The weirdness of running

Ooh it’s been a little while sine I wrote about running. I have been running though. And at the minute running is a funny thing. By all accounts it is going really well. I have run 270 miles so far this year. I can run further without walk breaks, I generally feel fitter. Little things are different. I can now say ‘I’m ‘just’ doing the sheep loop’ (about 5km) and mean the ‘just’. Running 10k is no longer a big deal and running it without walk breaks is now the norm rather than the very rare exception. Over shorter distances I am getting faster. The running is all good.

But it’s not quite doing it for me. I’m not quite as much in love with running as I should be given all that. Some of that may just be because of the marathon training plan – it’s a lot and I am struggling to do the weekly mileage it asks. In fact most weeks I don’t and that is in part playing on my mind. The other thing has, I think, been the weather. I’m not that keen on being wet and cold and I have not enjoyed being blown about by the wind. I also think that maybe I am getting a little bored of running the same canal towpath route but I’m not fit enough or confident enough to take the long runs onto the hillier routes round here.

A week ago I got my act together and headed out for my long run of 16 miles. I was going well and actually quite enjoying it. I don’t remember thinking about anything much. I ran along the canal towpath – a stretch that has recently been re-done and now has a proper path. Then, just through Silsden the path is old style and much of it is a lovely muddy mess. I was actually enjoying the concentration it took to run that section and somehow before I knew it I was 8 miles in. I turned round and started heading back. I was beginning to get a little tired. I was happy with how it was all going and though I was beginning to feel the miles, I still felt pretty strong. At almost exactly 9.5 miles my right foot slipped down the slight slope I’d been running on in the mud and it felt like my knee and ankle were going in opposite directions and I had a horrible sharp pain in my ankle. I winced but kept going but the next step resulted in an even sharper pain across my knee. I stopped and tentatively walked a few steps. The pain was intense. I was really worried I’d done some serious damage. I called Kath and asked her to come and get me. I got my location wrong so had to call her back when I realised. I was actually right bang in the middle between two points at which I could come off the towpath so I had to hobble a mile and a half. Thankfully after resting, ice and more rest it seems I did no major damage.

I then did a 4 mile and a 7 and a bit mile run during the week and then didn’t run Thursday, Friday or Saturday because quite honestly I just could not be bothered. No real excuses – just couldn’t be bothered. Today I was actually looking forward to going out and the weather looked a bit brighter. Well I managed 11 miles which I am taking as a big win because honestly, I was done by mile 1. There wasn’t anything specific really. It was all just a bit ‘meh’. I plodded along feeling a bit generally grumpy and unconvinced by everything. Every mile I really tried to stay in the mile and drag myself along landmark by landmark. The towpath was busy and 2 dogs jumped up at me and loads more got in my way – as did lots of their humans as well as humans without dogs.

It

just

felt

endless.

I just kept locking onto some sort of landmark and when I reached that, looked for the next. That worked for 10.5 miles and then everything was starting to hurt. I no longer felt strong and my landmark picks were getting closer and closer together. At 10.7 I realised that I was randomly sobbing – no idea why. I kept pushing on but I was struggling. I was coming up to a bridge on the canal that I could cross and head towards home. I’d be about 3 miles short of my plan but it would have to do because I felt both mentally and physically done. I ran to 11 miles and then walked the rest.

I’m hoping that my lack of anything in the tank is just poor fuelling (although I did sip tailwind every mile or so) or dehydration or general tiredness or even just laziness rather than getting the lurgy that poor Kath has been battling for 3 weeks now. I was a bit disappointed but I have never run 11 miles without walk breaks before and I did it on a run where I would have quite happily turned round and gone home after a mile. So again, I’m winning, the running is going well but it’s just not doing it for me.

I also had my first London Marathon anxiety dream. I was running happily along and then pulled up and stopped for some reason – not entirely clear why in my dream. Kath had already finished. I then had to get back to Dad’s flat – which in reality is in Hamburg and in my dream London looked like Hamburg, mostly anyway – and on the way I decided that I wanted to finish after all. But for some reason only Dad could tell me the way back to the embankment (which did look like the embankment) where I had apparently dropped out. Kath had had to find an official with a laptop to track me and find the point. Then everyone kept telling me that I didn’t need to finish because I’d already covered 26.2 miles in 5 hours 55 and I wasn’t going to finish the course in under 6 hours. I kept saying that I wanted the medal but Kath refused to show me the medal so I could decide if I really wanted it. I got back on the course but I have no idea if I finished the marathon or not.

So running and everything around it is a bit weird. It’s not necessarily a bad weird, just a weird weird. Running is always a hugely emotional thing. Also, I can’t really disagree that it is going really well but somehow that doesn’t feel quite right either. It’s just all a bit weird.

On Being Tired

I am tired. I have been all week. I ran a half marathon a week ago and it went really well and I worked hard – so being a bit tired is normal. But I’ve been proper tired.

I took my planned rest day on the Monday with ‘just’ our yoga class in the evening – that’s an interesting experience on half marathon tired legs and on Tuesday dragged my butt out for the 6 ‘easy’ miles on the plan. Actually getting out was a win. It was after work, I’d been in Leeds, I was running out of steam a bit but it did me good to get out. Even though I grumbled about it being hard and horrible I did run it without walking and I did run the uphill – all of it until I hit the 6 miles beep. Then I walked .2 of a mile home.

Wednesday I was soooooo tired – I moved my speed work to Thursday and accepted I needed an extra day. Thursday I felt broken kind of tired. I felt like every time I sat still for more than 5 minutes I’d fall asleep. I was also quite tearful and anxious. We went for lunch and then I slept for nearly two hours. I did go to my yoga class in the evening and that helped me feel like I had at least achieved something that day.

Actual Running Selfie

Friday was the start of a 26 mile weekend on the plan. I think I sort of knew that it wasn’t sensible to try that but it hadn’t quite filtered through to my conscious yet. Friday was 4 miles. I did 4 miles. I had toyed with the idea of doing the missed speed work but I didn’t really feel up to it. Instead I thought I’d see if I could just manage 4 miles at roughly marathon pace and I tried my Mind T-shirt for fit and comfort. Miles 1 and 3 are perfect. Mile 2 is a little on the slow side and Mile 4 which included the uphill pull was too fast by about a minute. So all in all the average ends up bang on marathon pace. It felt good to have done something positive. I still felt tired though.

Saturday. 8 miles on plan. I thought I’d set off and try really slowly. Because Kath is not very well and we’d volunteered at parkrun all our timings for food and everything were all out and I had too big a lunch. I should have left it even longer to go run. For the first mile and a bit everything felt awful. My tummy was unsettled and I wondered if I was going to have to stop at Kath’s mum’s or my mum’s or both. By 2 miles it had settled down and by 2.5 miles I was in a nice little rhythm. I was really tired though. I thought I’d be sensible and aim for 6 miles rather than the 8. I turned round to head towards home and a little while after the turn my left achilles tendon started niggling. I agonised over what to do for a couple of strides and then decided nothing was worth risking injury now. I walked and it immediately felt fine. I walked a minute and tried running again and the niggle was back. Ok, ‘walking it is then’, I thought. Overall I covered 5.5 miles but 2 of that was walking, stopping, stretching, oh and going to the co-op to buy crisps for Kath.

Sunday. When I woke up this morning I had in my head that I was going to do the 14 miles the plan said. I had conceded that I might do it run/walk although I was really tempted to try and run it all – it would be the furthest I have ever run without walking. Anyway. Kath was struggling this morning so what I wanted to do training wise became very unimportant very quickly and we instead tried to find a way we could get Kath unstuck from the sofa and doing something positive in spite of still feeling quite poorly. We settled on Bolton Abbey where we had options in terms of distance, where there were facilities and where walking would be perfectly fine. I thought I could always make up my miles later in the day.

Looking for woodpeckers

Oh my goodness the run was as awful as the day was stunning. It felt like I had never run before in my life, like I couldn’t really breathe and like my legs had no clue what they were supposed to be doing. It was properly awful! However, it was a gorgeous sunny day and the River Wharfe was beautiful in her stillness. The ducks were pottering and there was a heron watching over the pottering. We also saw a dipper and heard woodpeckers. It was lovely to be out. We plodded slowly and walked the hills. We did the short loop and called it a win at 3.5 miles. There is no way I am making up miles today. The real or perceived niggles in my calves and my left knee and the general awfulness of the run tell me that I didn’t need a 26 mile weekend. I needed what actually would have happened if Kath hadn’t been ill – a very low mile weekend. We were meant to be going to see our friends and we would probably have run a short loop on Friday before we set off and another one on Sunday when we got back but that would have been it. That’s what I needed. I’ve still run 13.2 miles this weekend. That’s not nothing! (In fact it is more than I ran in all of February and all of March 2017!)

So why am I so tired? Well, I think there are a number of things going on here. The obvious one is that I am 63 days out from the London Marathon and I have very diligently been following a training plan that is quite different from anything I have been used to. I have been working an academic full time job and trying to settle into a sabbatical with the usual tiredness and frustration that can bring. I have been slowly working my way through an episode of depression which has its own special brand of tiredness. And, and this may be a big And, it’s the end of February. One of my fellow #Run1000Miles runners reminded me of the lovely German Word Frühjahrsmüdigkeit which probably captures exactly how many of us feel at the moment – tired, a sort inexplicable tiredness that hits us as winter slowly starts giving way to spring and we are getting used to longer days and fewer excuses to hide away and hibernate.

So the running – the plan we are following has higher weekly miles than I have ever done before and also more ‘themed’ (there’s got to be a better way of saying that but my brain is tired) sessions. It has a speed session each week – they swap to what they call strength in March and then lots of easy runs and the long runs and the odd tempo run thrown in. It’s 5 days of running a week. The attraction of this plan is that the longest training run is 16 miles. 16 miles is so much more manageable in terms of time than the usual longest of 20 or 23. You might think that another 4 miles makes little difference but when you are running them at my long slow run pace another 4 miles is almost another hour. It matters. So I have gone from training for Dopey which had 2 x 45 minute runs during the week and then back to back longish runs at the weekend with miles increasing every 2 weeks to a 5 day a week plan including speed work and tempo runs and much longer mid week runs. It’s a different sort of training and running.

The other thing is that since we got back from Dopey I have not been using run/walk intervals. I have mostly just run. I still have walk breaks – the Harewood House half was a good example of that but mostly I am trying to run the distance and only stop to walk for specific reasons – like because there’s an actual hill. I am therefore running more and that has got to make a difference too. I also have a huge number of miles in my legs. I have run over 300 miles in the last 3 months. To put that into perspective it has always taken me at least 5 months to run 300 miles before and that’s based on last year which was my fittest and furthest running year ever. In short, it is not surprising I am tired, I have run a bloody long way in a pretty short period of time and it has been a massive step up in weekly miles for me.

Plan: Do as Shack-cat does

So what happens now? Well, I think having a bit of a rest this weekend has been good. I have a rest day tomorrow and I have banned all thoughts of catching up on missed speed sessions. I am dropping back into the plan tomorrow and tomorrow is a rest day. I will reduce the 6 miles easy on Tuesday to a ‘sheep loop’ (about 3.25 miles) run on Tuesday morning before I go to the theatre with mum and then, all being well I will pick up the speed work on Wednesday – but going back to the next one on the list rather than the one set for that date. I will keep trying to eat well and fuel for the miles that I am doing and I will keep trying to properly rest when I am not running. I will also give myself one almighty kick up the arse to get better at stretching and strengthening – my yoga classes help but they are not enough. I need little and often. And on that note I am off to dust off my yoga mat!

It’s at times like this, when you have to come off plan, when things don’t go quite as they were mapped out and doubts start creeping in when remembering the WHY is so important. You can help me and Kath to keep our WHY in focus by supporting us to support Mind. Sponsor us here.

Focusing on London

After a very happy running day yesterday the focus now shifts to the London Marathon. It’s not far off. I’m happy with the training. I’m getting tired, yes, but that’s normal at this point in the training. The running isn’t worrying me. I know I can complete 26.2 miles, it’s a matter of staying injury free and then giving it my best shot on the day.

What is worrying me a little is fundraising. I don’t often run for charity and this is why – I don’t like asking people for money. I don’t like the whole ‘yay look at me I’m doing stuff that I think you should give money to an organisation I have chosen that might mean nothing to you for’. It’s weird, it’s odd, it’s a little bit embarrassing and I’m not good at it. Some people just seem to be able to be constantly in people’s faces about sponsorship etc. I just can’t do it. Kath’s charity place came with a £2000 fundraising target. I don’t have a target because I am using my ballot place but obviously it would be nice if that actually made a contribution to Mind! In other words we would really like to raise more than £2000 for the charity and that’s a phenomenal amount of money.

As well as not being comfortable constantly being in your faces, there are also loads of fundraising ideas which seem to raise a good amount of money which would require us to step right out of our comfort zones. We could probably do a pub quiz, we probably could have organised all sorts of social events but honestly, the training and the being sociable on the level described below is already pushing me outside my comfort zone. It’s already all quite people-y and maybe I should just get over myself but honestly it’s hard! So apart from really hoping a few more of you might be able and willing to sponsor us (You can do so here), we’re doing a few other bits and pieces.

  1. We are planning a carboot sale and some of our lovely neighbours have already donated items for us to sell there. If you have something that might fetch a pound or two at a carboot sale to donate and can get it to us by mid March or so then let us know.
  2. We are doing a cake bake for our local parkrun on 9th March and a coffee morning for our neighbours on the 10th March.
  3. Time permitting there may be more cake related efforts because – you know, cake.
  4. We have a couple of raffle ideas – we are still looking for a few more prizes for a running related one so if you know of anyone who might be able to donate some running/sport related prizes give us a shout! The other raffle had its soft launch at an event I did last week and is for legal academics. Read more about it on my academic blog here.

I realise this could easily be read as a whinge that people aren’t sponsoring us. It’s not intended to be that. If you want to support us, it genuinely means a lot to us, thank you. If this isn’t your thing, I get that too. I was just trying to share what’s on my mind as we head into the last couple of months of training and preparing

Harewood House Half Marathon

So remember last year, my DNF at the Harewood House Half Marathon? I said I’d be back and today I was. I have been looking forward to it and I wasn’t really nervous until this morning when I suddenly started feeling really anxious about the whole thing. The course is tough, I’m not.

Anyway I had been thinking about the race and in particular how I would manage to stick to #MyRunMyRules. I knew from last year that my pace would put me at the back of the pack even on a good day. I therefore spent some time really thinking about how I would feel if I was last and how I would feel running last for a considerable chunk of the race. How would I keep myself motivated and moving forward with the tail marker right behind me and the feeling of people waiting for me. I don’t like to keep people waiting.

Honestly I am absolutely fine with actually coming last, what I think I’d find more difficult is having to run last for most of the race, particularly if I lost touch with the pack or runners in front and there was an obvious big gap that would mean I was holding people up. Maybe that’s where some of the anxiety came from this morning. But anyway, we had our porridge, got sorted and set off. We parked, went to the loo, picked up our t-shirts, went to the loo, met one of our fellow #Run1000Mile challengers, went to the loo (nothing like nervous peeing!) and then we were ready to start.

We set off. For the first few hundred metres all I really had was people streaming past me. I smiled. It is quite hard to keep smiling as everyone keeps over taking you. I tried not to mind and I tried not to speed up. Very soon I was last. I could hear the back marker on his bike behind me and I could hear the marshals’ radio conversations which were quite entertaining. Ok, I thought, well, I’ll be doing all of this right from the back. I felt surprisingly ok about that and settled in.

I hadn’t really looked at pace since an early glance which told me that at 11.20 minutes per mile I was going way way way too fast. I thought I’d slowed a fair bit but at the 1 mile beep I was at 12.08. Too fast. I tried to consciously slow down but already being last made that quite hard somehow. I was gaining on a woman in front of me who had been pulling away but by 1.5 miles she looked like she was struggling and I went past her. I hope she kept going – she must have done for quite a while at least because the back marker didn’t catch up to me and I didn’t see him again.

I was still trying to slow down as I saw deer on my left and red kites in the sky. I couldn’t help but smile. I actually saw loads of deer, loads of kites and tons of smaller birds and an odd squirrel or two. I am utterly rubbish at remembering the route or what was where on it so this may be in the wrong order, possibly totally jumbled. Anyway, I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace. I could see a woman in front of me running a stunningly smooth even pace and I tried to keep with her. I was fine on the flat but she had far more power up the hills. Eventually I stopped focusing on the pink of her jacket, did the sensible thing and let her go. She stayed in view for a long time but eventually she was gone. I was alone. It was bliss.

Coming up to 3 and a half miles I had the first walk as I made my way along the edge of a grassy field heading towards the first steep downhill. I sipped some Tailwind and I tried to keep marching and saw two women ahead of me. I was easily catching up with them. We had a quick chat just before the downhill and then I kept going carefully jogging down the uneven and quite steep track. The marshal sent me diagonally down the hill and that seemed like the route most people took judging by the muddy path. However, the actual route seemed to go straight down to hit the 4 miles marker and then turn left. This is probably the main reason the course measured short.

I think we next turned up into the woods and I walked the hills. I was feeling the too fast start and very briefly it crossed my mind that maybe I was totally screwed but that thought went as fast as it came. I saw some more deer and then at some point I saw some lovely looking Jacob sheep – they looked familiar and then I remembered that the flock we got ours from also had some going to the Harewood estate so it could well be the same blood line. That made me smile and reminisce for a while.

I enjoyed the course and I enjoyed being on my own for so much of it. Around mile 6 I realised I was falling in with the pace of two blokes in front. They were running slightly faster but walking more slowly. I caught up with them for a chat just after the mile 8 water station. We marched up the hill together and then met Susan who was struggling a little. Me and her walked and jogged together for a mile ish leaving the two blokes behind us but then I was walking faster again so I powered up the hill and jogged down the other side to the Mile 10 marker.

I felt ok. I slowly jogged along the track trying to stay out of the way of dog walkers. I was gaining on the aid station where I had called it a day last time and was smiling because I knew I was going beyond. I heard a runner coming at some considerable pace behind me. I wondered whether Susan had maybe found her running legs again but it wasn’t her. It was someone just out running I think and she was fast! As she came past me she touched my shoulder and told me I was amazing. It nearly made me cry but it also gave me a boost and I jogged on and turned left back into the woods. Less than 3 miles left. I slowly jogged most of those last miles with just a few little walks thrown in to reassure myself that I had enough left in the tank. As I plodded past the 11 mile marker I had the rest of my Tailwind feeling pretty happy about my fuelling. Although later on I wished I’d saved just a little bit for the last push.

I’m fairly sure the mile markers were out by quite a bit. Mile 13 was, if I got my numbers right, nearly 1.25 miles long and the Mile 13 sign was definitely more than .1 of a mile away from the finish. The last bit is brutal. It’s not a steep climb but it’s one hell of a pull. I walked up the track, passed another woman and tried to encourage her on, then I turned left into the field. I could see the finish now and willed my legs to start running again. They did, slowly and now feeling really heavy but run they did. I saw Kath coming towards me and she jogged a bit at the side of me when I got to her. She had finished in 2 hours 19 minutes and had nearly been taken out by some deer which had decided to split the runners and cross their path. She said she felt them come past behind her. Wowsers.

The nice thing about coming in at the end and in space is that the announcers at the finish have time to tell the world you’ve done it. Of course most of the world has already gone home but it was still nice to hear my name and a well done and a comment on my ‘big smile’ which was actually more a sort of Cheshire Cat grimace. I got my medal and bottle of water and a hug from Kath. We headed to the car and I stripped down to my bra to change out of my sweaty top and into something warm and dry. I felt awesome. Tired. But awesome. I sipped my tailwind recovery drink and nibbled a cheese sarnie in the car. My time: 3 hours and 58 seconds. So those 58 seconds are annoying. I’m going to have to go back and try again to conquer these rather ridiculous looking squiggles on a map!

Stunning Running

Last weekend we went to a lodge on the edge if Kielder Water. It was our little anniversary get away. It was lush. We planned on a walk somewhere on the way on Friday, and runs on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

We set off Friday morning and drove north to the National Trust property Wallington. We had some lunch and then walked a little loop through the estate and woodland along the river. Then we had cake. This was a good start to the weekend! We visited the Kielder observatory in the evening but it was ridiculously windy and cloudy so we didn’t see anything much. The talks were interesting though

On Saturday morning we set off on a 7 mile loop around the Bull Crag Peninsula. The running was both harder and better than I imagined it would be. It was surprisingly hilly and it didn’t occur to me until about 4 miles in that one of the reasons the running was tough was because I wasn’t walking the hills. I was just running, looking at the amazing landscape and every now and again stopping for a photo. At the end my legs were tired and I was grateful to walk the last bit and look for red squirrels and very excited when we saw one!

The rest of Saturday was lazy and taken up with reading a whole stack of magazines which I’d left to pile up for ages and ages.

Sunday was long run day and I was anxious about this for some reason. We had decided to run out to Kielder dam and back – a total of about 13 miles. I prepped our tailwind for fuel, made sure watch and phone were charged and off we went. The first part of the route was the same as the day before but soon we were in new territory with Kielder Water on our left coming in and out of view as we zig zagged our way through the woods on the ‘waterside’ path.

I walked a few more of the hills on Sunday. I nearly had a meltdown in mile 2 because I seemed to be really feeling the uphill pull on that section. I got over myself and actually ran almost all of the first 5 miles which took us to the Tower Knowe visitor centre which was closed but did have some toilets that were open. From there it was another mile and a half to the other side of the dam so we jogged across, had a little break as we marvelled at the views and then set off back.

We took more pictures and walk breaks on the way back. By mile 8 though I was wondering if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew with this pretty undulating 13 miler. For the next 3 miles or so I had a battle in my head to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Then we were nearly there anyway and we walked a bit through a section of wood just before the Waterside Park our lodge was part of, the bit where we’d seen the squirrel.

The rest of Sunday involved more reading, the hot tub and a bottle of prosecco. I felt properly happily tired. We did go for a little walk once it got dark to look at stars. Wow, even with the lights of the cabins, reception and pub/restaurant, we could see so much more than we can ever see at home. I couldn’t work out the camera settings though to get enough exposure to take pictures so gave up and just looked at the night sky for a while.

Monday we were going to have a little sunrise run. I was tired and my legs were heavy. It was also very slippery with frost on the tarmac bits and I was not at all impressed with that. We went the other way along the water this time and after not quite a mile and a half came to a road/tarmac bit which was frosty and we couldn’t really see how long the tarmac stretch was so we called that it, turned round and then stopped about half way back to watch the sunrise.

We had breakfast, got packed and headed towards home. It was a 23 mile weekend and while I was definitely tired I was not broken. I am getting fitter but actually the most important thing about the running over that weekend is that we were just running for fun, doing our thing and that on all of the outings bits of it were effortless, bits of it were really challenging and I loved every minute, even the hard and bloody awful ones.