Thursday, 29 November 2018

Twenty Miles In A Storm

I plan my training schedule carefully, to allow gradual increases in mileage and adequate rest days, not wishing to court the spectre of injury again. I had intended a lower mileage week this week having done an 18 mile run last week as part of a total of 38, but yesterday morning I woke feeling refreshed and in need of another long run, so I mixed up some tailwind (carb and electrolyte powder) in water, dressed for the weather (waterproof) and set off to see what I could do. I have three 20 mile runs to do in this batch of marathon training and it was in my mind to do one of them.

Poppy, who still has a cut on her paw and is therefore off road running at the moment, looked disappointed not to be coming out with me even though it was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. She's a game girl, that one. She was only slightly mollified by the squid biscuits I left for her and Ted by way of an apology.

The first 9 miles went whizzing by, which is the opposite of my normal running style and should have warned me what lay ahead. There are two big hills in my 4.5 mile loop, adding up to about 120 metres of climb and I ran up both of them twice in those first 9 miles, when ordinarily if I know I'm doing a long run I take them at a more conservative walking pace, saving energy for later. The 20 mile route has a total of 500 metres of elevation so it's fairly hearty.

By the time I'd clocked ten miles I was starting to struggle but by then had mentally set my mind on doing 20, so I was determined to carry on. Stopping at 10 miles would have felt like an acknowledgement of failure and mentally that wasn't what I needed with a marathon looming. Being presented with challenges on a long run is fine, as long as you can find a way through them that doesn't involve abandoning the run (unless you absolutely have to).

The weather was foul by anyone's standard, but I've always loved being out in storms. As long as you're dressed for them they aren't a problem. It wasn't cold here yesterday (about 12 degrees) but over a long run your body goes through cycles of hot and cold so you need to be prepared for that. I was fine temperature-wise until I hit 14 miles, that was when the cold and wet started to have an effect. The run was getting harder and I was going more slowly and therefore getting colder.

I wobbled once or twice and felt giddy and my breathing went a little strange. At one point I had to lean against something until my balance came back and the world stopped spinning. I considered stopping because a 20 mile run is not to be trifled with and pressing on when your body is telling you to stop can sometimes be the wrong choice, but by that time I only had another 5 miles to go to hit 20. I felt like most of the hard work was behind me and reasoned I could walk the final 5 in a little over an hour if needs be and still get the distance done. I wasn't focusing on time, just on mileage so it seemed silly to stop because of a few wobbles when I'd come so far.

I've done enough of these 20 mile runs now to be familiar with how they can effect you and how I respond to them. There is also an element of not giving in- if you were inclined to do that you probably wouldn't take on the challenge of a marathon or a long-distance run in the first place. I reckoned this was just a blip and that my system would settle down if I carried on, so I decided I would slow down and walk for a while and see whether the giddy feeling settled. I also put my hood up so my head was warmer and protected from the buffeting effects of the wind. That and a handful of sugary sweets (hideous at any other time but perfect as a fast energy-injection on a long run) did the trick and the odd dizziness retreated and didn't return. I think it was probably caused by the cold wind on my head more than anything else.

The final two miles felt like the last six in a marathon (tough), but I did them and finished in just under 3.5 hours. I have a hankering to run marathons more regularly next year, which means taking them at a slower pace, so training to be on my feet for longer is an important part of the preparation. This run did just that, so I was pleased with what I'd achieved.

Although it had been hard it hadn't been impossible and everything had stood up well to the challenge. There is definitely a value in having a harder than normal run every once in a while. It reminds you to respect the distance, not to become complacent and it fortifies you to dig deep, keep going and come out the other side. There is a stronger sense of achievement when you've overcome challenges and got there by your own efforts despite it being hard. I think that's a big part of the appeal that marathons hold for people. 

I am perhaps a bit complacent about these long-distance runs. Because I enjoy them and feel good on them I don't expect to find them daunting or overly hard. So it was good for me to have to work through a tough one yesterday, to overcome a few wobbles, think on my feet and push on, having altered my strategy.

I am mightily pleased to have my first 20 mile run of this batch done. Next week I will reduce the mileage because I'm sure the reason I struggled yesterday was down to tiredness. I have enough time to alternate long runs with shorter ones during December, so all is good.

Hope all are well.


Monday, 26 November 2018

Avebury 8 Nine

Sunday was one of my favourite races of the year, the Avebury8 Nine. So called because it began life as an eight-mile race and is now a nine-and-a-bit mile race. It's a proper old- fashioned, hardy, muddy, hilly, technical cross country through the fields and over the hills around Avebury.

The race attracts a lot of fast club runners but the atmosphere is good, friendly and hearty. Something that's undoubtedly helped by the fact that the competitors number about 150 so it's not big and impersonal. There is no razzmatazz either, which is something else it has in its favour. Both this year and last it was freezing cold, but everyone is very cheerful about it and no one makes a fuss. The marshals are wonderful too, standing out in the cold for a couple of hours but always ready with a smile and a well done and to show you the way. I can't fault it.

Last year I had a bad knee so ended up walking / hobbling big chunks of it. I was therefore really looking forward to running it injury-free and ended up shaving sixteen minutes off last year's time. I really enjoyed it and felt strong all the way round which was particularly pleasing after last Wednesday's eighteen miler. It's interesting how running longer distances at a slower pace makes you faster over the shorter ones.

You may remember from last year that the race doesn't give out medals; instead, you get a lovely handmade mug from local White Horse pottery. I chose the dark blue one because the lady told me it's a rare colour for the pottery and they don't make many of them, but I also love the pale blue. Last year they had run out of pale blue mugs by the time I got back, so I got a green one. This year, M was under strict instructions to collect a pale blue one as he's back so much quicker than me, so now we have one of each colour :o)

You can see Phil, the RD for the Avebury race, in the pic above handing out the prizes in the sports and social hall. As with last year, everyone takes off their muddy shoes before collecting their mug from the hall. It always tickles me to see the piles of cast-off muddy trainers by the door!

The race isn't expensive to enter and a proportion of each entry fee is donated to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance. So, a lovely race in a beautiful place that raises funds for a much-needed local resource. What's not to like?

Hope all are well.


Friday, 23 November 2018

Eighteen Miles In The Rain, The Wind & The Cold

I've had an interesting week. Having recovered from last week's fifteen mile run (not so much the run as my lack of eating on it), I felt ready to up the distance again on Wednesday and get an eighteen-miler in.

It was a less than ideal start. L's bus was late so when I got home from dropping him at the bus station I got a text saying bus still not here. I waited fifteen minutes to see whether it would arrive, got a text saying it's not coming but the next one is due in fifteen so I can get that and finally set off later than planned still not knowing whether I'd be able to do the eighteen miles or whether I'd be heading back to collect him and drive him in myself.

This is not great when you've a long run ahead of you. Long runs are all about the head. You want to be calm, focused and undistracted. You don't want to be thinking about anything but the challenge ahead.

I ran the first fifteen minutes fully expecting a text to pop up saying the later bus isn't here either, necessitating my swift about turn and race home, and was relieved when the watch pinged and my wrist told me L was on the bus and all was well. But by that point I was unsettled and trying to fend off the insistent demon who kept whispering that I'd be better off abandoning this run because it had all gone wrong already and trying again on Friday. Friday wasn't as convenient, I replied. I didn't want to rush it did I? said the wheedling voice, and wasn't I also due in Southampton before two to hear Sean Conway talk about his many adventures running/ swimming/ cycling self-supported round the world? Much better to stop. It was annoying because I'd got myself ready to run and now it all felt a bit rubbish.

Anyway, I am nothing if not determined and eventually I threw off the demon who fell silent and went off elsewhere, sulking probably. I got my head back in the game, renewed my determination and focus and got on with it.

The first ten miles were broadly unsatisfactory, apart from the fact they clocked up distance. I had decided to adopt a run/ walk approach to be gentle on my knee/ hip but was conscious of the time slipping by and the fact I had to be elsewhere by two. I felt a bit squeezed to fit the run to the time, rather than the other way round which is what I prefer. None of it was ideal and it threatened to spoil my enjoyment of being out in the elements by myself for a whole chunk of time with nothing else to do but run.

After the first ten miles were done however things began to look up. This is not unusual for me. It often takes me miles to warm up and get into my stride. The longer I run, the longer that warm up period is. Last week it was six miles, the week before it was four. Now it's back to being ten.This is OK- it's just how I am.

After the first ten miles I realised I was walking less and running more, and I did my fastest km time (4:57 mins) at 21kms (13 miles). Better still, my hip/knee were hardly aching, certainly feeling the best they have in ages, so that was all good too. I did stop every couple of miles to stretch them out, but they needed that less as the run went on. I think this is the recovery ache phase now rather than the still got a problem ache phase.

The weather was what you'd consider foul for the whole of the eighteen miles if you were tucked up warm indoors out of it, but a funny truth about running is that, when you're out in bad weather, once you're wet you're wet and you don't get any wetter, and actually it's pretty invigorating. 

I get a tremendous sense of peace when I'm out doing these long runs. You're absolutely present in your body and life becomes simple: it's just you, the land you're passing through, your food and water and the movements you make as you travel. Nothing else intrudes.

I finished in a little over three hours thrilled with how well it had gone. No aches, no pains, no exhaustion, no running out of fuel. I could happily have gone on to do twenty miles and was momentarily tempted, but I am being disciplined and sticking to my training plan so I stopped at eighteen.

I jumped in the shower, wolfed down some cheese, a cup of tea and an apple and drove over to Southampton where Sean's talk was entertaining and interesting. M had bought me his book about doing a triathlon the length of Britain and he kindly signed it for me afterwards. I didn't look at the words till I got home and smiled when I read: Never ever ever ever ever give up. How pertinent!

Hope all are well?


Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Racing in the Cotswolds

Autumn has properly arrived here: November is wet, damp and dark. The leaves, which were burning bright until a few days ago, have all mainly left the trees now and are lying in mulchy dull heaps below them. It is a time for bonfires, hats and gloves, chocolate cake and hot cups of tea.

Last weekend we headed up to the Cotswolds for some racing. I'd booked us into a 'cosy double' room in the hotel, but for some reason they'd upgraded us to the top floor of an entire wing. This wasn't as glamorous as it sounds: the space was basically a long corridor painted grey so it was dark and gloomy and it took ages to walk to the loo! We had a giggle about this, and about the valet parking. Our (very) muddy fiesta (who answers to the name of Chilli), was parked out the front of the hotel while we went in to register, as we came out to retrieve our bags we discovered three spotless lamborghinis had pulled up behind her and were busy disgorging some equally spotless people. Of course, I was wearing my usual jeans and running trainers, although M had at least made more of an effort and had on a nice pair of shoes and a jacket. Hold your own- don't be intimidated, I muttered to Chilli as we handed over the keys and left her to be parked for us, they may look sleek, expensive and fast, but I bet they don't ferry sweaty marathon runners around. We had another giggle later when ordering our G&Ts in the lounge and noticing the most expensive bottle of fizz on the menu was going for £450. Another world, and not one I have any particular aspiration to be part of. The food was good, but not spectacular and I came away feeling that a local B&B and supper in the pub would probably have served us just as well. It was rather a relief the following morning to meet up with all the other marathon runners in a fuggy, sweaty, hearty sports hall, where white styrofoam cups of tea were gently steaming and boxes of mince pies were on offer for later- surroundings we both felt instantly more at home in.

The race we'd come up to do was the Broadway marathon. In the end, I wasn't able to use my entry so M took it instead. The Broadway is a low-key, tough, off road race through the hills around Broadway which attracts a loyal following of a hundred or so competitors. There are no bells and whistles, just hearty runners, hills, mud, and tea with mince pies and cake for afters. Thanks to the Running Gods, at the last minute I'd managed to find a local 10k which was running nearby at the same time, so, having seen M off on the start of his mara at 8.15 I hopped in the car and zoomed off to my own race. While M had fun getting muddy ploughing up and down 900 metres of climb, going through numerous gates, chasing other runners and getting occasionally lost, but still managing to come home in 5th place and win his age category, I had fun whizzing along the lanes and over the hills of the Cotswolds about thirteen miles away with about 200 other runners. There was one huge hill in the middle of our race which I enjoyed- for once I was very disciplined about not running fast down it. I slipped down the running order ten or so places that way, but kept my mind focused on the long game, which is to get back to marathon running, not to be fast across 10k. It was cold, more so because the RD kept everyone waiting at the start with an interminable talk about the series of races he was hosting (fine for him in his warm coat, not so great for me in skirt and t-shirt), so I ended up running faster than I would have for the first couple of kms just to get warm and stop my teeth chattering. I felt good at the finish and was happy with the way I'd run and the course had been beautiful.

M got a medal at the end of his race, I got a pack of sausages. That has to be the most novel post-race prize yet!

A few days before the race, Pops and I had done a 15 mile run round the lanes at home. I wanted to do an experiment by not taking any food with me. I'd done 13 miles the previous week without food and been fine. The 15 miler went well, I had lots of energy, could have gone further etc and, except for a couple of sweets, didn't feel that I needed anything to eat. HOWEVER, by the following afternoon I felt very drained and sleepy and spent a few hours watching tele on the sofa, which is unheard of unless I am ill. I spent the next five days eating more or less every three hours and feeling absolutely knackered, yawning all the time. My energy finally returned yesterday afternoon after I'd had some iron. So, at the moment I need to take food on any run over 15 miles. The point of experimenting was to train my body to use it's fat stores more efficiently. I can now run up to 13 miles without needing food, something I couldn't do last year, but clearly 15 is currently a step too far. It was an interesting experiment and I'm heeding the results.

Tomorrow, I'm planning 18 miles although without Pop who cut her paw last week and is on soft-ground exercise only for a few more days. She is not very happy about this. 

Hope all are well?


Saturday, 10 November 2018

Remembrance 10k with Poppy

It was very stormy here last night and we anticipated running through the tail of it this morning at the Remembrance 10k, which started from Fort Nelson high on the chalk hills above Portsmouth, but when we woke up the storm had blown itself out and the sun was shining.

I decided to take Pop at the last minute. The two of us had done a half marathon together on Wednesday and enjoyed it. She usually travels really well, but without Teddy there she squeaked in the back so after a while we pulled over and she came and sat in the front with me. She was much happier there and spent the rest of the journey sitting bolt upright on my lap watching all the other cars go by through the front window. When we arrived to collect our numbers she drew the usual oh, sweet little dog, is she running it with you? Will she be ok? She's so tiny! etc.

I am technically still in running recovery mode, but really struggle to go slowly on these shorter races, so M came up with a helpful strategy: if you run it in an hour and no faster, I'll buy you a bunch of flowers. 

Game on.

A few friends were running the race so it was a jovial gathering at the start line with some conversations about times being aimed for at next weeks Gosport Half Marathon. A minute's silence was observed for the fallen before the race began. The complete stillness and quiet of over three hundred people standing soundless got to me and I felt my eyes start to sting and my throat tighten.

Poppy and I positioned ourselves right at the back of the field, so as not to be tempted to set off fast and also to avoid getting caught up in legs and feet (Pops). We were good for the first 2kms, running nice and slow. The second km was a very steep downhill and as fast downhills are not a good idea at the moment I walked the last third of it, feeling smug at all the time I was banking and certain that those flowers were in the bag.

The next km had a dog-leg in it, with faster runners coming back past the slower ones so only half the road was available. I got hopelessly caught up behind people who were either running very slowly up the hill or else walking. Frustration was building and I started to wonder what was the point in running like this when I could just as easily have done a slow training 10k at home. Pops was clearly wondering the same and was pulling on her harness to get through the web of legs in front. I decided we would either have to get past the slower runners or run the rest of the race feeling miserable, so we accelerated whenever we could and accidentally ran that km in 5:15. Oops.

My resolve to go slowly went pear-shaped soon after that. I had a brief debate with myself about whether flowers made up for having a really dull and boring race, before giving up the pretence that we were going to get round in an hour. Decision made, we started running at what is for me a much more comfortable race pace and I started to enjoy myself a lot more. We moved slowly up the field and clawed back a mass of time, catching up with the friends we'd started so far behind. Our km times dropped to just over 5 mins and all was good.

Pop was drawing a lot of attention by now; her little legs were going like the clappers and her ears were bouncing up and down as she charged past people. The ladies were mainly oohing and ahhing at her, but the gents were in vocal despair that they were being overtaken by a small dog. I lost count of the number of times I called out: don't worry, she's used to running twenty miles! as we ran by.

At about km 9 a nice chap drew level with us. He wanted to know about Poppy's running and we chatted for a bit about what a great running companion she is and how much she loves it before he went on, making the long hill in front of us look effortless as he accelerated easily up it. I set off too slowly, he grinned, as he loped away.

The final km was mainly uphill, steep and steady. We ran most of it, only taking a short walking break about half way up. I was pleased with how quickly my breath came back, given that I'm only a couple of weeks back into running after an 8 week hiatus. When we reached the top we could see the finish line and there was M calling out something about flowers. I grinned back before Pops and I shot off to sprint to the finish.

Three chaps in front of us were egging one another on to go faster to the finish line. My competitive instinct kicked in good and proper and Pop and I performed an un-choreographed pincer movement that meant she went one way round the chap in front and I went the other, with the result that her lead was fast closing on his ankles. Oops! I quickly ran round the other way so the poor fella wasn't tripped over. The crowd laughed, I grinned and Poppy giggled as we ran on to cross the line, a few minutes under the hour.

Who am I kidding? I said to M as he appeared. I can't run that slowly in a race, even for flowers! I discovered he'd won the race (39 mins, a top result on a hilly course) and friend Tony said maybe I would get the flowers anyway as a celebration of his win :o)

There wasn't a peep out of Pop in the back on the way home, so I suspect she was snoozing. When we got back, both the dogs had a fish for dogs cube and some cheese by way of celebrating Poppy's first road 10k, then we had to pop into Romsey for supplies. It poured with rain and I was back at the car first. When M got back he had these for me.....

Lovely husband :o)

Hope you all are well and having a nice weekend?

CT :o)

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Merveille Du Jour

A good friend of mine who knows his moths and flutters sent me an email the other day entitled 'Clifden nonpareil' with the information that these rare moths had begun arriving in Hampshire, as they sometimes do at this time of year, having flown over the sea, and was I going to be putting my moth box out to try and attract one by any chance?

I replied that I had not used the moth box for a while, because I had become concerned by the level of collateral damage it inflicts on other species, particularly honey bees who always seemed to fly into it and die.

I have to admit though that I was tempted, just to put it out for one night and see whether I could entice one of these beautiful moths in. They aren't much to look at with their wings closed, being a fairly uniform grey, but when they open them, oh my! The lilac beneath is amazing.

I had almost persuaded myself, especially as there aren't so many other flying folk about now the cooler weather is here and also because it is Merveille time of the year and I haven't seen a Merveille for years.

Anyway, long story short, I was contemplating putting the box out for a night but not feeling altogether comfortable about it when we went out to supper and M accidentally left the bathroom light on. When we got home after a lovely evening I went up to the bathroom to turn the light off and guess who I almost trod on?

A Merveille Du Jour, sitting right there on the shower mat! I couldn't believe it. He'd come in through the open window attracted by the bathroom light. They are very obliging moths as you can see from the fact he sat happily on my finger for photos for ages (after playing a very convincing dead and keeling over with his legs in the air for about ten minutes). You shouldn't have favourites, I know, but I have to admit these have always been one of mine.

Anyway, it answered the question of whether or not I should light the moth box lamp- nature had been gracious and sent one of my favourite moths to me (moths which are not universally seen) without anyone else getting harmed, it would be both greedy and churlish to ask for more. I've been lucky enough to see Clifden's here in the past so I know they do come to the garden and that is enough for me this year.

Hope all are well?


Sunday, 4 November 2018

New Forest Stinger

This was my second running of this New Forest race with a sting in the tail organised by local club, Totton. As we drove through the forest the rain which had been drizzle at home got heavier and heavier. I started to doubt my choice of race vest and skirt, but once we'd arrived and run about a bit I'd warmed up, and as I was doing the 5 rather than 10 mile race, I wasn't really going to be out long enough for the cold to become a problem.

We all gathered at the Ocknell Campsite and headed to the start where the RD didn't keep everyone hanging about and seconds later we all charged off. The 5 and 10 mile races start together and run the first couple of miles together so it was hard to know who was in which race. When we reached the place where the two separated I found myself in a much thinner field and fell in with a lass who was running her first ever trail race today. We chatted for a bit and I warned her that the final hill is a bit of a killer and to save some energy for it, then we came round the corner to a long, steady incline and she dropped back while I went ahead. She caught me towards the top where I'd decided to walk a bit, mindful that I'm still coming back from injury and shouldn't be pushing things too much at this point. Also mindful that after 8 weeks of not being able to train as much as usual I am less fit than I was! After a short walk I felt ready to run again, and caught up and overtook her.

As is usual for me, it was 4 miles into the race before I started to feel comfortable and get into my stride, at that point I was able to pick up the pace and push on a bit and found I was really enjoying flying along through the forest on my own in the rain with the wind blowing. It was refreshing rather than cold and it felt good to feel my heart, lungs and muscles having a proper workout after several weeks of not.

I was on my own for the rest of the race. One guy came bounding past me and zoomed effortlessly away but other than that it was just me alone running through the trees and across the heath. The race was billed as 5 miles but ended up being 5.7. Last year it had been 5.3 miles. I was three minutes faster this year, allowing for the difference in distance, and that is down to all the long mile training I've done during the last ten months.

I finished feeling strong and happy (although I confess I walked up the last, steep but short hill which is the 'sting' in the stinger), and was really pleased to hear when I'd finished that my Romsey Clubmates had won the mens and ladies 5 mile races. Some of the Hares were also there, taking on this tough cross-country race. It's great to see what they are achieving after only seven months of running.

Next weekend, another 10k race, and a long run mid-week to test my hip a bit more.

Hope all of you are well?