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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.

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Weekend of Races

Although Laura and I are miles apart and even have an ocean in the between us, we managed to sign up for races for the same weekend without even knowing it.  Several months ago we were having a conversation about what’s to come and as it turned out she will be running a half marathon tomorrow night and I will wake up Sunday morning for a 30K trail run.

This will be her first race since adding Nahuel to the family and I have my second trail run on the docket.  Thankfully this one is a smidge shorter than the last one especially considering this was the worst training session I’ve had yet.

As always, I sat down to plan out when I would run each distance.  My goal was to hit 18 miles 2 weeks ago and then taper.  Life happened or I should say I put other things first and all of a sudden it was 2 weeks out and I still hadn’t done 16.  I also managed to go the entire week without putting my running shoes on between the 14 and 16.  Talk about feeling my legs those next Luxcouple days!  I also made the decision (both good and bad) to run in the shoes I will run in this weekend.  As it turns out I have a slightly different form with those shoes and it meant my calves felt like it was my first run in ages.

Regardless and whether we’re ready or not, this weekend we’ll both be pitter-pattering our way across several miles.  And it’s been nice to be able to talk about similar runs again even though we’re so far apart.

 

Oh, deception

I am not a runner. You can’t not run and be a runner, can you? Runners, please forgive me.

After my last post, I wanted my first post-holiday write to be full of sweat and smiles at the miles I ran in Buenos Aires. This was my intention. This was no lie.

But my mile total for the two week-vacation? A big, fat zero.

I only have myself to blame. The chances we had to run in Puerto Madero when we were staying in the city, I forgot my all running stuff. Then came a huge storm. Then I just overslept. We sat at a cafe in the sun as some rowers glided through the shimmering water of the docks; as rollerbladers sailed by; and as runners trotted past on this well-worn and much-loved old route of mine. I watched them with a half-smile, but it was as if I was behind a pane of glass. I wanted to reach out and join them, but there was no way through.

I am an idiot.

So, it was up to the pool and miles and miles of blocks to walk for exercise. Which worked. But it’s not romantic like running is.

We got back to Luxembourg this week and the routine of running along the rivers has already set in. It’s not as cold as last winter by any means. Crisp and showery, yes. Cold and biting, no. Martín has started his marathon training. He’ll be running the Luxembourg marathon at the end of May. Maria is well into her training plan. Another friend is gunning for her first half marathon this weekend. I am surrounded by people with running goals. I need one.

I think the first is just to remember my trainers, don’t you?

Remich Half Marathon – Anything for love

WHERE IS REMICH?! I hear your cry.

Well, go back a few posts and you’ll see this half of M&MRC now resides and runs in Luxembourg. And before you cry out that yes, you’ve heard of it, and you think it might be near Paris/Poland/Palermo here is a little map. Just so we’re all on the same page.

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So, landlocked yes I am. But far from water I am not. For we are now living along the Moselle river, which borders Germany (the lower half of that frontier on your map above) and heads on into France. Remich is a town further south along the river. It is another picturesque little place of around 3,000 inhabitants that basks in its vineyards and wine-making glory.

DSCN0523So, where better than to do a half marathon? I can think of none. The route itself follows the Moselle, so it’s beautifully flat. On one side you have the river and Germany’s rolling hills opposite; on the other side are slopes of vines, bursting with green, their rows straight and perfect.

This year was Remich’s 52nd half marathon. Other good things before the starting gun: you get a bottle of local champagne and some fruity booze-free beer; and there are only about 2,000 runners so you can park easily, see supporters easily and easily not get lost. My Achilles injury prevented me from training for it, so Martín was running solo. Not getting lost in the crowds is an important point to make, if you know Martín.

So, I was there with my bike and became Professional Supporter, cycling up ahead to take pictures, make videos and clap. There was plenty of room for me to do this, pedalling alongside the runners while shouting and filming. I thought about stealing a judge’s sign for my bike I was so on it.

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But I didn’t. I focused on supporting and not colliding into runners as I filmed. Martín was doing a splendid job, although he set off way too quickly. I realised this at 4kms when he had arrived at around 18 minutes. Turns out another thing about the Remich Half marathon is that 95% of people are fit. Like, running fit: not I kinda jog fit. Luckily, Martín realised he was going too fast to make it the champers at the end and slowed down to a pace he’d worked on in his training. I won’t say the rest of the run was a breeze for him – I didn’t run it – but he did brilliantly as Team Argentina and always had a smile and something to say in the interviews I made him do en route.  Here’s one interview we did on the 13th kilometre (click on the image to watch the video):

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Martín finished 21.1kms in 1 hour 45 minutes and 55 seconds; ten minutes faster than he did his half marathon in Ealing on the same weekend last year. Am I jealous? Very. But more than that, I am proud. When we met, he wasn’t a runner and I convinced him to run one of the famous Nike 10k with me in Buenos Aires (followed by a gin and tonic in Plaza Serrano at 11am on a Sunday morn – ah, those were the days).

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Team Argentina supported by Team London

You do anything for love.

Even run.

For more information on the Route du Vin, see http://routeduvin.rtl.lu/

Better than a tour

I’ve just moved to a new country, so posts eastern side of the pond now come from Luxembourg City in, well, Luxembourg.

And the great thing about a runner moving to a new place is the way they discover it. At the weekend, instead of taking maps and tours, we went running and hired bikes. And got very sweaty.

There’s nothing like a run to get to know neighbourhoods. You get a sense of the inclines, the distances between areas, what’s about you. And the best thing is that while you’re nosing about the place, the miles slip by.

Saying that, I turned a corner the other day and found a rather-too-steep-for-my-liking-hill in front of me. Who knew Luxembourg was built on cliffs and hills? We also found ourselves having to push our bikes to get from the lower town to the higher town at the weekend. But this is all good. It means there are plenty of wonderfully evil possibilities for training.

And, ta-da! We’ve already found a half marathon nearby for the end of September.

Watch this space.

Venga! The Behobia to San Sebastián 20km

“VENGA! VENGA!”

This word more than others got me through the Behobia to San Sebastián 20km run last November. The terrible weather didn’t help. The hills certainly didn’t help. But all those people, lining the route and often in the middle of nowhere, shouting at us to “COME ON!” was one thing that put a smile on my face.

IMG_1974The day started early, up before dawn eating toast and peanut butter in my friend Jenny’s apartment and driving through the mountains as the sun rose to reveal a wet, grey day. We parked up and took the train and bus to Behobia, a small town on Spain’s border with France. We were early, though the crowds were already forming: a brightly coloured bunch as everyone was wearing plastic ponchos to protect them from the downpour. For some, bin liners were enough as we all huddled together in cafes, under shop fronts and petrol stations. Despite the weather, the atmosphere was buzzing. This is the Great North Run of Spain, popular and fun for both seasoned runners and newbies alike.

Despite the lack of training, I was confident of finishing smiling and without too many problems, though there was the worry of the 2km climbs dotted throughout the route. There were so many of us, we had to wait an hour after the ‘start’ for our section to kick off. Despite the puddles, we danced and cheered our way to the starting line and we were off. Jenny had other friends who had been training with her running as well, though everyone was running their own run.

The first couple of kms were all about skipping over puddles and finding your rhythm and place, like every busy race is. Then a sneaky hill came as we hit km 4 and my mind went backwards. Shit, I thought. Then I remembered that I’m always rubbish in the first few kms of a long run. By the sixth km I was checking the watch and calculating making it in under two hours, which I would have been happy about at the start. Then I started to focus. Hill training or no hill training, I could get in under 2 hours and I was bloody well going to.

The rain still battered us, although there was no wind – a complete saviour. The first real climb was km 8 to km 10. It was one of those -just-keep-putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other moments. Actually, that’s a lie: it wasn’t a moment, it was more like fifteen minutes. But the end was always in sight, and that helped me. That, and knowing that turning that corner on the lip of hill was a downhill. Usually, I don’t like downhills, but they helped me make up time after slowing for the climbs. At the top, the heavens well and truly opened. Ignore the leg burn and the rivers running down the roads and go for it. The crowds were and didn’t thin. They had big umbrellas and they stayed throughout. Venga! Venga!

Towards the end after the last climb and on last 4km to the finishing line along the sea front in San Sebastián, I was running side to side along the route clapping those supporters back and high-fiving all the kids. They really had been amazing. Some even provide chocolate, fruit, water, handing them out to runners as they pass. Others open their windows and blast music, or take a huge speaker to an isolated spot on the route and blast it out from their car.

On that last climb, the steepest of them all I had to dig in. Walking I wasn’t. Half way up a man of about fifty patted me on the back. “I’ve been following you the whole way,” he told me in Spanish. “You’re running really well. Keep going.” He passed me, but that was the boost I needed. The rest of the hill passed in a glow of determination and it was down and flat to the end. The sea and its big, crashing waves came into view.

The finishing line was in sight, although there were lots of those inflatable line markers that it was a bit disappointing getting to one and realising it wasn’t the final one. I clocked in in 1 hour 50 minutes and was quietly pleased with myself. Not being a full half marathon, it wouldn’t have beaten my half marathon best, but all rain, hills and lazy training considered I happily took it. And more than the time I clocked, I enjoyed it. Running alone, without music and not having a clue where I was going or what was really coming next was a real pleasure. Sometimes I think we find out too much about new runs instead of taking it as it comes.

Afterwards we all celebrated together in a restaurant with fine wine and food, everyone pleased with their efforts whether they had finished or not. For some it was another day at the running office, speeding along the route with ease. For others it was too many kms that time. But for all of us who ran that day, there was a ringing in the ears…

IMG_1959VENGA! VENGA!

And a big thank you to Jenny, reader of our blog, and fellow runner Nando for their fabulousness!

On your shoulder

It’s been a while since my last post, but there’s been a lot going on. Weddings, new jobs, some freaky Norfolk weather which made me look outside and go URGH, NO!

I now write from my friend Jenny’s apartment in Pamplona, Spain. I arrived last night in order to spend the weekend and run the Behobia 20km. It’s like the Great North Run of Spain: a bit tough, super popular (25,000 runners) and finishes by the sea. The only thing it doesn’t do is raise a tonne of money for charity. They’re not accustomed to that here. The one thing it does do is finish in San Sebastián, gourmet central of Spain. If there’s anything that’s going to get me up those hills it’s the thought of fine Spanish wine, fantastic tapas and a dip in the water post-run. If I can get in that freezing lake after Day 1 of Cruce de los Andes, a cool-down in the bay of San Sebastián is going to be a breeze. And the wine, the wine will be waiting.

Anyway, Nando (Jen’s boyfriend) and I have just got back from a run along the river bordering Pamplona. This is the second time in two weeks that I have run with someone so I thought I better write about it; so used to running solo I now am.

Last week, I ran 8 windy, sunny, cloudy, muddy miles with Martín. Actually, that’s not quite right. He ran with me, which was a new experience. There he stayed, on my shoulder, 5 millimetres behind. Enough for us both to know it was my run, my pace, my route, my sprint, my ‘Come on!’ to get us up the hill in the wind. I was expecting a solid run, but fairly sedate and slow. I knew I was running faster with him on my shoulder. And him staying on my shoulder, lessening the pressure to keep up, but keeping up the pressure to stay at that pace helped. I finished stronger and quicker and felt a gratitude towards him becoming a runner that I never have before.

So, today it was with Nando, a very decent runner who  especially loves mountains, and Mario, a Cuban guy more at home pumping weights in the gym than using his legs to move him more than walking pace. I ranked somewhere in the middle. I needed a run; it had been just over a week and with Sunday’s run looming I also needed a buddy, someone on my shoulder. Nando is a pace specialist. After about 15 minutes he said, “We’re doing about 5-minute-10, 5-minute-12 seconds per kilometer.” How did he know that?! Anyway, it worked. It was good to have someone there, making me talk, being at my shoulder which means no going back, only forwards. It was a lovely 6-miler along the river and parks and am I looking forward to Sunday’s endeavours.

Running is a great way to get alone time, a space to think, to leave the pressures of the day behind. But running with someone on your shoulder can give you a certain amount of good pressure, a little push which gets you to the end.

And that can be one weight off your shoulders.

 

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: http://runrocknroll.competitor.com/san-antonio

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.

Too much excitement

Not that I had doubted it, but after last week’s long run I wasn’t overly confident on how my back-to-back 13-milers were going to go this weekend.  I decided to go for evening runs as the heat was unbearable at 8:30 a.m. when I was riding to work this week and I knew there was no way I was going to get up early enough to miss it.  It turned out to be a great idea.

I taped up my toes, smashed cotton between a couple and headed out on Saturday night with my old running shoes.  I ran my normal route and it’s amazing what a difference of a few less miles can make.  The humidity was high as a storm was blowing in, but the wind that accompanied it was much appreciated.  Thankfully I’d filled up the Camelbak to the brim so I didn’t run out of water as I was trying to replenish what I sweat out.  I made it home and was glad to have the first one of the weekend under my belt.

I woke up this morning mentally preparing myself for the next 13 miles I needed to cover.  I knew some changes were in line as yesterday’s run was good, but the thought of doing the same route wasn’t exciting.  So I mapped out a new path and loaded up my pack with water and an old computer battery.  The streets were more crowded than where I normally go, but a change of scenery made a world of a difference.  I hit the halfway mark feeling really good.  I finished up with a long straight away as I marked off the streets to home.  Then, I saw the bridge which meant that I only had a few more blocks to go.  My heart started racing and I struggled to breathe.  It wasn’t that I was tired, but I was so excited that the finish was so close.  During those last blocks, I imagined how it’s going to feel to finish each of the 3 days and how it’s going to be to arrive back in San Martin de los Andes and know that we did it.

I can only imagine what it will feel like when it happens, but right now it’s great to know that the hardest part of training is over and there’s only 10 days until we’re standing at the starting line!