Absence makes the heart grow fonder – how to rekindle my running love ?

bit of a story follows so maybe get a cup of tea first ūüôā¬†

tea bag slogan

It is 9 years since I started running Рby that I mean it was in 2009 that I started running regularly and called it my hobby Рin May of that year I ran my first race. In the ensuing 9 years my relationship with running has been a good one Рand through running, I have found great friendships both in real life and online. Over the years,  me and my running pastime have had our ups and downs but largely my love of everything to do with running has been an enduring one.

Throughout this time – running for me has been first and foremost a social activity with an exercise bonus. I do enter races – but usually with a level of ambivalence and a love/hate relationship with the training regime. I enjoy having a goal to focus on or a challenge to complete and have done a few run streaks.

Following a few years of running 10ks and half marathons – last year I trained for and completed a marathon and found the experience of training for the distance and the race itself quite a watershed in how I felt about running.

Devon sunset picture
Devon sunset

During the months leading up to the race, I realised that running could no longer be mainly a social thing – 26.2 miles is a long way for anyone to run and for someone of average fitness and the wrong side of 50, I knew I had to take it seriously and respect the distance.

I had to selfishly focus on my training schedule and sideline the running I enjoyed the most – so I put my social runs on the back burner or when I could I weaved them into my training schedule.

While this was a bit of a blow,  as the weeks passed I did start to appreciate the feeling of gaining in strength and confidence as I followed a progressive training plan and listened to my coach. Over time I saw that I could run distances of 15, 17, 19, 20 miles and feel OK the next day. I started to see it as fairly normal to train 4 or 5 days a week Рand to rattle off a 9 mile session with some speed work ( YUK ) or a hill rep sesh.  I loved how when I went to a Body pump class or Pilates I felt a strength and confidence in my body I had not experienced before.

While adhering to my training schedule was mostly motivated by fear of failure – as the weeks passed it felt good to feel strong. This was a first for me – up till then –¬† I would describe myself as a reluctant sportsperson, and one lacking in any competitive edge. In May of last year –¬† marathon day – I am pleased to report I had a largely storybook ending – completing the 26.2 mile distance in a decent time of 4 hrs 40 minutes and joining the club of marathon runners.

marathon tee shirt
in my finishers tee shirt

After the months of marathon training – it was lovely to return to running without a purpose and to be back running with friends and without goals.

Freedom to run or freedom to not run – how joyous !

Post marathon – I got back into my regular weekend run routine – but had no desire to enter any races, despite the voices saying – run a half marathon after a marathon and you will get a PB – but the thought of having to push myself to run at pace just held no appeal.

And so it continued – the longer I was from the marathon the less inclined I was to set any goals, and my mileage dropped.

I think there are runners who on completing one challenge immediately look for the next one – whether that be to improve on a time or increase the distance – but not me. Others find the time post marathon to be a tough one, feeling a bit directionless and struggle with motivation and this has been my experience. Not only have I have lost the motivation sometimes to go out for a run but I have no inclination to put myself through any racing challenge or test.

Trying to shake this off, earlier this year I entered the Edinburgh half marathon thinking it would give me the incentive needed to reignite running love – only to bail out the week before.

So a bit late in the day, I am declaring 2018 the year of not racing – and perhaps acknowledging that I am going through something of a 9-year itch with my running relationship.

I do run – just not very far and not nearly as often.

Then about a month ago when on holiday I was out for a  hot, slow run on a stony path and twisted my ankle, spraining it badly enough to mean that running was off the menu for a full 2 weeks.

Well of course when I was not able to run due to injury –¬† I felt bereft and missed my dear old friend. I¬† wondered what I would do if I could no longer run, and of course, there seemed to be runners everywhere and I had a massive dose of runner’s envy and FOMO all rolled into one.

It seems that absence makes the heart grow fonder – even where running is concerned.

Have you experienced a loss of running motivation – and any tips for getting through it ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

sunshine parkrun

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I have spoken before of the love / hate relationship I have with parkrun, and none more so than when it is included as part of my marathon training session. Not for me just sauntering along to parkrun to soak up the family atmosphere and by way of a footnote, benchmark my time over the 5k distance.

When parkrun is included on my training schedule it is because Sally wants me to run fast. And to me being asked to do parkrun is the equivalent of when, as a teen, my maths teacher would announce without warning that there would be a quick test of how well we were doing in calculus.

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I wonder how many marathon newbies feel the same way ¬†– and rather than dreading the long run, instead look forward to the relief of running 17 miles at a steady, conversational ‘slow is good here’ pace over the prospect of running 3.1 miles as fast as possible.

The course in the original Edinburgh parkrun is along the Cramond foreshore, and is a pretty nice out and back on a flat, even surface – it can be windy, but out and back is better than multiple laps I tend to think.

On Saturday I arrived at parkrun a bit early – my game plan was to try to run for a couple of miles first to settle my nerves and kid me into seeing the second 3.1 miles as just part of a regular run. (this was contrary to Sally’s instructions which were to warm up with several short sprints – or strides but it seems I like to live with the danger of reprimand ;).

The sun was shining, the air was calm – amazingly there was not a breath of wind.

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I felt myself go clammy at the prospect of having no valid reason to not do as I was told namely – race it and go full pelt at the final section.

Soon it was time to start – and surrounded by the warmth of happy runners of all ages, shapes and fitness levels, I set off. Somehow I had managed to be further to the back of the pack than I maybe should have been, so it was a slow start. I knew I was not going very fast weaving my way through, so as the field spread out, I started to gradually increase my pace and move forward, kind of picking off runners ahead of me.

I did not have the pacer set on the Garmin, but Nike + told me that I was doing around 9 min mi pace after the first mile, which was not really accurate but it did feel like a pace I could sustain. All I had to do was stick at this pace and hope I would still have the legs to go full pelt at the end!

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Whether because of the lack of wind, or me getting over nerves, or perhaps I have gradually got better at running faster Рbut I was able to sustain the pace and continued catching up runners in my own tortoise-like version of racing. I  was pleasantly surprised that it did not feel too bad.

Not to say it was a walk in the park, as I was putting in a decent effort, and then as I can never quite remember where the actual finish is, I knew I had to keep to this pace beyond a wooded section whilst not pegging out.

I reached the finish and my Garmin showed a time of 26.22 Рwhich is not a parkrun PB, but a decent time and meant I was doing just under 8.5 min mi pace.

Queuing up to give my token Рa fellow parkrunner thanked me for my pacing that had helped him in the latter stages Рthis is something of a compliment for a runner, and even more so when coming from someone who was sporting a parkrun 100 teeshirt.

As usual, after finishing parkrun¬†– the relief that it’s over means I start to love it a bit more, and I do understand how ¬†it helps you to run at a faster pace.

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Later that day the results came out and confirmed my time at 26.21 – so no new parkrun PB ( which remains at 26.05 ), but I was amazed to discover I was 3rd in my age category ¬†!!! This is the closest I am ever likely to come to any kind of ‘podium’ position – and I was super chuffed. I was 3rd from a field of 20 in that category and even though I know this result was largely due to my chum Alison ( and other better runners than me ) not racing that day – it still felt good to see that in print.

Maybe after my marathon is over, I need to switch my goal to holding or improving on that ¬†podium spot and getting a new ¬†parkrun¬†PB ūüôā

 

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Notes

I am taking  part in Stirling Scottish Marathon on May 21st and it will be my first marathon. To get me ready for this challenge I am following a  marathon training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally.

fitnaturally offers a range of healthy eating plans that can help with weight loss and sports nutrition. They provide bespoke training and nutrition for people taking part in sport at any level. I have been following fitnaturally plans for over a year and I have become leaner and fitter, losing more than 20lbs in weight and a reduction in body fat% in a gradual and sustainable way and by eating normal and enjoyable food !

Fundraising

Through my marathon efforts, ¬†I ¬†am hoping to raise funds for two charities ‚Äď Scottish Womens‚Äôs Aid and Smalls for All¬†both of these charities work to help women in different ways. If you would like to support either of these charities, please consider making a donation, however modest by following the link to my Justgiving page¬† ( Scottish Women‚Äôs Aid ) ¬†and Mydonate ¬†( Smalls for All ) pages.

Thank you

My Heart’s in the Highlands

Inverness Castle and river Ness
Inverness Castle

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart’s in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands, wherever I go.

So goes the Robert Burns song and although a big part of my heart is in the Highlands,¬†( I was born in Dingwall and spent my childhood near Inverness¬†before heading south to study in 1979) –¬†¬†it is not deer I chase but PBs at the Inverness Half marathon race!

The Inverness Half marathon, held as it is in early March, is one of the first half marathon races in the season (in Scotland).  It is a good way to test your legs over a longer distance after winter training and suits many people who are training for a spring marathon.

 

Until this year, I was not in that marathon training category but had chosen to take part in this race partly because of family connections, but also because having first completed it in 2011 in snowy, cold, conditions and lived to tell the tale Р when I compared it with my experience of some other half marathons, I concluded that Inverness is a race that for me offers close to the perfect combination I am looking for in an event.

Ness Bank sign

 

The course is interesting but not too taxing, with lots of places for spectators to support you, it is big enough to feel like a special event but is not so big to be impersonal or overwhelmed by the razzamatazz. And it is very well organised and friendly.

As a bonus, I get great race support from my brother and sister-in-law and my niece, who between them provide excellent cheerleading, patiently listen to my pre-race anxieties, provide fab post race support and generally make it a most enjoyable occasion.

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Even though I have run other races with arguably better PB potential ( Edinburgh and Aviemore ) my half marathon PB was and still is from Inverness. Not completely sure why this should be Рand maybe once I have the marathon behind me, I might revisit some other half marathon races to see if I can improve my time.

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My Inverness race history

So having taken part in this race 5 times since 2011 – my times are as follows

2011:2hrs 16 mins 38 secs

( did not enter 2012 ) 

2013: 2hrs 16 mins 14 secs

2014: 2 hrs 14 mins 04 secs

2015: 2 hrs 11 mins 02 secs 

2016: 2hrs 02 mins 09 secs  

Each year before Inverness, I will have followed a self-designed if somewhat fluid ‘training’ plan – mostly around adding in a longer run at the weekends to my regular run schedule of around av 12 – 15 miles per week. ¬†I also do this run streak challenge every December and maybe running 3 miles every day in December gives me a base of fitness.

I know from reading my large collection of running books, that my training for Inverness could not really be described as following a plan, and even more so now that I am following a proper training plan for the Stirling marathon. My lead up to Inverness has never included any specific sessions of speed work or hills or running at race pace, although last year I had started to do a weekly session with a  PT to help my core strength and build on my endurance.

But although I was not taking run training as seriously as I should have Рbetween 2015 and 2016, I had been following a new eating plan with fitnaturally and because of this, I had lost quite a bit of weight. Being over 14 lbs lighter meant I found running more enjoyable and I think largely due to being lighter and despite my casual approach to training РI was absolutely delighted to knock almost 9 minutes off my time in 2016.

My time in 2016 was 2.02.09 Рa new PB and tantalisingly close to sub 2 hours, and so in the post-race euphoria, I foolishly said I would come back and get sub 2hr in 2017 !

2017 arrived and I started my marathon training plan Рsharing with Sally that I would quite like to do sub 2 hrs in a half. This was built into my plan, and  then I discovered that I really did not enjoy speed work !   As the Inverness race drew closer  I started to get the jitters about achieving a time of under 2 hours, when I knew that it meant me averaging 9-minute miles for the full 13.1 mile distance.

 

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I started to back pedal and keep quiet about my sub 2 goal, saying that the marathon was my 2017 goal and anything else a bonus – ¬†of course, a new PB would be nice – but hey – ¬†I only had a knock a few seconds off my 2016 time to do that ūüėČ

I know that one reason I felt the pressure was because this was the first time I was approaching this race or any race against a background of having properly trained. Excuses for failure were thin on the ground, and as is the contrary way I am around pressure and expectation РI was dreading the race more than I had on previous occasions.  I am slowly understanding that in running, putting in the training hours is about giving you the foundation for success, and I knew this would be the first real test.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

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Having already put in a decent amount of training since January, come race weekend I did my best to avoid sabotaging my chances, first by resisting the temptation for a night before glass of wine or two, then on race day following Sally’s nutritional advice to the letter, and I even took heed of her race plan advice which went something like this:

“warm up for a mile, run as strong as you can for miles 2 – 10 , then ¬†run as fast as you can after that – ending ¬†with a sprint finish “- which as ¬†my brother translated was pretty much saying – warm up for a mile then run as fast as you can for the rest of the race ūüôā

Overall I did feel more in control during the race – and had an inner strength that I will put down largely to the mileage and other training I have been doing as part of my marathon build up. But I did not find it easy, and particularly as I got closer to the finish and knew that my sub 2 hour time was within my grasp.

Cheerleader Laura
Cheerleader Laura with her distinctive hat

With 3 miles to go and with a big part of me wanting to just accept a PB and abandon my ‘not so secret’ real sub 2hr goal for another day – I had a conversation with myself and it turns out that even I have a bit of competitive spirit. So with less than 2 miles to finish I gave it my best shot – and helped by a final and extremely loud cheer at around 12.5 miles from my niece Laura – I got there in a time of 1 hrs 59 mins 18 secs.

Including sprint finish ūüôā

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Notes

I am taking  part in Stirling Scottish Marathon on May 21st and it will be my first marathon. To get me ready for this challenge I am following a  marathon training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally.

fitnaturally offers a range of healthy eating plans that can help with weight loss and sports nutrition. They provide bespoke training and nutrition for people taking part in sport at any level. I have been following fitnaturally plans for over a year and I have become leaner and fitter, losing more than 20lbs in weight and a reduction in body fat% in a gradual and sustainable way and by eating normal and enjoyable food !

Fundraising

Through my marathon efforts, ¬†I ¬†am hoping to raise funds for two charities ‚Äď Scottish Womens‚Äôs Aid and Smalls for All¬†both of these charities work to help women in different ways. If you would like to support either of these charities, please consider making a donation, however modest by following the link to my Justgiving page¬† ( Scottish Women‚Äôs Aid ) ¬†and Mydonate ¬†( Smalls for All ) pages.

Thank you

 

Great Edinburgh Run race report. 10 miles – 9 of them hilly !

As the name suggests there is something great about being one of thousands of runners pounding past the capital’s historic landmarks creating a ribbon of gaudy lycra through its historic streets. ¬†As city races go – Edinburgh provides an impressive backdrop.

This was the second time I have taken part in this race and as with the Inverness Half earlier in March, I really noticed the difference during the race from losing some weight and improved fitness. On a route that is not short on hills it is very nice to be carrying fewer pounds when pushing up the inclines and aside from the physics – I feel more confident in my running these days.

The route starts and finishes at Holyrood Park with Arthur’s Seat – a popular walk and run route – lumbering behind. Despite it being mid April it was a very chilly morning – with a temperature of around 3 degrees and a biting wind – so waiting for the race start in shorts was somewhat character building.

As I don’t very often race this distance and with only 1 previous attempt I had given my time as 1. 45 – meaning I was in the slowest pen and amongst the last to leave. On a cold race day morning this was maybe not one of my better ideas – but although there was a small delay in starting – the race organisation was good , and runners all got away safely and without too much fuss.

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As is often the way on race day Рwaiting around gets the nerves going and in my case the inevitable Рdo I need a wee ?  The wave I was in set off just after 9.50 and after all the hanging around I was very glad to start running to warm up . It was pretty easy to find space to get past slower runners and looking at my race splits I did the first mile in 8.46 Рso a bit faster than my start in Inverness.

The first mile is a loop that takes you back almost to the start and the back of the Palace of Holyrood House ( the Queen’s residence in Scotland ), then on up the first of the many hills as the route follows the Royal Mile before dropping down past Waverley station then a route change to the second hill – straight up Market street to the Mound to rejoin the Royal Mile before heading towards the University area and the Meadows and a chance to gather breath.

The route then does a chicane of sorts after a length of the Meadows  to Lauriston place then doubling back along the Cowgate before another longish climb up past the Pleasance heading towards Holyrood park once more.

There is¬†a lovely section from miles 6 – 8 where the race route follows the path of the Innocent Railway to Duddingston village – then a short but nippy hill from Duddingston to the low road beneath Arthur’s Seat. Mile 8 – 9 ¬†was a bit tough as we were into a headwind – but the sun was shining by now and the goal was to get to mile 9 and the promised downhill finish.

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A short slog to the mile 9 marker and then the end was in sight. This¬†is the only race I have taken part in that has such a long downhill finish and it is certainly very welcome. But even with the downhill run, I could not quite work out exactly where the finish was , although I ¬†could hear the PA announcing runners’ arrivals. I kind of mis-timed¬†the very last 1/3 of a mile section as my legs started feeling a bit jellyish after the long downhill – but I still managed a decent sprint finish of sorts to cross the mat with a time of 1.32.35 – a full 8 minute improvement on my previous time for this race.

Edinburgh 10 mile - 1 (7)

Edinburgh 10 mile - 1 (3)

 

Inverness half, sunlight on the river and no regrets

River Ness, Inverness

As I should really know by now – I never regret a run , and with the small exception of how I feel around about mile 3,7, 8, 9 ( insert as appropriate) I never regret entering a race.

I love that euphoric feeling of bouncing over the timing mats and crossing under the finish gantry Рand while I have not and am unlikely to ever, experience tearing across a finish tape, one of the many reasons I enjoy taking  part in the Inverness Half is that it finishes on a running track, so I even get to attempt my version of a sprint finish. For someone whose teenage experiences of athletics in this very stadium was only ever as a spectator Рit never fails to give me a small ripple of joy.

Not that you could ¬†tell how joyous I felt if you check out the running photos , but mastering that perfect race finish look is still on my ‘to do’ list.

So despite my anxious day before reflections, the worries about jinxing my chances by contemplating improvement and my usual pre race jitters – it all turned out fine in the end.

More than fine really.

I was feeling in better shape than in previous years, and hoped that this would convert to a better time. The night before the race I had spent with my niece who is a competitive swimmer, and we had talked race tactics – or more accurately she patiently explained the concept of pacing to me.

Strangely talking about pace and races was quite settling , and maybe I stored some of the advice somewhere, as on race day I ran faster than I have done before, 9 minutes faster than on the same course in 2015, and 6 minutes faster than my previous half marathon PB of 2.08.

Running into the stadium on the race track, I was pretty sure I was going to meet my goal of 2.05 and so was very pleased to see the clock showing a gun time of around 2.04, but even happier when my chip time was confirmed as 2.02.09 .

Looking at the race splits РI can see how my mid race wobble was my main  undoing but more importantly it feels achievable to target a sub 2 hour half marathon time. Which means I will more than likely be doing this all over agin this time next year.

Ness bridge Inverness twilight