my way of saying to myself that today I’d reach my ten miles.
I can’t actually remember when or where I was given this tip but it has served me very well. I’ve done two marathons, loads of half marathons, and the Coast to Coast walk, all without getting a single blister. So a Gold Star tip if ever there was one.
It has obviously been quite a while (probably around a year and half now) since I was last running these kinds of lengths, as I had forgotten that my tub was nearly empty. Just enough to cake it on this time, and perhaps the next, but I definitely need to buy another one soon. However, I had enough for this run so there were no excuses.
Whether you’re a super pro-athlete or doing the Couch to 5K, you will always have psychological hurdles. These are specific to you and how your mind works. And the methods to overcoming those hurdles are also specific to you.
What works for me (sometimes) is a bit of a talking to. Mainly in my head but occasionally it slips out into audible speech. It can be a little embarrassing sometimes but keeps people away, so it’s swings and roundabouts.
I told myself that I was ready. That the time it took was of no concern and if I walked a bit on any uphills, that was okay too. But I would keep going until I reached my ten.
And I did!
And I actually had a bit more in the tank to take the final mile or so at a gallop, which bodes well for the next level up. Plus my feet ended up feeling very moisturised.
I seem to have settled on Fridays as my long run day. It used to be Sundays, then Saturdays. It’s a psychological game I play: if I don’t do it today, I have 2 more days to get it done. If I do do it today, I can have wine. More often than not, that’s a winning argument.
The rain was a pattering on the windows while I ate my oats, and it didn’t look terribly appealing. But when I finally laced up just under two hours later, the clouds had parted somewhat.
Now that my long runs are, well, getting longer, I am back to hearing that voice in my head telling me I won’t last the distance or I’ll be too exhausted. It doesn’t help when the first mile or three always feels so laborious. After five minutes of panting, I think: nearly two hours of this is an impossible task!
Then the little miracle happens. I can never put my finger on when, but suddenly, my Runkeeper lady tells me I’ve done 30 minutes and I realise I’m sailing! And I know it will (nearly) always happen but I can’t quite believe it will, and afterwards I have to smile at my lack of faith.
This time around the 30 minute mark I also found that a tiny little stone had jumped into the back of my left trainer. It was wriggling around my heel and lower ankle and I contemplated stopping. But I was in such a nice rhythm that I was loathe to. I figured as it only hurt occasionally I’d use it as an excuse to stop when I was more tired.
It was more annoying than painful really as it slid around my foot, and several times I lost concentration on my podcast (BBC: In Our Time – The Cultural Revolution) as I contemplated its movement (How many ‘Olds’ did the Red Guard need to get rid of?) but I didn’t stop then, and I didn’t stop later when I was getting tired and losing that rhythm, because by then I felt that I wouldn’t actually get started again.
Plus, I was feeling so tired that I wasn’t sure I could actually bend down to take my shoe off. My total today was 9.25 miles, which although, technically my longest, was not much longer than my recent ones. Then I remembered that I’d done a 20 mile bike ride yesterday and that made me feel loads better.
I have put a nice Pouilly Fume in the fridge to chill as it’s Friday and my work is done!
I had a little boost to my running mojo this week when I booked our hotel in Edinburgh for this September. The Scottish Half Marathon, which got cancelled last year, will be my first race in nearly 2 years!
I know it’s absolutely ages away but still, a shining beacon of hope, no? After these crazy unprecedented times, I have possibly, hopefully, maybe got a little something to work towards again.
The irony is, that before this big world shut-down (or at least the shut-down of those parts of the world that were particularly pants at dealing with the virus), I was getting a little disaffected by the big races. They were expensive, busy, created ten ton of rubbish and were getting more and more corporate.
But having had nothing for so long, I am ready to mingle with the multitudes at the starting line again.
Metaphorically that is. The reality is I’m normally standing more than 500 metres back with the rest of the tortoises making way for the hares and the gazelles to speed away while we shuffle forward a bit at time, until we finally actually make it to the front. We’re knackered before we’ve even begun!
That, however, is beside the point. I will enjoy it all. The queues for the portaloos; the fiddling with the safety pins (for the number bibs); the standing around and interminable waiting before the start; the faint waft of Deep Heat mixed with varying levels of anxiety.
And of course the excitement. The culmination (if you’ve not been a lazy arse) of the hard work and training you’ve put in, ready to be put to the test. The knowledge that you and several thousand other people are collectively committing to this endeavour. It sometimes, in rare moments of softness, brings a lump to my throat.
I have been on so many runs where I have randomly chatted to lovely people along the way (once your breathing settles, it is possible to say a few words without gasping) and sometimes someone has pulled me psychologically to the finishing line when I’ve felt I can’t go on. Once, I even managed to pay it forward with another random stranger.
Then, crossing that line and knowing you’ve made it in hopefully a time that you’re happy with, or at least knowing that you’re done and you get to have a beer soon is wonderful. The nerves, and the anticipation is over and you can relax for just a little while.
All this and much more is why I just cannot wait for September.
Okay, so I got told that my previous post about Spring wasn’t really about Spring at all, but, yawn … running again. I think she made it sound more polite than that but I took this to be the inference.
This blog is about hats, but then again it’s about running as well, as the only time I consistently wear one is when I run. A woolly one for the winter and my peaked cap for the summer. My hair is not super short nor long enough, most of the time, to fully tie back and the most annoying thing is those escaped wisps tickling your eyes or slapping at your cheeks if the wind is up.
Today, the wind was up, it is still March after all, and I pulled the woolly hat back out from the bottom of my running drawer and tugged it snugly on. I may not have had to worry about my hair giving me whiplash but the trees have been shakin’ their thang rather vigorously and I contemplated putting my bike helmet on as extra protection but decided that it was better to die from flying debris than look a twonk.
It felt good to be out for a short little two miler, as I’d had another attack of the CBAs this week, and despite Bev trying to entice me several times, I wasn’t having it. Partly because it was my time of the month, and partly because it was rainy and miserable and who in their right mind would venture out voluntarily in skimpy clothing in this kind of weather anyway!
Today’s blustery but not freezing wind just felt invigorating, even when it buffeted me. But it was not a cap day. If you can see what the wind did to this fence, you can imagine the kind of lift-off my peak would have given.
It is quite astonishing sometimes how a mood can affect me. Yesterday, I wasn’t exactly low, but I definitely wanted to hunker down and keep myself contained. Whereas today, I felt like dancing with the bud laden branches, and hollering in the breeze!
There are many poems about March winds, but this little ditty captures the current mood of the day:
March wind is a jolly fellow, He likes to joke and play. He turns umbrellas inside out And blows men’s hats away.
He calls the pussy willows And whispers in each ear ‘Wake up you lazy little seeds, Don’t you know that Spring is here?’