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Better late than never

Oh how the title of this post applies to so many things. I haven’t written in months. Better late than never. My training could have started before it did. Better late than never. I finished my recent half marathon in my slowest time ever for that distance. But: Better late than never!

Last Saturday night was my first official race in two years. TWO YEARS! Long time coming. Injuries and having a baby will do that I guess. There’s so many running stories between last November, when I started running again after Nahuel’s birth, and now that I want to share, but for now they will have to wait. This post is simply going to be about Saturday’s race.

The ING marathon and half marathon in Luxembourg is a great big running event. The sort with helicopters, hot air balloons, DJs, an assortment of free stuff for the crowd to shake, rattle and wave, tonnes of people lining the streets in support and a route which takes in the delights of the city. Martin ran the full marathon last year and the route is famous for its inclines in the second half of both courses. He was a supporter this year, along with Nahuel.

I was nervous. The previous weekend I had run 10.3 miles along the ups and downs of the vineyards around the Moselle valley, where we live. It had been hot and tiring, but I had felt great. I had reserves and could have kept going. On that starting line a week later, my nerves led to doubts. Would I make it? I have never experienced that before. “I’m nervous,” I said to my friend who was also running. “Me too,” she replied. It was her first half marathon. It seemed to me she had the right to be nervous and I didn’t. Perhaps I just needed to start and I’d feel fine.

And then start we did. We kicked off at lightening speed. There were lots of people so you had the usual first couple of kilometres skipping past people and dodging around others. But we did it quickly, at just under 5 minute per km. This was not my half marathon running pace. But it felt good. So I carried on that way.

I got to the 12 km marker in an hour. Way too fast, knowing the up-hills that were coming on the way back. The crowd were brilliant, shouting and cheering your name at every part of the course. In the city centre, there was no way you could stop. The route was narrow and lined both sides with cheering and clapping. I felt like I shuffled the cobbled streets of Luxembourg city at that point on the wave of the semi-drunken audience with bubbly in their hands.

But after that euphoria, the roads widened again. There was space and a breeze and the setting sun behind me on the way back to Kirchberg. I had nothing in the tank. I had to walk. So I walked and ran the last part, hoping I had done enough to come in under 2 hours. I tried to buddy up with a couple of people who also seemed to be suffering, egging them on to get the same support back. But I ended up leaving them and their blisters and woes behind.

At kilometre 18.5, a friend shouted out from the void. “LAURA! Come on Bird!” There was a world out there beyond the pain and exhaustion! I ran up to her and got a kiss, some energy to get me through the last couple of kilometres. It worked.

Martin and Nahuel were also there, on the final bend before the finishing line. And so I made it. Not elegantly, or fearlessly or strongly, but I finished. My watch said 2 hours and 9 seconds. Oh well. Better late than never.

Congrats to all the runners of Saturday’s half and full marathon! And to my friend Kris, who finished her first half in 1 hour 54 minutes. Great job!

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.

Before the start with Kris and Nahuel.


Autumn running

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


Get back on the horse

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.

And this time it was galloping.

Running from the orange peel

Warning: this post is one for the ladies.

Cellulite. Orange peel skin. Wobbly thighs. Dimpled bum. However you call it, we all have it: loitering in full view or just lurking under the surface. If super models have it we can all stop worrying and complaining about it. It’s there. It’s with us. We’re women. There’s a lot more we have to deal with, so let’s just forget about a bumpy ride at the top of our thighs and get on with life, shall we?

Or not? In my twenties cellulite wasn’t a word I wrote or considered. But in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed more those dimpled parts at the top back of my thighs. I’m not someone who would ever spend £50 on a miracle thimble of cream (I love creams, but cheap, normal ones that don’t do any magic, just smell and feel nice) and I cannot be bothered with what beauty writers call ‘body brushing’. What is that? I’m no ape. Brushing is for hair. I do subscribe to massages, for any reason. But again, I can’t afford one of those every day/week/month. So, the next best thing I know for looking and feeling good is boring, simple, old-fashioned exercise.

And with the last 5 weeks of half marathon training, running four times a week has been my exercise. I do love a good swim and yoga session and these are sometimes slipped in at the moment with a few weights. But, primarily, running the roads of west London has been my way of burning calories.

You can see where this post is going, I think. It’s going to a far away place, called Cellulite Land, where my own cellulite has disappeared to over the past couple of months. Running has literally run it off. My thighs and bum are by no means super model worthy, don’t get me wrong, but there is a definite improvement in smoothness. Pits and dimples have given way to something resembling solids rather than liquids.

In my cellulite and running reading before writing this I found nothing conclusive about running helping cellulite. In fact one site claimed it caused cellulite. So you’re just going to have to take my word for it. And my husband’s: “Your a*se looks good in that,” he commented the other day.

Running, I salute you. Cellulite, I banish you.

Gadget boy

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.

First one back

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!


The signing up buzz

It’s Sunday evening and we’re feeling a little down after 5 hours in front of the television watching Wimbledon, rain and all. Even though there were Pimms and strawberries and true British grit, our man didn’t win. Oh well, the London 2012 Olympic Games is just around the corner. Hopefully the home advantage will help in 20 days’ time.

So, we got back from a friend’s house and there was a little lull in Sunday night proceedings. Full on food, slightly depressed and needing something uplifting to do, I searched for Ealing’s half marathon which was mentioned in July’s Runner’s World. We live in Ealing, west London, and there’s nothing like doing a run which is right on your doorstep. You can train in its very streets. It’s your home race. You own it.

And so, I’ve just signed up for it on 30th September. Two days before I go on holiday (when things in terms of exercise have a tendency to fall apart) I have a focus. And even better, I have another partner in crime. While Maria braves the cold (and then the heat) of the Americas, I’ve pulled in Martin, my soon-husband-to-be into this next running endeavour. He runs. Sometimes and not so often. It’s going to be his biggest challenge yet, but I’m going to be there for him and help him through it. And like having Maria there to talk training highs and lows, he’ll have me to bounce his new-found running joys and pains off. Gladly, I will be there, no doubt sharing some of the same.

So, next task… get a training plan. I am going to try to make this training a little less haphazard than my training for Cruce de los Andes. More to come on that. I’ve already looked at some programmes and at first sight, they look fairly light, but that’s probably because I’m used to fitting a lot of training into not much time.

So, with the buzz and excitement of signing up for a new race, I’m going to go and get my trainers and running gear out, ready for tomorrow’s run. Just so we all know where we stand.

Lammas Park, where we’ll start and finish.