Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Marathon fatigue

I love running, honestly I do, but training for the marathon has shown me you can have too much of a good thing. Pre-marathon I trained four or five times a week. I would run two or three times a week, but I would mix it up with a sprint interval session, perhaps some hills with a bit of circuit training thrown in, a cross country session or a nice long amble at the weekend. I might combine this with some classes at the gym, a cross training or weights session or some Pilates.

Variety is the spice of life after all, and it certainly helps to keep the interest and motivation alive. But marathon training has meant a shift in focus and all I do is run, and run, and run. After injuring myself with some ill advised hill work I have steered clear of anything other than steady runs. Sprinting or intervals seem to result in twinges in my calf and the only way I have found to keep with the programme is to keep it simple and just run - a lot.

I know this period of training won't put me off running for good, but I must admit that I can't wait until the marathon is done so that I can call a halt to the monotony of vanilla runs. I want to be able to take a risk or two without the terror of injury stopping me in my tracks.

I surprised by how much I am missing the gym, but whenever I am not running I am either catching up on the work that I have put to one side in order to train, or plain exhausted from all the effort I am putting in, so I have neither the time nor the energy to visit. In a bizarre way I feel as if my fitness is suffering from doing so much training as I am so focussed on one activity, all the rest of me is becoming wobbly and blobby.

All I can say is roll on 22 April, I want to get back to enjoying my workouts again, as opposed to enduring them, but I guess putting up with tedium is all part of honing the mental toughness to make it round 26.2 miles without throwing in the towel. At least this is what I tell myself when all this running gets a bit too much for me.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Stitches and fickle nature of runs

So I went for my long run - 14 miles - perhaps not that epic by some standards, but it was the longest run I have completed since the calf strain incident so I was very pleased. Though I am hoping that the marathon is a touch more scenic that my route as I didn't find the sight of an ancient smashed up cathode ray tube TV and a roadside strewn with battered coke cans, fag packets and other random detritus that uplifting at about the mile 12 mark.

I usually choose my routes to take in the prettier parts of the north London suburb where I live, or else run out towards Hampstead Heath via the neighbouring much more expensive bits of real estate, but for one reason or another on this run I decided to stay nearer to home and took a less salubrious journey. It made me realise how much your surroundings can influence your run.

When I did my last 14-miler it was into Central London, and I still remember the euphoria of cresting Primrose Hill at around the 70 minute mark. As I ran up to the top of this supremely posh park I could see all the landmarks of our capital laid out in front of me, the London Eye curving into the skyline, the BT Tower standing proud, the Shard still awaiting the final touches to its iconic design. How could you fail to be inspired?

Still back to my point which was that despite the less than inspiring landscape around me I managed to complete my long run without any problems. I was a bit achey once I stopped, but other than that there were no ill effects, either during or after the run.

Fast forward a couple of days to my 4-mile recovery run. The day was far more promising, blue skies, sunshine, birds singing - all you need for a great run. Off I trot and all seems well with the world until, at mile three, I feel a stabbing pain under my ribs. I am almost doubled over in pain with the worst stitch I've had since I started running. In fact I haven't even had a stitch since the early days.

I soldiered on for a while, gulping in deep breathes, slowing my pace and trying to recover my rhythm, but in the end it was no good I slowed to a walk and grabbed my side in pain. After five minutes of hobbling along looking like an OAP robbed of her Zimmer frame, I was able to shuffle home at a sedate jog. Just goes to show you never can tell with running, 14 miles might be a doddle, but that doesn't mean 4-miles can't trip you up.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Romance and running

So yesterday was Valentine's Day. I kicked off the day not with breakfast in bed or an exchange of cards and chocs, but with a six-mile run. It was a bit of a strange one as I had decided that because it was to be an early morning outing I should plan my route before I set off. I duly charted a nice run using Google Maps, but as I reached the halfway point of my pre-planned route I realised that I had had a bit of a ditzy moment and measured the course in kilometres not miles. Derrrr.

Rather than being almost home I suddenly had to re-route to tack on another three miles. I ended up on a less than scenic and punishingly uphill route past the local dump and across a busy road or two. Not the nice dawn run through the prettier parts of North London I had planned for this romantic day.

The end result was that I got home hot, sweaty and none to happy. That all changed as I pushed open the door and found a card with my name on it waiting on the doormat. My lovely husband had taken the opportunity of me exiting the house to run to set up a gorgeously romantic breakfast for me.

There were glittery rose shaped candles floating in a pretty bowl, Bucks Fizz sparkling a flute, red roses and the delicious smell of baking croissants. What a perfect post run feast, although I did swap the booze for a glass of milk and I have never scoffed a pastry faster than that crumbly warm croissant.

The only slight downside to all this romance post run was that rather than staring across the table at his beautiful wife, the object of my husband's affections was a sweaty, tired and Lycra clad sight. Still I am hoping this means he loves me no matter how much of a fright I look, which means I am in with a chance of a hug to celebrate post marathon.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Running addiction

When I first took up running it was with the vague aim of getting fit and losing a bit of weight. Little did I know that within the year I would become an addict. Perhaps it is due to my obsessive personality, or perhaps it is just because I haven't had a hobby I was truly passionate about since the long off days when I was a pony mad pre-teen.

Either way I swiftly morphed from a weekend jogger happy to shuffle around the park, water bottle swinging in my hand and sweat dripping off my brow, into some kind of nutter who is never happier than when contemplating their next running-based challenge.

This morning I reeled off the list of races I have signed up to this year - one marathon, two half marathons, a 15K race, an 8.2 mile race and a 10K trail run, I am also registered for another half marathon and am contemplating doing a 5K Race for Life with my sister in the summer. I think the time has come to admit that this is about a whole lot more than just keeping fit.

During the two weeks I had off running thanks to my calf strain I felt a dark depression begin to take hold. At the time I put it down to fears about my training schedule going to pot and ruining my chances of making it round the marathon. Now I rather suspect that it was simply withdrawal symptoms.

Nothing seems to put me off running. I have been out in all weather - snow, rain, ice cold wind. Going on holiday doesn't call a halt to proceedings - I ran on a boiling hot beach in Florida, along the beautiful Northumberland coastline and in Central Park in New York. Sickness and injury does put me out of action, but a mere hangover will not stop me in my tracks and yesterday I rather queasily sweated my way through a four-mile run with a pounding head and rolling stomach.

Those who don't run, simply do not get it. But for me running has woven it's way into who I am. It has made me proud of myself in a way I had not felt for a long time, it's made me braver and more confident, it has taught me how to dig deep and keep going and the value of constantly challenging yourself. So an addict I may be, but this is one habit I do not intend to break.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Run, fat girl, run

I know a lot of people take up running as a means to lose weight, but I appear to be the first person in the world to take up marathon training and immediately begin to pile on the pounds. When I ran a reasonable 40 mins to an hour two or three times a week, combined with a few gym workouts and core conditioning sessions I consistently lost weight, shedding over six stone in the space of a year.

Well done me, but then I entered the marathon and upped my running in order to train for the massive challenge I had set myself. I imagined that by running 10 or 11 miles regularly, and burning around 1,000 calories in the process, the weight would fall off me. I would acquire the lean and honed body of a long distance runner and finally shed the last 4lbs I have been battling with for the past few months.

How wrong can you be? Instead I have put on around half a stone in the space of about two weeks since my training began in earnest. I credit this to a lethal cocktail of sub-zero temperatures that lead me to want to do nothing more than eat comforting, warming (read fattening) food and the hunger that comes upon you after a long run in the freezing cold.

I have trained myself to be pretty good a resisting all that yummy food we all love to indulge in. I spent a year turning down cakes, crisps and all that refined junk I know makes me fat. But when I ran in after doing 11 miles in the snow yesterday the coffee birthday cake left over from the twins' party was singing to me to eat it up. I felt that I deserved it after my ice cold run and gave in to its siren song.

This morning as I stood on the scales which had inched up yet again I regretted my weakness. Far from a lithe frame, I am worried that I will be dragging a fat girl around the course come April 22nd.

Clearly all the guff about calories in and calories out has bypassed my metabolism and it doesn't matter how far I run, I still have to live on lentils and grilled chicken if I want to ensure that my size 10 jeans will still slip on after the marathon - BOO!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Making tracks in the snow

If you read this blog you will know that I have been out of action with a calf strain for a while, which has been hindering my marathon training. This week was my first back and I have been doing well on my new schedule. I managed 10 miles over the same route that killed my calf on Friday, so I was feeling a touch more confident about staying the course.

That was until snow struck London. Normally I love the white stuff. It's the perfect excuse to stay tucked up and cosy indoors and I can't help but feel a little bit festive when the landscape is quilted in snow. But this weekend I was determined to stick to the plan which meant a 4-mile run today. Not a huge distance, but I still don't want to miss a single training session out after losing two weeks to my mangled calf.

I went to bed last night watching the flakes whirl in the yellow light of the streetlamp outside our window. I woke up to see the park behind the house blanketed in a soft, white down of snow. The branches of the tree that towers outside our house were bowing under the weight the flakes, occasionally jettisoning a load onto an unsuspecting passerby.

Usually the park is packed with runners on a Sunday morning. This morning I saw a sole jogger battling his way through the drifts as kids built snowmen and threw snowballs all around him. What, I wondered, should I do? I desperately wanted to run, but equally I know what damage an injury can do to a tight training schedule so I didn't want to take an unnecessary risk.

In the end with some encouragement from friends on Facebook I decided to brave the elements, strap my Yaktrax Pro onto my trail shoes and get out of the house. I am so glad I did. I stepped high like a gazelle over the drifts made by people clearing their drives and trotted an easy four and a half miles around the local park, transformed from its usual bland urban green space into a wonderland of ice, snow and friendly locals enjoying the weather.

I only saw one other pair of runners, gingerly picking their way around a playing field, but I felt all warm and cosy inside that I was a serious enough runner to make it out come hell or high snow drifts (OK around 10cm, but that is big for London). It was a joyous run and no injury occurred, so a positive result all round. Best of all I am still bang on track with my training. Hurrah.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Now that's dedication

I know that for ultramarathon runners who think nothing of tackling a 100-mile slog across desert or arctic plains, training up rocky hill and down bog-ridden dale this morning's Siberian temperatures would have been as nothing.

For this recreational runner though pounding the pavements as the icy wind crept under my hat and my breath rose in crystalline clouds in front of me proved my dedication to running. I will admit that as I couldn't feel my fingers, toes or the tip of my nose I did rather wonder just why I was out on this ice cold morning. It was bloody freezing.

Then I rounded the corner and stepped into in a golden patch of sunlight. For a moment a shred of warmth licked at my running tights and I glanced up into the aqua blue sky to see a brave sun glaring out onto this cold day. OK, this was why I was out and about, because stuck in my house I would never have been able to savour the fleeting warm caress of the sunshine, made all the more delicious by the bone chilling temperature of the day.

It reminded me of skiing holidays when you are just about to throw your poles down in disgust as the cold in your feet has gradually turned to an insistent burning pain, but then you are gripped by the magnificent beauty of the mountains, stark white against the ice blue sky and suddenly you are glad you aren't dug down deep beneath a warm duvet.

That said on skiing holidays there are usually 1,001 reasons other than the cold why I want to down poles and retreat to a warm cafe for a vin chaude. But that is because I have learned through bitter experience that vertigo and a generally nervous disposition around slippery surfaces means that I am not a natural when it comes to winter sports.

While I admire my dedication for sticking with programme even in sub-zero temperatures, I do rather long for warmer days, when I don't have to dress up like an eskimo to go out for a run, and when it doesn't take me most of the time I am out just to warm up. Brrr.