Well that escalated quickly…

Life has really taken a dramatic twist hasn’t it?

Since the last time I posted (blissfully happy in a bubble of long running and marathon hopes), well, everything has changed.

For us in the UK things have really ramped up quickly in the last week. From advice of washing hands regularly to now schools closing and instructions to work from home, avoiding social spaces and parkrun cancellations.

It’s undoubtedly a scary and uncertain time but I don’t want this post to be all about that because let’s be honest we all know what’s happening and it’s pretty overwhelming and consuming. I’m actually quite glad to now be working from home because it’s all everyone talks about in the office. So I’m at home with a little set-up in my room adjusting to this new way of life.

Anyway, on to what this blog is about: RUNNING. Of course all the races I’d signed up for have been cancelled or postponed. I had the Eastleigh 10k this weekend, of course Rotterdam, and then I’d optimistically signed up to the Southampton marathon as a back-up, but that too has been postponed. Rightly so. And parkrun being cancelled.

Of course this is all the right thing to do. Not going out to social areas, not mixing unnecessarily, limiting chance of exposure. My dad has a heart condition so I’m worried. But we can only control what we can control and there’s point wasting emotional energy on things outside of that. Obviously easier said than done, but I’m trying.

So no marathon in the near future and a bunch of long runs and weeks’ of trainings that seem worthless now on paper. However, for me I really enjoy the process of marathon training so personally it’s not a waste. It’s just a shame there’s not a big shebang of a race to celebrate those long runs.

That said, I’m almost certain I will run 26.2 miles in April. My plan is to run the distance around where I live. I mean, it’s going to be ridiculously tough – so much harder than if it was a race as it’ll just be me on my tod running along. But part of me is curious as to whether I can actually do this… We’ll see. My plan would probably be to run it over the Easter weekend. I’d properly plan a route, maybe get my family out to support me, do everything I’d normally do. Well, watch this space!

Last weekend Kyle and I ran 18 miles together. We both knew Rotterdam had been cancelled and potentially the miles were “pointless” but we wanted to do it anyway as we’d planned it and had mentally geared up for it. Kyle is not a huge long distance fan and now that Rotterdam isn’t happening he’ll drop his mileage back down. It makes sense.

It’s such a shame for him because he did so well with the long runs – far better than last time when he trained for the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon and got injured halfway. He was very much on for a solid race. But such is life right now. He’ll be able to train up again if he wants to (Rotterdam is technically postponed until later in the year so this is real possibility all being well in the world, of course).

The 18 miler we did around where I live, my usual along the coast style long run which I love so much. We reversed the route and set off Sunday morning. We had a more relaxed start as no parkrun to get to (this was to be a “true” long run in the sense we wouldn’t be stopping or sandwiching anything in the middle). The wind was a bit blustery which was somewhat annoying  but generally the run went really well.

It’s funny though because when you’ve been doing a run route in one direction for so long, when you change it suddenly it makes everything different and you notice all these hills that you previously hadn’t!

However, we maintained a decent pace and then towards the end I stretched it out a tiny bit just to get my legs going. It’s my usual way of running long runs that I like to speed up a bit towards the end if I have the energy. Kyle wasn’t far behind at all though.

When we got back to mine my parents handed me a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts that a lovely friend had dropped off after I’d done a favour for him. What a fantastic way to finish a run, I tell you! We didn’t eat them straight away 😉

Instead we showered and then celebrated with an almighty carvery. Honestly, so satisfying and extra delicious after all those miles!

I had roast gammon with all the trimmings. It was glorious. The doughnuts were had later when we were chilling. Perfection!

Delicious Lotus Biscoff

Anyway, stay safe and healthy everyone!

What’s your favourite doughnut flavour?

Are still long running if you’ve had a race cancellation?

Training for the Rotterdam Marathon

So Kyle and I are currently training for the Rotterdam Marathon, which is on April 5th.

We’d signed up to it last year. I’ve always been interested in this marathon because people say it’s very scenic, it’s flat and it’s a bit different to the more popular Amsterdam Marathon (which I would still like to do as well at some point). I needed a spring marathon to look forward to and this made sense.

Kyle decided to sign up too as he wanted another crack at the marathon after his not so great Portsmouth Coastal experience (it’s a very tough first marathon and he only just scraped under his goal of four hours). We’re pretty sure he can run faster and Rotterdam gives him the opportunity to try on a much better course.

Anyway then the whole knee drama happened and I was resigned to not doing it (which Kyle was more than happy about – he’s not a natural long distance runner and to be honest was quite happy for any excuse not to do it). But then my knee got better and by the time I was back running we had enough (ish) time to train for Rotterdam. As Kyle had pretty much stopped running as regularly when I was injured we were both on the same starting block and could do most of our training together as we’re very similar in our paces.

I created a plan and while it was a fairly steep climb, it was doable. We have a limited taper (one week basically) but I tend to prefer this anyway. Long runs increase each week from 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 18, 18, 10-13, to the marathon. If we had a few more weeks it would have been nice to have dropped down again after the 17 miler, and/or in between the 18s, but we sadly don’t have that time.

So how’s it been going? Well with all the storms recently it has been tough.

Handily we were able to run 10 miles with work on one of the Wiggle Run/Ride Outs which happen every month. It was such a fantastic run.

I felt like I really got into it and got strong and stronger as it went on, finishing with a sharp blast at the end. I’ve had to sit out of these Run/Ride Outs for a number of months so it was so good to be back at it again. A nice way to bond with colleagues and get out of the office.

The weekend after we ran 13 miles from Kyle’s house (near Waterlooville) to Fareham and it was a toughie. The weather was horrendous and it was just so taxing.

For the entire 10-11 mile mark we were straight against the wind. We saw a chap running towards us who looked like he was absolutely loving life – being pushed along nicely, while we were gurning our hearts out just to push forward.

But we survived. It was a gruelling run and character building.

Good for the marathon bank at least!

Last weekend we ran 15 miles. I had planned a nice route round where I live, lovely and flat for the most part and along the sea front. It follows part of the Stubbington 10k route, then the Gosport Half Marathon route. It’s my usual long run locations and I love it because I can run anywhere from 6 to 18 miles around that area without looping back on myself. It’s a very satisfying and pleasant route.

Despite the weather beautiful GORGEOUS, the run didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. As we got into it my hip just started to niggle very slightly. I had somewhat expected this as the other day it had randomly started annoying me when I was at work. Very bizarre. Nothing crazy painful, just a little nag.

During the 15 miles the nag got a bit worse and it just felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t making me slow down or change my gait but it was generating some horrible thought processes in my brain. What if this develops into an injury? What if I’m out for months and months again?

When you’ve had a couple of injuries (and close together) then any sort of niggle gives you The Fear. What if, what if, what if. I have just got going again! Don’t do this! It really killed the vibe of the run for me as I sunk into my brain and ruminated on the worst case scenario. Afterwards I felt a bit “meh” about the run. My brain was in overdrive.

That week I foam rolled and iced and did all the good stuff I know I needed to do (or avoid doing) and went for a trial run on Wednesday morning.

Pre-early morning run

The run went absolutely fine. My hip was fine. I couldn’t believe the relief. What a panic over nothing! And my run the next day equally felt as good. My hip niggle has disappeared. I’m so relieved.

I wonder whether the hip thing was something entirely unrelated to running and then putting it under pressure during the 15 miles aggravated it a bit to inflame it a bit more. But then it died away as quickly as it had arrived.

This weekend is 17 miles and I feel a lot more positive. Kyle’s running has been going well as well. He had a minor misstep in trainer choices and felt his shins start to annoy him. But he switched to a more cushioned shoe (Hokas) and things have hugely improved. Happy days indeed!

Have you ever done any of the marathons in the Netherlands?

Do you like a long taper?

How many weeks do you train for a marathon?

Bournemouth Half Marathon

I’ve done the Bournemouth Marathon twice before, but never the Bournemouth Half Marathon. And it seemed like a great race to do the week before the Chicago Marathon. A last long run. A catered long run with a medal!

Considering how my training hadn’t been exactly how I would have liked it, a sharp build-up and not as many long runs as I wanted, I decided to do three miles before we headed off the half in the morning. Sadly this meant a very early alarm as the race was to begin at 8am and it would take us an hour to drive there. Ooof.

Happily (?) I woke up before my 5.40am alarm at 5.30am and decided to just get up and give myself a bit more of a buffer. It was warm outside (15 degrees) but dark so I grabbed my hand torch. The torch (from Nathan Sports) is fantastic. It has a front and back light, a rape alarm and attaches to your hand so you actually don’t have to hold it.

The run went well. As it was so quiet I ran mostly on the road (it’s a very quiet route in general) and saw several cats and a fox, who just stood and watched me run past. It was all very peaceful.

Then I got back, quickly swapped into some new running gear and my parents, Kyle and I headed off to Bournemouth. Kyle’s brother, Zack, was also going to be running the half as his first ever half marathon (and first actual race I believe) and him and his family were already down there staying in a hotel And happily my friend Emma was running as well. So lots going on and lots of friendly faces!

My parents dropped Kyle and I off and we headed to the portaloos where we met Zack, his mum, his sister, Lucy, and his other brother, Adam. The queues for the loos were huge and seemingly not moving. With only about 15 minutes before the start I was getting nervous. Eventually I gave up and found a well concealed bush nearby. Whew!

Then we headed to the start. We heard over the speakers though that the race had been delayed until 8.15am (we later found out due to the grim police investigation of a dead body).

We spotted Emma and wished each other well which was nice. Then it was off to our respective waves and then the start.

Kyle was planning on seeing what he could do, so I let him run off while I kept to my own more gentle speed. I remembered the course well from the other Bournemouth races I’ve done (the half follows a lot of the similar marathon route, but of course less of it). I had music going and just zoned out.

The first three or so miles went by nicely and I saw Kyle on the switch-back going the other way. I also saw Zack looking relaxed just behind me. He was aiming for a sub-2 hour half, but with a bit of sketchy training and a problematic toenail it was going to be a push.

As we got to around six miles I started to feel like things were harder than I wanted. My pace felt less relaxed and I suddenly felt overwhelmingly tired. As soon as I recognised that feeling I couldn’t get it out of my head. Like a niggle in my brain, all I kept thinking off was “I’m so tired. This is so hard”.

The temperature was increasing but not crazily so. It was a lovely clear day and the crowds were out in force. Annoyingly there was a head wind directly against us as we headed down the promenade. I felt this chip away at my good vibes and the demons set up camp in my head. What if Chicago felt like this? I felt a deep dread in my stomach.

To be honest, I ran this race badly. I wasn’t racing it but my strategy was appalling. It was meant to be an easy run and I (wrongly) associated pace with effort. My watch was saying 8-8.20 and I found it bizarre that this felt hard, but I didn’t slow down. I realise I should have just backed off and actually reduced my pace to the real easy pace for that day.

Easiness can change – the weather, the course, how you feel, how you’ve slept etc. etc. can massively impact what pace is easy for you. But like a newbie I ignored it and pushed through. I knew my parents, and Kyle’s family, would be mile eight and I got a horrible déjà vu from when I ran the marathon the first time and ignored my dad at this point saying I should stop because I felt a lot of pain in my knee. I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t suffering any niggles, but I was feeling so drained. Should I stop?

As I got to my dad I did stop. He looked very worried – I don’t normally do this during a race. I said how I felt and how hard I was finding it. He suggested maybe I drop out? Or walk a bit? But I was resolved to finish. I had a little cry, a big hug and then headed off. This hugely helped. I felt like I’d had an emotional pick-me-up gel. A hug in a gel if you like.

Then I was hit with the hill that I was very familiar with during the marathon. Thankfully not the 18 miler hill which is horrific, but a shorter and less sharp hill, but tough nonetheless. I felt a new lease of life and pushed on up, smiling as much as I could remembering reading an article that smiling triggered happy feelings in your body. What a loon I must have looked like.

Then it was a lovely downhill which I fully embraced and a long slog to the Boscombe Pier. The sand underfoot that had blown over from the beach made for an annoying running path… the wind dead against us… the sun in my eyes… it all felt so very hard. But I spotted Kyle’s dad and he gave me a big cheer as I headed onto the pier, then back down the other way to the Bournemouth Pier. Now the wind behind us and I felt strong and picked it up a gear. I was almost done!

I finally managed to overtake people (having spent most of the race being overtaken) and whizzed along the pier and to the finish. Done!

I was so glad to stop. I felt exhausted. 1:45:58.

I collected my medal and saw Kyle. He’d finished in 1 hour 40 mins and 12 seconds, sadly about 20 seconds off his PB. He had had a hard run too. But still, a fantastic time. Zack finished in just over 2 hours 1 minute and 18 seconds – oh so close!! He was happy though, as well he should for his first half marathon.

I also saw Emma. She’d had a tough race too but, like me (or like I’d planned anyway) had used it as a last long run before Chicago.

For my race, in retrospect I should definitely have slowed down. My ego got in the way and I paid for it by having a miserable run. I was pleased to have gotten 16 miles for the day though – my last long run before Chicago. And I will definitely relax the pace if it starts to feel like that. Lesson well and truly learnt! Chicago is about getting to the finish uninjured without issue. No heroics or pushing through anything crazy.

We had a few photos, celebrated finishing and then headed home. Whew! I was tired, hungry and mentally drained.

Next stop now, Chicago.

Have you ever run a mentally tiring race?

Have you ever done the Bournemouth Half or Marathon?

Learning lessons again

Another week gone by and another week closer to the Chicago Marathon.

I had a solid week of running, totalling up to 32 miles by Sunday. I am beyond chuffed!

The run I did on Tuesday was a real confidence booster of a run. I ran with Kyle and unfortunately Kyle wasn’t feeling that well but I was feeling like a spring ready to be released.

After to’ing and fro’ing and feeling guilty, I decided to run ahead of Kyle so I could embrace this new found energy and get in a solid tempo workout. Minus girlfriend points I know, but he did reassure me it was OK for me to go ahead. Every run is important right now and if I can make some minor gains where I can, I need to take that opportunity.

I found myself getting faster and faster as the run continued and in the end sprinted to a 7 minute mile finish feeling strong and in control. My hamstring was only slightly uncomfortable and generally fine afterwards. Whew! Though of course I won’t be doing this every run, it was nice to be able to turn my legs over a bit faster just to see how things felt and to push myself a bit more. Five solid tempo miles complete!

Thursday was the Wiggle Run for the month and we headed out for a seven mile relatively easy paced run.

It was nice to chat to people, run a different route and basically get out of the office. Actually the route ran some of the Portsmouth Coastal Marathon so brought back good memories for me.

My hamstring did feel a bit more uncomfortable towards the end and concerned me a little, but afterwards felt fine and the next day was absolutely fine again. Clearly Tuesdays session was not entirely risk-free, but thankfully nothing to set me back.

On Saturday Kyle and I headed down to the exceptionally windy Lee-On-Solent parkrun to meet up with our friends Ben and Caroline.

Jeeze it was so gusty! As Lee parkrun is literally straight along the front we really felt the brunt of that wind. Luckily the wind was coming off from the sea rather than directly against us but it was still tough with wind blowing directly into your ear for half the run.

The start was a little stressful too. The run director explained the course, did the thank yous and then straight away counted down to begin the run. No one was in position ready! And as there were over 400 runners it was quite chaotic.

It took us about half a mile to find a position where we weren’t jostling into people or trying to overtake slower runners. Kyle and I ran together and then at the end he sprinted off (payback time eh ;-)).

I managed 24:27 which I’m happy with and at the end I met a lovely blog reader too (who zipped past me super fast in the final sprint!). Turns out she was an old friend I used to know back in the day, so it was nice to see her again.

Then Kyle, Ben, Caroline and I headed to The Penguin Café for brunch.

This is your proper greasy spoon standard British café. We love it here. It’s definitely quantity over quality to some degree but it’s always so friendly, the service is fantastic and the whole café is full of penguin pictures and artwork. Love it!

We all had the Emperor Breakfast, which is basically the biggest breakfast on the menu: three bits of bacon, two sausages, two eggs, beans, mushrooms, hash browns, black pudding, tomatoes, toast and a cup of tea (for under a tenner!). It definitely fills a hole.

The rest of the day was about chilling and doing some chores. We briefly considered going out for another run that afternoon to make up our long run (so for me this would be about 13-14 miles, 9 for Kyle). We could see the forecast for the next day looked even windier and potentially downpouring. The idea of that sort of run really didn’t appeal so doing it on Saturday instead seemed tempting.

But in the end we decided to just do it the next day as we weren’t in the right mindset. Plus I don’t think I’d have felt like it was a proper long run. Like yes the miles would be there and ordinarily on any other marathon lead-up I wouldn’t have minded but with having so few quality long runs due to my injury, I really needed to make sure each one I did manage was of quality.

Unfortunately this meant that during the night I slept terribly due to the howling wind, lashing rain and foreboding run. I woke up at 8.30am and looked out the window at the trees being thrashed around and wished so much I’d have done the run the day before.

I got myself together and took Alfie for a walk so I could wake my body up and also see how bad the weather really was. It was warm outside, slightly wet with spitting rain but generally just super windy. And the wind was coming off the seafront, like the day before, so actually we would only be fully against it for a few miles throughout the run. Not too bad!

We both got ourselves together and headed out. Within the first few miles it became clear that the run wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared.

And we saw the pumpkins!

It was a little warm and of course super windy, but actually it was very pleasant. We kept the pace sensible and found ourselves feeling good and enjoying it.

When we got to eight miles, Kyle headed off back home to finish his 12 miles and I carried on. My plan was to follow the same 15 mile route I’d used the previous two weeks but at 10 miles, providing I was feeling good, I could add an extra mile. And right at the end I could add another loop for a further mile if I was still feeling good.

Very windy along the seafront

Happily when I got to mile 10 I was feeling somewhat strong and added the first extra loop. As I got to about 12 miles though I started to flag. The wind was now against me and I could feel my energy sapping.

I know I’m very lucky in my running that I rarely “hit the wall” but I definitely felt like I was. I got to a set of complicated traffic lights (about three different traffic light points to get across a big crossroad) and I stood there grateful for the moment’s rest. I wasn’t out of breath or hurting, I was just tired. I felt a wave of mental and physical exhaustion… Five miles was a long way to go!

But as I set off again I felt a new lease of life, a second wind, and popped some music on and embraced this new energy. I was back on it again!

It became a struggle again on the final mile, but at this point the end was in sight. I was on my way to stopping and sitting down. What a relief!

I finished strong, but exhausted and very thirsty. The humid temperature and the salty spray from the sea had made my mouth very dry. I guzzled down a pint of water as soon as I got in.

Kyle’s run had gone well too and we were both chuffed we’d gotten out and done it despite our initial reservations.

As I’m dog-sitting at the moment for my parents (three dogs plus my Alfie), I ended up having to do a lot of walking throughout the day as I can’t walk them all at once. And I also met my lovely friend, Kim, for a coffee which involved about three miles round walk in total too.

In the end I walked over 45,000 steps and was SHATTERED. I didn’t feel hungry (even by 5pm and having just had porridge to eat all day), I had a terrible headache and just felt so drained.

I should have rested more but I felt guilty about not walking the dogs. My parents usually take them for a big walk down the beach but I just can’t do that on my own. So I kept taking them out for little walks to keep them entertained and happy.

Though my hamstring felt absolutely fine I just felt terrible. 17 miles is a big step-up in the great scheme of my lack of training and the wind definitely didn’t help. Though my mind is like “Pft! 17 miles, I’ve done that loads of times”, I need to remember that actually it’s been a while. I need to be sensible. Lesson very much learnt!

But I’m chuffed I had a solid long run!

How do you recover after a long run?

Do you dread runs sometimes?

Winchester parkrun and 15 miles – restraint and control

This weekend was a weekend of two halves I feel, weather-wise. Saturday was beautiful and then Sunday… ehhh less so.

On Saturday morning Kyle and I headed to Winchester to meet up with the lovely Emma. We’ve become good friends since I met her when I went to New York last year.

She’s also going to Chicago and doing the marathon this year. So we headed to do Winchester parkrun with her and then have some brunch. Happily parkrun was actually on this time as the last time we tried to do this it was cancelled.

It was a beautifully sunny day. I’ve done Winchester parkrun before, but at the end of running there from Hedge End with a group of my running club and we managed 18 miles in the end. So I wasn’t quite as fresh!

The course is a two lapper, which is always good, and mostly on grass. It’s flat and scenic and the loops not too sharp – if you were aiming for a good time it’s a good course to go for.

As I was planning a long run the next day I wasn’t aiming for anything more than a gentle plod. I haven’t run twice in a row for many weeks now, but as I was feeling so much better and my runs were going well I decided it was time to get back into my usual routine.

We saw Emma, listened to the run briefing (which was so hard to hear over the crowd of people and the woman just using her voice) and then headed to the start.

Kyle, not being quite as fragile as me right now, decided to go a bit faster so headed closer to the front. As we started I remember just how much I enjoyed parkruns when I wasn’t blasting out for a time. I mean it’s the story of my running life to be honest, anything short and fast is just not my thing.

It was really confident boosting though to realise that running around 8 minute miles felt like a breeze. My breathing was easy, I felt strong in my legs and like I could run for miles. As much as I was tempted to speed up significantly at the end (which I’m sure would not have felt easy or quite as enjoyable!) I managed to just sail through to the finish, unbothered by anyone zooming past me in a sprint finish. Control, Anna, CONTROL.

Kyle managed just over 21 minutes (holding himself back a little as he was conscious of his own long run the next day) and I got 23:30. Then we headed for brunch at Josie’s.

Kyle and I have been to Josie’s in Bishop Waltham before but not this one. It was a 20 minute wait for a table, which was fine. It just showed how popular it was! My stomach definitely kicked into gear though watching all the food coming out.

I managed to avoid the temptation of a fry-up and ordered mushrooms, egg and feta on toast instead. I’m glad I went for a change because this was so tasty! And super filling, surprisingly.

I mean it did also help that I shared a stack of maple pancakes with egg, sausage and bacon with Kyle as well. Details, details.

The pancakes here are super sweet, thick and incredible tasty. I’m not personally a huge pancake fan but sharing a portion hit the spot (I can only share food if I know I have more than enough!).

After having a lovely catch up with Emma we parted ways.

The next morning Kyle and I were up at 8.30am to head out for a long run. My plan was to run 15 miles and Kyle was to run 12. I was fully prepared to run less miles though if things felt off. I’m being suuuuuper cautious. We walked Alfie first and I started feeling nervous.

I always feel so nervous now before running. It’s ridiculous I know, but the memory of the injury and the fear of it coming back definitely haunts my running at the moment. But I needn’t have worried because as soon as I started running I felt it all slot into place and I was feeling good.

It was tipping it down though so we were wet pretty much from the get out. To be honest, I didn’t really mind though. It was fairly warm and it kept us nice and cool. The only annoying moments were if you stepped in a big puddle and soaked your trainer and my pony tail sticking to my back. But otherwise it was a lovely pleasant run. We did feel like quite the super heroes running with people looking at us like we were mad.

We passed a couple of other runners and swapped smug knowing nods – we are no fair weather runners. We are warriors.

We got to eight miles, where Kyle was to head back, making up his 12 miles, and I was to head onwards further to get my 15 miles. We stopped briefly for a quick photo and I waved goodbye and popped my podcast in.

A jokey photo Kyle took of me running off

As much as I love running with Kyle I do really enjoy running on my own. Just managing my pace however I fancy, zoning out and listening to a podcast. I will never get sick of it. I just love it so much.

The rain came and went a bit and I found myself getting stronger as the run carried on. There was an annoying long road that I ran down where cars hurtled through puddles, splashing me time and time again, but really I was so wet by then it didn’t matter.

My hamstring did niggle a bit towards the end, but manageably so, so nothing to worry about. I felt like this run was a lot more controlled and not quite as tough as the week’s before 15 miles. I sensibly didn’t blast the final miles which helped! So when I finished I didn’t feel quite as drained or broken.

The hot shower at home was so good. And the hot porridge and cup of tea went down a treat. Some things will never get old for me. Long running, porridge, tea… it just makes me a very content Anna!

So three weeks until Chicago now. I feel good… I mean of course I wish I had a few more week’s training under my Flipbelt and I hope the hamstring niggle eventually goes away completely but beggars can’t be choosers.

If I’m sensible in the lead-up and sensible on the day, I should be OK (TOUCH WOOD!!). I have no plans to blast the run or push myself too hard. I have nothing to gain from that. I want to be running after Chicago too and I don’t want to reignite any issues. I just want to gently and quietly tick this marathon off and then continue to run without issue afterwards. That to me sounds like perfection.

Do you enjoy running in the rain?

What’s your favourite pancake topper?