Saturday, August 29, 2009


On the whole, I tend to think of myself as a fairly even-tempered person. Well - that's not entirely true. I tend to veer moor towards one or the other extreme but still - I tend to operate within a band of emotion which is, by and large, moderate. Acceptable, I think. However, from time to time I get totally and completely riled. Utterly.

Over the course of this summer this has happened more often than before. For reasons I shall not bore you with I have recently come in for a larger than usual share of personal criticism. Thankfully not from my husband (or even my children..) but nonetheless. And let me say this upfront - I'm not terribly good at taking criticism. Much better at giving than taking it. However, I am trying to be grown-up about it and to stay calm (serenity now, serenity now). I'm taking it away and trying to work out whether it is true and fair criticism and, if so, if there is anything I can or should do about it. Again I won't bore with what I have been told are my various faults (highlights are that I am, apparently, not terrible sociable, and I am, apparently, occasionally bad-tempered). All fairly subjective criticisms as well, I realise, and I do not take all of it on board.

But then, yesterday, another missile was lobbed at me. Apparently - "and another thing" - I am addicted to running. It's wearing me out and affecting my life and that of those around me negatively. I blame it on the papers: 2 weeks ago this article appeared in the Telegraph and various other papers and since then lots of people have quoted the contents to me. I've tended to just make light of it, and haven't really gone into it. But last night it did rile me.

And why does it irritate me? Well, firstly, I guess, because I don't think it's true. I imagine the research quoted in the article is scientifically accurate, but I don't think that I exercise excessively. Marathon training is intense, but I know plenty of other "normal" people who do it, and many who exercise a great deal more than I do. I don't suffer from anorexia athletica (jeez have you seen me lately?). And when I don't run - like a week ago, when I had to take 5 days off - I did not display "symptoms like those seen in addicts: trembling, writhing, teeth chattering, and drooping eyelids". Good lord.

But what I really don't think is true is that my running affects a) my family and b) my life negatively. I polled the only person who matters in this respect, Adam (my kids would love it if I devoted every waking moment to them so I'm not going to check in with them) and he confirmed that, and I quote "your running does not affect my life negatively in any way and I am very proud of your achievements". I make a considerable effort to ensure that my running rarely takes place at a time when it could affect my family - 80% of it takes place before 8am.

So the final topic to stew on - does it affect my life negatively? The criticiser claimed that I was "always tired" as a result of my running. I'm not. Yes - when I run a 20 miler at 6am I am no longer fresh as a daisy by 9pm. But believe me, it's the rest of my life (2 kids, house, a pile of responsibilities) that tires me out. I have always woken early and gone to bed early (I have just checked and confirmed this with my mother, source of most truths) and this fits in with my running. Thinking things through I would say that the only thing that is sacrificed for my running is watching TV and frequent late night revelling. Without a hint of sanctimoniousness and with, indeed some regret, I don't watch any TV. I tend to use my evenings to catch up on things in my life - friends, books, washing, tidying, etc. I miss the series I would like to watch. But - it's not a big regret. And as for frequent late night revelling - I never was able to keep up with the big kids for very long and, occasionally, I can still bust out a great party night. All the more enjoyable for being a bit more rare...

Fundamentally I am upset by this criticism because I love running and what it has done for my life and I am upset to think that something that makes me so happy could be considered such a bad thing by others. It has not only helped me lose weight that I had carried for over 10 years. It has not only toned me and strengthened me. But it has also served as an enormously healthy way of dealing with stress and tension. It continues to give me an enormous sense of achievement, every day. And it has given me friends and social networks - running buddies near and far - and goals to work towards. The gains, in short, have been enormous.

What are your thoughts? How does your family feel about the time you devote to running? Do you feel you miss out on things because of it?

Ok. Rant over.

Finally - it's taper time. 3 weeks till Berlin. The knee is getting better - Jonathan said it was a typical fell runner's injury (hardcore, but still undesirable) and is working on loosening the quads and minimising the swelling. I feel fairly confident that Jonathan, and time and taper, will get my knee healed before Berlin. I've been icing after runs, and only felt my knee slightly in the last (downhill) miles of yesterday's 20 miler. Nonetheless, I got her in in 2:53 which gives me confidence for the big race in 3 weeks. Hope everyone's running is going well. I am YEARS behind on commenting on your blogs but intend to catch up next week!

Monday, August 17, 2009


You may recall that before London I ran 3 long races - the Stamford 30K, the Ashby 20 miler and a 20 mile race in London. At the last one I came in in 2:54, feeling strong and ready for the marathon.

This time round the long distance races were harder to find. In fact, the only one I could find that was fairly near (75 miles) was the Belper Rugby Rover 30K. And so, without much investigation or information, I signed up for it. And made SuperSal sign up for it as well. SuperSal was worried that I would take off like a rocket and so wasn't sure about running it but I assured her that my strategy was to 9 minute mile it. Secretly I thought that if we were feeling strong by mile 15 we could then kick in the 8:10s if we wanted to. Well har-dee-har-har. Pride comes before fall and all that malarkey.

We arrived well before time and fiddled about with race numbers etc. More or less at 930 about 400 of us set off. Within half a mile of a start we came to a standstill several times - we all had to wedge through a variety of little gates and this caused quite the tailback. Still, it's a good idea to start slow and I didn't think much of it. However, once through the gate it dawned on me. Oh. This was a cross country 30K. That is, off-road. And so it was. A single track along fields led to a stile (the first of SO many) and then off we were. Or rather up we were. Derbyshire is hilly and we had to go up the first hill. And not on a road, remember? So just through the grassy fields up the hill. And on. An on. Stony and root-covered trails were followed by more fields. I stumbled and fell at about 2M not hurting anything. I thought. By mile 7 we had reached our 2nd waterstop and we were at the bottom of a very high and steep hill. My heart sank. By mile 8.5 we had walked / run up most of this hill, climbed over dozens of stiles or little gaps in stone walls between fields (very rustic I know - but I wasn't really focusing on that aspect of things) and I was seriously contemplating a DNF. Berlin is flat. I don't need these horrible hills, not to mention the stupid fields, the cowpats, the gnarly trails. None of it. However, we were in the milddle of nowhere and the only way on was up. So up we went.

And then, almost out of nowhere, at mile 17 I was greeted by my nemesis. Knee pain! No! I haven't had this at all. And now suddenly, out of nowhere, here it was. I tried to stretch but this shot cramps into my calves and hamstrings. Walking was fine, but running hurt. I stopped and started, and eventually got back to a slow and not terribly painful pace. I came through, tired and demoralised, at 3:19. 3:19! That's 10:49 min/mile...

Thank god for Sally. She talked me through, didn't complain about her own footpain, and was very sympathetic about my knee. Not only that. After the shower (which was wonderful) and wedging myself into my new compression tights, Sally's husband Bob got a camping stove going in the back of his car and made us tea and bacon and eggs. Wonderful. Delicious. What a demoralised girl needs.

And then I drove home to my husband to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. And watch Usain Bolt power his way to a 100m win. And watch Jessica Ennis finally win gold.

This week is my second silver-bullet week - my son is going to hospital in London today and my mother and I will be staying down there with him. I always knew running might be hard, and given yesterday I think some time off might be the best thing for me. I'm not, at this stage, too worried about my knee. I think it was the hills, and in particular the screaming downhills, which did it. I suspect that, just like with skiing, my quad is enormously tight and will need loosening. As I can't see Jonathan my osteopath until next Monday I will take it easy this week. Take the beginning of the week off, see where I am Wednesday / Thursday for an easy 5 miler.

Finally, here's the profile of the race as posted on their website. As part of their logo. I should have paid more attention ...

Monday, August 10, 2009

holiday running...

For the past 4 years or so I have had an autumn marathon on the schedule and so my summer holidays have fallen in my training cycles. In 2005 (New York City), 2006 (Chicago), 2007 (Amsterdam) and 2008 (Chicago) I trained with the Hal Higdon plan and I tended to just either play it loosey goosey on holidays (tried, sorta, kinda to get my runs in) or I extended my training program overall with 2/3 weeks so that I could more or less take the holidays off. This year, however, my training changed. I took on the Pfitz, I became a lot stronger and a lot more dedicated to my running. This has taken, and continues to take, big mental leaps for me - taking myself remotely seriously as an athlete is a complete change from how I used to see myself. Going from someone who is pleased to finish races (and amazes friends by even competing) to holding myself accountable to certain paces and expecting some improvements and results as a result means putting myself out there. Put simply, over time my goal has gone from just competing to working hard and doing the best I can.

Sooooo - how does this work when a holiday falls in the middle of it all? I did not want to take 2 weeks of from running during our family holiday to Greece this year. However, I also did not want to affect everyone else's holiday by the demands of my taskmaster, the Pfitz. So I pfutzed it a bit. I added 2 weeks onto the 12 week schedule (so started 14 weeks in advance of Berlin). While in Greece I ran one week on schedule (my first week, the 55 miler) and used one of my wild-card weeks. For this week I ran the schedule for week 7 which is a step-back week (42M - the Pfitz knows how to chill). And well - you know how it went. I got the runs in, though quality was absent. Instead, it was all about just getting them done. I had hoped that, once I was home I would spring right back into my workouts but that has not proved the case. I had 9M with 4M at lactate threshold pace due on Sunday morning but whether it was the day of traveling beforehand, or the anticipation of everything I had to do for my 6 1/2 year old's birthday party, I just couldn't do it. I ran 2 miles to warm up and then managed 2.95M at 7:54 min/mile before collapsing in a heap. Obviously very disappointing but the first run of this training cycle that has had to go by the wayside.. I guess it happens.

I appear to have come back from my holiday with tired legs. Whether it was all that running in sand (man, how I hate that however pretty it looks) or the running in the heat, I don't think I've quite recovered. Also, my nutrition was not top notch - complex carbs were hard to come by - the only carbs I could take were white bread which doesn't really fit the ticket. Since coming home I've been trying to redress the balance and I think I'm getting back on track. My 8M with 5x600m at 5K pace (7:26, 7:18, 7:43, 7:06 and 6:54 min/mile pace) went well last night and this morning's recovery of 4M felt good. It's a busy week ahead with 11M tomorrow morning, 10M on Thursday morning (with 4M at lactate threshold - I want to get those LT miles in) and then a 20M race on Sunday. Yes! I've found one. Unfortunately it's a tough one - the Belper Rugby Rover is a cross country race with hills, mud, trails, sheep and cows.. Apparently the 20 miles are as tough as a flat marathon. However, it will just be good to get some more race training in. Plus I'm doing it with SuperSal so I'm going to have to have a word with her about pacing. She'll be bounding up those hills at 7:10 min/miles before we know it. Then next week I'm doing using my second silver bullet week as my son will be in hospital in London for an operation and I'm not sure how much running I can get in. I'm going to try to do the stepback week schedule again but will have to see how the land lies..

Wow my posts are so boring these days aren't they? Life is pretty crazy busy outside of running and so my brain is on the frizz. Lots of other people (I am catching up on your blogs, I promise) appear to be suffering with a case of the blahs and I think I've picked up a mild case myself. However - I promise to HTFU and just get on with it. And maybe wit and entertainment will make a reappearance?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Humble pie

For my first few marathons the 20 mile runs in my schedule were the big, big mountains in my training. They were the runs I dreaded, the ones I felt I had to get right in order to feel confident about my training and upcoming race. Then, last training cycle I ran both of my 20 milers as races. This both improved my times (considerably) and made them more fun and less of a big deal. Also, the Pfitzinger program has so many relatively long runs and big training weeks. For whatever reason, I was feeling quite seasoned and I no longer felt any fear about doing my first 20 miler of this cycle while on holiday in Greece.

But this long run proved a fickle mistress.. I had gone to bed early the night before, leaving the rest of my family to have their night out and instead staying in to eat pasta and drink water. I got up at 530 am to beat the heat, but found, upon being outside, that it was still dark. Greek drivers have to be seen to be believed, so I dared not venture out before daylight. So I headed to the treadmill for my first 2 miles. By then it was light enough (and I was fed up enough) to head out. Strike one - for the first time ever my Garmin acted up. 1 minute into my run the autolap feature told me I'd run a mile. Dang! I started panicking - how was I going to measure out a 20 miler in a new territory without the Garmin? However, I managed somehow to restart the thing and off I went. I had run 12 earlier in the week so the first 6 miles were not too hard, though I felt no pace in my legs. I could feel I had the (still mild) wind in my back and, all in all, it was not going too badly. And then, very suddenly, I ran out of road. The track which follows the coastline, simply stopped. So I waded across the sand and ran the next 2 miles along the beach, right along the shoreline. Although this was the best (most packed) surface, the camber was very steep and, of course, I mistimed my steps and managed to wet both feet. I was getting thoroughly fed up by this stage. I decided 2 miles out along the beach was enough (was, by this stage, getting 12:30 minute miles) and so turned around. 2 miles back was worse as the wind was now picking up (the kitesurfers were already setting up at 7am so that tells you something) and I now got sand in my face as well. Great. Back on the track things improved a bit - at least the surface underfoot was better) but the wind was now getting very strong. I sucked down an espresso Hammergel and headed out on a 1 mile out and back up and down a hill road to add the extra 2 miles I had missed by only heading out 8 miles to begin with) and then started on the way back. What can I say? It was horrible. It was really hot, really windy and just a constant struggle. In my 20 milers for London I had run great races and now I felt like I was just back to square one - struggling to get under 10 minute miles. I didn't. My overall time for the run was 3:26.

I don't think it's my fitness. All my runs for the past few weeks have gone very well and I've not struggled at all with any of the set paces. I think it was purely the very unpleasant circumstances of the environment. But nonetheless it was humbling. I thought I would just slip this long run in. And I didn't. It took every ounce of mental strength I possessed to just carry on and drag myself through this run. Probably a good thing to just regain a little respect for the distance and the effort. Not to mention for all those pals of mine who train in the heat all the time.

Finally - here is a photo I took along the way. It convey nothing of the unpleasantness and makes it all look rather lovely. Maybe it's my attitude that needs changing and nothing else..