Category Archives: Training
Last week it was time to dust off the racket bag and see if we could remember how to hit a ball over a net. We went to play tennis.
Having been running, doing yoga and swimming, a mix in of tennis was going to be good thing. Until we realised after a couple of rallies that a) not only we were rubbish at tennis again, having last played about 9 months ago, but b) we were not match fit.
Running for miles at a steady pace, or even a shorter route at a faster pace has totally different fitness needs to a game of tennis. I loved playing tennis when I was younger and spent all summer at the school courts and all winter at Saturday morning tennis coaching. But I’ve played less as I’ve been on my travels and living here, there and everywhere. Then Martin and I started played in Buenos Aires. It was great because although we have very different strengths on the court, we’re quite evenly matched. Sometimes I would win, sometimes he would: the game was always worth it.
Until last weekend. The score is irrelevant (oh, go on then, I won) but what was interesting was the fact were knackered and breathless after a few rallies. Having to dart around the court for a few shots left us panting more than we thought it would. The pause between points got longer as we laughed at ourselves. The short, explosive bursts required in tennis are just not what we’re used to with our long running or swimming sessions.
What to do? Well, we need some match fitness practice and especially speed work which will no doubt help our overall fitness and not leave us bent double after a few points. Here are some ideas I remember from tennis club at school. Ah, the days of those drills…
- Ball retrieval: put some balls randomly around the court and sprint to get each one and back to the base line in between. I emphasis the point of sprinting. Not for joggers!
- Shuttle sprints: running from the base line to the service box line, back and then to the net and back and so forth. Again, as fast as you can. (In class we would race against each other and try not to puke.)
- Blind ball: this was a favourite of my tennis coach when I was 14. You stand with your eyes shut and back to the net on your half of the court. Your partner throws or hits the ball with a shout of “Go!” and you open you eyes and run to get it as quickly as possible. Yes, you guessed it, sprinting. Repeat until knackered.
Thinking about all this, I am now marvelling at my younger self, a middle distance runner with tennis match fitness. Ah, those were the days. I wonder if, even before my time, they worried about these things? Something tells me it wasn’t a priority for tennis ladies like this one. You would be more worried about tripping over the skirts before even reaching the ball in the first place.
Got any match fitness tips? Let us know!
There’s an article on National Geographic’s news website which my husband has just forwarded to Maria and I. You can read it for yourself here.
I just read it and smiled. It’s opening paragraph was me just two days ago.
I was in London, dashing between classes and workshops in different locations. Time was tight and although I couldn’t do anything about the bumbling buses and trains, when it was me and the pavement, I ran. Then I walked a bit. Then I ran some more. Then I walked again. Then I ran, my backpack juggling around on my back and my other bags swinging from side to side. I didn’t want to be late. I hate being late.
Apparently, this walk-run scenario I’ve just described happens to us humans a lot. Knowing we are pushed for time, we don’t necessarily run the whole way. Instead, we combine walking and running to conserve energy and still get there quicker. Manoj Srinivasan, professor at Ohio State University studying this theory calls this ‘the Twilight Zone’. I love this description. It’s “where you have neither infinite time nor do you have to be there now” he explains.
And for those runners who are pushing the distance, adding the miles, it’s a great theory to incorporate. I read a couple of years ago about a runner who wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon (that’ll be a sub-3.05 please, Sir, if you’re under 34 and a 3.35, Madam, if you will) and started to train using walk-run techniques. In his short walks on the longer runs, he was able to recover, conserve energy and ended up with faster overall times.
And you don’t have to be a super runner to see the benefits of this. New runners will also use the walk-run method when they first start out. It’s daunting to say you’re going to run without stopping at first. Walking and running makes sense. As Srinivasan points out, “It’s basically an evolutionary argument” and has served us well from caves to now.
There will be purists out there who say running isn’t running if there’s walking involved. I understand that. But let’s not be pig-headed about it. I’ve had horrendously tiring runs (my 18 miles in marathon training, which I’ve mentioned here before, was one of note) and I believe that if I had just taken some steps walking in amongst the hours of running, I would have finished quicker and a lot less sore.
Yesterday I got four emails about running events, different ones around the Europe: a woodland 10km in the south-east; a hilly affair in the west; an exciting half marathon in a city best known for shopping rather than running; and a lovely little jog around a park in the capital.
They will only keep coming, I know that. The weather is no longer a danger to limbs and lungs and it now gets light before you get up, which helps. These race organisers know that now is the time to whet the competitive spirit, thrust a challenge onto the unsuspecting new runner and lay down the gauntlet to running heroes and villains. It’s the time to sort out those training plans and work out just how many weekends you can dedicate to charity runs in places where you know people. Now is the time to set a goal.
I say now, in February, because January is filled with so much pressure on doing/not doing/target-setting/changing that now all that waffle is over, you can be realistic and pick stuff that you want to do; that you’re going to do. In the fever of January (and this has happened to me before) you can sign up for all sorts and then forget about them until they come knocking one week before and you are in no way prepared physically/economically (how much?)/practically (how do you get to those woods in Wales on a Sunday morning?)
So, now the idea is making your neurons dance and legs twitch in anticipation, the dilemma is: which race? Fun and for charity? Something for a distance personal best? A route with mountains to distract you? One to combine with a holiday/city break? The choice is endless.
And once you’ve signed up, what then? The adrenalin kicks in, the planning starts, the trainers get on, maybe a new piece of kit gets bought. You work out how to get there. You let everyone know you’re doing it, so there’s no wimping out. Perhaps you get a mate or loved one involved for support and inspiration. Or maybe you go it alone: it is your challenge, your personal quest.
In life as much as in running, we need something to aim for, to look forward to; a date in the diary for something we have chosen. And when the moment comes, we soar. From the start line, up, up and away we go. We’ve worked towards it. It’s our freedom as livers and runners and we must enjoy it, remembering the joy at the click: SIGN UP HERE.
So, back to my inbox. Where do I go? How far? Who with?
Ping! And there’s another running event to put into the melting pot.
What running events are you doing this year in the UK, USA or anywhere? Let us know, tips and recommendations welcome!
It’s a little bit like unwrapping a hotly anticipated present. Suddenly, in dates and numbers and miles, it’s all there, laid out in little boxes. It’s the training plan for your next running event. You work out if your birthday/wedding anniversary/weekend laying on the beach coincides with a long run. You picture yourself getting back from work on certain days with the fire in your belly to get your trainers on and get out in the dark/fog/rain/wind. You feel smug that you have all those miles ahead of you, while you know friends who will just be sitting on the couch. You know that by doing your training programme properly, as it says, you will get through all those miles with mainly smiles.
When Maria and I were training for our first marathon together, it was great. Our plans were very similar and we hit the long run targets at the same time. As we progressed and a normal midweek run would be 7 or 8 miles, we then started to laugh when things tapered down and we had to run 4 miles. 4 miles? That’s now nothing!
But you need those shorter runs. They help to build speed. They keep you fit. They hopefully reduce your chances of injury. There’s something very satisfying about having run many miles at the weekend and getting up on Monday knowing you’ve only got maybe a third or half of that. You deserve it after a long slog. And you breeze through it knowing you can and have gone further.
So, to my surprise I found out the training plan of Maria’s dad yesterday. They are both preparing for the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon in Texas on the same day I’ll be doing the Behobia in Spain. Frank is also a runner and great supporter of our running events. But his training programme seems bonkers. He’s running three days a week and adding a mile each time he runs. So one week it could be 3 miles, followed by 4 miles and then 5 miles. The next week he starts with 6 miles and so on. Is it just me, or does this seem gruelling physically as well as mentally?
Psychologically, when you have a bad, long run, the next shorter run puts you at ease. If you read a post I wrote a while back on a terrible 8-miler we had one weekend, the fact that I had just 4 miles to run on the Monday helped. If my next run had been 9 miles, I think all the pain would have been in my mind. Starting the week with a shorter run also gives you back your confidence to go towards the next long run at the weekend having built up to it properly. It’s a clean slate when it’s gone a bit wrong and it means it is a lot easier to get back in the saddle.
Of course, runners are all different and different things work for different people. I’ve also done things with my training that have raised eyebrows (and not in a good way) But we all have a way of justifying it to ourselves and making a pact with our body. And if our body responds well, who is to say what’s wrong?
After all, it’s you and your body that’s going to get you to the finishing line, no matter how you got it to the start.
For information on the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon in San Antonio, please click:
I haven’t run for a few days. Last week, work, socialising, courses, hangovers and rain got in the way. Granted, I let them do so, but sometimes a few days off is just the ticket. It gives you a refocus.
Now, after 10 weeks, we are a few days away from Martín’s first 13.2 miles. The Ealing Half Marathon is this Sunday and Martín is in the tapering stages; this week he only has a short run and a couple of walks so he’ll be rested up for and raring to go Sunday morning. My brother is doing it with him in my place (more on that in a minute) and I believe he’s done zero training for it. He’ll be completely rested up for it, let’s say.
So, I had to bail on actually doing the 13.2 miles as it is my hen do weekend. I have no idea where or how, but what I can definitely say is that there will be little running involved. One friend who does run said to me: “Wouldn’t it be funny if for your hen do we were all actually running the half marathon with you?” “Yes,” I replied, “it would be great. But you haven’t met all my friends, have you?!”
So, since last week, I haven’t put on my trainers. I have dipped twice in the pool and done weights which has been nice, but now I am thinking past this weekend of fun, mayhem and surprises to what I need to focus on come October 1st. I’ll then have six weeks before the Behobia 20km in San Sebastián, Spain, which I am doing with my friend who lives there. In between, we are moving, to a place with more hills, which I think will help.
This 20km is quite hilly. Someone drove the route recently and reported back that at some points the car had to be in first gear. I am thinking this person doesn’t drive a Talbot Samba and really, those hills are steep. Ouch. Another reason to spend some time mulling the next phase of training over.
So, in the meantime, I’ll refocus and plan for those hills and enjoy my fresh legs when I next head after these few days off. It will be with my own, personal challenge in mind. And before then, all that’s left to say is
There are always moments in a training programme where you think you’re going to die. You can’t go on. That happened to us a couple of weeks ago in week five of our half marathon training programme. It was the week of our long run of eight miles and it fell on the hottest weekend of the year.
Call it stupidity, call it having the force, call it plain stubbornness: I headed out around 10.30am, without breakfast and with the sun already high in the sky and the shadows already shortening. It was one of those runs where the first mile is so tough you can’t bear to think about the following miles you know are coming. You’ve just got to focus on that next step, getting to the end of the road, making it to the next tree.
It was painful. My lungs were fine for the first half, but my legs were made of plasticine for the whole time. Sweat was pouring off me, then drying in salt lakes around my face in the sun. I felt like I was shuffling through quick sand, trying to make it the other side of the park where there was shade. The last two miles I just had to laugh inside and the old mantra of You’ve done a lot worse stayed with me. It got me back and I was proud that I hadn’t given in to my tiredness, the weather, being slow. I hardly bothered to look at the time I had clocked.
Martín had never run eight miles before and it was also tough for him, though he went later in the day. Again, he completed it without surrendering to the aches, pains and sweat. And then proceeded to spew up. We’ve all been there after an exhausting run.
So, while you’re chuffed to have got through a tough run, it does make you nervous about the next one. It becomes not about the weather, not about the hills, not even about the miles; doubt about your running ability creeps in. Am I always going to suffer and be slow from now on? Has running become a torture?
The only thing to do is get back on the horse. Or, in our case, put your trainers on again. It’s not easy, it becomes a mental stumbling block. All you can think about is how your body crumbled and hurt during the last time you headed out: how you thought in the last miles that if you collapsed there and then by the road, which car drivers would stop to help you. But you’ve got to push those thoughts aside. You’ve done this before. You’re still alive.
So, on my first run of week six, I headed out cautiously. I was trotting. I hate to use the word, but probably I was jogging. Then I looked at my watch. What? An 8-minute mile up that hill? Really? Body, what are you doing to me? Stop confusing me! I finished that run in a flourish, pounding to the line in disbelief. But smiling.
That week we hit 9 miles in our weekend long run and we ran those 9 miles in the same time as we had run 8 the previous week. We were back on track. We had broken the shackles of our nightmare runs. We were back on the horse.
I did it again. Oooops. I signed someone up for a 5km without telling them. Paid for, t-shirt, tree and everything. It’s going to be fun, I said. Run rhymes with fun, after all. Not sure she believes me yet. But at least she’s out there, doing it. Without champagne.
In last month’s edition of Runner’s World, there was a page entitled Beyond the gadgets which discussed what happens to your running when you leave technology out of it. As my iPod has basically given up the ghost after so many miles, I have been running Nike+ and music free for months now. I figured it made sense when I was training for Cruce de los Andes, as there was no way Maria and I were going to run together without nattering on. And now, at week four of our half marathon training, there are still no gadgets for me.
For Martin, it’s a different story. He’s using his iPhone and an app called Endomondo. He loves it. He loves hearing the mile markers pass, listening to the times for each mile, knowing his maximum speed of the run and collating all this information easily so he can compare with previous runs. And throughout all this he has his music blasting as well. Even just writing that sounded like overload to me.
But I get it, we’re in training. We want to get stronger and faster, that’s the whole point of it, right? So, I have been mapping runs prior to setting out and taking a watch. But even this can be misleading. If I head left out of my road, there are hills. If I turn right, it’s flat. Surely it’s not fair to compare routes like this? I must be slower with hills than with flats… But then, the other day I beat my flat 3-mile time on the hilly route. What would the gadget say about that?
There’s something to be said for the competition and motivation that gadgets can provide. But then we can come to rely on them too much. They aren’t perfect, and this was shown to us once when a running app routed 4 miles, but unless I had suddenly increased my pace by a minute a mile, there was no way it was the full 4 miles and I had to keep running past my house to make it up, judging the time on my regular watch. Because that’s the other great thing about just using a watch; you become far more in tune with how you are doing and feeling if you’re running slower or faster, especially when you are an expert at the routes and roads you run so often around your neighbourhood. Sometimes, I can feel it’s a fast run and I force myself to not look at my watch; to wait until I get home and check the time to see if what I am feeling when I run is right in the results of my times.
And it usually is.
I am pretty sure that any readers of this blog are the types who are enjoying and marvelling at the times, feats, strength and performance of the world’s best athletes, currently battling it out at the Olympic Games in London. It’s Day 13 of the competition with lots still to be decided and plenty to inspire. And it’s not just the runners: throwers, jumpers, fighters, riders, swimmers, rowers, lifters, players, bouncers, bikers and all-rounders have all had their moments in the spotlight; going faster, higher, stronger, further for one of sport’s most coveted prizes: an Olympic gold medal.
As a London 2012 GamesMaker (one of the 70,000 volunteers recruited to ‘make the games happen’) I am in a privileged position; part of the action, the excitement and the disappointment. The highs and smiles of the athletes as they come through with their medals; the disappointment of those who don’t make the podium, or who have had to withdraw through injury. Coaches, team leaders, personnel and athletes share snippets of their day: triumph or disaster. Some are tired, exhausted from a day’s training; others are focused, preparing for tomorrow; and others are ready to let their hair down and party.
I get to watch some of the action in the morning before my shift and at dinner break. And everyone is keeping up to date with what’s happening throughout the day on the London 2012 apps and Twitter. Saturday night I finished a bit early and ran to the workforce canteen to watch Mo Farah in his 10,000m final. A big bunch of strangers, all cheering together for their fellow Brit, made an incredible atmosphere. We were one big Olympic family watching him, and when he crossed that finish line we went crazy, hugging each other, complete strangers, in total joy and pride.
And although I am physically and emotionally knackered at the end of each day, buzzing from the day’s events and people, dreaming of snippets of the games and the athletes I’ve had the privilege to chat to, I am still managing to go out and run four days a week. It’s now Week 3 of the half marathon training and I am surprising myself. With tired legs and a frazzled brain, I am getting out there and getting quicker. I must keep going.
Because if those athletes can do it; every day for four years, battling all sorts, to get to the Olympic Games and make their country proud, then surely I can get out there and run these miles. There is no Olympic Stadium cheer waiting for me, but knowing later I’ll be heading that way to share more Olympic moments, makes my homeward sprint that little more golden.
I don’t want to fool you. The title of this post has nothing to do with crossing the finishing line and winning the race/a gold medal/place in history. What this is about is the first run back after a two-week break.
Everyone needs holidays and mine had nothing to do with running. There was biking along one of the world’s oldest roads, swimming in Tuscany and lots of miles walked in flip-flops, but this was accompanied by tucking into Italian antipasti and Roman pizzas and supping bottles of Chianti and Venetian spritz. Then there was the festivities of our wedding, so by the time the in-laws were back on the plane to Argentina and the washing machine running on full blast, the first workout in a while was cleaning the house from top to bottom.
But, then it began. In my last post (The Signing Up Buzz) I explained that we have signed up for the Ealing Half Marathon at the end of September. And the ten week training plan started this week, with our first run on Wednesday. It was just 3 miles and Martín mapped a route round a park nearby. It was hot out. By the end of our road as we turned to go up the hill, I was already thinking It’s been too long. And not in a good way.
Although my calves had hardened walking medieval Tuscan towns, my legs were unprepared for those measly three miles. My lungs were wondering why the party had suddenly stopped. I came back in a rubbish 26.30 and it felt like the longest, hardest, sweatiest run in a long time. Even as I was trying to ‘burn’ it down the home straight (Let this finish!) I was thinking back to my training for Cruce de los Andes and wondering how the back to back half marathons went by so easily.
But then there was Thursday and another 3 miles. And there were 4 miles yesterday. By then I had got down to a 8.24 pace which made me feel a bit better. While the first one back was not fun, it has quickly become back to running business, and a joy.
So, while I plough through my holiday photos organising them, I realise that it’s not the training that kills you and makes you work. It’s the holidays!