Embrace the Off-Season

23 October 2017, 18:34

Over the past week, I’ve raised the concept of an “off-season” with three separate running friends, so I’ve decided it’s probably a topic worth discussing a little bit here, especially since many of us will have just finished up our big Fall races and are entering into that familiar post-race comedown…

…And that’s completely natural! If you’ve cared enough about a race to train for it, devote weeks or months of your life to thinking about your training and strategy, and worrying over every little aspect of it, then it makes sense that after it’s finished and the high fades away, you’re left with a bit of a “well what now?” feeling.

So I’m going to first tell you that you need to rest and recover, both physically and mentally. The length of this period will vary based on the length of your race, your age, running experience, and general physiology. In general, after a marathon I’ll take a full month off training before I go back into any serious speedwork or long runs, but equally it may well be less or more for you depending on what your heart rate is telling you (you do keep an eye on your resting heart rate, right??). So take lots of rest days, slob around at the weekends, go for long brunches, and go to bed early to top up on sleep. Take the extra time to do some cross-training if you like – yoga, pilates, and swimming are all good pursuits that you’ve probably neglected while focused on your race, so go and get yourself reacquainted now that you have the time and you feel like it.

But the length of physical recovery may be faster or slower than your mental recovery – the time it takes for you to not only get excited about running again, but actually crave the structure that a training schedule brings. So for me, this means that I’ll step down to a slower group at Run dem Crew and other group runs, both to preserve my legs a bit but also to give back to others and enjoy the process of chatting without struggling for breath. It’s nice to mix with a different set of people, but also to help encourage others who can’t really keep up their side of the conversation without difficulty!

Doggy footprints in the park

But even on my solo runs, I’ll run fewer sessions in the off-season, and frankly, if I get up in the morning and don’t fancy going for a run, I don’t go. It doesn’t happen often, but there’s no point in trying to force the mojo when there’s not even an end goal, and it’s probably my body’s way of telling me I should focus on other things for a while. Even when I do head out for a run, I try not to be too prescriptive with myself on how far or at what pace I’ll run. I like to keep most of my runs at a low heart rate (Maffetone style!), but instead of having the stress of the watch beeping when I go a beat over 140, I instead go for a less precise “mouth closed” approach and choose routes that allow me to vary the length depending on how I feel.

So if you find yourself a bit lacking in running motivation after a big event, learn to embrace the off-season. It’s not smart or advisable to train hard all year long – I can’t think of a better way to encourage injury and burnout. Having these periods of downtime are what allow us to train to our peak during the training phases, and you need both to become a well-balanced runner and person.

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Rounding off the year...

31 December 2016, 12:39

Whether you’d noticed or not, I haven’t posted since August! Was the cause of this some catastrophic illness, or injury, or that I’d given up running altogether to find myself in some Buddhist yoga retreat? Nope, just regular ol’ boring “I got busy”.

To delve a bit further – I’d been working 4 days a week as a Product Manager at a small tech company, running my entire sewing pattern business from one day a week. In reality, this meant I was writing blog posts and social media content every single lunchtime, doing product development nearly every evening and all weekend long, and Fridays were spent doing all the boring accounting and email answering that keeps a business alive. And I was exhausted. So in August I quit my office job to once again focus on my business. I thought it’d only be a few months’ full time to reinvigorate it and get a few more patterns ready to develop, but I found that as soon as I created some space in my life, the opportunities just poured in, and I had to grab them.

As a result, 2017 is going to be epic for the business, and my running forecast doesn’t look too bad, either: I’m running Cambridge Half marathon again (this time with the new single loop course!), London marathon for the third time (with my deferred GFA place I was too ill to use in 2016), and I’m representing Great Britain at the World Transplant Games again at the end of June, this time in the hot and sunny (eugh) climes of Malaga, Spain!

Cheering Cardiff Half

Looking back at 2016, there were definitely some highlights, but through no fault of my own, it was a bit of an “off year”. I started the year with an awful illness (or, at the doctors’ best guess, a series of illnesses alongside some EBV reactivation, giving me glandular fever/mono on top of everything else), which laid me low from January through to the beginning of April, causing me to DNS the Cardiff Half, something I don’t do very often (or ever? This might be my first DNS). I travelled along to cheer since it was my birthday weekend, but I was only able to stand for 10 minutes at a time, and the weather was atrocious that day, so maybe it was for the best.

As I mentioned earlier, I had to defer my London marathon place, since I only started to feel better about 3 weeks before the race, and I finally got to experience Run dem Crew’s crazy Mile 21 cheering station from the other side of the tape, which was super fun.

Post Hackney Half

This meant my first race of the year was a few weeks later, at Run Hackney (aka “Hackney Half”). I don’t know how they do it every year, but it was freaking sweltering yet again, and I just ran it as a training run to get some much-needed miles in my legs in preparation for my big race of the year…

Bear Race - with sign

…the Transylvanian Bear Race! This was the race I’d been looking forward to for like 9 months, and while I was disappointed to have to defer London, I would’ve been crushed to have to skip Transylvania. I had to scramble to fit in the training miles to be able to run it at all, and without all the base building and strength training work I’d had to skip at the start of the year, this was very much a “slow and steady” race, not to mention my first ultra (though I hadn’t intended to run an ultra yet…)

Dunwich Dynamo

No sooner had I recovered from Transylvania (and the overnight cycling rite-of-passage, the Dunwich Dynamo!) than I had to start thinking about the British Transplant Games, and, to be perfectly honest, this was the least prepared I had ever been for the Games. I had just come off long, slow trail running and had zero strength or speed sessions, and only set foot on a track the week before. So I was the most surprised of all to see that I could still do fairly well even without the specific training – even though it took me far longer to recover from these track events than it did the 6.5hr Bear Race! The Games this year also held one of my highlights – being asked to release some doves as the first female in the Mini Marathon (3km)!

BTG 16 - doves release

The weekend after the Games, I’d signed up to run a 10km race around my local park with a good friend. He’d only just started running a few months earlier, but with the enthusiasm of a new runner, signed up to run the Beat the Blerch 10km all the way over in Seattle! When I found this out I insisted he should get at least one race under his belt before flying halfway around the world, so I paced him through the four laps of Battersea Park, chatting most of the way and gradually getting faster until I had him sprinting across the finish line. This was my first “ target=“out”>Run Through race, and I was super impressed with the organisation and atmosphere – it’s really difficult to make a race welcoming to both first-timers and seasoned racers (of which this had both, and everything in between), and the custom medal made it overall excellent value, too.

Battersea with Meltie

For my own records, we finished in 52:17, wholly respectable for Meltie’s first ever race.

Battersea medals with Meltie

My final race of the year was the Cabbage Patch 10 (miler), which I’d signed up to ages back as it’s a pretty iconic club-focused race that’s been going longer than the London marathon. The name has nothing to do with the 1980s dolls – it’s named for the Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham that’s hosted it since the early 80s! It’d been ages since I’ve run a 10 miler and I’d been feeling rundown for the past fortnight so I opted to just run it comfortable, sticking to around 5min/km (8min/mi) pace, rather than try and race it. The first few miles were through dull suburban streets, but it picked up once we ran along the river and we even saw a few swans! I picked up my pace around 8 1/2mi in, grabbed a beer from the beer station(!!) at mile 9, and then ran with it for the last mile, keeping my arm steady and my pace hard. I got more cheers in the last mile than the whole race combined – turns out loads of runners missed the beer entirely and everyone loves a lady running with a beer! The post-race goodies were great, the long sleeved(!!) tech tee is one I actually wear instead of chopping up for refashioning, and my finish line photo was so good I actually bought it.

Cabbage Patch 10 with beer

I was hoping to finish in under 1hr30 & I ended up in 1:23:22 so I was pretty chuffed with that.

So all in all, a pretty light year on racing, but I’ve spent the last few months going back and doing all the base building work with my coach that I should’ve done at the start of the year. Lots of core work, glute strength, and frequent, low mileage running to get me ready for both London marathon, but also Malaga later in the year.

I don’t necessarily wish for more medals in 2017, but instead I just wish for good health. What I do with that health is entirely up to me.

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Marathon Talk interview

22 December 2015, 12:12

If you’re a fan of podcasts and you’re not yet sick of hearing my weird transatlantic accent, then you should have a listen to my recent interview with Marathon Talk! I’m super excited to be included on the podcast, because it’s been a constant companion on my long runs for several years now. Martin and Tom interview Proper Athletes like Olympians and professionals, so I was over the moon that they wanted to talk to me!

My interview starts at 54 minutes 30 seconds in (just after the song) and we talk about the World Transplant Games, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, outlook on training, my bucket list marathon, how to get more women running, and how I have zero athletic prowess in my genes!

There’s lots of links in the show notes for this episode if you’ve been inspired to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry or to become an organ donor!

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Live Beyond podcast interview

11 December 2015, 20:29

Last year my friend and sometimes-running-partner Viv went off and ran across Europe. Like, from Poland to the tip of Spain.

Seriously!

She’s recently started a podcast where she interviews people who’ve done some extraordinary things and I was supremely flattered that she wanted to interview me! We talked about my recent successes in Argentina, my bone marrow transplant and recovery, as well as how my journey has changed my outlook about fitness and keeping things in perspective.

You can listen to the full episode above, but please do also visit LiveBeyond.co to listen to the other episodes, too, as I frankly think Emily, Sorrell, and Viv are more inspiring than I am!

And yes, I’m pretty sure my mother will agree that there isn’t an athletic gene in our family, but the stubbornness one is very strong!

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The art of running slowly

3 November 2015, 14:23

I promised at the end of my last post about the Maffetone Two Week Test that I’d fill you in on the other side of my recovery/rehabilitation/experimentation with the Maffetone Method, and with a full month under my belt I finally feel experienced enough to comment.

Alongside limiting carbohydrates, the Maffetone Method encourages you to run slowly, with a low heart rate, in order to retrain your body to burn fat as fuel. The short explanation is that glycogen (“stored carbs”) is the much easier fuel for your body to use, so if you’ve got it, that’s what you’ll burn when you exercise, until there’s nothing left, and then you switch to burning fat – otherwise known as The Wall. The better adapted you are at burning fat, the less you’ll need to top up with sugar during a race or long workout, and you’ll probably not even encounter The Wall at all, as you more easily switch from one to the other. It also means you can run pretty much indefinitely (as we’ve all got plenty of fat stores), like the Tarahumara, Cretans, and pretty much every marathon runner prior to the 1980s.

In order to force your body to burn fat, you need to train at a low, “aerobic” heart rate – exclusively for a few months, and then 80% of the time going forward. To work out your own aerobic threshold, Phil Maffetone has an equation on his website, which is roughly 180 minus your age, and then -5 or +5 depending on how broken you already are. My magic number works out to be 140, so I’ve been running exclusively with my heart rate under 140BPM.

I did my first few runs solo along my normal Thames route so I already knew the distances, and could compare them to past times. My first 10km keeping my heart rate under 140 took me 1hr22. My PB is 43min. To a generally quite speedy runner, this feels excruciatingly slow.

It’s also quite a character-building experience. I didn’t think I had much ego around being passed by other runners, but it’s another level entirely to be passed by absolutely everyone along the riverside. But on a more personal level, it also requires a lot of concentration to keep myself going more slowly than even my “comfortable” pace – for the first few runs, the second my mind would wander, I’d hear a screech to reduce my heart rate. I’ve found a few coping mechanisms, though – the first was to ditch my absolute POS Garmin FR15 (good riddance to an expensive, crappy, huge watch than could never find the freaking satellite in any weather condition, and a special “up yours” to the Garmin support who didn’t even read my emails before copy/pasting token replies. Never buying another one of your crappy products ever again!) and go back to using my phone, my beloved Runmeter app, and a £20 Bluetooth HRM off Amazon (I was skeptical that the Chinese-made “CooSpo” would work, but it seems pretty good so far). Stress levels have gone down significantly since I’ve dropped the Garmin and its frustrating ineptitude.

Garmin HRM
Good riddance to the most frustrating component to my runs!

The second thing that helps is listening to podcasts. Music revs me up, but spoken word content keeps me from getting too bored, but doesn’t encourage any particular pace. It also means that, since my headphones are in to hear the podcasts, my “Reduce heart rate!” prompts are only audible to me, rather than to everyone around me.

The third is harder to achieve, but run with other people. Find friends who are just starting Couch to 5k, find friends who are tapering or recovering, find friends who are bouncing back from injury or are in just need of some mojo – run with them and talk the whole time. It’s more fun, and you can still feel like you’re part of a community and give something back to those in need of a boost, too. I’ve been running with Run dem Crew for 4 years now, and I’d gradually worked my way up the pace groups to regularly run with the second-fastest group (and on occasion, the fastest). But the slowest regular pace group is still faster than I can go and maintain my sub-140HR, so I’ve been leading the “Party Pace” group each Tuesday, bringing along the very people who are in need of a boost, shorter, or slower run. And it’s been fabulous catching up with old friends and meeting loads of new people besides. When you run fast, it’s hard to gasp out the hazards, let alone have any meaningful conversations.

Riverside wharves
A more zen view of the neighbourhood…

The whole theory with the aerobic running is that, over time, you should see your speeds gradually increase while your heart rate remains the same. Already I’ve seen my 10km time drop from 1hr22 to 1hr17 – still nowhere near race pace (not even my marathon pace!), but enough that I feel encouraged that I’m seeing progress. The idea is that on race day, you run 10-15BPM above your aerobic threshold, plus add in a few light carbs, and suddenly you’re supercharged.

It also feels like it’s a good thing to be doing while my foot and knee are still dodgy from all the track training over the summer. This is allowing me to still run (my major stress release as well as weight maintenance), but also recover at the same time. For pretty much my entire run, I breathe through my nose – I don’t know if you’ve ever paid attention to whether you breathe through your mouth or nose when you run, but chances are, you’re a mouth breather. Try closing your mouth on a run and see how much you’ve got to slow down to do that. I’m running even slower. Again, it’s not about whether 1hr22 is a “slow” time or not – it’s about the relative speed and exertion for each person. It’s also not about how “fit” you are, or how low your resting HR is, but more on how well your body already is to burning fat and what sort of cardio base you’ve already got to work with.

My plan is to carry on with only running under 140BPM through to the end of November and see how much progress I can make in 2-odd months. In December I start London marathon training again with my coach, so I’ll get her view on whether she thinks it’s beneficial for me to carry on long-term or not. But I also know that any time spent running slow now is going to help me in the future – I can feel my body adapting to crave fats instead of sugar, and I don’t feel dazed at the end of a long run, even considering the time spent on my feet.

And if nothing else, it’s given me a much-needed wakeup call on the importance of humility and patience in training.

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Maffetone and Recovery

20 October 2015, 13:32

September was not good. Looking back, the entire month was pretty much a blur of exhaustion for me. I’m sure some of it was recovery from Argentina, but on top of that, we were having building work done on the rental cabin on our boat, and we were away every single weekend – first, a sportive in Surrey (much hillier than my first but I gained loads of confidence), then a trip to Southampton for a friend’s 40th, then a crazy long weekend roadtrip through France for a friend’s wedding in Provence. All fantastic reasons to be away, but feeling so utterly shattered left me unable to sleep properly, then unable to get out of bed, unable to think clearly at any times, plus bad skin and even hair loss(!!).

September montage

So I hit October feeling like something had to change, and I was feeling so bad that I said to my husband that if I didn’t feel better by the end of the week, I’d email my haematology nurse and arrange for a blood test, just to make sure it wasn’t a bone marrow problem. Yeah, I felt that bad.

But lingering in the back of my mind was also that it might have a nutrition cause – I’d been on my coach’s “no starchy carbs” pre-track competition training diet all summer, so when the competition was all over, we hit Argentina’s dulce de leche reserves with abandon. Then came home to enjoy foods that were previously forbidden (I love you, peanut butter filled pretzel nuggets!), plus weekends away eating in restaurants, and then driving through France, eating pastries for breakfast, enjoying the Jamon Iberico, champagne, and copious amounts of rosé at the wedding, not to mention freebies at the Valhrona chocolate factory on the way home… You get the picture.

So I figured nutrition was the easiest of the possibilities for the root cause of my fatigue to rule out (much easier than track recovery or bone marrow issues), so I went back to my “no starchy carbs” training diet for two days, and then started the Maffetone Two Week Test on the third. And by the end of the week, I felt so significantly better than I didn’t even bother to email my nurse.

So what’s this Two Week Test business? Well, essentially you take away all carbohydrates for two weeks. Everything. No fruit, sugars, oats, beats, pulses, corn, wheat, etc. Even milk is off the menu because its lactose (a sugar) content is too high, so I’ve been having cream in my tea instead. Then, after two weeks you start to add carbs back in one at a time and see how they make you feel. That’s it. No long term “you must follow these rules”, no cheat days, no nothing – mostly because it’s not really a diet, it’s a self-diagnosis tool. Which suits me just fine, because I really don’t like doing diets at all anyway – I’d choose to run an extra hour or two and eat whatever I want any day. I love my food way too much to deny myself for no good reason!

Maffetone foods

But the two weeks hasn’t been too bad – I’ve missed fruit, oats, and dark chocolate more than chips, to be honest, and I’ve managed to eat out, have dinner at friends, get my coworkers to adjust to putting cream in my tea, and generally just adapt. It’s forced my husband and I to expand our cooking repertoire a bit and try new things (like cauliflower “rice”!), but also got me into the habit of eating vegetables and eggs for nearly every breakfast. My own food highlights of the week were the roasted aubergines with homemade pesto and my own chicken satay using almond butter, chillies, garlic, and ginger. When you can’t have anything sugary, carrots start to taste like candy and I found myself eating more spicy and smoky flavours to compensate. And I’ve been eating a lot of nuts and cheese!

Since I’m on Day 14 today, I’m kinda stupidly excited about adding pulses back in tomorrow, and fruits on Thursday (figures my office would get free fruit baskets on my last day of the test)! To be perfectly honest, I have a sneaking suspicion that my problem food is refined sugars, but I’m curious to see if anything else makes me feel equally as bad.

There’s actually a second exercise part to this whole Maffetone thing, which I’m also doing, but I’ll save that for another post and instead leave you with a (quite boring, but probably very interesting to a few people) food log of what I’ve actually eaten during my zero carb fortnight. Minus dinner tonight, as I’ve not worked out what I’m having yet!

My Maffetone Two Week Test Food Log



Day 1 (Wed 7 October)


Breakfast: handful nuts, tea w/cream, 2 eggs scrambled with butter, leek, chia, pumpkin & sunflower seeds
Lunch: cauliflower “rice” with cheese & olive oil, kale, prawns & pat of butter
Dinner: lettuce, chicken breast, mushrooms, homemade salsa & guac, radishes, hot sauce
Snacks: 2 sticks celery with almond butter, tea w/cream x4, handful nuts, triangle of blue cheese

Day 2 – Thurs 8 Oct


Breakfast: 2 egg omelette with pat of butter, 2 mushrooms, leaf of kale & thyme & goats cheese. Tea w/ cream
Lunch: lettuce, radishes, cucumber, tomato, sautéed chicken breast, olive oil, pine nuts
Dinner: block halloumi, 3 mushrooms, kale, sunflower seeds, olive oil, homemade salsa
Snacks: carrot sticks & celery sticks, tea w/cream x3, handful nuts, graze BBQ pistachios, spoonful almond butter, hot lemon & Ginger, handful nuts

Day 3 – Fri 9 Oct


Breakfast: 2 microwaved scrambled eggs eggs w/2 mushrooms, pat of butter & dollop of cream, tea w/cream
Lunch: leftover cauliflower “rice”, sautéed chicken breast, half avocado, hot sauce. Chia seed pudding: almond milk, cream, 1T cocoa, 3T chia seeds & pumpkin pie spice
Dinner: pork chop with smoked Chili paste, kale & sprouting broccoli with butter, wine, cheeseboard
Snacks: 2 celery w/almond butter, handful nuts, assorted mini cheeses, tea w/cream x2

Day 4 – Sat 10 Oct


Breakfast: 2egg omelette with mushrooms, pat butter & goats cheese. Tea w/cream
Lunch: salad with lettuce, radishes, cucumber, pine nuts, half avocado, olive oil & grilled chicken breast. Tea w/cream.
Dinner: stew: onions, pork mince, Hungarian sausage, mushrooms, celery, carrots, courgette, tomatoes, green olives, olive oil, chili. Chia pudding: almond milk, coconut oil, cocoa, chia seeds.
Snacks: handful nuts x2, spoonful almond butter, tea w/cream x2. Ginger tea w/lemon

Day 5 – Sun 11 Oct


Breakfast: handful nuts, spoon almond butter, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, cheddar & pat butter. Tea w/cream
Lunch: salad with lettuce, half avocado, pine nuts, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, pinch of ground flax seed, grilled chicken, tahini & lemon dressing
Dinner: 2 roast pork slices, roast fennel with olive oil, steamed carrot, courgette & peas with salted butter. Cheeseboard.
Snacks: handful nuts, almond butter with coconut, piece Edam cheese, tea w/cream x1

Day 6 – Mon 12 Oct


Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with a leek, goats cheese & pat butter. Tea w/cream
Lunch: stew: onions, pork mince, Hungarian sausage, mushrooms, celery, carrots, courgette, tomatoes, green olives, olive oil, chili.
Dinner: chowder with smoked haddock, leek, butter, cream, mushrooms, 4 carrots
Snacks: almond butter with coconut, pumpkin, sunflower & ground flax seeds. Mixed nuts x2. Edam cheese. Tea w/cream x2

Day 7 – Tues 13 Oct


Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with pat butter, 3 mushrooms & goats cheese. Tea w/cream.
Lunch: salad with lettuce, cucumber, radish, pine nuts, grilled chicken, half avocado & tahini lemon dressing
Dinner: pork medallions with butter, mushrooms, aubergine, tinned tomatoes, fresh basil. Tea w/cream.
Snacks: kale crisps w/olive oil. Carrot sticks. Piece Edam cheese. Handful nuts. Tea w/cream x3

Day 8 – Wed 14 oct


Breakfast: scrambled eggs with pat butter, 2 mushrooms, courgette & chia seeds. Tea w/cream.
Lunch: salad with lettuce, carrot, cucumber, half avocado & pine nuts, drizzle olive oil.
Dinner: slow cooker pork ragout with onions, garlic, olive oil, mushrooms, carrots, peas, sour cream, cream, fresh tarragon.
Snacks: carrot sticks. Piece Edam cheese. Tea w/cream x3. Handful nuts

Day 9 – Thur 15 Oct


Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with pat of butter, courgette, fresh tarragon & goats cheese. Tea w/cream
Lunch: slow cooker pork ragout with onions, garlic, olive oil, mushrooms, carrots, peas, sour cream, cream, fresh tarragon. Half a hard boiled egg.
Dinner: roast aubergines with olive oil & homemade pesto: cashews, garlic, chili, fresh basil, feta cheese & olive oil. Lemon & Ginger “tea”.
Snacks: piece Edam cheese. Radishes. Tea w/cream x3. Handful mixed nuts.

Day 10 – Fri 16 Oct


Breakfast: handful nuts. 2 scrambled eggs with pat butter, mushroom, leek & grated parmaggiano. Tea w/cream.
Lunch: salad with lettuce, radishes, half avocado & pesto: cashews, garlic, chili, fresh basil, feta cheese & olive oil.
Dinner: curry: onions, garlic, chili, olive oil, ginger, mushrooms, carrots, courgette, yellow pepper, coconut milk, coconut, prawns. Polar bear tea.
Snacks: mixed nuts, almond butter. Carrot. Tea w/cream x2

Day 11 – Sat 17 Oct


Breakfast: 2 dippy eggs with kale, butter & olive oil. Tea w/cream
Lunch: leftover curry: onions, garlic, chili, olive oil, ginger, mushrooms, carrots, courgette, yellow pepper, coconut milk, coconut, prawns.
Dinner: chicken breast with satay sauce: almond butter, garlic, ginger, chilies, lime juice. Bok choy, carrots, courgette & olive oil. Dry white wine++
Snacks: mixed nuts. Tea w/cream.

Day 12 – Sun 18 Oct


Breakfast: tea w/cream x2. 2 eggs with kale & olive oil.
Lunch: cheeseboard, jambon & olives
Dinner: roast chicken with herbs, roast fennel w/olive oil. Steamed bok choy & carrots with butter. Polar bear tea.
Snacks: smoked almonds & cashews. Tea w/cream x2. Handful mixed nuts.

Day 13 – Mon 19 Oct


Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with pat butter, mushroom, courgette. Tea w/cream.
Lunch: salad with lettuce, radishes, mushrooms, goats cheese, pine nuts & satay marinated grilled chicken (see Sat)
Dinner: green tea, salmon & scallop sashimi, miso roast aubergine, stir fried bok choy, miso soup.
Snacks: mixed nuts. Carrot sticks. Smoked almonds & cashews. More mixed nuts. Tea w/cream x3

Day 14 – Tues 20 Oct


Breakfast: 2 eggs scrambled with pat of butter, leek, courgette & smoked cheddar. Tea w/cream.
Lunch: lettuce, courgette, radishes, pine nuts, goats cheese
Dinner: TBC?
Snacks: olives. Mixed nuts. Tea w/cream x2.

Stay tuned for part two, in which I run literally twice as slowly as my “comfortable” pace. Over and over…

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Stop - Start Again

30 July 2014, 11:37

Even though I’ve been training again properly since the end of May, I feel like the last 6-8 weeks have been really stop/start, mostly for health reasons. You see, in amongst my training, I’ve had three separate instances where I’d had to take a full week off with no running at all, so I don’t feel like I’ve really been in a proper training routine.

The first interruption was somewhat planned, and entirely by my choosing – I got laser eye surgery! I’ve worn glasses since the age of 10 and contact lenses since the age of 15, and frankly, I’d been sick of the hassle, expense, inconvenience, and tired eyes and wanting this for a long time. So when my redundancy money finally came through from my old job, I booked a consultation the very next day!

The end result was totally worth it – I went from being 20/200 with astigmatism to being “better than 20/20” (I can read two lines smaller than the 20/20 line) literally overnight, and I still can’t quite get over how effortlessly perfect my vision is now, with no achey tired eyes by 9pm.

The process did, however, require that I not wear my lenses for a week beforehand, and no running whatsoever for the week after (to prevent sweat getting in my eyes). The last run I did before the surgery in early June was a long run, and in absolutely torrential downpours. It was quite possibly the worst run ever to do in glasses that steamed & were almost opaque with rain drops, but since it was the last I’d ever have to wear them, I didn’t mind it too much.

Raindropped glasses

If you’re interested in all the details of laser eye surgery, read Becca’s account – I went to the same place as her and my experience was very similar.

The second interruption came the day after the Hackney Half, when I had to have some minor lady surgery, but one that also came with a strict “no exercise for one week afterwards” clause. Just like with my eyes, I felt absolutely fine by the next day, so it was frustrating to still have to sit out all my normal runs.

I finally got to have a month or so of proper training after that, though, where I started to focus more on speed in preparation for the British Transplant Games, where I’ll be running (deep breath…) the 3km “mini marathon”, 1500m, 800m, 400m, 200m, and the mixed relay. After a year of endurance training, the speed is hurting, and despite running with the RDC Elites every week now, I still feel sluggish and slow.

So cue the third interruption, which occurred last week when I finally succumb to the cold that all of London had already had (including my husband). I thought I’d escaped it, actually not getting it off him, only to catch it from some random instead. So there went another week without being able to run, drowning under waves of tissues on a sea of Netflix. As an aside, I did manage to watch Town of Runners while I was ill, so that was a high point!

I was listing all the above to my friend Claire at RDC last night, though, and she pointed out that it without all my health problems, I wouldn’t be competing in the British Transplant Games at all, so surely everyone else there is in the same situation? Sometimes it takes a friend to point out the obvious, and that comment put all my training issues into perspective and made me feel a bit less nervous about the Games next weekend.

It also didn’t hurt that I then went out to run ~3:30min/km with the Elites last night, after thinking for weeks that I couldn’t sustain 4min/km! So maybe I’m fitter than I thought…

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The Power of the Trail

3 June 2014, 16:20

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I’d not really been feeling “back in the game” since London marathon. I’d put the miles in, but they seemed tougher than usual, and even worse was that my mindset wasn’t back, either. I may have run a new PB at Bupa 10k, but it felt tough and mentally I felt like I could’ve just quit and gone and done something else at any moment along the course.

But still I plodded on, knowing it’d come back when it wants to. I especially wanted to go back to my beloved Hampstead Heath trails since, for one reason or another, I’d been busy each Saturday since London and hadn’t been round there in at least two months. Unfortunately, my usual group of Saturday runners were all either recovering from ultras, out of town, or off watching the pro triathletes round Hyde Park. It’s a measure of exactly how hard up I was for some trail time that I just brushed it off, brought my headphones, and hit the Heath on my own.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the weather was gorgeous – warm enough to get away without a jacket (meaning I could run with just my waist pack instead of a full backpack), bright sunshine, and just a hint of soft ground from the previous few days of rain. Being on my own meant that I could go at whatever pace I felt like, without worrying that I was going slower than usual or not racing up the hills as fast as others – I could rumble up and down when I wanted, jump over logs, and dodge dogs without fear of others coming along behind.

Hampstead Heath trail

The best part of being on my own was a renewed sense of adventure that comes with not having run our usual loops for two months – I took a few wrong turns, but then I actively started taking wrong turns just to see new parts of the forest. I was never concerned that I might get lost, as I wasn’t really that concerned with how far I was going to run! In the end, I ran for about two hours and I felt great, both in body and spirit. My legs were happy to have the squishier ground instead of concrete, and my mind certainly relished the time in the forest and a chance to explore. I really, really needed that.

What’s even better though it that it appears to have kickstarted something in me – my Monday longish run seemed to fly by even though I was wearing glasses for the first time ever (I’m getting laser eye surgery so I can’t wear my contact lenses for the week preceding it, and no exercise at all the week after!). A run I was dreading because of the glasses was actually pretty enjoyable, and I ended up going further than I initially set out to do.

Post run selfie with glasses

I also seem to be back on the healthy eating, too, having run through my semi-annual carb and sweet tooth phase, and I’m chugging down my lemon water when it felt like a struggle only last week. I know I’ve got a few months of hard training ahead for the British Transplant Games in August, and Berlin Marathon in September, but it feels like I may once again be finally headed in the right direction.

Next stop: Hackney Half in a few weeks, though with my interruptions in training, I’m thinking now I’ll just run to enjoy it.

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The red rubber ring

23 August 2013, 09:52

When I was in high school, once a year everyone had to run The Mile.

It was a dreaded, horrible event that struck fear into the heart of every teenager at West Perry High, and we’d all decamp for that gym session down to the gravel track that surrounded the football field. The rules were simple – four laps around, and if you didn’t complete it in under 14 minutes, then you’d have to run it again (I’m pretty sure this was set in place so some of my classmates couldn’t actually smoke a cigarette while completing it).

I have a vivid memory one year of attaching myself directly behind an older girl I knew who was an all-season athlete and forcing myself to stay directly behind her for the whole four laps, even though it meant a coughing fit and near hyperventilation on the finish line. I completed The Mile in 8:15 that year, and it was by far the fastest I’d run it during my time in high school.

Fast forward to 2013, when I’d signed up to compete in the British Transplant Games and I was suddenly faced with a track race having not set foot on a track since The dreaded Mile. Even though my running crew ran weekly track sessions, I’d avoided it up until now, thinking that I didn’t have any room in my weekly running schedule for more speedwork, especially since I already ran tempos once a week and had a busy evening social schedule.

Don Valley stadium track

Reluctantly, I realised that I’d have to make time to practice on the track if I had a hope of racing on the track, so I started attending the weekly sessions at Mile End Stadium.

When I first started running, I realised that I liked running on a treadmill because it allowed me to totally switch off my brain and Just Run, and I was assuming that running on the track would provide the same outlet. How wrong I was! On the treadmill, I’d been going at an easy pace, but at the sustained “suicide pace” of the track, my brain felt it necessary to constantly remind me how much the wind was ruining my times, that I was sure I’d be a few seconds faster than the last lap, what lap was I on again?, oh look at those kids over there…. you get the point.

In distance running, my brain is my biggest asset – my thoughts keep me focused and I can set myself apart from the monotony of the distance. But on the track, my brain was hindering my performance and keeping me from pushing the pace like I needed to in order to endure the pain of 7.5 laps around (3000m). My trainer gave me a bit of advice that really helped however, and that was to simply count. She suggested I pick a foot and count that foot’s steps up to 20 and repeat, but in practice I find it easier to count my breaths, 1 to 20, and repeat, over and over until the sprint is done.

It sounds incredibly monotonous, but it really helps me to give my brain a task so it doesn’t wander and let the dark, negative thoughts in that sabotage my times.

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The decision to run a marathon

21 August 2013, 17:52

Non-runners have been asking me for years “So when are you going to run a marathon?” I suppose they saw that I saw fairly often, had competed in 10km and half marathon races, and seemed to enjoy running, and to them this was a logical progression.

To me however, I was perfectly fine running these other distances, where there was plenty of challenge in the speed/pacing, terrain, route, and all the other nuances that make racing so much of an unknown quantity, and no real need to lose my entire life for months, slave to the marathon training. Every mention of the marathon distance involved huge amounts of personal sacrifice, running in all weathers no matter what, and forgoing nights out just to run one single race, and that didn’t sound like something I wanted to do.

My stance on the marathon remained unchanged for years, until something broke in my brain. That small, quiet “What if?” started rolling around in there like a stone in a tin can, until all the reasons I thought I should try outweighed all the fears about the training and the race distance itself.

I told my husband first. He looked concerned.

It was not the most auspicious of training starts, either – we were staying in a friend’s spare room while our boat was in drydock, which is an expensive and stressful time of upheaval anyway, but Spring 2012 was also one of the coldest and relentlessly rainy times of the last century! So it certainly didn’t help matters that most of my early training was done in early morning downpours…

But I made it through, and I had a brilliant first marathon experience running Amsterdam in October 2012. I felt like I still had my life outside running (though my husband may disagree!), I found that I really enjoyed the consistency of sticking to a plan (Tuesdays are for tempo, Saturdays are for long, etc), and I ran better than I expected on the day itself, too.

Still, though, when other runners say to me others are making them feel pressured to run a marathon, my best advice is always to resist until you feel utterly compelled to run one.

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