Running

Down Time

I’ve just come back from a shorter long run this morning, a steady eight miles. Because last week I finally got over the ten-mile barrier that had seemed so elusive, it gave me an easy mathematical calculation to dial back to 80% for my ‘down’ week.

Magnolia tree with half the petals on the ground
Already the magnolia is losing its petals

If you have pored over as many training plans as I have, you’ll know they recommend one of those every three or four weeks. It apparently reduces injuries and lets your body rest and consolidate the previous weeks’ work before you push on to the next section. Think of it like climbing a very high mountain. You do a chunk, rest up, and then climb higher.

When I occasionally do get into a regular habit of training, I look forward to these weeks, as firstly, I’m naturally lazy, and secondly, it’s kind of good for the ego to know that, whereas a few weeks ago, eight miles felt like hard work, it now feels quite comfortable. I usually time it around when I have my period, which currently seems to have sped up to a 25 day cycle for some reason. My energy levels naturally take a dive then so it works out well.

This week I’m also starting to feel the sad loss of my usual masseur, which is ironic as when I did use to visit her once a month, she’d normally leave me crying. But she has magic hands that sorted out all the tight spots before they built up too much. My last appointment with her was back in January, and then she left to give birth. I may have to explore other options while she’s on Mat. leave but it’s a difficult thing to allow yourself to be prodded and pummelled by a complete stranger. Perhaps, what I actually need is to double-down on the yoga and the foam rolling until she comes back. We’ll see.

Logo for Wirral Seaside Runs
Last Wednesday of the month for the next 5 months, at 7pm

My down week also coincided with a downturn in the weather which was fortunate. As instead of getting spray-gunned by hailstones and pushed back by a driving wind during the first of this year’s (fully live and non-virtual) Wirral Seaside Runs, I put on a woolly hat, two layers of gloves, four layers of clothing plus a big fat winter coat and marshalled.

I’ve written about these runs before in a blog, but as I’m part of the ‘putting-it-together’ squad now, this first one was a learning curve. Nigel had a big carload of gear, like signs, fold up tables, gazebos etc, that needed setting up, at the beginning, along the course and at the end. 

Then, of course, there were the people required to dish out the numbers and pins, register late-comers (although to be fair, I don’t think anybody had any last minute thoughts along that line with this weather) and get them started. There were marshals to keep them on track, the people making sure they all pass the blue mats that register the chips, the person dishing out water and the first-aid person.

And before all of that, you need someone to drum up the interest by getting all the advertising done in the weeks before hand.

All this for a 5K run! 

I was just there to help get the equipment up at the start and finish, so I still don’t know the full extent of the effort required, but what I do know is, that these races, however small, need people. To organise, to help out, to be part of the team that makes it happen. And if there are no volunteers, the runs just won’t run.

This first Wirral Seaside Run did happen, even though the weather was shocking, and we spent half the time pushing the final 10-metre funnel posts back in, that the wind flung out. The winner rocked up in 18:13, and the final person clocked 40:14. Both of those, and all the nearly two hundred people in between, braved the elements to help make a local race successful. 

Five more to go this year, and fingers crossed, the weather will be kinder. I’m hoping to run in at least one or two of them myself, but I was happy this week to clap them in, just so I could get the feeling back into my fingers.

Running

In Memory of Roy

Roy, at last Spring’s fundraiser Challenge.

Last night we ran the first Chairman’s Challenge of the year. It has now been renamed the Roy Fisher Challenge in honour of our long-serving previous Chairman who sadly died last week.

It seemed ironic, that our first club meet, after he passed way, should be this race. Roy devised it over a decade ago and it has been held quarterly ever since. Nigel, the new Chair, made a small but poignant speech as he had known him over forty years. He ended by encouraging members to think of Roy as they were navigating the harder parts of the up-hills, and if any expletives came to mind, then his work was done!

The evening was also the inauguration of the Fisher-Lite Challenge, which asked only that we do the first two hills as opposed to all three. I chose to do this one, as I really didn’t want people to be waiting ages for me to finish the big one as I’m even slower in the dark. I have done the big one once, last year, when Roy was still with us and able to get out and about. And I will have another go when it gets lighter. But this slightly shorter version was a good way of keeping my hand (or feet) in. With me were 21 other people, many of whom were still running novices and building up their stamina towards the club’s Couch 2 10K programme. Novices they may have been, but apart from one DNF (Did Not Finish) due to injury, they all completed this tough course brilliantly. 

I ran alongside, and often behind, two of the newbies, Rachel and Stef. They had hardly run any hills at all before this, so it was a trial by fire and they stormed it. It just goes to show, that with a little consistency and determination, amazing things can be achieved. It also goes to show how much of a natural born runner I am not!

The full challenge had 25 participants and all of them got to the end. It was lovely to see so many people out on a cold, dark night to salute or to swear at the old chairman.

Running

Aintree 10K

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks as the charger of my laptop gave up the ghost. I had to go into the Apple shop in Liverpool to choose between buying one off-the-shelf for a lot of money, or getting talked at by an engineer who checked and verified that my charger was indeed broke before giving me one for slightly less money. I don’t get it either.

So, today, instead of being all luvvy-dovey and romantic for only day in the entire calendar, I’m writing a blog about my race yesterday. But don’t worry, there’s a nice pot of tea brewing and Anne’s picking up the Fish ‘n’ Chips soon.

A very un-centred picture of the eventual race medal

Because the cost of entering official races are often so extortionate these days I only justify it if I’m working towards a Half Marathon. Yesterday’s Aintree 10K was a freebie, courtesy of a win in the lucky dip at the Pensby Runners Christmas party – I also probably won a dose of Covid at that do, but that’s another story!

 I haven’t done a 10K race in a long while and I wasn’t sure how I’d do. When I do 6 miles in training it can take 1 hour 10, sometimes 1 hour 15. So between 11 and 12 minute miles. There never seems much more in the tank when I’m done so I didn’t expect to go much faster in the race, but a teeny bit of me hoped to get close to 1 hour 5.

I’ve never actually been to the race course here, and it wasn’t exactly a day that showed it off to its finest. A dreary, damp and windy Sunday morning, and I could think of better ways I could be spending my time than going there. But I put my big girl’s pants on and didn’t wimp out, and got to the place just after the Half Marathon people had set off.

I’m very glad I didn’t opt for the Half Marathon place. Partly because I’ve not been further than 7 miles for ages, and partly because the course was 5K loops around the race course. For the Half you needed to go round at least 4 times which looked a bit soul-destroying and the scenery ain’t all that. I caught up with Mike later, a fellow Pensby runner who had done it. But he was a pro, and said he just got his head down and got it done. I could do with a bit of that mentality sometimes!

Mine was 2 laps, and the saving grace was that the course was fairly flat. Because I had got there early enough, I decided to do something that I almost never do before, in a race. I warmed up properly. I started jogging around. A little bit self-consciously at first ( only other people doing that were way more athletically built) then with a little more oomph. After ten minutes I stopped and was about to have a rest when the organisers gathered everyone round to do a few minutes of on-the-spot drills. Star jumps, fast feet etc.

Well that wore me right out, but perhaps it didn’t, because my final time was 1 hour 3 minutes which was more than I hoped. And to be honest, if it wasn’t so windy I might have even gone faster, so I was very pleased.

I have some friends doing another 10K at the beginning of May, and I’m tempted to join them. This run was definitely a nice confidence boost, and has shown me that all those slow runs are adding up to the occasional speedy one, and it pays to warm up.

Running

Game, Set and Match

Tennis balls on a court
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve just had a nail-biting time listening to the tennis on BBC 5 Live today. What a gargantuan match, and although I’ve got nothing against Medvedev, I am exceedingly pleased that Rafael Nadal was the first of the three male GOATs (Greatest Of All Time) to get past the 20 Grand Slam deadlock. (I’m not including Serena Williams in this as she’s in a league of her own).

I never, normally, speak on this blog about anybody else but myself, which is a terribly egotistical thing I grant you. But every now and then, you have to stand back and applaud absolute super-duperness when you see it.

I look at the grit, determination and astounding longevity of players like Rafa and I’m just in awe. You have to be a very special type of person who can be up at that level, for such a long time. Probably slightly bordering on obsessive – part of me wonders what their partners think of them – and phenomenally disciplined.

I know that I have nothing of that kind of personality in me, and I wouldn’t actually want it, if I’m being honest, but I would like just a teeny tiny bit more self-discipline than what I’ve got now.

It’s not at level zero, so that’s good, but there have been many days, where I could have just gone out for even a couple of miles and felt better for it, but actually did squat. Of my hoped for 100 miles this month I managed just over 70, and also just 21 of the 30 days of Yoga with Adriene.

So that was alright, and I’m not going to beat myself up about it, but I definitely have peaks and troughs with my exercise, and I occasionally wallow in mini sloughs of despond. I think that I’m not progressing, or worse, that I’m going backwards in my fitness. Sometimes that thinking gets me started again, but mainly it doesn’t help. And actually, unless I have taken a huge break, as I did the year before last, the going backwards thing is just not true.

I am progressing, but very, very slowly. That’s partly do with my stop/start approach to running, and partly because, I think, some folk have a more natural ability. It’s like when one group of people, if they decide to go on a diet, can lose weight really easily, whereas others struggle. So this concept of progress has to be internal to each of us, unless we’re one of the Rafas.

So I’ve thought of two things that will hopefully keep me going, especially during these winter months.

Firstly, I’ve put myself on the Pensby Runners committee, which is quite impressive considering I was a glass of brandy away from not going to the AGM last week at all. It’s a way to be part of the conversation to encourage people, and keep them interested, and that will hopefully then inspire me to stay motivated.

Secondly, I’ve got another Half Marathon booked in June. Although I’ve got a couple of 10Ks  and things in between, this Half will be the first one I’ve done with my mate Salena since I don’t know when. Both of us completed our first HMs in March 2014, in Liverpool. I beat her in that one. We’ve done a few since, but not for a long time, and looking at her Runkeeper stats, she’ll wipe the floor with me in this one, but there is still time for a little improvement and who knows what will happen. Perhaps the inner Serena in me will burst out! There’s nothing like a bit of rivalry to get the juices going!

Running

Runcorn Cross-Country Race

I don’t think I have cared for a pair of trainers as much as I have cared for these trail shoes. Okay, this is only my second official XC race, but I am fairly certain that this process of scrubbing the several layers of grime and grass after each time may turn into a ritual. It would be quite a therapeutic exercise, if it weren’t so very cold outside. However, there is some satisfaction to, slowly, uncovering the patches of neon pink until they join up.

Town Park, in Runcorn, seems like a rather lovely country park, or it did before we came and churned it up. I’ve never actually been to Runcorn, even though it’s only twenty minutes away by car. I’ve driven over the lovely arch bridge many a time, on my way to or from Liverpool, when I lived there, but never stopped because I had no reason to, until now.

Having finally succumbed to the dreaded disease over Christmas, this was the first time I would be giving it some welly and I was a bit nervous. I know a few runners now, that have suffered, or are still suffering from Long Covid, and it sounds pretty horrible, so, for once, I was a bit relieved that I am a very slow runner, and wasn’t going to push my lungs to their limit.

The course was a little less muddy than my first race, but there were still plenty of places where I nearly left my shoes behind, to be sucked in to the squelch. Luckily I had made sure the laces were tight, and triple-knotted, and tucked out of the way. I carried my phone this time, in a little plastic bag in case I fell. One of these days I will get a fancy watch, but for now this will have to do.

It was two laps, like the last time, which meant I had to get up two hills twice. The first hill of the lap was manageable, and I felt quietly pleased, as, I think, a year ago I would have struggled. The second, which has been dubbed the ‘ski slope’ (think ‘Black route’ as opposed to nursery slope) was a swine. As well as the steep gradient, it got increasingly slippery, and by the time I heaved myself up it the second time, I was going backwards almost as much as I was going forwards.

It did seem to take me a good two miles to get my breathing feeling more comfortable, but I think (hope) that’s because I was pulled along too fast at the beginning, and nothing untoward on the lurgy front.

Again, I was the last Pensby Runner to come in, but that didn’t matter, so much as finally seeing that Finish line. I was welcomed in warmly by the rest of the gang, and I didn’t fall, I didn’t twist my ankle, and I didn’t lose my trainers, so, for me, it was a win.

Running

Running, or was it wallowing (?), in Beacon Park

I’m squatting by a bucket of muddy water outside my house with rubber gloves on and a toothbrush in my hand, wondering if this is what normal people do on a Sunday.

To clarify, the toothbrush has long been demoted from the task of cleaning teeth, and used to have a happy, later life getting around the taps with a dab of Cif. Now, it’s taken a further step down the ladder, and been relegated to scrubbing the mud off the grips in my shoes, as today was my first attempt at cross-country running since my school days.

Although I had taken my new trail shoes for a small, initial spin around Storeton Woods last Sunday, this was their real christening. I can now say that they were worth it, as they were really comfy and they kept me upright.

The day turned out to be a bright, sunny one, albeit with some hefty gusts. Some of our team found that out, when they tried putting the club gazebo up on the grass. By the time we arrived, they were busy taking it down again before it flew away to Oz.

Several hundred people were milling around in the sun in various states of preparation, We had a fifteen strong running group for Pensby, plus some kind volunteers to help look after us all, but I didn’t realise that so many people did this kind of thing for fun on a Sunday morning. Maybe it was the lack of runs in 2020, and the dry day today, but the first race of the North West Cross Country season  was very well attended.

I had triple-knotted my laces, and Claudia had shown me a handy loop on the top of my shoes to shove the bows in, but I was still thinking I should have tightened the laces a little more, and wondering if I had time to readjust, when the horn sounded. The hordes around me stormed ahead and I was swept up in it for a short while, until I was a little out of breath and slowed to a more manageable pace.

At the start, the ground felt quite nice. The grass didn’t feel like it had too many hidden dips and was actually quite springy and enjoyable, once I could breathe again. That didn’t last.

I often worry that, when I get left behind as I invariably do, I may be liable to take a wrong turning somewhere, if there aren’t enough marshals. I didn’t need to worry this time, as even if the marshals and well laid out sign posts hadn’t been there, I had only to follow the heavily churned ground to find my way. At Storeton Woods I did my best to skip over or go around the muddy patches. Here there was zero option to circumvent, and as I ventured to find some non-existent edge, a fellow competitor said: sometimes the easiest way is straight through the middle.

Sage words, and by the middle of the first loop I was heeding them, although I was nearly left shoeless on several occasions, and wished I had tightened up those laces at the beginning. Towards the end of the first loop I was being lapped by some of the front-runners, including Ben, the first Pensby in, who’d been feeding his new-born girl at 4am this morning. I think he just came out for the run to have a rest!

The marshal optimistically asked me if I’d done my two loops, just after Ben sailed passed me, but no, I had to do it all again before I could take that right turn to the finish. For the first loop, there had been two steepish hills and a few undulations. For the second, it all felt like hills, but, remarkably, I was really starting to enjoy myself. The sun was out, the endorphins were kicking in and I hadn’t fallen or twisted my ankle. What a great day!

Even more lovely, as I was getting to the end and pushing up a crazy final hill to that finish line, I had the biggest cheer from the rest of the Pensby Runners team. I was the last Pensby in but, surprisingly, not the last runner to finish the course. It actually wouldn’t have mattered to me if I was, as someone will always be last. Getting out there to begin with was the win for me today.

The trainers are cleaner than they were five minutes ago but probably not as pristine as they were first thing this morning, which is alright. They feel like they belong on my feet a bit more now that I’ve doused them in the mud. Though I have to remember to tie my shoe laces up tighter next time!

Running

Run To The Hills

I was saying to Sue last night that …

Well I wasn’t so much saying, as gasping, barely able to get a syllable in, between the short and desperate inhalations.

Despite my wheezing, we managed to hold a conversation of sorts and I was explaining that I’d not done any hill training for two, maybe three years. And it showed.

I’m not talking about going for a run that has hills in it. These are the more repetitive, and therefore somewhat more challenging, efforts that I inexplicably volunteered for last night at the club.

I was at the back. At the back during the 1.4 mile ‘jog’ to Teals Way, and at the back during the repeats. However, it’s an exercise that I cannot do with the same amount of push by myself. I would have walked some of it. I would have gone slower. I would have given myself a million excuses not to do it in the first place because I wouldn’t have been accountable to anybody but myself and I am a rubbish taskmaster!

A small section of our hill – courtesy of Google Maps

Those excuses were obviously listened to as I’ve not done hill repeats for years and there are plenty of hills in my vicinity. Red Hill Road and Rest Hill Road are neither red nor restful but they are both several levels above ‘undulating’.

So here I was, slightly knackered before we’d even begun, at the bottom of Teals Way pulling off my extra layers on a dark but rather warm evening. Andy, our drill instructor, is a deceptively smiley chap. He looks on you kindly and gives you encouragement and then blows his whistle.

The first ten minutes was to go up and down at a steady pace to get ‘a feel’ for the hill. Up to the first bend it’s a gradual incline. Then you veer gently to the right and you can feel your lungs starting to work as it gets a bit steeper. A bend then to the left again and this is the ‘pinch’, the steepest section and your breathing has shallowed as you try and get oxygen in as quickly as possible. It levels out a little at the top as you go right, and around the green electrical box and finally down the hill again, you pull in deep breaths to recover. Then you do it all again!

I think I managed about three hills to everyone else’s six and this one was the easy exercise! However, as I explained, haltingly, to Sue, during the second ten minute drill (she had popped up here as she’d been late getting to the club and this was the only group she knew the location of – that’ll teach her to be late!), my participation, and my uber slow circuits should just be an encouragement to all the runners who think that hill running with the gazelles is too daunting! Someone will always be last, and sometimes, like yesterday, someone may be last by quite a distance. But absolutely nobody will mock you and you will get a nice sense of achievement for some hard work done.

The second and third drills involved sprint sections: the second before the ‘pinch’ and the third, actually on the steepest bit itself. I didn’t have the lungs to sprint but I did attempt to lengthen my stride and pump my arms more for those bits.

We could see the silhouette of a man looking at us all from his bedroom window: hard to imagine how normal people may view this merry crew? Sue stayed with me even though, given her ability to string a longer sentence together, she could have gone faster. We managed to do one round of the final drill before I suggested making an early exit. I knew that the 1.4 miles back to the club was mainly uphill and I figured that, for a first stint in ages, I’d done alright.

The one good thing about doing these hills on a dark night in October is that there is less likelihood of tripping on tree roots as Teals Way is a wide, quiet and well lit road.

Of course, the other good thing is that it will, eventually, make me stronger. If it doesn’t kill me first!

Running

Sweetness and Light

No word of a lie: Adriene’s yoga theme for this month is called ‘RESET”!

What??!!

I didn’t know that when I wrote my last piece and of course, she knows diddly squat about me…or does she?!!!

Errr, no. But the synchronicity of the intentions has fired me up to be a little more resolute and follow her classes every day, for at least this month.

Also hit a little milestone on my running app last night. I completed the Chairman’s Challenge with the running club, which is 7.5 miles of hardcore Heswall hills as described in the blog I wrote when I ran it the first time. Despite still bringing up the rear with Sue and Janine, I actually did feel a tiny bit stronger than last time, taking just over 3 minutes off my PB.

But that 7.5 miles took me to just over a century of mileage for the month of August which is very pleasing. Plus, it took me just over the mileage that I managed in the whole of last year which is somewhat marvellous and makes me feel all super motivated to keep going, as I sit on my bed here typing this. This is the place that the motivation is at its highest!

My Year stats for running

During my run last night I tried out a new gel. I have always used SIS gels before but have always disliked taking artificial sweeteners.

The new gels compared to the old
Size matters, especially when you’re carrying these babies on your run!

The one I tried last night was Velaforte ‘Tempo’. It’s the one with a date on the front. All the recipes for this brand use natural sugars, so your sugar content is much higher than one with sweeteners. I don’t mind that at all as I need all the extra energy I can get when running. Plus, these little packets are so much smaller than my old SIS one, with the same amount of carbohydrates.

This is very different from the usual sugary sweetness I was used to. It does actually taste of date, predominantly, and is less sweeter than the SIS, ironically. But, once I’d got my head around that, it was nice, and it went down easily.

I would normally have felt a dip in energy, often just after the hour mark, if I didn’t take a gel. I didn’t experience that and I felt pretty good all the way around.

It is more expensive than the SIS; each gel in this pack works out to £1.60. I don’t mind that to get something a little more natural. I have to try out the other flavours of course, but it looks like I will be making the switch based on this first one.

And finally, the cat is being sent packing tomorrow to its real family down in London, so I thought I’d give you some final shots.

Running

The Chairman’s Challenge

I have decided that Heswall should be renamed Hes’hill’!

Cake with a picture of the challenge
A cake displaying the route of the Challenge

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.

Our old Chairman in front of our club base.
Roy, ready to countdown the groups.

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.

Errr…

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!