uplifting autumn days

Some days it’s just so good to be outside and yesterday was one of those days.

I did a short lunchtime run – or more accurately half run /half walk – in the hills close to where I live. Autumn is such a beautiful season, the light was perfect and after a weekend of blustery rain, it was lovely to run without a breath of wind and alongside mirror flat waters.

These are the days when anything seems possible and being outside is a joy.

autumn already – seize the day!

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The weather forecast promised a day of sunshine and a brief Indian summer. With the thought of one last hurrah of sunshine, it was almost mandatory to make the most of it.

I am in a period of transition, or maybe limbo is a better description because transition implies that you are moving in a planned way from one state to another- whereas I have left somewhere and as yet do not know the next destination.

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Fellow readers who are freelancers may know this feeling well – unless your inbox is crammed with future assignments. Just into October and having finished one longish contract and slowly getting used to not being part of my old gang,  I am residing in ‘in-betweeny land’  not fully sure of what lies ahead and yet not able to summon up enthusiasm to make a start on those set aside craft/garden/household projects I was too busy to do when working  😉

There are a couple of work projects bubbling under – but they are at the tentative stage and all told not quite enough to be overworked. Freelance life is an interesting one that’s for sure.

So Carpe Diem  – seize the day and all that!  Nothing for it than to go running.

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grace and gratitude

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Went out running this morning –  earlyish. I could say it was with a spring in my step and vim in my vigour but that would be fake news.

The grey mist and drizzly gloom of yesterday had lifted and the air was fresh ( funny how quickly we wish the hot, hot temperatures would return after only a few days of rain). I was listening to a good podcast – an episode of the Food Programme featuring chef Marcus Samuelsson*  The story of his life through food is full of twists and turns and distracted me from my niggly knee and cranky outlook.

As I reached the turning point in this 3-mile run – it’s beyond half way and feels like the home straight- I saw a favourite tree against a background of watery sunlight and blue and white sky. On a summer evening, this is a good place to watch the swifts and house martins swoop and glide.

Today as I ran past the tree, I saw a small feather flutter slowly down from the branches above and running, caught it mid-flight and mid-stride in a rare elegant move.

Graceful even.

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*BBC R4 Food Programme – Episode with Dan Saladino featuring Marcus Samuelsson  ‘Keep it Sticky’

 

 

Home run weekend – December days

IMG_2679After the hurly burly of London life, it’s good to get back home and run in more of a rural setting. I run these same paths all year and have done now since I started running in 2009, but now that they are temporarily reserved for weekend running, I really appreciate the space and peace and realise how restorative time in the countryside is.

And of course to run with friends.

I had slightly fallen out of love with the Dell path and its variations after miles of marathon training.  I stopped seeing the tiny changes of nature and instead only saw trees as milestones of intervals and tempo runs.

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This weekend was icy cold with temperatures as low as minus 6 degrees on our Sunday run. Face tingling, crisp air gasping, cold runs with chums.

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Day 2 – first Santa sighting, gold shoes outing and a small graveyard detour.

 

Bit of a cheat as this Day 2 roundup headline says more about what I did after my run rather than tales of daily running – but on this year’s December run streak I am adopting more of a devil may care – new rules for old traditions mindset – so who knows what I might write about next ? 😉

As to the run, with it being a Saturday, it meant day 2 of running was just the regular weekend fixture and at more of a relaxed pace with Alison.

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new shoes

Lots of good chat and observations, including navigating a few detours due to ongoing works along one of our favoured routes.  I gave my new running shoes their first outing ( Mizuno Wave 20 bought in Black Friday sale ) – and ‘almost’ managed to avoid the mud. At this time of year, it is pretty nigh impossible to keep my running shoes mud free – but I do try to scamper over the deepest muddiest sections of paths when my shoes still have their shiny newness about them.

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New Gold Brogues

After my run, I headed into town wearing another pair of new shoes – lovely gold brogues I had bought on impulse a couple of weeks back.

I stopped off to visit a local craft market – and spotted Santa – as you do.

 

 

Then before hitting the town proper, I wandered into Greyfriars Kirk – historically interesting church and cemetery in Edinburgh and resting place of Auld Jock – Greyfriars Bobby’s master. And it turns out last resting place of many other notable figures some worthy, some unworthy who knows – but certainly names I had heard of.

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Edinburgh skyline

Despite me living in Edinburgh longer than I have lived anywhere else ( 30 years), like many residents I don’t take as much interest in the local history than I might if I was a visitor.

 

Something else to add to my ‘to do’ list of self-improvement.

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Day 2 miles: 5.06

December total: 8.32

Weather – grey and overcast 3 degrees C

 

 

Small confessions of mild obsessions.

Mary Somerville £ 10 note Mary Somerville

Towards the tail end of October, I got caught up in one of my recurring running obsessions – chasing a target mileage for the month . Although October is blessed with 31 days in which to run, come the last week I was ruing my slacker behaviour of the preceding October weeks when I realised how far behind I was in miles covered to date.
But with five days of October remaining, all was not lost. I had covered a fairly respectable 60 + miles so was confident that I would at least manage to reach a total of more miles than previous months 64 and 70 miles respectively.

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Although not currently training for anything – I am trying to keep up a decent amount of mileage each month because I don’t seem to be managing to fit in any other exercise at the moment. Is very easy to talk myself out of doing any exercise (even when I know how much better I feel when I do), without some sort of way of being accountable.

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And having set off at the beginning of the year with big monthly numbers, I am motivated to keep running and recording miles as I am on track to reach an annual total of 1000 miles by the end of November ( barring injury ) – a whole month earlier than I did in 2017.

So that is a target of sorts.

I know there are lots of naysayers around tracking exercise, league tables, wearable devices and the like – but my view is that on balance, it is mostly a force for good creating as it does for me anyway, a positive reason to keep going when it may seem pointless otherwise.

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Runners often have stated and secret goals usually where races are concerned  – (aka the backup plan when the shit hits the fan) and so it is for me and my ambitions around exercise –  I have a stated start of the month goal and as the month progresses and life intervenes I revert to my  back up or secret plan of what will ‘do’ for the month.

Throughout the year my graph of exercise ambition would be a jaggy profile characterised each month by an early peak of optimism usually around the first day and then as the month progresses a few more high spots coinciding mostly with weekend days when post-run, I am filled with euphoria and misplaced waves of invincibility.

The contrasting troughs of run reality and dips in the graph would be plotted next to those weekday work mornings when I opt out of a pre-work run in darkness, trading it for more time under the covers and telling myself that I will just run longer at the weekend.

( if I was not so shit at creating graphs – I would ‘insert diagram here’ – but instead here is a nice pic )

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Back to October mileage. For as long as I have been kind of seriously running, and it being  my hobby of choice –  I have recorded my runs on the Nike+ app. Like other running communities, you can opt to have friends who you share the details of your running achievements with. With Nike+ there is a leaderboard including the stats of your chosen friends – and this provides a degree of competitive edge and encouragement, as I monitor my run chums and their mileage totals.

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While it is not really a contest I do check to see where I am in the standing of my own small league and yes I confess I have sometimes gone out running just to get ahead of a Nike+ ‘friend’ and wallow in the warm glow of satisfaction when I am top of the leaderboard.

So come the last week of October – I set myself the first goal of reaching 90 miles -more than the past 2 months and higher than any month since April. Then on Monday 30th I was at 87 and a bit  miles so if I ran 5 or 6 miles my 90 mile target would be comfortably achieved, and anything more a bonus.

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Monday morning and with a flash of inspiration I realised I could combine the objective of reaching 90 + miles in October with the workaday task of taking clothes back to Zara. So in one swift move combine two of my running loves – ‘running with a purpose’ and ‘running a set number of miles in a month’ – how lovely is that?

As I was running I was thinking about how to achieve one of the following mileage number – 90, 93, 95, 99.

So the run story goes like this – I did the run into town and got myself to Zara and exchanged the clothes – at that point by my calculations I was on track to do 95 miles.

After a meander round Zara – I set off to run far enough for 95 miles then after a run up to Calton Hill and down again and not quite knowing where I was mileage wise –  my phone battery died. I just guessed that I was most likely at around 95 miles and that was fine by me.

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Once I was on the bus home and had fired up my phone with back up battery  – I discovered my Oct mileage total was at 98.4 – so from a happy with 95 miles I saw that a tantalising 1.6 miles would take me to the magic 100 for the month and while I ‘could’ have done this extra bit the day after- I reckoned getting this done and dusted on this day was the better answer.

I got off the bus 3 stops early and ran the remaining distance home – wishing as I often do that I did not live on top of a hill.

Anyhow – my end of Oct total was 100.1 miles. the running was not always pretty but I did it with a day to spare. And thanks as always to my running challengers for spurring me on 🙂

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A thing of beauty is a joy forever – running with poetic inspiration

Forgive the lofty and possibly misleading headline – but today as per my ongoing post marathon quest to rediscover my love of running, my ‘mojo’ or however best to describe the need to get back on the two-legged horse, and remember why it is a fun thing to do- I decided to try running a favourite route.

The route  I chose is much loved for many reasons. First and foremost – it includes a section through the evocatively named Poet’s Glen, whose name appeals to my inner romantic –  but beyond these literary references, it is a much loved run because when I am not in training or being a ‘serious’ runner, I opt to walk part of the route.

I  could run the narrow uphill section – but I choose to walk not simply to avoid the steep incline and the stony path with associated high ankle twisting potential, but importantly – and here is the big thing – sometimes it is nicer to walk than to run.

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Walking the short section that takes you from the road above the Dell path to the reservoir section,  is a welcome pause to gather breath, take in the surroundings and slow down.

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This route has lots of other things going for it – not least the views. After the first half of steady uphill running, you find yourself elevated above the tree sheltered  Dell path and see all of Edinburgh and Fife below. And knowing that after a two-mile uphill slog there is a welcome downhill section leading me back to my front door is a very rare and attractive feature in a run route. There is something very pleasing about a run that takes you home with a downhill ending and something I appreciate living as I do on a fairly elevated part of Edinburgh.

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This route is a good illustration of the contrasts you can enjoy running in Edinburgh. As a fairly compact city surrounded by both hills and water – you do not have to be a distance runner to experience a smorgasbord of rugged heather clad hills, bucolic pasture, leafy glades, urban architecture and a  glimpse of the sea all in the course of a morning’s running.

To return to this route – I would love to give an authoritative account of the significance of the Poet in the poet’s Glen – but this requires more research than I have undertaken. Earlier this year, I did meet two ladies from a local historical society who were very well informed and shared a lot of background on local history with me as I stopped at a 7 mile half way point on a training run.

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Alas, I  confess when I am running my ability to retain detailed historical or other relevant detailed facts is limited.

So today’s outing was an easy Sunday run, filled with many life-affirming views of nature – and at  5 miles is the longest distance I have managed to cover since the marathon, so was a step in the right direction.

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Hills are my friends

img_7393Edinburgh 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Time will tell.

The joy of speed work

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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.

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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.

art of running faster

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 Sally at 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.

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Rocking that endorphin high big time 😀 !

NOTES

In May am taking part in my first marathon – the inaugural Stirling Marathon and following a training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally

 

When s**t gets real – and technology fails you

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shiny new sports watch

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.

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Currie Kirk

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.

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.

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twilight

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

Sad times

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.

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Notes

In May am taking part in my first marathon – the inaugural Stirling Marathon and following a training plan provide by Sally at fitnaturally