Category Archives: Training

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Weeks 3 and 4

“The key to improvement is consistency. Much more than any fancy training schedule featuring interval training, tempo runs or hill repeats. Just run day after day, week after week, year after year at a level where you never become injured.”

Hal Higdon

Sadly, I think Hal probably knows a thing or too about this running malarkey. These two weeks have been anything but consistent. After weeks one and two, in which I was little below my target mileages at 26.1 and 29.9 miles respectively, I was hoping to use my week off in week three to really push on.

Short version

It didn’t happen.

Long version

We flew over to the Isle of Man to visit Lolly’s parents on Monday afternoon, and I was planning a couple of midweek coastal path runs before taking part in the Easter Festival of Running at the weekend. Unfortunately, after not managing much dinner on Monday evening, I had a fever overnight, and then some stomach issues and diarrhoea through until Thursday. So, a whole load of training miles missed. Although I was feeling much better on Friday, I was still pretty weak, and so had to miss the 10k race that evening too. (More on that race in a blog post coming soon from Lolly though.)

My 2015 Peel Hill Race beanie that I never ‘earned’.

On Saturday morning, I reckoned I was feeling up to giving Nobles parkrun a go. Lolly was going anyway, and I figured that I could easily drop out early if I wasn’t as ready for running as I thought. A relatively gentle run of 23:41 was managed without any issues, and I started to ponder the very real possibility of actually being able to run the Peel Hill race. I’d signed up for the race back in 2015, and then not actually raced, as I was concerned about a knee injury. (Although, I did run the 10k that year.) Despite not racing, I still collected my beanie at registration, and have worn it frequently since, something that has always felt a bit odd.

So, it felt like closure when I finally made the decision that I was well enough to race. The race is short and sharp. Very sharp. Despite being just 3.5 miles, the race climbs 691 feet. Starting more or less at sea level, the race goes up the hill, reaching the 475-foot peak at about 1.25 miles. The women’s race turns around at that point, but the men head back down the other side to add another climb. A 1.25-mile downhill sprint to the finish then ensues. This would normally be totally my thing, but unfortunately I was suffering from some kidney pain, and couldn’t really push myself at all. I lost a few places, but managed not to drop off the pace too much, to finish in 29:42.

Photo by Dave Kneen

On Sunday, feeling much better, I headed out along the coastal path for 10 brutal, but gorgeous miles. I clocked up just over 2,100 feet of climbing which, alongside the previous day’s race, destroyed my quads. The route climbed initially to Lhiattee ny Beinnee, which peaks at 988 feet, before dropping all the way back down to sea level at Fleshwick Bay. Before climbing all the way back up to 764 feet for the top of Bradda Hill. And what a climb that is! I was really happy, with both getting a pretty decent long run in, and getting out in the stunning scenery.

Beautiful. Hilly.

The weekend recovered my weekly mileage to 16.7 miles. It could have been a lot worse, and I was looking forward to kicking back on in week four.

Short version

It didn’t happen.

Long version

I got ill, again, and struggled to even make it to work each day. The evenings, rather than consisting of running, involved a nap straight after work, followed by the essentials of sorting the children out, making dinner and preparing for the morning, and then bed, as soon as possible. I was feeling better towards the end of the week, but we travelled down to Cornwall for my brother’s wedding, and I still wasn’t well enough to have energy enough for both the wedding and running!

Hopefully, week five is going to be better…

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Week 2

After a pretty positive week one, despite not hitting 30 miles, I was looking forward to getting some more miles under my belt in week two. The P&D plan introduced some strides into a general aerobic run on the Tuesday, before a midweek 10 miler on Thursday. With my lower mileages at the moment, the latter was never going to happen, but I was keen to try and incorporate the strides into my running.

Tuesday: 7-ish planned. 0 completed.

As Lolly was travelling away with work, and would be away Tuesday and Wednesday evening, I had to either run early Tuesday morning, or fit my run into my workday. I chose the latter: I planned something like a seven mile route based around Brean Down, which I could do after my first job in Weston-super-Mare. Unfortunately, I ended up coming straight home after that job, as we got a call from nursery to say that our little boy had to see a doctor. As it turned out, he was fine, and went back to nursery that afternoon. But my planned run had been ruined.

At this point, I got into my own head. It was still only 13:00. I could easily fit in a run; more or less any run I wanted. I didn’t have to pick the children up from nursery until 17:30. But for some reason, I just couldn’t quite get myself out the door. After my planned route, I decided that anything from home would be too boring. Fine – that shouldn’t be a problem, a 15-20 minute drive can get me to some gorgeous places. But no. Alas, I couldn’t get over myself, and I didn’t run at all.

Wednesday: Tuesday’s run (8 miles)

It’s not trail running, but it’s still scenic enough.

Not running on Tuesday put a lot of pressure on me for Wednesday. If I didn’t manage to get out for a run, then it was unlikely I was going to be able to match the previous week’s mileage, and my main aim, for the first four weeks of the plan, was consistency. Thankfully, I managed to finish work around three, and had none of the previous day’s head issues. I got home, changed and went straight back out for a run along some of the roads at the base of the Quantocks. The route was loosely based on a reverse part of The Humdinger course. Although it was road mileage, it was pretty lumpy and, with the snow around, simply pretty. I averaged just slower than 8:30 per mile, which I was pretty happy with, considering the terrain, and that I wasn’t pushing myself.

Thursday: Getting out on the river (5 miles)

There’s a huge cliche about the first light evening runs, but they are genuinely so uplifting. I managed to use the last bit of light to start my run along the river, before ducking off around some residential estates to get back home. Like the previous day, I was pleased with the pace given that I never really pushed myself. It was a pretty modest 8:12 per mile average, but after so much time on the trails, I’ve got used to paces in the 9s, 10s and even slower. As I mention above, my focus at the moment is on consistent running; getting the miles done week after week, and building to a decent platform. Once at that platform, I’ll switch my focus more to pace. Trying to build mileage and pace at the same time is just a recipe for injury.

Saturday: Longrun Meadow parkrun (5 miles inc run there and home)

Splash splash.

It’s been ages since I’ve run at Longrun Meadow. Over three months in fact. The underfoot conditions were pretty bad, though far from the worse that I’ve run in there. As I was racing the next day, I was intending a relatively gentle run, though ended up going a bit quicker than expected as I ran with a mate. It was good to be back and to socialise with a few people I hadn’t seen for a while. It’s also a pretty (mentally) easy way to get five miles in.

I’ve got out of the habit of parkrun – partly because I was injured for so long, partly because when I was training before it didn’t fit in very well, and partly because I have given Lolly priority for parkruns lately. It’s a habit I’d like to get back into, even if I can’t make it every week these days. I ran 38 parkruns in 2014, 20 in 2015, 36 in 2016 and 18 in 2017. Based on these numbers, I’m due for 34 this year, though that seems unlikely so far!

Sunday: Race day (11.5 miles total)

Climbing through Butleigh Wood.

For a full race report, see my previous post. While the race was important to me, namely for Somerset Series points, I also needed to make sure to top my mileage for the day up to 10 or 11 miles. A one mile warm-up was followed by the Butleigh 10k. The race went pretty well; I was more or less where I expected to be, though I’d have liked to be 30 seconds to a minute quicker. (Always).

Race done, I caught my breath and chatted for a while, before switching from my race vest into a t-shirt, and my trail shoes into road shoes, and then headed off for another four miles. I opted for a simple two miles out, two miles back route, rather than trying anything fancy and getting lost! I found the miles came surprisingly easy, and although I was a bit bored of the flat roads by the end, it was a pretty nice end to a higher mileage day.

Weekly summary: 4 runs, 29.9 miles

So, yeah… If I’d known I was that close to 30 miles, I’d have cleared tacked another 0.1 miles onto my run. But never mind. Overall I’m happy with what I got done this week. I struggled early on, but in the end, I built the mileage nicely from last week, and the race went about as well as I could realistically expect given the current focus of my training. It’d be nice to get out on the trails a bit more, but sometimes life just gets in the way. More races are due to follow next week, with the Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running; a 10k on Good Friday and then a 3.5 mile hill race on the Saturday.

Snowdonia Trail Marathon: Week 1

Oh heck.

On 15 July 2018, I’m planning on running my first marathon. And because I’m some sort of an idiot, I decided that a good introduction to 26.2 would be off-road. And involve a mountain.

As usual, I plan to keep track of my training on this blog. I’ve found it useful before to jot down what I’m doing. It keeps me accountable, and helps focus my mind on what my training is achieving. So, some background information to start. My preparation for this training cycle hasn’t been ideal; I’m still trying to get consistent mileage after my ankle injury way back in September. I initially planned to follow the P&D ‘Advanced Marathoning’ low-mileage plan, but it seems too much mileage for me. So at the moment, the plan is to spend four weeks figuring out where I’m at. Which leads me onto my first run…

Monday: 5k time-trial (4.5 miles total)

The P&D plan involved running a lactate threshold on the Tuesday, with the hard section at half marathon pace. But I realised that I had no idea what my current half marathon pace even is. My only fast efforts recently have been the Hills to Coast Relay and the Babcary 7.5, neither of which were really suitable for gauging my true pace. So I decided to make use of our club’s time on the running track to do just that. After a mile warm-up, I launched myself into twelve and a half gruelling laps of the track.

It was possibly the toughest workout I’ve ever done. Don’t get me wrong – I love track sessions. And I’m more than happy to run them on my own. But twelve and a half laps of push, push, push. It’s hard. I used 20 minutes as my benchmark. For the first kilometre, I came in just under; 3:54. But my pace dropped off after that, and it was a constant battle not to drop too far off the pace. The second kilometre (two and half more laps) was 4:09, and already I was behind the target. I had to remind myself that I knew that I wasn’t capable of 20 minutes right now, it was just to give me a guide pace. In the third kilometre I lost a bit more time, but managed to steady things in the fourth, clocking 4:18 for both. I maintained a similar pace for the next 500 metres, but a kick over the last half lap pulled me up to a 4:03 final kilometre, and 20:38 for the 5k.

More importantly, it gives me a figure to plug into the pace calculator to work out some race and training paces.

Tuesday: Massage

It’d been a while since my last massage with Ian, and I was a bit worried about some Achilles soreness that I’d suffered from over the past couple of weeks. A good, if painful, rub down of my calf muscles, and all sorts of tinkering with my ankles, and Ian declared that my Achilles were good to go. No swelling, no significant tightness. Good news!

Wednesday: Varied 7 miles

I was staying away from home with work on Wednesday night, and had originally planned to just plod around the roads near the hotel. Unfortunately, I discovered that my hotel was essentially a service station motel, and near the friendliest of roads for running. Thankfully, I discovered that it also happened to be on the edge of the New Forest, and hatched plan B. A short drive on from the hotel, and I parked in a random National Trust car park. (Less a car park and more just a flat, clear bit of land with a National Trust sign, really.)

I had no real plan for my run, other than, well… run around. I headed up the footpath out of the car park… and was immediately met by a “No Public Access” sign. Not ideal. Still, I had the OS Map app, and so swung off to my right, across some pretty boggy grass until I hit a footpath. I followed this until it reached the A36, doubled all the way back, and then headed down the small road I was parked on. Away from my car (intentionally). This eventually led me to Stagbury Hill, a nice little climb, before I looped back to the car, adding on a bit more distance along the road to round it up to a tidy 7 miles.

Saturday: Long run (11 miles)

Long runs are always difficult to fit into family life, and as I extend the distance for marathon training, that will only get worse. I’m looking for ways to integrate these runs into the weekend as much as possible. This week, I suggested that as Lolly didn’t want to run Longrun Meadow parkrun in the wet, she could visit Minehead parkrun, and I could do a long run from there, meeting them at Torre Cider Farm. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Given the “Mini Beast from the East” which struck over the weekend, we both got out runs in before things got too bad. The wind was biting, and while it had caused Lolly issues during the parkrun, I was sheltered from the worst of it to start with, as I headed inland. (My original idea had involved running along the coastal path to Watchet – that would have been hideous.)

As soon as I crossed the A39 out of Minehead, I started climbing pretty sharply; initially up the road, but then switching onto footpaths. In the first two and a bit miles of my run, I climbed roughly 800 feet from the seafront to the top of Grabbist Hill. And promptly dropped most of the way back down to sea-level again to reach Dunster. After which… I went off-route.

In my defence, I did intend to vary from my planned route. I just meant to take a different variation. Still, it didn’t make much difference, and I soon found myself back up at 550 ft going past Gallox hill fort. I stopped for a bit of a breather, and for a gel – the first time I’ve tried one. I’ve intended to try gels for ages now, but as I suffer from some.. ah.. stomach issues.. on runs anyway, I’ve always put it off for another day. I figured that I couldn’t keep putting it off during marathon training though. I tried a Torq gel – I’ve bought a sample pack with a range of flavours. This one was Strawberry Yoghurt, and other than being very sweet and sickly, it did indeed definitely taste of strawberry yoghurt. It was very palatable, went down without an issue even though I didn’t have water, and I had no issues for the rest of my run. Well, no gel-related issues.

Still awful at selfies.

The run resumed with a very short descent, followed by more climbing, up to Bat’s Castle, another hill fort. Another break (to take some photos, not because I was out of breath… honest) and then about a mile and a half of relatively flat stuff before a nice descent to Withycombe. I rejoined my originally planned route. For about a quarter of a mile. Heading back out of the village, I was met with a footpath closed sign and a padlock. Oh bugger. Quickly consulting the OS Map app again, I realised that there was no convenient alternative; I would have to run the roads around the fields, which squared off my diagonal. But I had no choice, so off I went, up another hill!

In fact, that diversion meant that with the exception of one shortcut across a field, the last three miles of my run was all on the road. Not ideal – particularly in my Speedcross shoes, but needs must. My planned ten mile run ended up being 11.3 miles. I briefly considered adding a bit more on to round it up to 12 miles, but frankly decided I really didn’t give a hoot.

This run was purely a distance run, but I was happy to average 9:29 per mile over that terrain and elevation profile, especially given that I was navigating paths and roads completely unknown to me. Although 2,000 feet over 11 miles sounds a lot, it was (a) proportionally less than Snowdonia will be, and (b) surprisingly runnable.

Sunday: 3 miles road

Three miles of nothingness. I wanted to top my mileage up over 25 miles, but given the snowy, icy conditions and family considerations, I had little desire to do much. A short pootle around town did the job. It was nothing special, I didn’t even change out of my glasses into my contact lenses!

Weekly summary: 4 runs, 26.1 miles

Honestly I’d have liked to have got over 30 miles done this week, but I didn’t get home from work until after 7 on Thursday, and so any run that night was pretty much out of the window. Each of the runs I got in was a tick in the box. Monday’s time-trial was quicker than my first Yeovilton race last summer, and each of the following runs was completed injury-free, which at this stage is my main focus. The P&D plan, which I’m still loosely basing my training off, introduces some strides next week, while I also have to contend with Lolly being away for two evenings, and a race at the weekend. (A race, however will I cope?!)

Training Diary – w/c 11th September

Seeing as Ben is injured at the moment (again), he hasn’t been writing his usual training log updates. So I thought I would step in instead.

My ‘training’ situation is obviously a little different at the moment, as I’m looking to re-build all-round strength as well as get fitness back. In theory I’ve been working towards being able to run the Taunton 10k, but energy levels and split priorities mean that the base work just hasn’t been there.

In the interests of transparency, I should also point out that this was pretty much the best a week of exercise has ever gone for me.

Monday – Ballet Fit Class
Regular class for me that has been great for building strength. For this week we particularly focused on leg extensions (which I’m, uh, not great at) and back extensions (which, surprisingly, I’m not terrible at).

Tuesday – 1.6 mile run & Pole Class
So there will be a few raised eyebrows at this, but I’ve been doing a beginners’ Pole course for the last few weeks. I’ve never known anything to work every part of your body quite like this. I was pretty wiped and so Ben suggested I should head over early and go for a short run before hand to help me wake up. The wind and the rain (and probably the running) certainly did help and meant that I was at least semi-awake for the class. Notable bits of the class were learning single-climb squats (which I very much felt after) and slipping slightly while trying out a spin (which left a lovely line of bruises down my leg).

Wednesday – Rest Day
By which I mean I left my sofa for about 2 hours total. Considering I have a 5 month old at home with me, this is quite a feat I feel.

Thursday – 1.7 mile buggy run
Or, as I called it on Strava, “Tired buggy run”. Tired was definitely the theme for the week (or year). As I mentioned in my post about buggy running, I’m finding it pretty hard going. But it’s absolutely worth it for being able to get a bit of a run in.

Friday – Rest Day

Saturday – parkrun (2017 best)
We’d talked earlier in the week about me possibly doing parkrun somewhere we could then go out for the day, but when it got to Friday evening we were way too tired (there’s that word again). Waking up on Saturday I had a little strop about not wanting to trudge round Longrun Meadow, but got over myself and decided to go anyway. As I went to get my shoes out I realised it had rained during the week, so put my trail shoes on and crossed absolutely everything that there might be good puddles.
I was not disappointed. Barely a minute into the run I saw runners part in front of me, and a smile hit my face as I splashed right through the middle. Congestion is really not a thing when you’re surrounded by dodgers. Regular puddles gave me lots of little targets to aim for, which really helped with keeping going. I ran the whole thing, and got my fastest parkrun time since before I got pregnant. I really really do love puddles.

Photo Credit: Kevin Dunn

Sunday – Rest Day

I’d hoped to get out for a few miles, but for various reasons it just didn’t happen.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my week. Well, the bits that involve exercise at least. The balance of 2 classes and 3 runs is what I’m aiming for (albeit slightly more targeted runs), and so hopefully there will be more weeks like this in the near future.

Buggy beginnings

One of the things I’ve been asked most since I started back at parkrun is when we’ll be buggy-parkrunning with our son. And every time I’ve given the answer that buggy running is not recommended until the baby is 6 months old.

The observant among you will have spotted that he is not going to be 6 months old for another few weeks, and yet here I am writing about buggies. So let me explain.

Last week, I really wanted to go for a run. My legs just felt in need of a stretch out. It had been over a week since my last outing and, with the way our schedule was looking, it could easily be over a week until I would next get the chance. Ben suggested going out with the buggy while our daughter was at nursery, and although I was initially reluctant it made sense.

Every single health professional that has ever seen our son has commented on how strong he is. Being able to support his own head is really not an issue. We already own a running buggy (ok, we have 2) and so it’s not like I’d be running with him in a lightweight stroller. My pace and distance are hardly record-breaking at the moment, so that would make for a gentle starting point. And I was in complete control of the terrain (aka boring wide paths near my house).

And so it was that I strapped him in and tentatively set off. I’m not going to lie, it was tough. My core and shoulders were still aching from an exercise class earlier in the week, and it had been a really really long time since I last ran with a buggy. But in a way that made it mentally easier. It was always going to be tricky, and so I just had to do what I could.

Any excuse to stop and rest…

I wasn’t sure how our son would react, seeing as he’s hardly been in a pushchair at all, but, true to form, he happily fell asleep. Result! Despite finding it hard going (and going uphill on a bridge near impossible) I enjoyed it. And running downhill with a buggy is great for stride length and pattern.

Like starting anything, it’s great to have something to build on. I went out again this week and got slightly further, and my intention is to make it a regular event to build up my strength. While I certainly wouldn’t consider anything like Mount Edgcumbe with a baby this young (although I’m sure Ben would consider the lighter buggy), a reasonably-surfaced parkrun should be fine in the near future.

For now, though, I’m just enjoying the freedom feeling of being able to get out the house and run.

Confessions of a Run/Walker

I realise it’s not very PC, what with running being all-inclusive and everything, but I’ve always hated run/walkers. More specifically, people that run/walk in organised events. Because what people do in their training doesn’t really impact me.

Mostly, this has stemmed from several very negative experiences during both races and parkrun, at times that I’ve been busting a gut to keep running. There was the Christmas Cracker 10k, when two girls abruptly slowed just in front of me on the narrow pavement. And the most notable experience of it from parkrun was of two people actually using me as a target. So they ran until they overtook me, and then immediately slowed to a walk.

Looking at it like that, what actually annoyed me wasn’t the fact that people were run/walking, it’s that they weren’t very considerate of other runners. And let’s face it, there are inconsiderate runners in all shapes and sizes. I have also had a tendency to look down on people run/walking. But as is often said, don’t judge what you don’t know.

The trick is to time running with going past photographers

There are a few flavours of run/walking, but all consist of intentionally running for a bit, then walking for a bit, and repeating. The duration could be determined by time, distance, or feel. If you’ve followed my return to running so far, you’ll know that run/walking has been a staple for me. I’ve chosen to go with the time option, as it’s simple and easy to moderate. If I ran by feel there would be a definite danger of feeling the need to walk too often, and every time a hill appeared.

Run-walking is a great way of gaining fitness. The shorter spells allow you to run at a faster pace, and the walking gives enough time to recover while keeping everything moving just enough. In fact, if you keep the walking at a decent pace then it’s possible to have a very respectable overall pace. When I first returned to running, I saw it as a necessary evil. A hoop I would have to jump through to start getting some distance in, before quickly moving on to ‘proper’ running. And there was no way on earth I would dream of run/walking at an organised event.

Except, of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to run at Moors Valley (and then Mile End and then Longrun Meadow…). Which gave a great opportunity to prove to myself that it IS possible to run/walk considerately. And so, I made sure to stick to the edges of the path to keep out the way. Just as you would in a car, I check behind me before speeding up or slowing down. If there’s someone close by that is likely to be impacted, I let them know that I’m about to change pace. My Garmin gives a 5 second beep warning, which is plenty of time. There was one occasion at Mile End when I was just overtaking someone as the beeps started, so I dropped back a little early. Common sense really.

Run/Walking makes for some pretty cool Pace Analysis charts

And yet I still view run/walking as an inferior activity. There was one evening that I went out for a slightly longer loop than I’d done previously. As I went round, there were mixed emotions. I was pleased to be making progress, but disappointed to be only run/walking. But as I neared the end, I realised what Ben would put in one of his training updates for that run:
Speed work: 10 x 3mins @ target pace with 1 min recovery
Hmm, that sounds a little different.

I’m managing to run a bit further now, but despite my initial intentions I think run/walking might be part of my plans for a little while longer. It won’t be every run, and it won’t be forever, but it still very definitely has a place as I build back up. And I hope that when the days of recovery become a distant memory I still remember that run/walkers aren’t just slacking off, and that it really is a valid way to run.

But if anyone suddenly stops or slows right in front of me, I still reserve the right to grumble.

Training: Weeks 5 & 6

Oh boy, what a couple of weeks. As I mentioned in my last training update, my race addiction can cause quite a few issues for my training, and this was never more evident than in the last fourteen days. When I opted to train to improve my 10k time, rather than my half-marathon time, it was a two-pronged decision. Part of it was the desire to have a really good go at the distance that I just hadn’t focused on last year. The other was the vague idea that 10k training would be less intense, at a time when I had a small baby to look after, and a wife looking to get back into exercise routines herself.

What a clanger.

Had I actually looked at the 10k plan I was aiming to follow, or in fact engaged my brain and thought about things, I’d have realised that 10k training more or less followed the same pattern as the HM training I’d done, but included more speed-work. So in essence, similar mileage, but more hard workouts. So, basically, at least as hard, if not actually slightly harder. Anyway, less about my stupid decisions, and more about… well… my other stupid decisions:

Week 5, coming off the back of a recovery week was meant to start with a general aerobic run with hill sprints and 100m strides on the Tuesday, before the traditional endurance run the next day. And so, we reached the first issue. The Haselbury Trail 10k, a Wednesday night race. As is now traditional, the speed-work was cancelled, and replaced with a seven-mile meander along a route inspired by the Hurtle, one of the races that our club puts on. I hadn’t really felt like running at all, but was happy enough that I’d managed to get a run done, and that it was pretty close to the right distance.

I’ve written plenty about the Haselbury Trail in the race report blog post, but in summary, I was really happy with it. Despite some awful conditions, I ran my quickest time on the course, and even managed to add some distance before and after the run to make the day up to nine miles in total, keeping me on track for my weekly mileage target.

Unfortunately, despite my good start to the week, the tail-end was subject to more disruption – we were heading up to London to watch the athletics on Friday evening, so my Friday speed-work (5 x 1000m) was not going to happen. So, still aching from my race, I headed out early on Friday for a gentle 3.5 mile run around the river and canal, which was a pretty ‘nothing’ run. We then spent the rest of Friday clocking up more and more steps; we had to stand for most of the train journey to London, and then walked from Piccadilly Circus to our hotel in Tower Hill. We then turned out to be in the very back row at the athletics, and so built up even more steps going up and down the stairs to our seats and back a few times. Then, after watching Mo win the 10,000m (Go Mo!) we got back to our hotel room after 11 (late for us).

Just a casual 26:49 10k…

All of this was great preparation for Mile End parkrun – in the absence of my intervals the day before, I decided that it would be a good idea to make this an ‘effort’ parkrun. I clocked 19:44; my second-fastest parkrun time ever, on a slightly undulating course; you can read more about it here. I was really happy with my time, and although it didn’t serve quite the same training purpose as the planned intervals, I felt good about getting a quicker workout in.

Sunday’s long run was an opportunity to run on a few roads that I hadn’t explored before to the east of Taunton – I find solitary long runs pretty tough at times, and so I like to find ways to motivate myself and keep myself distracted – in this case it was expanding my VeloViewer ‘largest square’. Basically, every map grid that you run in is highlighted, so I was exploring some new squares! It’s a bit sad and geeky, but it keeps me interested! The run itself was 11.7 miles at 8:34 min/mi, a decent but not spectacular run.

My VeloViewer square.

Week 5: Target 37 mi, actual 36 mi

Another week, another race to mess with the plan! It was back to the Yeovilton 5k in Week 6. In Week 2, I’d ran 19:46, which had given me a big mental boost, and I was hoping for another this time around. My head wasn’t really in the game to start the week though, and my Tuesday run ended up being a very late evening plod around at 9:19 min/mi. I think the combined efforts of the Haselbury Trail and Mile End parkrun had really worn me out. With that in mind, I was really struggling with whether to go to the Yeovilton race. I was down on my weekly mileage, and doing the 5k race would only make that worse. I ummm-ed and I ahhh-ed, and I made and re-made the decision a few times before ultimately deciding to go.

I’m glad I did. As I knew, my weekly mileage suffered, but I ran 19:17, only four seconds slower than my PB set last September. The race gave me great confidence for how my training is going. I managed to tag on a decent length warm-up and cool down to minimise the damage to my weekly target.

Bizarrely, considering that I was feeling wiped out after so many race efforts, I opted to stick with my lactate threshold run on the Friday – cruise intervals; 12 mins/12 mins/10 mins at 6:40/6:40/6:38 pace. As I did for most of last year, I ran this along the canal, and was really happy with the effort I managed after a tough period of training. A gentle recovery run on Saturday evening was followed the next morning by a 12.3 mile long run with the club. I didn’t feel up for a solitary long run, so took the opportunity to do our club’s regular Sunday run. Although the pace wasn’t quite what I’d have done on my own, I didn’t regret the decision at all – it was lovely to be able to chat to friends all the way around, and made the distance feel like nothing at all.

A decent lactate threshold workout.

Week 6: Target 39 mi, actual 37.2 mi

I was disappointed to be short on mileage both weeks, but given that I had races both weeks, and some other disruptions too, I’m not too bothered in all honesty. My training is clearly heading in the right direction; both the races and the speed sessions show me this. Six weeks marks halfway through the plan, and the second half is much less congested – I’ve got a 10k race on Sunday of week 8, but that coincides with a planned 5k tune-up race, so not too much tweaking should be needed, and then the next Yeovilton race will be in week 10 or 11. I’m hoping to be able to get in a lot more of the planned speed workouts, and hopefully with less alterations, my body will benefit from the planned rest and recovery periods!

Acquiring focus, a training update

After a few races catch-ups, it’s probably time I focused on my training; what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and whether it is working. As I’ve mentioned a few times in my race reports, despite Lolly doing all the hard work, the arrival of our second child had quite a detrimental effect on my running. This wasn’t helped by a sinus infection that I caught around the same time. The two combined meant that after a pretty decent March, in which I ran 100 miles and set competitive times in both The Big Cheese and the Butleigh MT 10k, April was pretty awful: eight runs, for a total distance of 40 miles.

May and June were both huge improvements, with me finishing just short of 100 miles both months, but I was getting a bit demoralised by my slower race times. The 20:48 at Yeovilton in May was particularly difficult to take, despite the fact that I had known I was going to be off the pace. There are excuses I can tag to some of them as well; Wells and the Steeplechase were both on hot days, the Quantock Beast came at the end of a week when I’d been a bit off-colour anyway. Despite this, and the fact that I knew my pace would come back with time and training, I felt I needed some more structure to my running.

So, I turned back to the source of last year’s improvements: Pfitzinger and Latter’s Faster Road Running. After a bit of deliberation, I opted to follow a 10k plan. My 10k PB is serious lagging behind my 5k and HM efforts, and sub-40 is my next major milestone after doing a sub-20 5k and sub-90 HM last year. (A sub-19 5k is also a target, but that’ll come off training for some further.)

After some further deliberation, I set the Taunton 10k as my target race. It isn’t the flattest, and it certainly isn’t the biggest, but it’s all on road, I’ve set a PB there before, and it worked out around the right time. With this in mind, my first week of training (as last year) was meant to be the week after the Quantock Beast. However, my body disagreed! I opted that week to concentrate on getting the distance in, but not worrying too much about pace. To that end, I ran a 5 mile recovery run on the Tuesday, at around 9 minute miles and 6 miles the next day, at 9 and a half minute miles. I went off road towards the end of the week, taking in a lumpy 5 miles along the coast path on Friday, before a 12.5-mile loop of the Herepath on the Sunday.

Week 1: Target 30 mi, actual 29.1 mi

I was feeling pretty good after that week, despite the hilly end to it, and the second week should have provided the perfect opportunity to hit my planned workouts and get going properly. Except for my race addiction. This is (my wife tells me) a problem (she says this with glances at our credit card statement, our busy calendar and our neglected children). I have to admit, it’s hard to disagree: running a race in the middle of a training plan is a pretty surefire way to mess up the training plan. Of course, the fact we were going on holiday on the Friday was also pretty awkward.

Holiday running: pretty, but an organisational nightmare!

As a result: another week of rearranged and mangled training. My 5k race on the Wednesday showed things were heading in the right direction, at least, while a parkrun (in place of a speed session the day before) provided another opportunity to confirm my pace. Despite being in the New Forest, I managed to get out for 11 miles on the morning of my birthday. Although the speed workouts are important for increasing my pace, the longer runs are one of my focuses throughout this plan, as I did very few of them in the first half of the year.

Week 2: Target 32 mi, actual 32.4 mi

All the food! (A dinosaur birthday cake!)

The third week in, and for the first time, I was able to run pretty close to the plan. I found a nice track in the New Forest to do some point-to-point intervals along, and ran a 200m repeat session. Or at least, a “roughly 200m” repeat session. I gauged this off a combination of the number of paces I’d taken and the amount of time it took me to run, and then marked it with a fallen branch. It was tough, as my Wednesday endurance run title suggested: “I’ve eaten too much food this week to run properly…”

We travelled back on the Thursday, but the weather was absolutely awful on the Friday, so despite some initial resolutions to actually do my planned lactate threshold run, I didn’t get out. (Those who followed my training plan for the Bristol Half Marathon last year will recall that lactate threshold runs have a tendency to be… ummm… missed.) I was eager to get something akin to the planned session in though, so went to Longrun Meadow parkrun on the Saturday. The planned session was 10 min / 10 min / 8 min at pace with 3 min jog breaks. I decided that a 21 min parkrun with a 4 min break and then 8 min effort would simulate a similar session. I got the 21 min parkrun pretty much bang on, but then ended up chatting for too long, and so had too long of a break before my second effort. But still, overall my pace was where I wanted it, so no big deal. I finished the week with a relatively speedy 11 mile long run, averaging under 8 min/mile.

Week 3: Target 34 mi, actual 34.3 mi

Unfortunately, the side effect of moving my Friday speed-work to Saturday and running a quick long run on the Sunday was that I started week four feeling pretty knackered. It was advertised as a recovery week (my favourite) but began with another set of 2 x (4 x 200) on the Tuesday. Again, this was estimated distances marked in the gravel, but it went pretty well (which means I probably under-marked the distance!) I ran with the club on Wednesday, stepping down a group for an easier run, though I got a bit carried away towards the end with some hill sprints…

I’d over-egged my overall distance on both Tuesday and Wednesday, so I went for a much shorter than planned run on Friday, taking my daughter in the buggy with me to help control my pace. To be honest, looking back at this week, I probably should have been taking things far easier. The whole point of a recovery week is to give your body a bit of a reset for the training ahead, and I think the hill sprints and extra distance in the first half of the week really prevented that from happening too much. My Friday run, while short, should probably have been slower still, especially given that I had the buggy. My Sunday run was okay, but again, should probably have been slower.

Week 4: Target 30 mi, actual 30.2 mi

Overall I have to be happy with pretty much hitting all my weekly mileage targets. The training was pretty disrupted in terms of the specific workouts, but hopefully that will improve in the second half of the plan. Either way, improvements are obvious, and maybe, just maybe, a sub-40 is possible.

Let there be exercise

Starting out exercising is never an easy task. You need to find energy you aren’t used to spending. You need to find time you normally fill in other ways. And, for the vast majority of us, you need to accept that you won’t be very good at it to start with.

I’d made various comments about doing stretches or looking at post-natal exercise videos, but nothing was actually happening. Earmarking time and energy for yourself is not something that comes naturally to many mums with young children. The only thing for it, therefore, was to book myself onto a class where the time was committed and it would be harder to back out at the last minute.

Next decision – what sort of class to go for? Specific post-natal classes have the benefit of everything being tailored to what I currently need, and with specialist knowledge of potential issues. On the other hand, the buggy fitness class I’d done last time round no longer exists, and I also needed something in my week to be about me and not about being a mum. The ideal situation would be if the instructor at my favourite friendly exercise studio had completed her pre- and post-natal exercise instruction course. Which she has. Love it when a plan comes together.

And so it was that I found myself returning to Studio 22. I say returning – the Studio had actually moved location since I’d been last. The first thing I was asked was about my post-natal check (which I’d had just a few days before) and anything that might impact the exercises I was able to do. If you’re joining any exercise class post-natally and you aren’t asked about birth complications or how many weeks it’s been then you may want to consider going elsewhere until later in your recovery.

My chosen class of Ballet Fit has been a brilliant way back into exercise. It’s low impact, so I haven’t been worried about my joints. It helps with toning and strength. And it’s helping to re-build my virtually non-existent core. But most importantly it’s fun, which makes me want to exercise more.

There has been a fair bit of adjustment to make it work. Eating and drinking enough during the day is pretty crucial, as I’m less in control of my energy levels lately. There’s also the impact afterwards of tiredness and sore muscles. More than once, my leg aches have started while sat on the floor at a baby group the following morning, and getting up is just a little more tricky.

So exercise successfully started, but the big cloud of running was still looming over me. When people asked me I talked about my body not being ready, about possible joint pain, and about wanting to ease myself back in. But as I got closer to 12 weeks post-natal a bigger factor started to show. I was scared.

Scared of injuring myself. Scared of accidentally pushing too hard. Scared of how difficult it would be. Scared of the challenge of starting again. Even, weirdly, scared that I wouldn’t like it anymore.

With anything that you’re putting off for the wrong reasons, it’s handy to have a motivational deadline. In my case, an upcoming opportunity for child-free parkrun tourism. And so my Garmin was switched back on, my running shoes were dusted off, and Ben kicked me out the door. 1 mile of 1 minute running 1 minute walking. Not a lot really, but wow it felt good.

There’s a long way to go in my journey of post-natal recovery, but I’m really happy that I’ve made a start.

Laying the Foundations

It’s fair to say that I didn’t enjoy the end of pregnancy. The exhaustion, aches and uncertainty really got to me. Still, everyone assured me that I looked like I would give birth early… Or at least earlier than the first time (2 days over)… You can imagine how grumpy I was for the 7 days after the due date before things kicked off. Many apologies and thanks to those who had to put up with me in that time.

Still, at least things managed to start off by themselves the night before I was booked in for a stretch and sweep (if you don’t know what that is, retain your ignorance and just know I was pleased to skip it). The next morning, after much hysteria and entonox, we had a healthy baby boy. And my body felt completely and utterly drained.

So my road to physical recovery started with plenty of food and drink, and grabbing bits of sleep whenever I could. The sleep part being significantly harder when you live with a newborn baby. Structured exercise felt like a lifetime away.

One of the best decisions I made near the end of pregnancy was to buy a stretchy wrap. This has proved invaluable in being able to get stuff done, and look after a small child, while a baby is happily asleep. His love for being tucked up in the wrap has also meant getting out for a walk is really easy. Making the effort to walk places, or to just go for a wander along the river or canal, has been a big boost both physically and mentally.

And, yes, I do always look tired.

In terms of formal exercise, the only thing I’ve made an effort with so far is pelvic floor exercises. If I don’t get that right then I can say goodbye to any high impact exercise in future. I’m also starting to do some gentle postnatal core exercises. Because it currently feels like I have zero core muscles.

And the plan for the future? Well I’m starting to get a little more sleep now (I hope that doesn’t jinx it) which should make it easier to go for longer and more purposeful walks. I also want to set some time aside for postnatal yoga to help me strengthen up. While part of me would love to try running already, I know that I’m not strong enough yet and it just wouldn’t be worth it. I can’t expect my body to get back to racing PBs if I don’t get the foundations right first.