Monday 26 March 2012

Just too much running for my knees to take

Last week was due to be my most intense week of training...50 miles were on the schedule including a long run of 24 miles...before starting a three week taper for the Brighton Marathon.

However, as with so many things, it didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped for.  50 miles became 36 miles, and my previously working legs seem to have broken down - it was clearly a weeks more heavy training than they could cope with!

I knew I wasn't feeling right, and my knees were starting to complain, so I took an unscheduled rest day on Friday, before going out for my long run on Saturday, although in the end I cut it short from 24 miles to 21 miles.  It was a beautiful sunny day but it wasn't a great run.  Whereas last week I decided to run along a flat (easy) route along our closest canal, this week I decided that I needed to work harder and so ran out from my house. I didn't really plan where I was going to go - I found a few nice country routes, a never-ending housing estate, oh and lots of steep, endless hills! The first three miles were horrendous - for some reason my feet were killing me...then my shins, then my feet again. I kept stopping to readjust shoes, to stretch, just to stop.  However, after about five miles I got into my stride and started feeling much better.  It was only when I got to about eight miles that I realised the route I was taken was much more hilly than my usual runs around where I live, and this wasn't going to be pretty!

Luckily I had money so I was able to buy food and drinks on the way, but I was running slow...which I guess is the point on a long run, but I had really hoped to be able to get closer to marathon pace for the duration.

By the time I got to about 17/18 miles, I was pretty sure I should stop running as my knees were becoming more and more painful, but I kept going, because that's just what you do (as stupid as it may be) - resulting in running the last three miles all over 10min/mile.

By the time I dragged myself through the front door at just over 21 miles, I couldn't really walk. I did lots of icing (my hamstrings, my quads, my calves, my ankles, and most of all knees!) but for the rest of the evening, I had problems standing up, sitting down, and yep still couldn't really walk.  Yesterday was worse...pain not only in my knees but my glutes and hips and generally my legs were really heavy.

So, not only did I not come close to my 50 miles,  I'm pretty sure I've also ruined my chances of a PB at the Reading Half Marathon this knees seem ok today as long as my lower leg only moves forward and backward and I don't sit still for anything more than 30 minutes. If there's any twisting motion, I get shooting pain.  Going up and down stairs isn't great, but manageable.  If I stay still for too long, I seem to seize up. This isn't really the state you need to be in to run a best time at a race in 6 days!

Oh well - looks like my taper is going to start with a few days off, and I'll get a massage (might even see a physio if my knees don't get much better) and see how I feel but either way, I'll still be running Reading - just might be a bit slower than planned!

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Is it too much too soon?

I've just updated the list of my upcoming races (on this blog, see the tab above) seems I've got a bit carried away with booking them, and over the six months, I've now got 9 races scheduled including a 90 mile ultra!  Is it really possible that I can be ready for this?  Any sensible person would surely tell me that I've not been running long enough or far enough to take on so much! But then I'm not sure sensible really comes into it when you start talking about running ultra marathons ;)

As well as a memorial 5km run that I'm taking part in, for Andrew Corbett (the runner who tragically died after completing last years' Brentwood Half Marathon), I've also signed up for Reading Half Marathon which I'm running a week this Sunday, four full marathons, and then my ultras: the Enigma 30 mile race, the Challenge Hub 50 mile race, and The Toad Challenge which is the big one - a staggering 90 miles in 3 days...and that just takes me to September!  

Wow.  Just reading about them all makes me feel worn out ;)

Uuuum, yep, I think so!

It's weird as half of me is very excited at the prospect of taking on so many challenges, while my other half is berating myself...why put myself through all of this?  It's going to be so much training, it's going to completely take over my life, it's unfair on Francis and my family and is going to put my body under incredible strain, and all for what....

Well - the half of me that is excited is winning out, and I can't help but look forward to the races, and to seeing what my body (and mind) can achieve.  

When I think that two years ago I ran the London Marathon, totally unprepared and unfit, in what was an agonising 5hrs 41, the prospect of now being fit enough to run so many races (and hopefully get my first sub 4hr marathon at Brighton next month) is astonishing - although whether my body agrees that I'm fit enough to cope with the training, we'll see over the next few months!

Monday 19 March 2012

Marathon training: my big mile weeks

My training for the Brighton Marathon is just about to reach it's peak...last week I ran 45 miles, and this coming week I have 50 miles on the schedule - that's more miles that I've ever covered in a week, and to be honest I'm not entirely looking forward to it!  But I am very pleased with how my long runs have been going over the last month, and I know when I've finished my 50 miles by this time next week, I'll be proud of the achievement.

Anyway, as for last week...I enjoyed my midweek training, with a day at the gym, a day with a double run, and some decent miles, and then on Saturday I headed out to run the 22 miles for my long run that my training plan called for.  I really felt I needed a bit of a change of scenery to my regular runs though, and so drove the half an hour to Waltham Abbey to pick up our closest canal, the Lee Valley Navigational.

I felt like I was cheating a bit running along the canal as it's so incredibly flat (and all my usual routes have hills) but to be honest I felt like I needed an easier route.  It's a lovely run too...there are a number of nature reserves along the canal and the countryside around those areas is pretty, with loads of ducks, swans and geese to keep my company too ;)  Must admit though that when the swans and geese are on the path I have to really steel myself to run past them as I'm terrified they're going to attack me...but of course, they never do!

As we're getting so close to the big Spring marathons, there are an incredible number of runners out at the moment - never see them the rest of the year, but this month they're everywhere ;) It was the same along the canal...hundreds of them!  However (and this is where I start to moan) only about 40% of my fellow runners acknowledged me! I tried to say hi (or nod, or wave or something) to every single runner I passed, and was astonished at the number of people who quite clearly ignored me.  It's not that they were too tired or pushing on a sprint run...they were just ignoring me.  I don't understand it, and it really does spoil things - it's so much nicer when someone returns my grimace ;)

I feel I need to share the excellent vlog from Julia Buckley that she posted a few weeks ago

Anyway, my apparent invisibility aside, I got my 22 miles done at an average of 8:59min/miles with a negative split and an "as fast as I can go on dead legs" final mile too which I was really pleased with.  I remembered how I felt when I last ran a 20+ mile along the canal (in the final stages of my training for the marathon last September) and it's great to realise how much better I felt this time! What a difference six months makes ;)  We went bowling on Saturday night too and I still felt pretty good so it's all a real confidence boost for the marathon.
Yesterday, I got up at 6am for the Grand Prix (well done Jenson!) and by 8.30am the weather was amazing - bright, warm sunshine and perfect blue skies.  I thought I was still feeling pretty good, so I went out for a 6 mile recovery run before we took my mum out for lunch.  It was very hard, much more difficult than I expected and my legs were so heavy - although it did get easier after the first few miles.  I'm pleased I finished the distance I planned on though: if I'm going to start running all these ultras I definitely need to start getting used to running when my legs hurt!

This morning I'm still really achy but it's a rest day so after sitting down all day at work, I think I'm going to go home and sit on the sofa! 

Monday 12 March 2012

The Toad Challenge

I've been thinking long and hard about my post from a couple of days ago, and I've come to the conclusion that trying to train for the Trans Britain Ultra this September is too much too soon...realistically, I don't think I'm ready, or could be ready for it, in time to really enjoy it.

However, I have found a race that I do think I can be ready for - it fits well with my plan of doing some fun events and will give me a real taste of what a multi-day run is about.  It's The Toad Challenge, organised by Extreme Energy, and it's a 90 mile run over 3 days, along the Thames Path, from Oxford to Walton-on-Thames, through Henley, Marlow, Maidenhead and Windsor.

It's a pretty flat course, seems to be very picturesque, and is open to walkers as well as runners so I wouldn't be the slowest one out there either (although of course I will be trying to run it!) - couldn't be better for my first try at something like this!  How very exciting :)

However, I do need to convince Francis. I did promise that I would have a break from racing after July so we could spend weekends together doing stuff (like the 50 mile bike rides we keep talking about) so I would need to make sure that training didn't take over my whole life - looks like lots of very early morning runs will be the answer!

Friday 9 March 2012

Adventuring, ultras & pushing my limits

I have developed a desire to go on a great adventure, prompted by the Night of Adventure talk I went to recently [blog post here].  I've been thinking about it an awful lot in the last few weeks...what adventure could I get involved in that could truly change how I view myself, how I view life? What could I do that would push me beyond the boundaries I seem to have set for myself, and beyond those other people seem to think I should be limited by.

I believe that by becoming a marathon and (soon to be) ultra marathon runner, I've already started to really change and extend those boundaries, but I've been thinking about just how far I could go too - whether I have the strength of character, the physical capability, and the utter obstinance required to actually, voluntarily, put myself through sheer hell to come out the other side...and for it to be a positive experience.

The fruits of Jerry's 100 mile labour
As well as going to the Night of Adventure talk, I followed the exploits of some of the awesome runners taking part in last weekend's hypothermia inducing Thames Path 100 mile race (see Jerry Smallwood's great race report here) which has totally inspired me, and I was watching a documentary last night about David Walliams who last year swam 140 miles of the Thames in 8 days to raise money for the charity Sports Relief, the same charity that Eddie Izzard was supporting when he ran his 43 marathons across Britain.  It just reminds me how possible it is for someone like me, an ordinary anyone, to do something extraordinary and astonishing if they entirely commit themselves to it, work hard enough, and want it enough.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an amazing challenge that was looking for all-female crew, called aptly enough, The Coxless Rowers, attempting to make and break 2 World Records for rowing the Pacific ocean in 2013!! It's a row of three stages, and they're looking for two women for each stage - to row from San Francisco to Hawaii, from Hawaii to Samoa and then for the last leg, from Samoa to Cairns - about 7,500 miles in total!

I met up with one of the team that is putting the crew together, and although it's a remote prospect that they would pick me to be part of such an incredible adventure (you know, with never having sailed or rowed even on a river before!) I've been incredibly excited about the idea.  The physical challenge would be extreme to say the least, the psychological strength needed to carry on, day after day in such hard conditions would be immense, and the satisfaction and pride at completing would surely be second to none.

It shouldn't have been a surprise, but it's incredibly expensive to take part in a challenge like this - the total budget is about £300,000 - and not only is there the money needed to actually fund the trip (about £28,000 per crew member, per leg of the journey) but obviously having to give up work for the duration means saving up the money to keep paying the rent and the bills at home, even for the time when you'd be away rowing. Of course, the majority of the costs would be met through sponsorship, and then each individual personally funds a smaller proportion, which I imagine is really airfares to the US and then home, and accommodation for the time you're not rowing between the stages, and then of course the cost of the time off work.  It's an absolutely amazing opportunity though that would be, in all senses of the word, a true adventure that would undoubtedly change my life.  It's so entirely outside of my comfort zone though (i.e in a boat not on my feet) that it's also a pretty scary prospect - but maybe that's why it's so exciting!  As I say though, being a real landlubber I would be surprised if I have the skill base that would make me a viable crew-member, but I feel lucky to be involved even on the periphery of such an awesome undertaking.

We shall see if I get through what are going to be very competitive and rigorous selection stages.....

Anyway, on the back of this new desire to push myself to obscene limits, I'm also thinking about signing up for a multi-day (on foot!) ultra event.  I haven't even completed my first marathon distance of the year, or my first ultra of ever, and am already considering an even harder test, despite it probably being sensible to see if I can actually manage a single ultra distance first! Nevertheless, I've come up with three races that have gone on my bucket list.

* The Trans Britain Ultra (See the video below - run in September, 156 miles in 6 days, an average of a marathon a day, from Bruces Caves in Scotland, through England, to Ruthin Castle in Wales)

Do it the Brathay way* The Brathay 10 in 10 (run in May, 10 marathons in 10 days, around Lake Windermere. It's a race that's inspired me since I first joined twitter and started to understand what the ultra community was all about)

JOGLE Ultra (run in April, from John O'Groats to Land's End which is 863 miles in 16 days, an average of 54 miles per day).

Now these are three BIG races.  Although I'm not sure I'd class taking part as a great adventure, I know that the challenge to complete them would be immense, and the commitment to training for them would be unlike anything I have ever experienced, and at the moment, probably can't truly imagine.  However, they are also events that I can actually, realistically, see myself being involved in one day; although I have absolutely no idea if I would be able to row a boat, I know in my heart that I can run.

I have no concept of when I could be ready to consider actually signing up for the 10 in 10 or JOGLE ("some day" is as close as I'm getting to a date at the moment) but there is a pretty big part of me that's thinking maybe, just maybe, I could be ready for the Trans Britain Ultra this year.  It's 6 months away...surely that's enough time to train coming from my current base...isn't it?!

I think I might need to buy some trail shoes...

Sorry smiley face animated emoticon[Reminder: I promised Francis that after the July ultras I'd take a break from racing for 6 months, and just run a few times a week to keep my fitness levels up. We might need to review that]

Monday 5 March 2012

Becoming a gym bunny?

About eight months ago, I realised that my good intentions weren't enough to make my gym membership a worthwhile expense...I hadn't actually set foot inside the place for months!  So, I cancelled, and to be honest didn't miss it at all, even during the winter weather - I'm a runner, and I run outside, so what did I need with the gym?!

However, I've recognised that what lots of people say is probably can't just run.  Well, obviously you can, and that's great, but to be the best I can be (and reduce the chance of injury) means losing the extra weight I'm carrying, working with some weights and getting in a bit of cross training - the cardio workout I get through my running isn't enough.  Now don't get me wrong, I'll never run on a treadmill (because I hate that more than anything) and I'm not planning on reducing my mileage, but I am planning on supplementing my training and to this end, this weekend I rejoined the local LA Fitness, which has recently had a massive refurbishment and is a far cry from the paint-peeling, mould growing in the showers, AC doesn't work type of place that it was before!

What I'm planning is to go swimming one morning a week, and having a gym workout another morning - so I'm not aiming too high, but hopefully that will be enough to make a difference when I combine it with running 3, 4 or 5 days a week.  My first session back in the gym is tomorrow morning so I'll be getting up early, joining @6amCLUB and going for a workout!


[Just to update - I made it to the gym on Tuesday, although didn't manage to get up early so went after work.  I exercised really hard, I put in loads of effort.  I had to stop while I was on the bike as I thought I was going to pass out.  Then I ran home.  I'm going back this Tuesday and am very glad I joined!]

Sunday 4 March 2012

New shoes!

Last week I was lucky enough to be asked to review some running shoes from the Sports Direct website and, of course, I was more than happy to - I got to pick a pair with a value of up to £50 and then give them a go.

I've got to say that I would never have considered buying running shoes for £50 before, or just going online and buying a new make/model without having tried them on, but I was really impressed with the whole experience.  There were a fair number of shoes to choose from, some good discount prices, and and enough information about the shoe to make a decision about the level of support it offered.

I had to choose from the "Running Shoes" section of the website so I knew all the shoes would have been designed for pounding the streets, and as there was a price limit (and I'd only recently bought some new Asics) I decided to do what I never do, and just chose some trainers that I thought looked good!    After much consideration I got a pair of these gorgeous Nikes:
Nike Nike LunarSwift+ 3 Ladies from
Nike Nike LunarSwift+ 3 Ladies from
Ladies Nike LunarSwift +3

I wear a size 7 (UK) in normal shoes, but always have to size up in trainers so I decided to order to size 8 (UK).

I get very excited about new trainers, and when they arrived on Friday morning I couldn't help myself but put them on straight away and wear them to work - I'm lucky enough to work in an office where jeans and trainers are ok!  I would never do that with normal running shoes...but I just thought they looked so cool! :)

Having bought my new shoes online without trying them on, I was really surprised that they actually fit me really well - sizing up was definitely necessary though.  They've got a wide toe-box, which might be a bit much for some people, but it meant my square clod-hoppers had all the room I needed to be comfortable which is often a problem for me. They also have an unusual upper, where the tongue isn't separate and you can't really open the shoe up too much, so you just have to squeeze your foot in.  Although this means that potentially (I imagine) over time the upper around the ankle might get stretched or damaged, it also means that straight out of the box, these trainers fit my ankle and the top of my foot perfectly.  They're snug, don't slip at all, but not too tight either.  The other noticeable difference in the Nikes to my normal trainers, is the very pronounced arch support - in fairness though, the website does specifically call them high arch trainers...I've found this in other Nikes though and it does feel a bit weird, but isn't uncomfortable, and just something that I imagine I'll get used to.

After wearing my new shoes for the day at work, and being relatively confident I wasn't going to get any rubbing, on Friday night I took them out for a run - I planned to do at least 4 miles (so a turn around at 2 if they were hurting) but ending up doing 10 miles in them.  They're very light, and although it was immediately obvious that they don't have the underfoot impact cushioning of my Asics (an absolute world away from the Kayanos) I found myself naturally mid-foot striking in them, and so didn't have any problems, and after a mile or so didn't feel the arch support, and was quite comfortable running in them for an hour and a half.  I was really surprised that a pair of £50 trainers I hadn't tried on before buying them could turn out to be so successful!

As a heavier runner though, who gets lazy and heel strikes when I tired, I do think I need decent impact cushioning for my long runs and for the 20 miler I ran yesterday, I reverted to my Asics (which, if I'd bought them online, I know realise would have been a damn sight cheaper!)  I'm very happy with the new Nikes though, and think I'll probably continue to use them for shorter runs, if only to encourage my mid-foot strike..and also because I really enjoyed running in trainers that I think look great!