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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?

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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…

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.

The summer squeeze

I finally have chance to sit down and write. Sorry we’ve been missing. I wish I could tell you it’s because we’ve been traversing mountain passes and running through wind torn valleys. But no.

Ouch, actually. I’m feeling a bit tight in the quads. I guess that’s what happens when you put all your training for an up-and-coming 10 km into the six days beforehand.

Last Sunday we (the royal married ‘we’, not Maria and I together unfortunately) ran the Grand East Anglia Race (GEAR), a nice and flat 10 km around King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Here was my training plan:

Monday: Go for a fast 1.5-mile run to remind legs what running is and how it feels. It had been 12 days.

Tuesday: Run 4-mile route through fields, along cliffs and up little hills. Nothing like King’s Lynn.

Wednesday: Marvel as legs don’t feel too bad. WooHoo!

Thursday: Run the 4-mile route the other way round and with sun on my face do it in under 33 minutes. That hasn’t happened for a while! So chuffed with myself, I deserve a glass of husband’s home-brewed beer.

Friday: Fannying about at work means don’t get to the pool in time. Ah well, there’s always tomorrow.

Saturday: Get up and swim 1 km in the pool. Imagine it’s the sea and I’m on a tropical island. Leave the pool and need a coat.

Sunday: Run 10 km in 52 minutes and 14 seconds. The route sidles along the river, through the park and finishes in a flourish with a samba band motivating us through the final 400m. Celebrate with eggs, beans and bacon.

And, having got through it all swimmingly, running is back as its own thread of my week. I went out yesterday to keep the legs working, but I know I didn’t stretch enough, hence the tightness.

It feels good though. My mum is also back to her training for the Cambridge Race for Life (you might remember her being a running virgin last year) so our hallway is full of trainers. The sun has been shining and the wind is blowing at less than 80 mph. This bodes well; it makes us want to get out there.

The first race is out of the way. Nerves shivered through our bodies on the start line. The sun has arrived on the scene. Summer is not long – what can we squeeze out of it? How many runs do we have to reduce our times/actually get a new pair of running shoes and test them out/simply keep going? I remember last summer we started our half marathon training and squeezed as much out of the longer days as possible. We are starting to do that again. But what next? (Apart from a massage and some yoga stretches?)

There are so many options for summer running: trails, fun runs, marathons. I spoke to a very old school friend on Sunday who is off to try out the Edinburgh marathon at the end of this month. And a couple of weeks ago we had the runners shining on our television screens as they pounded the streets of London for their chosen charities; a warming sight, especially after the tragic events just days before in Boston. It is inspiring. Should I sign up? Should we sign up? Should we pledge our winter to training and have a fun summer just… running?

I’m not sure I can even plan that far in advance, but there’s no harm enquiring is there, via the charities I’ve already worked with (the ballot has already opened and closed!)? It’s just one email.

Blimey, one beautiful, sunny run quicker than expected and the need to squeeze in more is palpable. But that’s what summer is about.

P1060211 Sod the tight legs.

Signing up, up and away

Sometimes your inbox is trying to tell you something.email

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!

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

London 2012: The Olympic Games

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.

Training and mantras

I’m now officially back on the horse and training for a 30K on September 1st.  I’ve mapped out my training schedule and have planned how I’ll reach my max. a few weeks before.  Granted there will be a sudden climate change when I move, but it’s nice to follow a routine again.  The race is a trail run that will take place in the evening/night in an attempt to avoid the extreme temperatures common in Texas this time of year.  Besides Cruce I haven’t done an “off-road” event and I’ve never participated in an evening run besides training.  It’ll be a good change of scenery and fun experience to spice things up.

As I’ve been running, I’ve taken time to think about different mantras or the phrase(s) one says to themselves to keep going.  It might be based on internal motivation, fear or something that reminds you of why you get out there and run.  Thinking of using fear might sound weird, but have you ever imagined you were running from a pack of rabid dogs?  I don’t really have one that I use every time I get out there, but on those days when my legs are especially heavy I’ve been resorting to one in particular: “It can’t be worse than climbing a volcano.”  And it’s absolutely true.

It’s not that climbing El Mocho was a horrible experience by any means.  I use it to remind me that if we made it to the top (and back again) then I really can do just about anything.  I say ‘just about’ as I realize I still can’t fly, but maybe one day.  The first time I crossed the finish line after a marathon it was a sensation that is hard to put into words.  You really do feel like you can face anything.  The world is at your mercy as you have put your body to the limits and came out standing (even if the legs feel a bit like jelly).

“You finished a marathon and you believe, ‘If I can do this, I can do anything.” – Grete Waitz & Gloria Averbuch

I use my mantra at different times and for various reasons, but it helps me to reach my next goal whatever it may be.  And more than likely this mantra won’t work for many other people out there.  The key is that it’s something personal and it’s what keeps me moving.

What about you?  What’s your mantra?

Running free

It’s a given: that snowy mountain tips, running packs and those blue Columbia t-shirts are behind our eyes every second of the day. Counting the nights before planes/buses/hostels/tents. Wondering, anticipating.

Today I went on my last official training run. Maria and I might head out before our Tuesday night flight, but then again, there’s a roof-top pool, jacuzzi and sauna to throw into the equation, so we’ll see what wins.

When I woke up this morning, I thought about everything before this very point. Things like running socks, filling the camelbak, blister plasters and planning routes all jumped before me. What I hadn’t thought about in the last couple of weeks was the actual running.

How ridiculous, you may say. But with major events like these and the training and sacrifices, pain and joy involved, sometimes you forget that you’re just a runner who likes to don their trainers and hit the road a few times a week. You forget that, before all this, you wouldn’t be held to ransom by gear, weather, weight, food, drink, time and miles. You’d just get out there and run.

So that’s what I decided to do today. No camelbak, no watch, no new route: just the old hills, me and my trainers. It was refreshingly simple and pure running happiness.

There might be moments of unhappiness during Cruce de los Andes; there might be moments when the weight feels like tons; when we’re wearing the wrong thing; when the blisters are screaming; when the clock is ticking and we feel like we’re getting nowhere.

But above all that, we’ll be who we always are. Two friends, two girls, two runners. Let’s keep it that simple.