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.

Running

Technical Notes #2 – The Long Run

Silhouette of a woman running - either dawn or dusk.
Not me but someone cooler via a more ace camera
Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash

If you have ever followed a training plan for a race, then it will always have the long run in it. This will be at least one time in the week where essentially you aim to go out slower but farther than the rest of your weekly runs. Apparently, they’re very good for you. I have found out this science bit:

These runs produce more mitochondria and capillaries in your muscle cells, increase your aerobic capacity, improve your cardiovascular system’s efficiency, increase your muscles’ and liver’s ability to store glycogen, strengthen your musculoskeletal system, give you a greater ability to work through muscular fatigue and increase your body’s ability to use fat as fuel.

https://www.runnersworld.com/uk/training/a774616/essential-guide-to-long-runs/

Well that’s absolutely marvellous and I wish I had read this when I’d been training for all those half marathons (and the two marathons) I’ve done in the past, because it sounds to me that if I’d committed to them properly I could have turned into Wonder Woman!

However:

I used to do training plans the way many people do diets, like a yo-yo. I would get a week or two of sticking to it and then miss a crucial couple of days and then it would be binned, before I started another, and another, until I was down to the final ‘Complete the Half Marathon without dying’ training plan, about two weeks before the day. The Long Run was nearly always the spanner in the works.

It has always previously filled me with a bit of a dread, especially when the miles got into the late teens. Wondering whether I had enough gels (slightly sickly carbohydrate gloop in sachets), or water; whether I’d need the loo on the way; whether I would get too tired to finish it. All of the above have floored me at least once (it’s traumatic trying to find a bush sometimes) and that’s when they get into the mind and start whispering to you before you even get out the door.

That sounds slightly dramatic I know, but running is as much a psychological game as well as a physical one. Research has shown that your body can go way further than your mind thinks it can. Your angels and your demons have more space to tussle when you’re monotonously slogging away and it can get schizophrenic.

Monotony is a big problem but there are ways to challenge that. You can run with someone, or if you’re on your own, listen to a podcast or audio book. I find that better than music because you have to concentrate on it more which means you’re thinking less about your legs.  I’ve also been known to map out the super long runs to make sure I include cafes/petrol stations etc. en route for a quick wee. And don’t think you can keep this need at bay by not drinking liquids. As I found out during the London Marathon, that way leg cramps lie.

The absence of races in this last year and a bit has meant my running has been sporadic. But the January kick start has given me a nice foundation to get going again. My long run now is up to 7.5 miles and although that takes me as long as it used to take me to run 10 miles (which I try NOT to dwell on), it’s okay. It’s the furthest I’ve run in one run since the middle of last year.

The plan is (loosely, kind of, in a non-committal manner) to get to about 12 miles or so, and try and maintain that stamina until the races start again. It would be nice to get to a fitness level again where I could rock up to a Half and know I can finish it without too much pain but in the meantime I will just keep repeating the mantra ‘more mitochondria’ and visualise that gold tiara on my head.

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
The original Wonder Woman and the best
Warner Bros. Television