On a mission

The 16.5 miler this weekend certainly did feel like a bit of a mission.  To begin with, I was persuaded somewhat against my better judgment to join a couple of friends for lunch in Marylebone at 1.30 on Saturday, which meant that I had to get up early to shoehorn a three hour run in beforehand.  The BBC News website had informed me the previous day that the hours between 9am and 12pm on Saturday were likely to be the best ones of the day: “sunny intervals” apparently.  Not sure I agree with the use of the plural there.  When I got up at 7.30am on Saturday the sun hadn’t even bothered to try penetrating the thick grey clouds, so the capri leggings and light top I’d planned to wear went back in the drawer and out came the fleecy tights and waterproof jacket again.  Twenty minutes into the run I thought I’d be regretting that decision, as the sun did briefly make an appearance over Putney and I started to swelter.  I needn’t have worried though – by the time I reached Richmond Park the rain had started to fall, and it came down thicker and faster with every soggy step I took.  The lap of the park was pretty bleak, but the effect of the rain was only really felt once I had headed back through Barnes to the river, and tried to run home along the towpath.  “Mudbath” would be a more accurate description – in places it was so slippery I could barely stay upright and the whole experience was far more Grim Challenge than London Marathon.  I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and the beginnings of a sniffle, which just goes to support the fairly obvious observation than running for three hours in torrential rain isn’t always particularly good for you.

Still, several positives to take away from the weekend’s efforts:

1.  Despite the challenging conditions, I went out and did what I needed to do.  In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that not going was an option. 

2.  The 9am start was another good practice for running those kind of distances in the morning, building on from last week.  Since I’ll have to do this on the day itself, I’m going to try and do all my long runs in the morning from now on.  The first mile was stiff and jerky but something about crossing Hammersmith Bridge always makes my running feel stronger and more fluid, and I settled into a comfortable rhythm after that. 

3.  I was well-rewarded for my efforts.  While I was out, my lovely flatmate (who is herself a London Marathon veteran and is therefore wonderfully understanding about the trials and tribulations of training) had got up, noticed the weather, and made chocolate brownies so that I would have something warm and yummy to eat as soon as I got in.  (Thank you Rachel!!)  And then immediately after that I got to have a delicious lunch at Cafe Luc with Mel and Michael, rounded off with fresh scones and jam (my all time favourite). 

4.  Physically, the run felt much harder than last week’s long run.  But my knee didn’t (and still doesn’t) hurt, my legs – which were screaming by the end of the run – have recovered much more quickly than last week, and the pace itself was a good bit faster as I completed 16.5 miles in 2:53:58 compared to 15.25 in 2:45:01 last time.

5.  I learned two things about ice baths (or at least very cold water baths).  When I got in from the run my quads and calves were really hurting – enough to make me think that a cold soak was just what they wanted.  The first thing I learned was that I was right – my quads and calves did like it.  The second thing I learned was that my feet did NOT like it.  Having spent three hours splashing through icy rain and mud, they were already numb with cold, and further total submersion in exceptionally chilly water prompted them to almost literally scream with displeasure.  I didn’t last long in that bath at all, but did give my legs (not my feet) a further cold dousing after my hot shower.  It may well have contributed to their swifter recovery – any thoughts?

6.  Girls – I found the ultimate track for a marathon playlist.  Gabriella Cilmi’s “On a Mission” is not one of the greatest tunes of all time by any means, but it could have been written for the marathon (it wasn’t, of course).  “I am a woman, on a mission; nothing can stop me I’m stronger than ever; I’m gonna see this through” etc is beyond cheesy but when you’re battling through the rain at 14 miles it’s pretty much exactly what you need.  I strongly suggest you add it to your playlist at a point at which you usually  struggle.  (Sadly, the gender emphasis probably makes it less effective for the lads.  The video – see pic opposite – might help though!)

Next long run is 18 miles on Thursday – my 30th birthday.  Gulp.

Stats
Distance:  16.5 miles
Time:  02:53:58
Route:  Through Putney to Richmond Park, 1 lap, back through Barnes and along the river
Terrain:  Some road, mostly shoe-sucking boggy muddy trail
Weather:  Wet.  Overhead and underfoot.
Notable features:  Rain was pretty overwhelming.  Also got caught up in the Fix’s Richmond 5k/10k, which made the first couple of miles of the park a bit more interesting.

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Good news, everyone!

Just a quick update tonight.  After a couple of enforced rest days to allow my knee to recover, and a fairly brutal massage, today everything was feeling much improved.  Sufficiently so that I booked myself onto a lunchtime spin class thinking that I could take it easy if necessary.  Unfortunately work deadlines spoiled that plan, and I had to make do with going to the gym this evening instead.  I wasn’t very enthused about the prospect of skiing machines and rowing, and when I got down there I decided to chance it and do an easy jog on the treadmill just to see how it was feeling. 

To my delight, it felt absolutely fine.  I did a very easy 5km, though I did pick it up for a strong final 600 metres, and had no problems whatsoever.  Which is obviously great news.  It was a very tedious run since I didn’t have my iPod and didn’t dare make it a harder session by trying intervals, but its good to know that I don’t have problems motivating myself to run for half an hour any more even when bored out of my brain.  I’m obviously gaining in psychological as well as physical strength!

Despite the improvement in the knee, I’ll skip the intervals session this week and instead do Spin & Abs tomorrow and pilates on Friday, before the 16.5 miler on Saturday.  I was due an easier week anyway so this can count as it even if the long run isn’t cut back. 

Stats
Distance: 5km
Time:  00.30.10
Terrain:  treadmill
Time of day:  6.15pm
Notable features:  deadly dull, but no knee problems

Let’s get this party started

I haven’t quite given up on my twenties just yet, but the celebrations for the upcoming milestone started in earnest this weekend with a joint family party for my Grandpa (who turned 90 on Friday) and I.  As you can see, the cakes were impressive, not to mention delicious.  We had a great afternoon on Saturday eating copious amounts of delicious food provided by my wonderful mother, and drinking more prosecco than is ideal if you’re planning a 15 mile run the following morning.  Fortunately, the age of the guest of honour meant that the rabble had all departed by around 8pm, and I was allowed to snooze off the bubbles whilst my parents and brothers battled it out on the Nintendo Wii.

The 15 miler had been planned in advance and took in a daunting number of childhood and teenage haunts – the route chosen looked significantly further than a couple of laps round Richmond Park.  By Saturday night though I was a bit concerned that the old knee injury was going to scupper it: I did an interval session on the treadmill on Friday morning in my new trainers, and after 2 1/2 very strong and comfortable mile intervals my left knee suddenly started to grumble loudly enough for me to abandon the last half mile.   The injury wasn’t helped by an unscheduled race down the Kings Road in inappropriate footwear on Friday evening as I attempted to get to SweatyBetty before it shut in order to return some shorts I didn’t like.  (I made it, just in time, but managed to get a blister on my heel and increase the volume of the knee grumbling for my efforts.)  Plus I should add boxing in 5 inch heels to the list of things you probably shouldn’t do when training for a marathon – the gloves and pads I got my Mum as part of her Christmas present were a real hit (boom boom!) with the various aunts and younger cousins at the party but I probably should have taken my shoes off before offering to act as punch bag.

The result was that when Sunday morning dawned grey and cold but mercifully dry, I wasn’t sure whether or not to go out.  The knee was definitely not especially happy, but nor was it particularly bad either.  I decided to head out and see how it went for the first 4km, at which point I’d still be within half a mile of home and could abort the run if it was proving too much.

At that 4km mark I decided that it wasn’t so bad after all – although it definitely wasn’t 100% it wasn’t causing me any pain and if I maintained a steady pace it seemed happy enough.  And so it continued for the next 8 miles as I plodded around the country lanes.  People out on a Sunday morning in the countryside really are much more friendly and pleasant than those in London and there were plenty of “good mornings” exchanged with one or two other runners, some dog walkers and one chap on a bike who I passed a number of times on my long route (the third time I met him, miles and miles away from our first encounter, I could tell he was pretty impressed with how far I had come, which was a nice feeling).  After a fairly hairy run down the Straight Mile (no pavement, cars going very fast for obvious reasons) I turned off the main road again into Bourton and was met there by my Mum who had decided to do the last 5 miles with me.  It was nice to have the company, although I think she found the pace a little slow.  I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t need to match her pace, as I’d done 10 miles more than her!  By this stage though my knee got sore as soon as I either stopped or sped up, so maintaining a consistent 10.45 min pace was easy.

I made it home in one piece and bang on my target time of 2 hours 45 minutes (which in fact also included a brief comfort break at the Little Chef on the A45!).  The knee immediately flared up and I was very glad that my brother was able to drive us back to London that evening as I think 2 hours of clutch control might have been a bit too much for it.  But although it’s sore and stairs are a bit of an issue today, it hasn’t gone completely and I think it’ll be right as rain in two or three days.  This injury is such a long-standing one now that I know it well and can tell pretty accurately whether it’s aches and pains are serious or not.  I’m getting a massage today as well which will help, and I’ll probably skip one of my mid-week runs this week to give it a chance to recover.

All in all, a successful weekend.  Even if I am a bit crippled today, I’m not yet 90!

Stats
Distance:  15.25 miles
Time:  02:45:01
Terrain:  road, very undulating Warwickshire countryside
Weather:  typical grey February.  Dry and not too cold though.
Notable features:  pleasant exchanges with others out and about on a Sunday; running with my mother

Home advantage

One of the potential advantages I have for this marathon is that I live and work in London, so I get to practise on parts of the actual marathon course.  Of course, I don’t choose to spend my time running around the glass and steel city of the Isle of Dogs rather than in the beautiful Royal Parks, but my running commute naturally takes in the last couple of miles of the marathon down the Embankment and Birdcage Walk to Buckingham Palace.  Last night when I felt strong and fast running home after work, I tried to imagine how I will be feeling tracing these same steps after 24 knackering miles.  Hopefully, knowing those last two miles as well as I do will give me a bit of a pyschological advantage for a strong finish.  (And at least I won’t have to negotiate the uneven pavement flagstones in front of the Palace in the dark on the day itself!)

I’ve been feeling quite pleased with how the training has gone this week – it feels like I am back on target.  I impressed myself at the start of the week by getting up early on both Monday and Tuesday to go to a spin class and swimming respectively – its got to the point now where keeping up the cross-training and just building that stamina is as important as the running.   And I was very good yesterday and skipped my department drinks in order to run home.  Skiing and the week after it were pretty alcoholic, and its probably time to start cutting back now (birthday parties aside).  I’m Boxercising this afternoon and will do my interval run tomorrow morning, so its been a pretty full week.  Saturday is a well-deserved day off though as I head home to Warwickshire for a joint family celebration of my 30th and my grandfather’s 90th birthdays.  Hopefully that will prove a lucrative occasion for the fundraising drive!

Stats
Distance:  5.75 miles
Time:  58 mins (approx, as I was wearing my normal watch.  Included lots of stops at lights.)
Route:  commute home (via Birdcage Walk instead of the Mall)
Time of day:  7pm
Weather:  mild and moonlit night

Guilt-free indulgence

The long runs are getting longer now, and take up most of my Sunday.  Yesterday’s effort was 14 wet, cold and windy miles around Richmond Park.  Looking out of my office window at the beautiful blue sky smiling down this Valentines Day, I’m a bit peeved at the contrariness of the English weather for making what could have been a beautiful run more of a grim one.

Of course at this stage in the training, its all about endurance, and I guess there’s nothing quite like exposure to two and a half relentless hours of a London February to help build that stamina.  I’ve got to the point where I have to think about fuelling before and during my run, and have been delighted to discover that my secret weapon seems to be Haribo Starmix.  A generous helping of the yummy sweeties in the hour before setting off for a long run, plus a handful spread out during the course of the run, seem to be doing wonders to get me round intact.  Yesterday when I got back to the car I devoured a Nutrigrain Elevenses in about 2 seconds flat but I hadn’t felt ravenous or weak until I actually stopped and sat down.  The only thing to watch out for with the Starmix is the cola bottles as they make me thirsty.  Appropriately, given the day, my favourites seem to be the strawberry hearts.

Stats
Distance:  14.1 miles
Time:  2:27:15
Route:  laps of Richmond Park
Weather:  February
Notable features:  sweeties

Must get better at blogging

Dear oh dear, another month has gone by and no more blog posts.  Fortunately this time it’s not because I haven’t been running – just that during that time I have been (a) very busy at work, (b) away skiing, and (c) too lazy to blog.  But now that February is here and there are only 9 1/2 weeks to go until the big day, its time to start thinking about fundraising.  And if I’m going to ask people for money, it seems only fair to update them on what I’m actually doing to earn it.  So my Chinese New Year resolution is to get back into the blogging habit.  2011 is the Chinese Year of the Rabbit – I’m hoping in my case that rabbit will be more like a hare.  (Or, more probably, a tortoise.)

By way of update, the training schedule since January has been somewhat modified to take account of the time I missed over Christmas, and the demands of a particularly nasty Chinese transaction at work, but has largely followed the three-times-a-week easy run/intervals/long run pattern.  I’ve had to be increasingly inventive to get my mid-week runs in: running to work is usually a good bet but treadmills in ski resorts and running to/from the dentist have also featured over the last week or so.  (Note to self for future reference: it’s not actually possible to “run” down Charlotte Street on a Tuesday lunchtime.)

The fundraising drive also starts here so I need to start rounding up email addresses and making a general nuisance of myself.  I’m planning to use my upcoming 30th birthday as a good way of badgering my extensive collection of relatives into making a good start, but if anyone else wants to set the ball rolling you can do so by clicking on the Virgin Money button on the right (with a huge great “thanks” from me and Oxfam).