Thursday 31 May 2012

New shoes! A step towards barefoot running

Actually, they're not that new any more, but they still make me smile like new shoes do ;)

At the beginning of May, I was lucky enough to be sent a pair of trainers to review from Merrell's new range of "barefoot" shoes (apologies for the contradiction of that term!).  I received the Barefoot Run Bare Access Arcs which are essentially transitional shoes for someone (like me) new to the barefoot party, still needing a bit of cushioning.

Just out of the box
 I've been thinking about getting some barefoot shoes for ages , but haven't taken the plunge since trying on some Newtons and finding them pretty uncomfortable, so was excited to see what these shoes were like.

Now, unfortunately I'm very shallow, and the looks of a shoe are always important, so I was very pleased when I opened the box and got these out, especially as I didn't know which colour I was going to get.  They do look a bit unusual as they are very wide at the front (to allow your feet and toes to move in a natural way when you run) but I loved them straight away, still do, and have had a few comments about them from people which have all been positive! 

Anyway...before I go on, here's the official blurb about them from the Merrell website:

For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running, our Bare Access Arc 0mm drop running shoe gives you a barefoot feel, with added toe to heel cushioning. Still allowing your foot to land flat and follow its own natural motion, its cushioning protects from sustained impacts due to longer runs or a new barefoot training program.

• Barefoot strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort with Synthetic leather and mesh upper
• DWR-treated upper repels water and resists staining and Lycra® neoprene lining for padded comfort treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution 

• 8mm M Bound™ allows for cushioned entry into Bareform™ movement
• 0mm ball to heel drop keeps you connected to your terrain
 • Natural flex outsole with 2.5mm lug depth allows for dynamic foot movement

Anyway, back to what I think ;) I was impressed with how immediately comfortable they were.  Although I run in traditional supportive shoes with a big heel drop, I spend a lot of my time in flip flops or flat ballet pumps, and so wearing a barefoot feel shoe wasn't a complete shock to my feet but wearing a fully enclosed shoe that had such a wide toe-box was a real revelation.  I have wide feet, and to put shoes on and not feel any constriction at all was brilliant. They're also cut low around the ankle and suit my feet really well.

I knew I wasn't going to run in the Merrells straight away and decided to just use them for walking around to start with, to allow my body to get used to them.  I definitely felt the difference - my feet and legs ached a bit after wearing them all day, but I'm pretty sure that's just because my muscles were working in a different way. 

They've now become my choice of every day trainer, and I'm an absolute convert to the barefoot style - even if I haven't yet moved away from the supportive trainers for running,  I can really recognise the benefit of spending time in a more naturally styled shoe.

The shoes at 4 weeks old
with my startling white reflective legs ;) 
The only negative I've found with my new Merrells is that although I'd ordered a size 8 (in normal shoes I'm a 7) they came up pretty short, and they're not quite long enough for me - my big toe just catches the inside end seam on the top of the shoe, and bizarrely, although I really like these shoes, I still haven't been for a run in them.  I've been telling myself that's because they're short and I'll end up hurting my toes but I think it's just because I've not been brave enough - with all the recent marathons I've had and the upcoming ultras, I've been worried in case I inadvertently did too much in the shoes and hurt my legs/feet, and jeopardised my training. 

However, I've become such a fan, that after my ultras are finished, and I've got a bit of window with my training schedule, I'm going to fork out for a pair in a bigger size, and actually try running....

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Letting my body recover

A couple of days ago, the awesome Jerry Smallwood (who's running the 145mi GUCR this weekend and who knows what he's talking about) commented on my last blog post which I'd written about whether I was going to pull out of my next scheduled marathon - this is what he said:
  • "I think that I can read between the lines and your heart is not fully into this one. It is a nice idea but you have done a lot in the past 2 months and I honestly think your body needs a rest. They say that a marathon will stay in the legs of a runner for at least 6 weeks after and event and you have done so terribly well of recent."

It seems that Jerry knew how my body would be coping with my 3 marathons in 6 weeks better than me.  Turns out he was entirely right and after last night's run, I definitely need some rest.  I was about 15 minutes into a lovely 6 mile run home from the train station, when my leg essentially disintegrated below me...lots of pain in my hamstring, glutes, calf and shin. After a bit of stretching and massaging my leg by the side of the road (which prompted lots of odd looks and a few beeps from passing cars) I ran on for a bit, but after a few minutes the pain and weakness throughout my leg came back.  I took to twitter to vent my frustration, and got lots of encouraging support back (as always, thank-you everyone!) but then jogged slowly home, having to stop often, so took some photos on the way with my phone, which unfortunately isn't advanced enough to capture just how beautiful the light was last night but I thought I'd share anyway.

The trip back home took forever, and although when I got there I changed into my compression tights, and spent a long time with a pack of frozen peas, waking up this morning I have a kind of dull permanent ache in my hamstring and glute. 

Needless to say I'll rest for the next couple of days, and try and get a sports massage tomorrow which will hopefully help, and, although I had already decided not to run it, this is the nail in the coffin for my participation in the Roadrunner Marathon on Monday.

A few other photos from last night:

Monday 28 May 2012

My 17 lap marathon dilemma

Yesterday, we went to the newly built Cyclopark in Kent, for a Skyride event. 

The Cyclopark is a venue that houses various cycle tracks - BMX, mountain biking, road cycling and has a big kids play area, cafe etc.  As this was a Skyride event, it was free to get in, and there was a wide variety of people who came along - lots of famillies with young children, teenagers on their BMXs, couples like me and Francis on mountain bikes (although in hindsight I should have taken my road bike) and club cyclists in their co-ordinated lycra outfits. 

For a cyclist, there are very good facilities at the Cyclopark: the road track is pretty fast with a couple of inclines to make sure you're putting in some effort, the BMX area is a proper track, with a racing starting gate, and according to Francis the moutain biking section has areas with lots of rocks inthe way so it's good for all abilities,  but it is still a very new venue - the big trees that in the artist's impression of the track (above) are still meter high saplings, and everything is a bit dusty and bare, with no shade anywhere, and the only view is over the motorway! I've stolen a video that Maidstoneonbike (sorry, thank-you!) posted on YouTube so you can see what it's like....

So, it was fine for cycling, and we enjoyed ourselves to the extent that we have signed up as members and will go back to cycle at the park again.  The problem I have is that I am due to run a marathon there on Monday 4th June...17 laps of the road cycling track for the Kent Roadrunner Marathon.

This would be my 4th marathon in the last 8 weeks so it's certainly not a goal race, and I always knew that running so many laps would be hard, but having seen just how uninspiring the venue is, I am really thinking about whether this is something I want to do at all.  I only booked this marathon as part of the training for the ultra, and although I suppose that psychologically it would be great training to complete such a mind-numbing course, I'm wondering if I'm losing sight of what running marathons is know, enjoying the experience...and thinking that maybe it's not worth going to a race that I'm pretty sure I'm not going to enjoy.

Comparison of the London Marathon 2012 medal &
the Roadrunner medal
So, what do you think? Should I blow off this race? I'd still get my mileage in for the week with unsupported long runs but it would mean not turning up to a race - a DNS - which I've only done once before because I had bronchitis - and it would also mean missing out on the fantastic super-sized medal they're offering for getting round the full 17 laps....

Wednesday 23 May 2012

My Marathon RelayGB experience

With my all important medal,  and
the support crew's camper van in the background

I keep trying to write a blog post about my Marathon RelayGB run on Monday but I'm finding it very hard. I want to come up with a detailed but coherent account, so I can really explain how amazing the whole thing was, but so much happened, I'm not quite sure how to put it altogether. So for now, I'll just share a few of the photos, and the brief entries I added to when I got home on Monday afternoon so you can get a feel of what I have (very proudly) been involved in.

RelayGB leg: Chelmsford to Dagenham 
28.6 mi in 4hrs 14mins at 08:53 pace
Today was my leg of the Marathon RelayGB event, the second to last leg of the whole thing, which has seen a 24/7 relay being run around the whole of the UK.   
I was awake at 3.30am this morning, and out of the house at 4.30am to get to my leg to start on time. Of the four people who were meant to be running, only I turned up, so I got to run the whole marathon on my own, with the full attention of the support crew, who couldn't have been more amazing at getting me to Dagenham in Monday morning rush hour traffic. We did take a couple of wrong turns, hence the increased mileage, but this is, by far, the best event I have ever done. It's nothing like a normal marathon, all on open unmarked roads, having to wait for traffic lights to change and cars to pass so I could cross the road, but running on open roads with a support car behind me, protecting me from other traffic made me feel like a celebrity runner, and to meet the guys who have been around Britain making this event possible was privilege. My Garmin had been playing up during the run, so it's only now, that I've got home, that I've been able to see the official time and distance. Couldn't be happier :)
Final mile of the RelayGB
After my leg finished, we drove to the end in one of the support cars, and met up with a load of other runners from other stages of the event, and about 30 of us ran the last mile to the finish line. Perfect end to a perfect day :)

Some more photos....
Running on the main roads with the support crew
protecting me from passing traffic
So happy to see the Asda car park &

Steve (who's shaking my hand).
Still clutching the Powerade I started
the run with. Who needs gels?! ;)

The amazing support crew who helped me through my leg.
I love 'em all - my heroes!
The last mile that we all ran together in Wandsworth Park, bringing me up to 30 miles for the day :)

Tuesday 22 May 2012

New shoes & fixing my blisters

In my last post, you found me recovering from the Halstead Marathon, which had given me really bad blisters, and I was planning to buy some new shoes to try and avoid it from happening again.  It's only just over a week later, and quite a lot has happened....

1) I bought the new trainers. I went to Run and Become, a shop near Victoria in London, and was very pleased to receive the most excellent service and advice, and came away with a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12 in a size larger than I usually wear, and in their limited edition, patriotic colours. 

I was also really impressed with the knowledge of the assistant who helped me, the questions she asked, and the information she was able to give me, and also really liked the vibe of the place - by the till were little motivational phrase cards - I brought home the one below.  Anyway, I took my new shoes home without the box, and ran back from the station, doing 6 miles straight off and they were great and have been since.  A really successful buy :)  
2) Before they got better, my blisters got worse, they burst and got infected.  I couldn't run for three days, and was walking with a limp.  With antibiotic cream and a lot of TLC including changing dressings twice a day, they healed, just in time!  I should have taken out shares in Boots with the money I was spending in there on first-aid kit ;)

3) As well as the new shoes, I've invested in some very cute Injinji toed-socks (which were recommended by someone who read my blog) to try and protect my toes from any new blistering (which arrived last night but I'm yet to try them out) and also some moleskin tape, which seems pretty sturdy for also protecting my feet.

4) And the biggest news....I've run another marathon! Well, a marathon plus a couple of miles, as part of the Marathon RelayGB event...but that is important enough for it's own post, coming soon! :)

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Is this what ignoring the pain actually looks like?

I got emailed three photos from the Halstead Marathon today...I really don't look very happy, even as I cross the finish line. You'd never believed that I absolutely loved this race ;)

It may say "start" but the start & finish lines are across the same mats,
just run in opposite directions!

Monday 14 May 2012

Halstead Marathon & my poor battered feet

The Halstead and Essex Marathon is a fantastic event and I really enjoyed my second run of it yesterday.  It's a race I'd recommend to everyone, and although I'd hate to see it grow much from the current numbers (it turns out from the results that 610 people ran yesterday) it's such a great day that I want everyone to experience it.

When I got home from the marathon yesterday, I added my mileage to the site and wrote this review:

Absolutely great race today. It's a hilly course (so lots of fast downhill bits that I love, although obviously an equal number of climbs), and although it got pretty warm, I can't complain about the sun being out - we were running around beautiful countryside, in lovely weather, and everyone was really friendly. I chatted to so many other runners as we went round which always makes my day. It's only a small event (about 800 entrants I think) but I enjoy it so much more than the really big marathons. Can't praise the organisation, marshals and local supporters enough. I think everyone should run Halstead at least once - it's a damn near perfect race :) I didn't really run the race I'd planned on - wanted to take it slow and practise a run/walk strategy for the ultra but it didn't happen, other than walking through some of the water stations - I just got a bit caught up in at all. Nice to head into a race though not thinking about trying to run for a time, and just running to enjoy it!

So, all very positive, and a fab day - I finished in 3:57:52 so although that was faster than I'd planned, it's reassuring to know that my time at Brighton wasn't a fluke - and we got an unusual and lovely medal which (for me) always makes a difference :)

However, my race wasn't all perfect...

I've been struggling with pretty bad shin pain since I started running again after the last marathon, and in the middle of last week, after trying everything else to resolve it, realised that the problem must lie with my newest trainers, the Asics Gel 1170s which I'd only really been using regularly since Brighton, having worn my old reliable trainers (my Asics Kayano 17s) for the big goal race.  I don't know why the new ones are causing pain, but it's the only explanation.  I realised that I wouldn't be able to get through the Halstead marathon wearing the 1170s but nor did I have the time to buy and break in new shoes in a few days.  I didn't want to revert back to my Kayanos because I got such bad blisters from Brighton that still haven't healed, so, I went through my trainer collection (I don't think I've thrown away any trainers since I started running!) and picked an Adidas pair that seemed to have decent wear left in them and decided to wear those. Stupid.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, wearing shoes that I'd never worn for further than a 10km run, remembering that I'd retired them as they were too narrow for me, as I started to get real pain from new blisters that had developed on the sides of my feet.  For the rest of the race, I frequently found my inner voice reminding me that "pain is just information", "I don't have to act on that information", "it's just a message and I can do what I like with that message" because what was I going to do...take my shoes off? No, I had to run through it and be thankful that at least I didn't have any shin pain ;)

Yesterday certainly wasn't the first time I've had blisters - as I said, I got a terrible blood blister on the side of my foot from Brighton, and every marathon I've ever run has resulted in bad blisters on the end of my toes and losing toe nails - but I don't remember the last time I was aware of any pain from them during the race.  I always tape my feet around what I know are the problem areas with plasters, and I wear running socks with extra padding on the toes and the sides of the feet, and although I always still seem to get damage, I don't usually feel it until afterwards. 

I'm concerned that not only have my wounds not fully healed since Brighton, I've now compounded them and I have another marathon on Monday which I can only imagine is going to be more painful that yesterday.  Although I'm really pleased that my legs feel fine today, I am getting pretty worried about my feet, and how I'm going to protect them enough to get through the next race when it's so soon.  I suppose more to the point, I'm starting to panic a bit about whether my poor feet are going to survive the pounding from my 50 mile race in July!

I have to get some new shoes (again!) and so this time, when I go to buy them, I'll explain exactly what problems I've been having and see what they suggest - maybe it's the size of the shoe, or the shape...or maybe I just need to tape my feet more thoroughly or start using duct tape?!  

Who knows, but, as I said on Twitter earlier, my feet are starting to look like they belong in a monster movie!

Saturday 12 May 2012

A no-nerves marathon

This time, four weeks ago, I was feeling downright ill with nerves for the Brighton marathon I had to run the next day.  This evening, the night before my next marathon, I couldn't be more relaxed as I lounge on the sofa - what a difference lowering my expectations has made! ;)

Brighton was a very important goal race for me - we'd travelled down there for the weekend, lots of people knew I was running, I desperately wanted to get a great time, and I was really feeling the pressure.  The Halstead Marathon tomorrow is completely different. It's just a race that I signed up for as part of my training for the ultra, it's around a truly beautiful course which is enjoyable and well supported, I'm planning on taking it very slowly and practising the run/walk method that I'll need to use over 50 miles, and I'm expecting to finish in about 4hrs 30mins. It's a really hilly route too so I'll take my time and just enjoy a morning of running.  It's lovely to feel so relaxed about it, and I'm looking forward to it!

Of course, this might back-fire terribly.  The awful nerves before Brighton led to a fantastic race performance, and there's a little part of me that is thinking I'm far too laid-back about what I'm going to have to do - I'm probably underestimating the effort that tomorrow is going to be, and half way round my legs will suddenly start screaming at me that they aren't ready for another marathon so soon.  But we will see...

So, for the rest of the evening, I'm going to carry on tracking  as I have been obsessively since they set off from London 8 days ago (they're in Scotland now!), have a decent pasta dinner, drinks lots of water, and against my better judgement, will also watch Britain's Got Talent before getting an early night.  Oh the exciting life of a marathon runner ;)

Friday 4 May 2012

So many marathons...all the way around Britain!

My training is generally going well and I'm feeling pretty good about it, including prep for next weekend's marathon - I'll not be tapering as such as I'm still trying to build my fitness, and the race is just part of my training and an event where I'll be using the run/walk method to try and get used to it, as that's what I'm going to have to do for my ultra.  This is also the plan with the other marathon I've got booked in June, and with the 30 miler in July.

However...I've signed up for another imminent marathon, although this one is a bit more exciting than the others I've got scheduled, and it's one that I need to finish in 4 hours.

I'm going to be running a leg in the Marathon Relay of Great Britain, on 21st May, from Cheltenham to Dagenham.  I'm very, very excited! :D  The relay started today and you can follow the team's progress online:

in aid of Brain Tumour UKMarathon Relay Great Britain Logo

Welcome to the Marathon Relay of Great Britain

This is a unique challenge that will aim to run a relay of marathons around Great Britain in May 2012. Not only will there be the physical challenge to runners of all abilities but the event will also raise funds and awareness for brain tumour research. It is surprising how many of us have been touched by this disease either directly or through someone we know.
This is a challenge but not a race. Therefore, runners will be running on their own or in small groups, at night or during the heat of the day. All the while, the runner will be notching up the miles that will try to break the current world record for distance relay running which currently stands at 1,923 miles set by the ‘Gillette Phenomenal Tour’ in Romania in 2009 over the course of 13 days.
You can now donate using your phone! Simply text 'BTUK12' followed by '£' and the amount you wish to donate to 70070. Thank you for your generosity.

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Refocusing, two weeks on...

It's been a funny two weeks since my wonderful weekend at the Brighton Marathon, and I'm afraid this is a long essay of a post to cover it all ;)

Last week, amongst other races, we had the excitement of the London Marathon.  On one hand, it really annoys me that so many people think it's the only marathon there is...but on the other hand, I recognise just how special it is.  As I wasn't running it this year, I decide to go down and support everyone who was, and headed to about mile 20 to cheer them on - as soon as I got to the roadside, the tears came and I was overwhelmed by it all.  Watching the London Marathon in 2007 inspired me to start running in the first place, and it's the first time since then that I've been back as a spectator (rather than taking part) and I found being there quite emotional.  Lots of runners I follow on Twitter, and people I know in real life, ran at London, and so many finished in great times - but watching all the strangers go past and being able to cheer them on and hopefully encourage them was fantastic too.  The high of the race was then followed by the tragic news of the death of Claire Squires - the third runner who has died at a race I've been at in the last 12 months :( There was an international sympathy that accompanied Claire's death and nearly £1million has been donated to the Samaritans, the charity she was running for, which obviously means that she has left a fantastic legacy. Absolutely harrowing though; "there but for the grace of God, go I" is the quote that springs to mind....

The following Wednesday, after work, I ran the 5km Baton of Life race in Hyde Park, which was a charity race held in memory of Andrew Corbett - the runner who died at last year's Brentwood Half Marathon (shown in the photo with his children).  It was very weird to be running such a short race, but I'm really glad I went.  His children (both under 10) were handing out the medals at the end of the course, and it was both heart-warming to see them so confident, while also being absolutely horrendous to think that they have lost their dad so young.

This weekend just gone, we had the Milton Keynes and Manchester marathons, where although I was only following people online rather than being there in person, I still got quite excited about the whole thing, and was so very pleased for the runners who managed to complete their races in some of the worst weather imaginable...and some, again, in exceptionally impressive times!

And that brings us to today.

The excitement of the big spring marathons seems to have passed, although there are still loads of smaller marathons being run and Edinburgh is later this month. So, after a couple of odd weeks, today I realise that my training for my Ultra has to really kick in this week!  I have been running since Brighton (just 5 miles the first week, and 30 miles last week) but now I have just 12 weeks left until I will be running my 52.4 mile goal race...and that's all at once, in one go, on one day.....I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit scared! ;)

Although I created a training schedule months ago for this period between Brighton and the 50 miler, I've been panicking and reviewing it, scouring Google for alternative ultra training plans, and generally altering every element of what I started with.  I think I'm pretty much set with what I now have, but as with all of my training schedules, I know that as the days go past it will be fluid and I'll swap days around as I need to depending on what life throws at me.  The only definites are that my weekends will now see me completing double long runs on Saturday and Sunday (although my first attempt at this doubling up yesterday wasn't a great success!), I'll make sure I include a day of speedwork, I'll run at least four days a week (although usually 5) and of course, my race dates are set:

 * Halstead Marathon on 13th May, just two weeks away.  I ran this last year and it's a fabulous race around a beautiful countryside course (if not a bit hilly!) and I hope to improve on last year's time of 4:47 although I'm treating this just as a training run so I'll not get close to my Brighton time.  Really looking forward to it though :)

* Kent Roadrunner Marathon on 4th June.  This in the inaugural Kent Roadrunner and to be honest I 'm not convinced at all - it's a mind-boggling 17 laps of a tarmac cycling track, and I don't know how I'll cope with that, but I'll give it a go - it's just a training run!

* Enigma Running Festival - 30 miles on 7th July.  My first ultra!! Still only part of my training, and not a goal race, but I'm very excited about it, and seeing how I get on at this distance.  It's also put on by what seems to be a pretty awesome group of people, and I get the feeling that this ultra will be a really great experience. Here's hoping ;)

Then the big one...the Challenge Hub 50 miler on July 22nd.

All this means that I have to start focussing on my training and concentrating on the mammoth task ahead of me. But if that wasn't enough, this morning I tried on the dress I want to wear to a friend's wedding in 6 weeks time, to check it was ok.  It fit me last autumn, but I couldn't even do the zip up today! Aaargh! :(

So, today starts the training, today starts the diet!