From Golden Gate Park to Royal Parks Half

It’s about this time of year that I like to write a post entitled “how not to prepare for a half marathon”. Last year, September’s Folkestone Half was preceded by a tight, grouchy ITB (and accompanying knee pain) which affected my training in July and August. This year, I have adopted an approach that I am calling “reverse tapering”.

How not to prepare for a half marathon 2012

Twang your back sitting on a sofa – this really doesn’t help the preparations in any way, shape or form.

Go on holiday to the other side of the world
Two weeks ago, we flew out to San Francisco. In itself this is a really, really good thing to do and I heartily recommend it, just not three weeks before race day.

That my friends is a blue sky and sunshine. Every day was like that. We returned home to flood warnings.

San Francisco is rubbish for greedy people. Alright, it’s actually brilliant for greedy people – I am a greedy person and I didn’t meet a meal that I didn’t like while we were away. Despite my concerns that I may have turned into what the cabin crew politely referred to as “one of our broader passengers”, I was relieved to not have to ask for a wider seat on the plane.

Breakfast. Sour dough French toast. Accompanied by me exclaiming excitedly “It’s basically pudding. Pudding for breakfast. It says breakfast on the menu, but it’s pudding”.

Having been lured in by thoughts of running through the Golden Gate Park and along the Embarcadero or joining a running tour, I did take my trainers with me. They seemed to enjoy the trip, but sadly they didn’t get to see any of the city, apparently preferring to remain in my suitcase for the whole week. Ooops. However, we did do lots and lots of walking and if San Francisco has one thing, it’s hills.

Lombard Street – zig zag zig zag

And steps. Two things, hills and steps.

This wasn’t the bottom of the steps to Coit Tower. I have another 3 photos of the steps that preceded this stage.

This seemed to offset most of the lard and hopefully did something towards me not losing the fitness that I had acquired previously (albeit a little erratically). Unfortunately, this positive was neuralised by the fact that the flight home/time difference threw out my normally clockwork sleep system meaning that I couldn’t sleep until the early hours and started dozing off at four in the afternoon. Which is a shame because I don’t finish work until five.

Oh and within 24 hours of landing back at Manchester, I had managed to twang my back again. This time getting up from a sofa – if nothing else, I shall be avoiding DFS in the near future. So that was another week of ice, ibuprofen and painful massage using a bouncy ball (don’t ask), but no running.

Finally, with just seven days until the start line I have hauled myself out for a not brilliant 10 miler (I was completed under-fuelled, so I have been carb-loading ever since. Mostly on Tunnocks caramel wafers admittedly, but the thought is there) and did a giddy 3 tonight just to remind my legs that they do know how to run.

2 days, 12 hours to go. Gulp.

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Hello Dave, you are my wife now…

I have been too busy getting on with (and enjoying) a week’s worth of exercise to actually write about it, so here goes with a quick recap. After a splendid weekend in London (where our food diary went something like; Mr Tickle jelly sweets, beer, piggy barmcake, beer, kangaroo burger, beer, beer, noodles, beer, noodles, beer, falafel, beer, pizza, beer, jaffa cakes) both Ginge and I felt that it was time for a week of temple food and committed exercise. I have been forced back into the gym to rediscover the fact that I quite like doing weights and I have discovered that necessity can be the mother of chilled out running…

Tuesday
I had planned to do a longish interval session, but couldn’t decide on what intervals to run. Because of my indecision, I ended up extending each running session by a minute and it turned into a longish pyramid interval session instead. Well it did for the first half… After a couple of miles or so I started to feel some lower abdominal pains, which never bodes well. Without going into too much detail, if this starts after a mile or so it’s usually a sign that I need to stop running away from home, turn round and make sure that I’m within dashing distance of a familiar loo. However, while I’ve been doing intervals and trying to pick up my speed, I’ve noticed that I get very similar pain when I start to run faster (I’m convinced it’s a combination of how I breathe and tense my upper body). The fun part is trying to tell which sort of pain it is.

I weighed up the fact that I was doing intervals against the fact that the weekend’s excesses had left my insides a bit confused and decided not to risk it. I turned round, abandoned the intervals and gently headed back. The pains didn’t stop. In fact they got worse. I walked for a bit. They got even worse. I had a growing sense of dread that I wasn’t going to make it home. I pulled up outside the slightly dodgy looking motel that I’ve gone past hundreds of times but never been in – they might have toilets near reception, I could just nip in couldn’t I? Deep breath, in I went – no loos. No signs of life. I followed the instructions for locating staff until I reached a door marked ‘Private’. Another deep breath. I tapped tentatively… Sounding like Hugh Grant* (“Um, excuse me, this is um very embarrassing, but I’m out running and ah, could I um, use your loo…?”) but feeling like Papa Lazarou (“Hello Dave, can I use your toilet Dave? Dave, there is a blockage in your toilet…” **). Luckily the lady was very nice, directed me to where I needed to be, I did what I needed to do and yelping “thank you very much” as I scuttled past the door marked ‘Private’.

The rest of the run was uneventful.

Wednesday
I went to the gym. I like the gym. They have proper facilities there.

Thursday
I fell asleep and declared it a rest day.

Friday
I took advantage of a late start at work to do an early but not too early 6 miles. The run itself was uneventful apart from the fact that it felt good, I enjoyed it and I managed to ignore the nagging voice of doubt that crept in after a couple of miles. Oh, and I ran without tunes. Normally I would have my shuffle on for anything more than three miles, but I couldn’t find my earphones and I was feeling reckless so off I went with only my thoughts for company. It turns out my thoughts are mostly weird and a large chunk of the run was taken up with thinking about advanced directives and what decisions I would want making if anything happened to me and I lost capacity. Cheerful. It did occur to me that it would be ironic if this was the run, without tunes and whilst thinking about such things, that I would get run over by a bus. Thankfully I wasn’t. I did see some swans though.

Saturday
Another self-declared rest day. I knitted.

Sunday
Long run day. I wasn’t sure if I was looking forward to this. On the one hand, I’d had some good runs during the week and was enjoying myself; on the other hand, what if I couldn’t do it? For once I’d put some thought into making sure that I was well prepared – a good carb-loaded tea the night before, only a small glass of wine, water before bed and when I got up, oats eaten an hour before setting off, water bottle filled. I had no route planned, other than turning right at the front door, left at the end of the road and then running 10 miles. After about half a mile, I realised that I had left my carefully filled water bottle on the kitchen table. Arse. I tried not to panic or give up and plodded on. This decided my route for me – rather than go a way that I find difficult at the best of times and has no escape routes, I went for a loop that could be 6.5 miles or it could be extended as much as I want. I plodded on, ignoring the dark grey clouds gathering to my left and listening to clever Radio 4 people talking amusingly about intellectually challenging things. Just over halfway, the heavens opened – I plodded on, actually quite grateful to be hydrating one way or another. At 6.5 miles, I plodded on with my extension loop, pausing at 8 miles to consider my route, before turning round and heading home, cold, wet and very pleased with myself.

The lesson of this story is that I seem to have an awful lot of comfort blankets in the form of routines when I run, some of them might be useful, but as long as I have me and my trainers I’m mostly ok.

And I hesitate to say this, but I think that I might have got my running mojo back!

*But not looking like him, unless he’s become a sweaty, red-raced blonde

**I hope that all of you familiar with the League of Gentleman are doing the voice. If you didn’t, go back and do the voice. Go on. You know you should.

In which I ride my wave of enthusiasm and then get all panicky

After all of the relaxation of the Conwy trip, we had a slightly faster paced break in New York (I know, NYC more lively than Conwy, who’d have thought?) and it left me full of enthusiasm and excitement for (a) Christmas and (b) doing stuff. I often get this after being away (or at work, after being on courses) and love the giddy energy that I have for new projects, until life gets in the way and everything drifts a bit. This time, I was reinvigorated about running after passing a Nike Women advert about not letting the weather beat you and stop you running (which I have since tried to find, but can’t – though this is the image on it).

That'll be me that will

“Yeah!” I thought “That’s the kind of runner I want to be”. Then I got back to the UK and it was cold and dark and raining and I didn’t run for 5 days.

Part of the reason that I didn’t run (aside from laziness and an aversion to the cold, dark and rain) is that my hip pain has come back a bit. I fully concede that this is my own fault for neglecting both my foam roller and therapeutic exercises. I tried to run on Saturday but it felt completely wrong, both physically and mentally, and I decided to devote Sunday to some serious rolling, leg waving and thera-banding instead.

On Monday I was faced with the choice of running early in the cold/dark/rain or running late in the cold/dark/rain. I opted for the early one (knowing I would be very short of time in the evening) and was rewarded with one of the worst night’s sleep that I’ve ever had. There is something soul destroying about still being awake at two in the morning, knowing that you can only have a maximum of three hours sleep before the alarm will sound for running. Needless to say, when the alarm did go off (after I had eventually drifted off only to be woken at three by the sound of hailstones the size of golfballs) I chose to ignore it and did some more hip therapy in the evening.

I finally ran this morning when I bounced out of bed at 5.30, was out of the door by 5.50, enjoyed my run, barely got rained on and managed a casual three miles (barely taking any notice of Miles) at under 10 minutes/mile, which I was incredibly pleased with. My pace has gone to pot since my hip started (back in June I was managing 9 minute miles) and that’s going to be one of the things that I inded to address over the next few weeks.

I am going to need some kind of focus because the wave of holiday enthusiasm also carried me to the realisation that if I want to do a spring half marathon, I will need to find one, enter it and train for it. I had a choice of three in the North West in March; Blackpool, Liverpool or Wilmslow. First to be discounted was Blackpool; I liked the 10k in Blackpool, but I’m not sure that I’d fancy doing twice the distance down the sea front in early March. The toss up between Liverpool or Wilmslow was put to Twitter, whereupon Twitter told me that they’re both good, flat, PB achieving races that I would definitely enjoy. From my own musing, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be posh enough for Wilmslow and that there wouldn’t be enough to occupy Ginge while I run round for a couple of hours, but I was still open to either of them.

Then I read the small print of Wilmslow’s information. My panic button had been triggered by the strapline “A race…not a run” on the bottom of the entry form and a bit more reading lead to the discovery that the course has a time limit of 2 hours 35 minutes. Now, I ran Folkestone in 2.33 with injury afflicted training and in stupidly hot conditions. I would hope (and expect) that I would finish under 2.30 next time. I was heartened by the confidence that other people have in my ability to run and enjoy this race. I was also intrigued by what happened to anyone still running after 2:35. Suggestions varied from disappointed head shaking by peers to being mown down by a combine harvester. Liverpool it is then.

How not to train for a half marathon

At the beginning of July I embarked on a half marathon training plan. The timing was perfect – 12 weeks between the end of Juneathon and race day. I was grumpy about following a plan, but optimistic that it would help me to do a half that I could be proud of. That was eleven weeks ago.

Today, the countdown on my phone tells me that the number of days before Folkestone is in single figures. My training can best be described as haphazard. Compare and contrast the training plans at Runner’s World and 2:09 Events (my plan was a Frankenstein’s monster of the two) with what has actually happened.

Week One – Broadly completed as prescribed. Apart from substituting the intervals for Audiofuel intervals. And doing the sessions back to front. And skipping a 3 mile run.

Week Two – Intervals, done (well I did 7 reps instead of 8 because I programmed Miles wrong). 6 miles, done. Two 3 mile sessions, done (including my first Parkrun). Little giddy dance that I’ve done a proper week’s training, done.

Week Three – The plan demanded an 8 mile easy run. I did a 10 mile (because I got my weeks mixed up) hellish nightmare of a run. My niggling knee and hip pain left me trotting along like a lame Shetland pony. A lame Shetland pony with a leg length discrepancy. Wearing a stiletto hoof. I did a 5 mile run that was equally hard and ordered a foam roller.

Week Four – After the nightmare of week three, I didn’t run for a week. I wanted to run, but wise blogging and tweeting people advised otherwise. I asked twitter to recommend me a physio and spent part of my friend’s wedding tweeting Andy from Summit Physio. An appointment was duly booked, attended and I went off with the instruction to roll my legs as much as possible (and as agonising pain allowed). I did manage a three mile run at the end of all this – woo hoo!

Week Five – Hills, 6 miles, fartlek session, 10 miler. Ha. I ran twice. For a total of 6 miles.

Week Six – It was my birthday! I celebrated with an undulating 6.5 mile canal adventure. Later that week, I did 3.5 miles and an 8 miles. The 8 miles boosted my confidence by want of me surviving it. Unfortunately, the plan asked for way more miles than that, a bit of fartleking, and some intervals. It did not mention canals or scones.

Week Seven – Should have been the same as week six, but with longer intervals (still no scones though). I nearly ran a half marathon distance, unfortunately there was a two day break between starting and finishing. Looking on the positive side, I did successfully run the ten mile route that heralded the beginning of my downfall.

Week Eight – I actually did more miles than I should have this week… Plan said 2 x 3 miles, 5 miles, 10 x 200m intervals. I did some lovely Audiofuel intervals, a 3 miler and, whisper it, 12 bloody miles! There was probably some technical reason why the mileage dropped this week, I will never know.

Week Nine – Incredibly complicated intervals, 6 miles and 4 miles or Audiofuel pyramid intervals, and a 5k? You guess correctly. The only thing I did right this week was doing a 10k race – I enjoyed this more than I expected.

Week Ten – Woke up with a scratchy throat the day after Blackpool, went home early from work the day after that, snuffled, sneezed, snotted, coughed and spluttered for the rest of the week. Dyed some wool. Could have run on Sunday, but chose to be lazy. No running was done.

Week Eleven – I stopped looking at the plan weeks ago. I am still snuffly. I’ve done 4.5 miles and 3 miles so far and we are planning to do a 9 mile canal adventure to Liverpool on Sunday. Having re-checked the plan tonight, I can say with some confidence that the plan does not include canals, taking photos of swans or eating baked goods this week.

Next week I am supposed to taper. How am I supposed to tell where the taper starts and my training ends?

Oh heck.