Friday, 25 November 2011

Running in Central Park

I have just managed to tick off something from my list of things to do before you die. I will admit it is a relatively new addition as I can't imagine I would have been tempted a few years ago, but that didn't make fulfilling this dream any less exciting. This weekend I was in New York courtesy of my most fantastic husband, and in between racking up scary debts in Macys I managed to squeeze in a run in Central Park.

I will admit that the main driving force behind this ambition was seeing Charlotte in Sex and the City jogging around the reservoir, but the reality was so much better than I imagined. Although the park itself isn't that big - its only about 10K if you run all the way around it - it is the setting that makes it special.

The bucolic surroundings are pretty enough, but it is the ring of skyscrapers that tower above you that makes so thrilling. The double towers of the Ghostbusters Building, the pretty green roof of the Plaza peeping above the trees, these are things you don't see while pounding the streets of Finchley. The blaring of taxi horns and the screech of sirens provide the soundtrack to your run, but it was my fellow runners who were the most alien.

The first thing I noticed was how slow American runners appear to be. I suspect their must be some new fangled trend for slow running, as when I am in London I am forever overtaken by fellow runners who zoom past me putting my plodding pace to shame, but in NY I felt a bit like Usain Bolt. Barring one particularly crazy woman who was sprinting along in freezing temperatures in a tiny sports bra and only-just-there shorts everyone else appeared to be ambling along which meant I sped past even at at my slower than usual sightseeing tourist runner pace.

It was quite nice to be one of the fastest on the track for once, but the moment I got home and went for a run I was put back in my place as a grey haired veteran zipped past me so fast I only caught a glimpse of his old school baggy shorts and T-shirt as he disappeared into the distance.

Back to Central Park, as well as the slow runners I also found myself caught up in what I can only assume was a 5K for Jesus. There was the usual crowd of racers, some attempting to beat the throng and actually achieve a PB, most walking or slow jogging along with a look on their sweaty faces which said nothing so clearly as "I wish I stayed in bed this morning, instead of ruining my weekend by signing up for this run'. But what set many of them apart was that they were dressed up as nuns.

Along the way there were motivational posters with Christian messages of encouragement. I know that on particularly arduous runs I do appeal to the almighty, but I never considered that Jesus could actually help to up my pace. Another nod to the son of God was the fact that the post race snack was that favourite of all Jewish boys - a fresh bagel. I was tempted to pretend that I was actually running in the race and sneakily snaffle one, but was worried I might be smite down if I were to steal from a Christian race.

Still it was a colourful blob of American culture and made my route much less confusing as I could simply follow the crowd of nuns on the run, even if I did have to make a detour to find the path around the reservoir made famous by SATC. Sadly I intended to post a picture of this, but when I looked at my iPhone I discovered that I had my finger over the lens in all the shots.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Going the distance

For any marathon runners out there my achievements will probably seem paltry, but I am feeling very proud of myself after completing my longest ever run yesterday. Like most runners who have the handicap of a family my long runs tend to be consigned to the weekend, when I am most able to escape for more than a snatched hour and this was no exception.

Courtesy of a horrible tummy bug I hadn't run for three days, perhaps not the best preparation for my first attempt at breaking the 1hr time barrier, though I do sometimes find that a bit of time off (albeit not due to such an unfortunate reason) can help to make you a bit fresher for a run. Apparently this is called tapering - I was quite embarrassed to discover that 'all' runners know about this from Running Free magazine, well all runners apart from me that is.

Back to my run. I set off and had the usual struggle for the first half hour. I am really not surprised that most people say they hate running as the majority probably never get beyond this hellish starting point. I felt tired, weak and generally not in the mood, but soldiered on as at least I was out of my house which was infested with grumpy children. Anywhere, even slogging up a hill on dead legs, was better to be than there.

Gradually I got into my stride, perhaps in part due to the AudioFuel Run Free CD I had downloaded to my iPhone. I should add at this point that my blog is in no way sponsored and nor have I received a single freebie (boo) so if I mention something it is because I have used it and liked it. Though I did get the CD free from an old colleague who edits all the great fitness content on NHS Choices.

The CD is a good combination of music which helps to set a beat to which you run and the odd, not too annoying, training tip thrown in. I like the way it tells you how long you have been running as I hate wearing a watch or having to fiddle around with my phone to see what time it is. So after about 40 minutes I had got into my stride and was enjoying taking in the autumnal scenery and generally relishing being outdoors and running.

Not all of my route is so scenic though, I do envy runners who live in prettier parts of the country. I ran at Druridge Bay in Northumberland while I was on holiday this summer and that really is a heavenly part of the country. You can cover 10K and not even notice it in such beautiful surroundings. The same cannot be said for pounding the pavements of our Capital. I have had to dodge splashes of vomit and blood decorating the streets after a weekend night, but such is the joy of running in London.

I didn't let this put me off though and hit my target of running for 90 minutes and covered 14.5K (just over 9 miles to those working in imperial measures) so I am feeling more confident about tackling a half marathon next year. Now just on the hunt for one that is a bit sooner than July.....

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Mud, glorious mud

I love running off road. It's not just that it is hard to be inspired by the endless identikit semis that make up the landscape of the particular part of North London where I live, it's that the challenge of new terrain makes running that bit more absorbing. Leaping over ruts and avoiding pot holes, ducking under branches and dodging grazing cows is a bit more exhilerating than pounding the pavements.

The problem is that my trusty Nike trainers are simply not up to the job. The moment the ground becomes slippery they are sliding away from under me as if I were on Dancing on Ice. Not fun, because as a mum the very thought of an injury that would leave me incapacitated is enough to make my blood run cold. How would my household continue to function if I were to suddenly be unable to run around after the boys? I shudder to think.

To this end I decided it is time to invest in a pair of trail shoes, so I don't have to give up my favourite off road routes when the bad weather sets in. I have a strange aversion to coughing up for specialist kit. That jeer hurled at all newbies to any sport 'All the gear and no idea' is always rattling around in the back of my mind.

I sort of feel that if I can't say I have a marathon or two under my belt, buying specialist shoes has a whiff of showing off. Add to which funds are, as usual, pretty tight so I don't want to waste money on footwear I won't get much use from.

In the end I went along to my trusty running shoe advisors at Sweatshop in North Finchley and after a long and informative chat about everything from the benefits of running in muddy terrain to which gels taste best I left with a hideously garish pair of Adidas Kanadia 4 TR in neon pink and yellow. Why I wonder would you make trail shoes designed for running in mud in pink? Still they were the best (and cheapest) shoe for the job so I will sink my principles and forgive their pinkness.

It was well worth it though as I took them out to test them yesterday on my muddiest route and had a gorgeous 50 minute easy run through the countryside (or what passes for it in my suburban corner of London). While I am not sure they would be up to a run on snow, they were man (or should that be girly given their horrible colour) enough for the job on the muddy trails I frequent.  

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Speed demon?

I love running, hence the existence of this blog, but what I can't quite seem to get my legs around (oo err) is running fast. It's not that I don't want to, I would love to be swift and agile, but I just can't seem to turbo charge my pace. I am a fantastic plodder and I can pound away for miles without too much effort, but up my pace and I turn an instant puce and want to puke.

I know that speed training is the key to improving my race times and to putting more power into my pace, but I just can't bring myself to enjoy it. I tried out a new treadmill workout from Runners World, called the Speed Demon. On paper it looked quite straightforward - always good for a nervous treadmill user like me, but half way through I thought I was going to collapse.

I am not a quitter when it comes to working out so I sweated my way through to the end, but it was tough and I only picked a top speed of 12Kph, which I know to more seasoned runners is a walk in the park.

Thing is I am just not sure I was built for speed. Taking a look at nippier runners they are tiny and delicate, with nimble and lean limbs - the human equivalent of a thoroughbred horse, while I am more a Shetland pony, all shaggy hair, sturdy legs and obstinate temperament. Still at least Shetlands are tough and hardwearing, so while I may never break any records for speed I hope that my sturdy thighs will be better at learning to carry me the distance.