Taper (or running out of steam)

I fear that I may have peaked too soon.  Since the 20 mile run the other week, I have been feeling far less motivated about running, and even training more generally.  The taper period has started now, so I deliberately took it easy last week in an attempt to help my poorly quad recover from whatever it is that is ailing it.  It did appear to help – my first-thing-in-the-morning limp is less pronounced – but the general apathy that has come with the tail-off has taken me by surprise.

Admittedly, work has been busy, but since my last post ten days ago I have only managed the following in terms of training:

Wednesday evening: short gym session on the rower, cross-trainer and free weights;
Thursday morning: Spin and Tone session (unfortunately the toning session focused on the same upper body muscles as my own workout the night before, so it was a struggle);
Friday:  30 minute yoga/pilates class;
Sunday late afternoon:  ten mile run/walk; and
Tuesday evening: a 5k interval session on the treadmill. 

All of which is OK for what it’s worth but is much less than I had intended.  The plan was for the long run on Sunday (a whole week after my last run) to be 16 miles rather than 10, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  I dithered all day and am pretty sure that if it hadn’t been such a glorious day outside I wouldn’t have gone at all.  I decided to do a river loop between Barnes and Putney, and had it not been warm and sunny I would have turned towards home when I got back to Hammersmith Bridge at 5.5 miles rather than continuing on along the south bank.  But even though I resolved to keep going, it was with the promise to myself that provided I covered the 10 miles one way or another, I could just walk it and enjoy being outside in the lovely spring weather instead of pushing on through.  I did run bits of it but got a nasty stitch two and a half miles from home and just meandered my way back from there.  Hardly gritted determination to succeed at all costs.

Yesterday’s treadmill session was more of the same.  My schedule suggested 7 x 800m intervals, which I thought was optimistic even before I started and so I resolved to do six.  I did three reasonably happily, but without my iPod and with the gym hot and sticky I was tired of it after just three.  In the end I did manage to push on for a fourth and made a point of making it faster (flat out sprinting the last 200m), but it was really just a lame attempt to justify quitting before I was done.  Rubbish really.

I’ve also deliberately slept through 2 morning spin classes so far this week, which isn’t great.  I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky tomorrow.

Lots of people are asking me now whether I’m excited or nervous and how the training is going – all I can tell them is that I just want to get it over and done with now.  I know its common to feel strange and frustrated during a taper period but I don’t feel like I want to get out and run, I just feel apathetic and want it to be over.  Anyone else felt like this?

The plan for the weekend is to go home to Warwickshire tomorrow night for a brief Mother’s Day visit, and head out Saturday morning for the same 15.25 miler that I did back in February.  The good thing about that is that really there’s no turning back once you’re committed to that run, and I’ll have my parents to kick me out of the door in the morning, so I’m hoping to get my mojo back that way.  Fingers crossed anyway.

PS.  I’ve been invited to a Cheesefest the Friday night before the marathon, which is exactly as it sounds – a bunch of friends and lots and lots of lovely cheese.  A wonderful idea as far as I’m concerned, but I’m not sure whether the timing is so great.  Any thoughts on the possible implications of cheese overdose 36 hours before a marathon greatly appreciated!

Stats (2 runs)
Distance:  10 miles; 5k
Time: not sure; 00:29:26
Terrain:  river path; treadmill
Time of day:  late afternoon; evening
Weather:  wall to wall sunshine;  just walls, no windows
Notable features:  lethargy, grumpiness and not finishing the job

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Final push

This week the final instructions and registration form arrived on my doormat, informing me that on the day I will be marathon runner number 52610!  It’s all starting to feel very real and very close now.  In some ways, that’s a bit scary, but for the most part I’m just glad that the punishment I am putting my body through at the moment is nearly over – I am fed up of limping around the office.

The final instructions were the impetus I needed to step up the fundraising drive this week, so I finally got round to sending out emails to friends, family and colleagues, and putting a link to my Virgin Money Giving page on Facebook.  I’m delighted to find that people are really rising to the occasion and being incredibly generous; so much so that I’m already almost at my target total.  Thank you so much to everyone who has supported me so far – I really appreciate it and your money is going to a great cause.

Having sorted the fundraising, there was just one last thing to tick off, and it was the big one: the 20 mile long run.  I was extremely lucky to wake yesterday to a truly glorious spring day: wall to wall sunshine and blue skies, and yet a bit of a chill in the air to keep me cool on the move.  I couldn’t have asked for a more auspicious start to a big challenge.  (Well, the start of it could have gone a little bit better – my dodgy right leg was playing up a bit and the first couple of miles were run with a distinct limp on that side.  But recent runs have taught me that once I get going I seem to even out so I pushed on through it and by the time I reached Richmond Park I was into my stride. )

The really long run is supposed to be practice for the big day, so there were a few things that I wanted to try out on this one.  Kit first: I wore my Oxfam vest to see whether it was comfortable to run in, and learnt that it chafes under the arms so I won’t be wearing that on the day.  Fortunately Oxfam have also sent a bamboo T-shirt which I tried out last week and is much more comfortable.  I also tried some supposed “proper” running socks which gave me my first blisters (very impressive, but fortunately not painful), so again I think I’ll be sticking with the old cotton, completely non-technical, socks that have seen me comfortably through the rest of the training.

I also tried a strategy of having a short break every 10K to eat some Haribo and have a drink – taking my time and walking briskly as I did so.  This strategy worked well and gave me a welcome boost each time, but is a bit costly in terms of time.  I’ll have to have a think about how much I care about that – running the marathon comfortably is probably a bit more important to me but it would be nice to have as good a time as I can manage.

As for the actual run itself, it was definitely a run of two halves.  The first half was mostly in Richmond Park, which was totally transformed by the sunshine.  It was no longer the grey and bleak expanse that I have become so familiar with through the winter months, but a leafy, green oasis full of excited children and shiny happy people.  Much more pleasant.  That first half (once I had got into my stride) was fairly comfortable and enjoyable, although my body did feel really tired and I found myself thinking longingly of the taper to come.

Once I left the park I headed through Barnes to the river and ran along the riverbank to Putney.  By the time I reached the half marathon stage at Barnes I was starting to feel tired, and knew that the next seven miles would be a struggle.  Although I was eating jellies regularly I could tell that I hadn’t really eaten enough the night before/that morning – must significantly increase the pasta intake prior to the long runs.  I was initially distracted from the discomfort by the river itself – it was really high, as high as I have ever seen it, presumably tidal as a result of last night’s “supermoon”.  It was also noteworthy that on this glorious day there were no rowers out on the river – generally there are loads even when the weather is really miserable, and given that we are only a week from The Boat Race their absence seemed really unusual.  I assumed the very high tide must be preventing them from getting onto the water.

When I got to Putney (at around 17 miles) though, I realised where they all were.  There was a regatta taking place yesterday afternoon and as I got there thousands and thousands of people were thronging the riverbank about to put hundreds of boats into the water.  The road was completely impassable, and I had to take a detour into Putney proper to get through.  That detour (which added just under half a mile to my route) was a psychological killer – I was only just holding it together at that point and I pretty much ground to a halt at the extra distance.  I had the last horrible section up Fulham Palace Road still to go and it defeated me – I had to walk a big chunk of the way and the whole of the last half mile to home.

Still, one way or another I covered the 20.5 miles, in just under 4 hours with a lot of walking at the end (the last 3 miles took me 45 minutes).  Everyone keeps telling me that the support and atmosphere on the day will provide a huge boost to keep me moving, and I am relying on that to a certain extent.  I also know that I need to eat a LOT more – the last couple of long runs I have been running out of energy rather than having any biomechanical difficulties.  It’s interesting that I didn’t have that problem with some of the earlier long runs – the 15 miler after the 30/90 party at home was no problem in terms of energy despite being really hilly, but I had noteably eaten my own body weight the day before! Similarly the 16.5 miler was fine too, but these last few longer runs I have been feeling hungry and weak by the time I get to 13 miles.  I’m perfectly OK with the kind of exercise that requires me to eat, eat and eat some more – when do girls ever get free licence to do that otherwise?!

That’s the longest run I’ll do, and listening to my body I think I need to start the taper from here so I’ll go back down to 16.5 next week.  Instead I need to step up the stretching and flexibility regime, try and get to some pilates classes and spend some time in the gym working on my core strength.  Hopefully then I’ll be in slightly better shape come 17 April.  Not long to go!

Stats:
Distance:  20.48 miles
Time:  03.56.39
Route:  Richmond Park, then river from Barnes to Putney
Weather:  glorious!!
Time of day: 11am-3pm
Notable features:  glorious weather, thousands of rowers in my way

Record breaker

Brilliant perk of running as part of the Freshfields Oxfam team today.  And I’m not talking about the rather fetching baseball cap they gave me .  Freshfields sponsors the world record breaking marathon runner and Paralympic medal hopeful Richard Whitehead, and today the marathon runners got to go out on a training run with him.

Fears that we wouldn’t be able to keep up were fortunately allayed as we headed out at a very gentle pace along the Embankment and made our way up to Hyde Park.  Richard runs with a wide circular gait which makes running right alongside him a little hazardous until you get used to it, so for the first half a mile or so we made quite a spectacle for the tourists as he led the way with a dozen girls (and one guy) chasing after him.  When we got to Hyde Park we did a few intervals of around about 200 metres or so, which gave my dodgy quad something to think about, and finally headed back to the office at a much more brisk tempo pace which felt pretty great actually.

Richard is a great guy and very happy to chat and answer questions.  We discovered that his secret weapon is a large bowl of plain spaghetti for breakfast before a marathon race – a strategy I don’t think I’ll be adopting.  Haribo might not fuel me to a world record but they are a much more tasty option!

As midweek training runs go, they don’t get much better than today’s.  A great combination of easy, tempo and interval running, some inspirational chat and the opportunity to bunk off work with impunity.  I think my training may have just peaked.

Stats
Distance:  11.6km
Time:  not sure, no watch
Weather:  misty but not too cold
Time of day:  2pm, on a Wednesday, so pretty indulgent.  Lucky it was sponsored by the firm really.
Route:  Embankment, St James Park, Green Park, Hyde Park
Notable features:  training with a world record breaker – can’t beat it.

 

Spring – in the air but not in my step

Since I last blogged quite a lot has happened.  Unfortunately not all that much of it was running.  In what surely can’t be a coincidence, my body has decided to fall inexplicably apart since I hit the big three-oh on 3 March.

Falling apart

My birthday dawned, grey and gloomy, and I didn’t have to get up and go to work because I had taken the day off to get my 18 mile run in before the party at the weekend.  Unfortunately, the sniffles I had picked up from hours of running in the rain the previous Saturday had turned overnight into a full blown cold, and I felt pretty ropey.  So I spent a lovely morning eating cake and opening cards and hoping I’d feel a bit better after a spot of daytime TV.  By the time the church bells rang for midday though, I had to accept I couldn’t breathe properly just sitting on the sofa, and that in the circumstances heading out into the drizzle for three hours wasn’t such a great idea.  So I went back to bed and had a snooze instead.

Despite the total lack of long run on Thursday, on Friday I noticed that my right quad was really quite sore and that my lower back was killing me.  Obviously old age had caught up with me, right on cue.  The quad was still hurting on Saturday morning when I went for a fairly gentle 10K with a friend – although I was OK running I was quite glad it was just a short one.  After that run my back was really killing me, but fortunately four inch stilettos seemed to relieve the pressure so I was able to dance my birthday party away without too much pain.

Trouble is, the problems in the quad haven’t really eased up, despite the fact that I’ve really cut back on the running and other exercise (work has had something to do with that too).  It’s particularly bad when I’ve been immobile for a while, so first thing in the morning I can barely put any weight on my right leg without toppling or getting a sharp pain in my back.  I’ve been to seen the physio about it and he has noted that I have got an imbalance, but this close to the marathon he’s reluctant to change too much for fear of making it worse in the short term.  Fortunately, although it’s making walking quite challenging, it seems that the injury isn’t actually stopping me from running – apart from a bit of a limping gait when I first start out I seem to be able to run on it fine.  Perhaps my body is evolving so that running is my natural state? 

Hitting the wall

This Saturday I decided to test the theory that running on a sore leg was OK by trying the 18 miler I hadn’t managed the previous week.  So you can imagine how delighted I was to wake up to glorious sunshine and balmy temperatures.  For the very first time since my training started in October, I was able to head out in a T-shirt (my Oxfam one no less) and capri leggings.  The sun was out, Richmond Park was beautiful instead of its usual grey self, and my leg felt fine.  As I ran down towards the park I felt like I could go on forever.  There had to be a catch, and there was.  It was only after the big hill in Richmond Park at the five mile mark that I realised I had forgotten to put on the bumbag which contained my trusty Haribo that was supposed to be fuelling me round the latter stages of the run.  I had had a huge meal the night before at a friend’s house (two servings of treacle tart, AND cheese and biscuits) so I hoped that I would have enough energy to keep me going.  I didn’t.  I was OK until I got back down to the river having run through Richmond itself.  I think it was all the ice-cream vans everywhere that got me thinking about food, but I started to feel noticeably hungry around the 12 mile mark and could feel myself slowing down by the time I got past the half marathon stage.  It wasn’t long after that that I completely ground to a halt and realised I had just stopped moving.  I kept on walking/plodding for as long as I could but by the time I got to Barnes I was dizzy and staggering and getting cold very quickly.  So I persuaded a friendly bus driver to let me on the bus back to Hammersmith for free and skipped the last 3 miles.

Not a great result, and totally my own fault for being stupid.  But at least hitting the wall has happened once during training and I know how it feels now.  This post is such a long one that I haven’t properly described the sensation – in fact it sounds a bit like I just gave up.  But it was an unnerving experience, and I felt like I had just crashed through the floor.  I’ll be trying very hard to avoid that fate on the day itself.

I went out that evening with a fellow marathon runner, who had had an equally depressing run, managing just 12 of her planned 20 miles.  So we consoled ourselves with some Sauvignon Blanc. 

Stats
Distance:  18 miles.  Twice.  Only the first time I did 0 miles, and the second time I did 15
Time: 03:02:33.  But the last three miles were by bus (and I had done a lot of walking)
Weather: sunny!!!
Time of day:  1.00pm
Notable features:  no food, a big hill, and a bigger invisible wall