Category Archives: Training

The competitive edge

As regular readers will know, I am no longer running. At 32 weeks pregnant my power-walking might even be described as the strange shuffle of a person that looks like she’s smuggling a beer keg along the river. Sigh, but I still get out there and I love it.

Today is my first official day of maternity leave and I am a little loss of what to do. The sun is shining, summer holidays here in Luxembourg are in full bloom, my to-do list has nothing with a deadline like when I was working. My husband left this morning with the words “Take it easy” ringing through the house before he shut the door. OK. BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! Help!

I’ve been swimming a lot recently. Being heavier than usual, the water is heavenly. I can still float! Brilliant! I do a mixture of breast-stroke and front-crawl, and on my last two trips to the pool, I realised something.

You know the feeling. There’s someone who is lapping just that bit quicker than you. Whether it’s running round the local park, or pushing through the pool. And you want to beat them, to get level. You know you can. You pump that bit faster. You kick that bit harder. You get level, you push further, you get past them.

Ha! Did it! Now I’ve got to stay there. Your running/swimming groove is now that little bit quicker. You’ve got a  sweat-on. But you need to stay there, just ahead. You’re not quite sure what you’re proving, and who to, but you feel in these minutes of round-and-round the park or up-and-down the pool that there’s some other inherent reason than pure exercise you’re doing this.

You are competitive. That’s why you run with a watch/GPS. That’s why you swim and check the clock. That’s why you get your finger tips to the wall before the person next to you. Or you try to. If you don’t, next time you will.

I finished my swim and sat on the side rehydrating. The man I had lapped in the pool finished up and got out. He noticed my belly, pointed at it and said something in Luxembourgish I didn’t understand. We smiled and he gave me the thumbs up.

Plum, we’re back in the race.


Putting running back on the front burner

Life takes over sometimes and I’ve put running as well as writing on the back burner. But now it’s time to rearrange things and get back to it.

As I know, I need to sign up for something in order to keep me on track. I’ve been looking at different races for a while now, but hadn’t found one that I was ready to sign up for yet. I talked with Whitney, our friend who was with Laura and I in Buenos Aires, the other day and she was in the same boat. We spent time researching different races and finally decided on the Nashville Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. So on April 26, 2014, we’ll be running through the rolling hills of Nashville listening to country music.

That means I have to get busy getting a base under me as I haven’t been running more than twice a week for the past several months. I’ve found a training plan that is much more intense than what I’ve done in the past, but I figure it’s worth a shot. I’ll probably make a few edits as running 20+ miles multiple times and hitting 48 miles in one week seems daunting.

I’m going to take it one week at a time, but for now I need to have a base to be able to run 9 miles the first week of January. That means it’s time to hit the streets…

Zumba, it’s good for you

Firstly, apologies for my last post. Barry Manilow. What was I thinking? I shouldn’t do that to you, dear, faithful readers. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.


So, back to the point of the blog. Health, fitness, the ups and downs of life on the run. I mean, running. Last Thursday I had an appointment with a leg specialist. I finally got around to seeing her after my GP had described the inside of my leg as “a mess” after that scan I had. Great. I had been running with no pain or discomfort (honest!) and then he told me he wouldn’t run with my “war zone” leg. (Yes, this is my lovely Audrey Hepburn doctor. I don’t think even she saves him now.)

Leg Specialist Lady has ordered an x-ray to make sure there’s no fractures in my foot which are impeding and biting into my tendons. I have some tendons on the point of collapse. Actually, the other way round. I know I should be grateful that all these doctors and clinics are properly wanting to get to the root of the problem, and I can see someone, like, the next day. But all I really want is a dodgy doctor from Buenos Aires* who would make something up to make me feel better and let me run. Gently, but run none-the-less.

Anyway, I had already decided I was going to try out my local Zumba class that night. I have never done Zumba. I thought: Zumba isn’t running and if it hurts, I’ll stop.

Let me explain something here. I HATE aerobics classes. I think they are silly and boring. But, part of me wanted to check out something in my new town of Wasserbillig, test my language abilities (would the class be in Luxembourgish, German or French?) and do something to mix up my fitness.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about the language issue. The teacher didn’t even speak. There were Chinese, Portuguese, German, Luxembourgish there (plus me), so I don’t think any one language would have worked. Instead, she cranked the music up and flung herself about the place with such gusto, we just had to follow.

Zumba was created in the 1990s by a Colombian aerobics instructor, Alberto Perez, who had forgotten his workout tapes and had to use other music he had with him, which consisted of salsa and merengue tunes. This totally worked out and people loved it. He then went to the States, hooked up with a partner, sold it to the world and (I imagine) became loaded. Good for Alberto.

And good for me. Zumba is a lot of fun. Firstly, the music is the type I prefer on a night out, and being able to listen to tunes I danced to in my favourite Cuban club in Buenos Aires is a massive bonus. Secondly, it’s not like an aerobics class. It’s more like a dance floor and doing your own thing is totally cool. I tried to follow the teacher to the step, but you know, if I didn’t move my arms in the right direction, who cares? I was moving my arms. One little lady in front of me was completely hopeless, but she kept moving the whole time, dancing on her toes and swaying her hips. So what if all her steps were the same? When we twizzled, she did too. Just the wrong way round.

Lastly, Zumba is knackering. I was wondering after 20 minutes if I was going to make the full hour without turning into a sweaty mess on the floor. But then there’s the one good thing about a class: you look around you and see older, fatter, redder people and think If they can keep going, I can too. It’s stupid aerobics pride. But it keeps you going.

I have signed up for the year. 80 Euros for a year’s worth of classes is a bargain. Those darker, longer winter nights are going to be upon us soon, and I think some fun, high tempo exercise is the tonic to that. It doesn’t mean running goes out the window, of course. You’ve got to mix it up. This way I get the Zumba beat and the running buzz. And you can’t beat that.

Zumba: Highly recommended. Good for: Everyone.

Doesn’t matter if: You have zero rhythm. Helps to: Love Latino music.

*For the record, no doctor in Buenos Aires ever did that. Unfortunately.

The Barry Manilow Workout


The Barry Manilow Workout: Take one orange yoga mat and add weights of various sizes. Then, do squats, side bends, abs and obliques, planks, The Downward Dog, The Tree. You can also lift said weights in all sorts of ways. This, of course, all to Mandy, Copacabana, Looks Like We Made It and all those Barry classics we know and love. Record player not supplied.




Your Achilles’ heel

Every runner has them, right? Those points of weakness; niggling old injuries which can rear their ugly heads when you least expect them. I am hoping this is the case. Be it knees, hips, back, neck, heels, tendons, feet, muscles, bones… runners have a long list of niggles to choose from. Pros aren’t immune, although they do have people to help them look after themselves a lot better than your average runner Joe. Which is me.

Two days before my 16-week marathon training plan was due to start back in 2009 in Buenos Aires (Is that four years ago? Really?) I was running and from one second to the next a searing pain went up my right heel and I couldn’t stand on it. I ground to a halt. People came over. Está bien? Are you OK? No, I wasn’t. I borrowed a phone and called my boyfriend in almost tears. He met me in a taxi at the corner of our street with money to pay the driver. I run with nothing. He helped me hobble home.

So, I had pulled my Achilles and was out for three weeks. That put my 16-week training plan to a 12-week training plan. Still doable. I spent 1 entire week with my foot up, icing it every so often and being a super grumpy pain the arse. But I recovered, got back to it, completed the marathon and got on with running and running my life.

Fast forward to yesterday. I was running a regular 4-mile route in the Luxembourg sunshine. I had just got to the top of a hill and was on my way down when I felt a sharp pain in my right heel. It wasn’t like my experience four years before, but I wound down the hill gently and came to a stop. I stretched it out on the kerb for a bit. The pain subsided, so I carried on. Then going up the next hill, it came back. It got worse. I had to stop. Having had that moment of a pull those years before, I did not want a repeat of it. Plus, again, I was without a phone, this isn’t a place where taxis pass, I had no money and only my wobbly French. So I walked. It was OK, I could feel it was tight, but walking was fine. Not perfect, but fine.

Back home, I stretched my upper and lower calves and ran cold water on my heel. And continued with life. This wasn’t the same. It wasn’t four years ago. But this morning, it’s still a tight. It must be all these hills, newly built into the running schedule here as you can’t run and avoid them. Must keep stretching, and a couple more days’ rest.

Because that’s something you learn. When you have Achilles’ heels (And I have a couple of them) you learn to not ignore the pain; to listen; to do something before it gets to the point you’ve experience before – where the only solution is being a grumpy pain in the arse for a while.

They are our weak spots. But they make us stronger.

Match fit

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.

old tennisThinking 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!

The Twilight Zone: walk-run theory

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 running250px-TheTwilightZoneLogo 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.

imagesAnd if that doesn’t make you feel better about a bit of walking, then being in The Twilight Zone certainly should.

Signing up, up and away

Sometimes your inbox is trying to tell you

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!




Frank’s freaky training

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:

A few days off

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