Edinburgh is a hilly city – and where I live is about 500ft above sea level, at the foot of the Pentland Hills – so running uphill is an inevitable feature of the return leg of my runs (unless I cheat and drive to a flat start ; ) )
When I have been doing monthly run streak challenges – and often following the same route – I can pretty much tell what shape I am in by how tough the uphill return leg home feels. And just as I know the length of most of the nearby streets to calculate how many to cover a 3-mile distance, I have worked out a number of uphill return options ranging from the direct ‘get it over with’ straight up path, to one that weaves me home ‘chicane like’ to ease the gradient.
So of the many running bogeys I might have, running up hills is not the biggest one ( although I reserve the right to say the complete opposite at any given point in the 26.2 mile marathon course )!
Hill reps are featuring in my training plan – and as I seem to have been moaning a bit about training – I thought to redress the balance I would say I don’t mind the hill sessions as much as the speedwork. Although they are tough at the time – and it feels better when it’s over – I can understand why making yourself run up hills over and over again is one way to develop some of the mental strength needed to get through an endurance run. And also functional strength by running against a gradient.
I have completed 2 hill rep sessions – one on the pavement on a long hill of shallow to med gradient- that was ok if not in the most interesting of surroundings. I think the choice of good distracting music or podcast is a key to getting through reps. I was as I often am running listening to a podcast of Cerys Mathews Sunday R6 show – good chat and music, but maybe not best for hill reps.
My other hill rep session I did on an off road hill – it was shorter than Sally had asked for but steeper than the pavement run. On a frosty morning at around 8.30 it was lovely to run in the hills alone save for a few deer who crossed my path.
Sally continues to keep me on my toes and deliver her unique version of coaching – lots of tough love I think is a good way to describe it. This past week she has been reminding me that I need to build myself up as I don’t want to just be stumbling through the marathon and taking forever to finish. And how come marathon day I will probably start to feel pretty awful from around mile 18 onwards so I will need all the mental strength I have to get me to the finish. She does not sweeten the pill and brushes off my bleating about the length of sessions and my other complaints. Which I hope is both her way of managing my expectations – and getting me match fit for the day.
Marathon training continues. Week 2 of the plan and after my stumbling attempts at dealing with the Garmin and the concept of threshold running – this week I was attempting a speed session.
I FEAR SPEED
There is a reason why I opt for longer distance events and enjoy regular social running over 5ks and other competitive short races. This kind of running provides just the right balance of effort and mind sorting to keep me coming back for more and stay reasonably fit. But if I had all the time in the world, my exercise of choice would be walking. I love the meditative effect of walking and it is by far the best for observation.
My fear of speed possibly comes from not really seeing myself as a sporty type. Sure, when I was a youngster I could sprint if pressed and I may even have managed to deal with cross-country once or twice at school. I played hockey in a desultory fashion – positioned on the wing where mostly I stood around for long periods freezing half to death – until someone passed the ball and I would then sprint, in a vaguely heroic fashion, towards the goal passing to the strikers to do their stuff.
So I must have been able to run fast then – aged 15 – and somehow coordinate that with dribbling a hockey ball. But hockey aside, fast running and athletics was something other people did. Girls like Deirdre who won all the sports competitions or Melanie who was an ‘all rounder’ being arty, athletic and academic.
I was largely a bystander when it came to competitive sports and wind forward 40 years and my views that running fast was something that ‘other people do’ has not really changed.
Back to the plan – as I had not managed to go to parkrun to test me over 5k – Sally wanted me to recreate it somehow and so the speed sesh went: jog for 10 mins,then run for 1 mile ‘as fast as you can’ x 3 with 3 minutes recovery between. ( expected effort 8-9 )
Jeez – well I was already stressing about running fast, but running fast for a whole mile – how is that even possible? A mile is forever.
Deciding where to run was a bit of a thought, as I was looking for somewhere to run a mile preferably on the flat without too many stops or obstacles. Finding places to do these different types of training sessions is, along with understanding terms like threshold and intervals, all part of acquiring a new running toolkit.
Weighing up the options, I decided on the Meadows – a large leafy park, 4 miles from where I live. The Meadows has lots of criss-crossing paths but also a 1.8mile circuit wide enough to keep a steady pace and with plenty of distractions to keep me motivated.
Although I had driven part of the way there – I parked the car about 2 miles from the Meadows and started my warm up part of the session on the canal path. This seemed a good way to avoid traffic hold-ups and paying for parking, but I was probably running a bit fast for a warm up. I was stressing about the idea of being able to run a fast mile – and when stressed I tend to run faster in a hope to get it over with- unfortunately, I don’t have the fitness to sustain this approach!
I got to the Meadows – after a 20 minute warm up at prob 9.5 min mi pace, then started the first ‘fast as I could go’ mile. I began sprinting – but even as I was doing this I was thinking – how is it possible to keep going at this rate – and surely she does not mean sprinting – Usain Bolt only sprints for 9 seconds – I AM NOT USAIN BOLT.
I think this is what sports and other psychologists call negative self-talk – but you get my drift, of course I know I am not Usain Bolt, or Paula Radcliffe, or Mo Farah, and I know I just have to try and run as fast as I can, but all the time I am thinking
“I just can’t do this – running fast is for other people, I feel sick and what is the point of this anyway – I am not going to run fast for 26.2 miles, why am I doing this , I hate running, my foot hurts, I need the loo, how far have I run – what only 0.3 of a mile? – Sally is crazy*
( * also possibly some other not so nice thoughts going through my mind about Sallyat this time)
So this went on for a bit – but I was not going to stop, so what I did instead was slow down a bit and just try and see if I could manage some sort of faster pace for the mile ( perhaps aim for the beautifully described ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ threshold pace)
When doing any kind of interval or timed effort like this – in the fast sections they seem to take FOREVER to finish and you dream of the recovery, but then the recovery period, even at a glorious 3 minutes duration, just seems to be over in an instant and then it is back to running fast for a mile all over again.
Well, I got through the session after a fashion and a loo stop ( more learning – maybe ease up on the lentils the night before ) and of course once completed I did feel good. Whilst horrible at the time, I have noticed that upping the pace and doing any exercise that takes me out of my comfort zone, into a higher level of intensity – does give a juicy endorphin high afterwards.
I just need to wire that positive thought into my brain before the next speed session.
So after the irrational decision making and mild euphoria that accompanied signing up to do a marathon – some time in a land far,far away – and with the excuses of December excess and family celebrations behind me – I found myself at week 1 of training for the marathon.
AKA when shit got real – although I am way too polite to use that kind of colourful language 😉
So it is January 9 and a full 4 months or 19 weeks or 131 days till May 21. By any measurement , quite some time till I have to stand on the start line and ask the question “why I am doing this ?”
Knowing that it is both a serious undertaking and one that I am taking seriously, I was quite excited to read what Sally had in store for me.
Earlier Sally had asked casually – “so you have a Garmin do you?” – to which I replied that no, I did not own a Garmin and actually had a bit of a fear of sports watches.
I tried one a while back but could never understand how to set pace, time, distance, the final frontier – whatever – and furthermore I could not read the screen when I was wearing my contact lenses and as to changing the time when the clocks went forward in Spring – well that was never going to happen!
I am fond of a bit of statistical insight – loving as I do counting the miles covered using my Nike+ app and I am partial to some gadgets, but as my family will testify, I do have some ‘issues’ around technology.
Added to this – when I did run with a sports watch and heart rate monitor, it was constantly beep, beep, beeping at me in a panicky kind of way and I could never get my heart rate into a range that did not suggest I was about to keel off my perch.
But – it turns out that as part of the marathon training we are going to share data and Sally will then adapt my training plan for the following week, depending on how well or badly I am progressing.
She will watch my heart beating,and my little legs running from afar, and be my very own spy in the cab. In the nicest possible way, big sister will be watching me .
So I bought a Garmin.
I could easily write a whole separate post on the subject of the vortex you can descend into when trying to choose a branded sports watch – but let’s leave that for another time.
Back to training. Week 1 plan asked me to do as a start -10 steady miles wearing Garmin and HR monitor – to set a benchmark. I was not too fazed by the prospect of the distance, particularly as the term ‘steady’ sounds nice and cosy, but with hindsight, it might have been a smarter move to go for a short test run wearing the Garmin to get the hang of the controls before attempting ten miles.
Instead I took delivery of the Garmin at around 11am – spent an hour and a bit waiting for it to fully charge then set out on my run.
Sports watches have got better than I remembered and the Garmin Forerunner 25 does look quite smart – if you like that kind of thing. Importantly it has a nice clear face with big numbers and reasonably straightforward interface and menu.
Having never used a Garmin or completed this kind of techno enabled test before – I was not sure if it was OK to stop or if stopping would mess up the readings sent to Sally, or even worse end the run before 10 miles. And if I was pausing it all over the place as I tend to do on my regular weekend meanderings, Sally might think I was fitter, and faster than I really am.
And as this was the first time I was using the watch, I was not completely sure what button to use to stop and start it again !
Having this fear of technology did provide an unusual incentive to just keep running and at a decent pace. I had to abandon my usual whimsical pauses for photos or observations, as this was a serious training exercise 🙂 So I was very pleased to see that after 5 and bit miles I was managing an average pace of just over 9 min mi – fast for me.
post run fuelling
But at the turning point I took a risk and pressed the stop button- which it turns out does pause the recording, so I took a few minutes to eat a disgusting gel and then did the return 5 miles. I had opted for a known route – an out into the wind gradual incline , followed by a downhill with wind behind you, return leg.
On the return leg I felt I was properly running like a proper runner – and with the wind at my back and endorphins buzzing I was visualising breezing or at least managing to get through the marathon 26.2 miles ( after some decent training obviously). It was a good feeling to be fit enough to manage 10 miles at an OK pace having been mostly doing shorter runs in December.
Euphorically I reached the 10 mile distance and triumphantly pressed the stop button – kind of hoping for a cheer , but definitely expecting to see some kind of summary of stats. I was keen to see if my heart was working ( even tho obviously it was 😉 and my inner running nerd was firing up to get my report card of pace, cadence, elevation and the like.
But instead of a list of accomplishments – the screen went a bit funny and pixellated and the numbers were all mangled, the display was frozen and no amount of button pressing was making any difference. Even when I got back to the house – the screen was still set in the same way.
Looking on the Garmin support page – it helpfully suggested ‘if screen has frozen try resetting it – but THIS MAY RESULT IN A LOSS OF DATA
Luckily I was also wearing my Nike+ app – so proof that those miles really did happen,even if I still did not know if my heart was working as it should.
So 10 mile run done ✔️- but I did kind of fail the first attempt of training with technology and I sense this may be a recurring theme of this adventure.
It turns out that those of us with star sign Capricorn are sure-footed late developers. I am definitely given to a bit of pondering and weighing up of options on significant decisions before jumping right in – but whether this is written in the stars or just how I am depends on how much store you may put on astrology and other unscientific interpretations of life.
Astrology aside, in a rare impulsive moment ( following a year-long debate with myself), I signed up for a marathon. I don’t want to fully admit to going through a bit of a mid-life wobble – but how else to explain why I voluntarily forked out £ 55 to let me run for many hours covering a distance of 26.2 miles on my own 2 feet ?
I have no idea !!!
Having running as my hobby of choice for 8 years, I have often thought that a marathon was maybe something I should really do at some point – a natural progression as it were. But when discussing the marathon experience with fellow runners – I can’t say it got a ringing endorsement !
And unfortunately as a moderately experienced runner and reluctant competitor – when it comes to thinking what taking part in a marathon might entail – I do not have the benefit of blissful ignorance. Not for me that unfettered happiness, or joyful optimism of just setting out to ‘do a marathon’ with no insight as to how shit I might feel before the end.
I have run a few half marathons – and I know and remember how tough it can be to keep running for a long time in a race and just how much you have to dig deep to find mind tricks to help you cover the distance. Maybe if you are a proper runner who runs a 10 miler daily as a small ‘amuse bouche’ of your running diet , or you are a dedicated competitor who loves winning above pain – then this overrides any negative self talk.
But as I am neither of these, each time I have completed a half marathon – at around mile 10 or 11- I think ‘I am not doing this EVER again’ followed quickly by the recognition that of course to get to the end I just need to keep going for about 25 or more minutes or the equivalent of just one ‘December run’ or I try to break it down to how many songs in 3 miles – 7, 8 ?
Then of course as I cross the finish line, I experience a level of euphoria that is hard to convey – but never at that point have I had a desire to just loop back and do it all again.
But as the most excellent Erica Jong said – Feel the Fear and do it anyway, and so I am 🙂
I am signed up for the inaugural Stirling marathon on May 21st – if I finish it I am guaranteed a PB and if I get the marathon bug ( unlikely ) I could be one of those folk who do it every year until I crumble into a crinkly heap.
To help me make this big leap – I am working with Sally at fitnaturally who is providing a training plan and to be honest she has helped me have the confidence to even contemplate this big challenge. I will be writing about my ventures into this new territory.