|With RRR club buddy Keith|
I've got a lot on my plate at the moment, lots to sort out, manage and work through. Almost all of it is coming from other people, as is often the way! Left to ourselves, M and I would have a largely peaceful, untroubled existence, but life isn't like that, heh? There's not been a great deal of let up in it over the past few weeks and it's tiring. It also doesn't form the best backdrop when you're trying to prepare for a race. Because of this, I wasn't sure how the Lytchett ten mile would go yesterday.
In an attempt to at least put the things I could influence in order, I met up with three of my most experienced and talented running buddies at various stages over last week to talk running-related hiccups through with them. In my job, I am used to being the one that people come to for advice, solutions and support, so it's a different experience for me to be the one asking others for the same.
One of these friends is a seriously talented runner; he qualified for the London marathon last year by getting a championship place and his marathon PB is close to 2:45. He's also a doctor, and someone who doesn't speak unless he's thought properly about what he's saying. He's also someone who keeps his achievements quiet so you find out from others exactly how good he is. He was my first port of call for advice.
You may remember that last year I had some custom orthoses made up to help with the knee pain I was experiencing. I've run in them for a year and while that knee pain has resolved, I've now got it in the other leg, which suggests to me either they've outlived their usefulness, or I never needed them in the first place. I don't want to run in them any more, but coming out of orthoses is fraught with counter-advice with some podiatrists saying you can't and others saying you can but you must do it very slowly, and still others saying if they aren't working it's better to just remove them.
Runners are obsessed with their feet and the shoes they put them in: the running shoe market is huge and (I think) over-engineered and over-priced. You're talking £120 for a pair of runners which last anything from 350-500 miles. If you're running long distances regularly you can end up changing them every 2-3 months, which is expensive and bad for the environment. I'm feeling more and more grumpy about it, so last week I bought a new trial pair for £50 to see whether you really do need to spend £120 or not.
Shoes are a mind-boggling minefield of advice and counter-advice and if you're not careful you can end up utterly bogged down in it, worrying yourself into a corner and unable to run without wondering whether you're doing yourself harm. I don't do well in situations like that, I get so far then I get fed up and go my own way, regardless of what 'experts' tell me. I'd much rather listen to the people who've run for years and seen it all, been through it all and done it all.
My doctor friend and I talked all these things over for an hour and I left feeling better and with some useful things to think about.
Next I talked to a friend who is training for a 100 mile run. She's an amazing person, another one who doesn't brag about her achievements but who regularly goes out and clocks up these long, long miles. She's also calm and experienced and had lots of helpful insights and suggestions.
On Saturday evening a third friend came round to strap my ankle which has been aching and to talk injury and niggles. She's got the science knowledge, knows how all the bones and muscles fit and work together in runners, and as someone who completed her first Iron Man last year in a super-speedy time also has bags of practical running experience over all distances and terrains and in all conditions.
All three of them said more or less the same thing, which was basically that you can worry too much about every little detail and while some things do need special attention, most don't; you learn to differentiate them with experience. Coming out of orthoses was something they all supported too- we agreed there is a place for them, some people benefit from them, but they aren't a panacea: date, don't marry was the general theme :o)
Feeling reassured, I went to bed in a more positive frame of mind.
Sunday dawned wet and windy. The rain stopped just ahead of the race start and off I went, minus the orthoses and in a brand new pair of running shoes, which breaks all the rules but I was pretty confident it would work out. I set off at a steady pace, threading my way through the field, holding back from going too fast because this is a hilly course but enjoying feeling fresh and full of energy. I'd taken two days off ahead of the race and had put my feet up in the afternoons because I've not been feeling well for a couple of weeks and decided I needed some down time to rest, and it seemed to have paid off.
My 10 mile PB over a flatter course than Lytchett was 1:30 which I ran two years ago. About 5k in to the race it dawned on me that I was feeling strong, running well and could possibly have a crack at beating that time. I knew if I could get in at 1:29 I would be really chuffed, particularly after all the niggles and aches and pains and worries I've had to deal with recently.
I focused on imagining the lack of orthoses as a benefit and the new shoes as the right pair that worked well for my feet and that I could run freer as a result and kept pushing forward, but keeping a steady pace. The hills worked in my favour and before I knew it I was overtaking and overtaking some more. I was really enjoying it. The countryside was lovely, the weather was good and it felt utterly blissful to be running strongly and more-or-less pain free on a proper long-distance race.
The people were lovely too- the marshals were great, a really positive, enthusiastic, cheerful bunch, full of smiles and well dones; the people out on the course watching the runners were clapping and cheering and my fellow competitors were generous at encouraging one another, even when they were being overtaken.
About 6.5 miles in I fell in behind a lady who was storming up the hills, running really strong and making them look effortless. As the land levelled out and I drew up next to her I told her she was doing brilliantly and helping me get up the hills. We ran together for the next mile or so, chatting, and then as the course started to head downhill and I looked at my watch I realised I could break my previous time if I stepped the pace up. I went ahead and could feel her falling back so I called over my shoulder to encourage her to keep on my heels.
I found myself running at 4.40 then 4.35 mins/km, much faster than normal, but feeling really good on it. All that long distance running and hill work has improved my endurance fitness no end. The next km clocked in at 4.23 and I knew I was going to be able to keep it up to the finish as long as there weren't any more hills.
I came round the corner with half a mile to go and my heart sank as the road led uphill, with a small flood at the bottom. I lost perhaps 20 seconds, but then it levelled out again, my pace picked up again, another small hill slowed me down again then suddenly the finish was ahead. I raced as fast as I could for the line and crossed it in 1:26, knocking four minutes off my previous time. Happy is an understatement :o)
The lovely lady from the hills came in a few minutes after me and we had a hug and congratulated each other. There aren't many areas in life where you hug a complete stranger and both know it's sincere. It's one of the things I love about running- how total strangers form a bond for the duration of a race and help one another out during it. I keep in touch with two runners I met that way, one who ran the final 3 miles of my first marathon with me and really kept me going, and another I raced at a local 10k. We're friends on Strava which means we can see what we've all been doing with our training and leave messages about races where we might meet up again. It's a really nice part of doing the competitions.
M's face was a picture when I finished- he'd decided not to enter the race so had been out on a training run round the local villages and had only just made it back in time to see me cross the finish line. I'm not having any of this "I'll be such-and-such-a-time", he said, grinning. The next time you give me an estimated finish time I'm knocking at least five minutes off it. Which is quite a big complement, coming from him :o)
So, happy days and I feel like I've learnt a lot in the past week too. Running helps me cope with the trickier/ more demanding elements of life, the things we all have to find a way of managing and getting through and finishing a race where I felt I ran strong and put in a good time is the perfect antidote to a stressful time.
Hope you're all well?