The highs and lows

Christmas is close upon us, as is the delightfully aesthetic new year, 2020.

So I decided to do a little look back at the year – a review if you will. I want to keep it mostly positive because lord knows we need some positivity around here what with the election, Brexit and my own personal knee strife. But I’ll start with running, which will inevitably tumble down into a bit of negativity but then I’ll move on quickly to more happy affairs.

For running, 2019 has been a tale of two stories for me. The first half of the year I felt like my running was going really well. I ran a really strong Portsmouth Coastal Marathon at the end of 2018, then headed into 2019 and hit Barcelona Marathon (3:31:45) and Manchester Marathon (3:23:04) fairly close together with similar good results.

Good results for me basically means feeling strong in my running and finishing happy. I did both of those things for both of those marathons. Barcelona was quite hot and Manchester was quite boring, but asides from that they went really well.

I also managed to score a new PB for my 10k at the Manchester 10k (41:40). Considering I detest 10ks this hadn’t been a particular focus of mine but a happy outcome of some consistent strong running.

Then came the Hamstring Saga which stretched on far too long but eventually I was able to overcome this issue with a lot of rehab, support and whining. So much whining. I saw the end in sight as I hurtled towards the Chicago Marathon. The week before saw my knee blow up and I ran cautiously through the marathon (thank goodness painlessly) and here I stand over nine weeks later and my knee is still not right.

Regardless of the second half of the year stuttering to a rather sad running-less end, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved. Three marathons – two very strong ones and one “victory lap” marathon. I got my Six Star Finisher medal. Of course I’m proud of that and happy I achieved it this year when so many times throughout the year the threat of my hamstring (and then knee) made me doubt myself.

But running aside… There have been so many good things this year.

Favourite food: Ah jeeze this year was bloody amazing for the food I ate. So many new restaurants tried and I even managed to go out of my usual habit of ordering chicken wings all the time (shock).

The top contenders are the incredible Jayne Salad from The Parade Tearooms as this speaks to my soul in a big way – I love salads but I HATE tiny portions. This is the perfect salad for me and my greedy personality.

The meal we had after I finished the Chicago Marathon was incredible. I mean, everything tastes incredible post marathon but this was really tasty. It had everything I craved: wings, rib bites and loaded nachos. Heavenly.

A recent addition was the meal we had in Brighton at MEATLiquor. The wings of course were awesome but it was the hot dog that I keep thinking about. It was amazing and opened my mind to ordering something different. I wasn’t sure if I liked it but not I just want to eat hot dogs all the time.

And top of the list must be the INCREDIBLE roast dinner we had in Bristol at Pasture. It was INSANELY good.

The meat, the vegetables, the gigantic Yorkshire pudding and of course the oh so tasty side dish of creamed leaks. It rocked my world and back.

Favourite books: I’ve read a number of books this year and a few highlights have been Ready Player One which I read in like two and a half days, I just loved it. It was so gripping! Way better than the film.

I also loved Big Little Lies – how I’d managed to avoid all spoilers is incredible because that twist at the end was really enjoyable! My favourite book though was the Cows by Dawn O’Porter.

I loved the feminist issues it brought up and it really made me think. As a side note, I’m currently reading Crazy Rich Asians and I’m loving how batshit it is.

Favourite films: Well Kyle and I have seen 40 films (so far) this year. Next week we’ll be adding probably four more before the end of the year. With our Unlimited Cards it has been AMAZING.

My favourite was Knives Out, followed closely by Green Book, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Long Shot, Beautiful Boy (that film destroyed me) and Us. On my dud list was Hellboy (horrifically awful), Detective Pikachu (I fell asleep) and Alita: Battle Angels (too much uncanny valley).

We also worked out we’ve spent about £180 on Subways (we always get a footlong to take with us to eat in the adverts) – that’s 480 inches of subway. The mind boggles.

Favourite song: I’m still as obsessed with Billie Eillish as ever. I’ve been listening to her music for years and was a fan before she sort of exploded this year. I’m so happy she’s so successful of course but part of me is a little bitter that now I have to share her 😉 She’s so talented (with her brother of course) and her voice is INCREDIBLE. Yes she’s a bit weird and quirky, but I love it.

So 2019 was a pretty solid year. I have made so many amazing memories, with both friends, family and of course Kyle. I’m a happy Anna right now, despite my sad knee.

What’s been your favourite movie of the year?

What food have you really loved this year?

What’s been your favourite race?

What’s (not) been happening lately

So since Chicago Marathon I haven’t run.

My knee is not happy. Straight after the marathon it felt quite battered, a little swollen and very stiff. Walking was fine to an extent but I could feel my knee.

I mean this is to be expected. The week before the race I woke up with a swollen knee and it felt very off and weak. Running 26.2 miles on it is unlikely to make the situation better of course.

But now over 3.5 weeks later the swelling has gone and in general it feels fine to walk but it is still so stiff and when I bend it doesn’t feel great. Kneeling on it niggles it too.

I am really trying not to scream and shout at my body in annoyance. I’m trying not to let this get me down. Of course I’m beyond chuffed that I managed to run Chicago without issue. I didn’t have to stop. I didn’t feel any pain. I did feel limited in how fast I could run for fear of aggravating things, but I remained at a consistent pace and finished.

Believe me when I say, I am so grateful. It could have gone a lot worse. Chicago was the goal of the year and I walked away with what I wanted – the Six Star Medal.

However, I’m still annoyed that after diligently resting nothing seems to have improved over the first week post-race. I haven’t run properly at all. A couple of times I’ve run up the road when walking Alfie to test things (because most of the time my knee feels fine) but then as I’m running I can just tell something isn’t right and it starts to feel uncomfortable and I know it’ll get painful soon.

Annoyingly I can’t quite work out exactly what is wrong. At times it’s like an IT band issue annoying the outside of my knee and feeling tight in my hip. Then other times it’s most definitely the underneath/inside of my knee and achy. I wake up in the morning and it’s very stiff (I sleep on my back and my legs are generally straight most of the night).

What is going on?!

I know I’m such a broken record and it’s laughable that I was deluded enough to believe I had a strong body to avoid the regular injuries I used to encounter when all I did was run.

*Sighs* Don’t be negative, don’t be negative…

I wonder if my hamstring injury is the root to this happening. Over the past few months I’ve avoided some of my usual leg strength exercises (like lunges and squats). My legs I guess have become weaker… my hamstring injury was the other side so perhaps I overcompensated? I could wonder about this forever but it doesn’t change the fact that I cannot run and I don’t seem to be getting better.

I’m seeing my physio tonight and hoping to have some answers. Fingers crossed.

How’s your running going?

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?

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?

Decisions, decisions

The Chicago Marathon is now merely six weeks away.

Obviously I’m panicking, do I need to say this? And the question of whether or not to run it still hangs above me. I mean, to be honest I could absolutely leave it until the morning of the race to decide if I’m going to do it or not. Kyle and I will be going to Chicago whatever my running outcome is. The flights and accommodation are all booked. There was never a consideration that we wouldn’t be going so whatever happens we’ll have a nice holiday. That isn’t up for debate.

What is up for debate is me being on the start line. I mean you could argue I should just go and try it anyway. I get no money back by not doing it. Our accommodation is literally a 10 minute walk from my corral. Effort levels of getting there are minimal.

Instead the risk is that by attempting it I will be making my hamstring injury worse because, let’s face it, us runners are stubborn beasts and once we set our mind to a race we will do our very best to run, walk, crawl to the end. And while yes that’s great in terms of making the most of a shitty situation, I could making the situation afterwards, well, more shitty.

The idea of starting and then going “ah you know what, it doesn’t feel that great, I’ll stop” requires a very strong mind. To limp through a race in my opinion is the weaker stance… By recognising that it’s best to stop requires far more strength. And with the adrenaline and thousands of other runners and supporters surrounding me, I don’t think I would be able to. I would push on through.

So I must decide before that day. And ideally, before I get to Chicago so’s not to get swept away with it all if the decision is the worser outcome. But I still have six weeks. So where am I at?

Well, it’s not a great place I have to admit. While my hamstring has definitely improved, it isn’t healed. The everyday niggle and ache isn’t always there. I have days when I barely feel it and running itself is a lot better. I’m not feeling restricted or like it’s such a nag I need to stop. But the feeling of discomfort is still in the background. No run has felt 100% perfect.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much? Perhaps it’s very gradually diminishing but because I’m inside my body every day I can’t tell. Or what if I’m just getting used to the constant discomfort and settling for “it’s not too bad”? I wish I could put myself in my body a few months or weeks ago and compare. Is it better? Or am I fooling myself?

The Wiggle crew I ran the 10 miles with

I ran 10 miles last week (and 20 miles overall). The 10 miles was uncomfortable and the hamstring did nag me, but it didn’t seem to get worse and I could complete 10 miles at a relatively normal pace (for me). Though that evening it ached and the next day it felt worse than before the run. But the next day I was absolutely fine and could barely feel any issues – despite having a two hour car journey to and from Bristol (which would previously feel like hell being sat down for so long).

So then the question is, do I do Chicago if running still feels uncomfortable? If it doesn’t do any long-term damage (this is a question I need answered) and is just an annoying nag the entire time, do I still do the marathon?

Am I being a perfectionist to want my last Marathon Major to be a fun and enjoyable experience – like my other Majors? Can I accept 4-5 hours of discomfort to just get it done? Do I throw away my chance to finish the last Major this year because I want the memories to be amazing? Or do I throw the towel in and have to fly out and do it all again next year (a Friday to Sunday night style affair on my own) because I want the experience to be what I’ve dreamed it would be (or at least, any issues I have aren‘t hamstring-related).

Sadly this injury is not the type of injury (hamstring tendinopathy) that just goes away with rest. Thirteen weeks of not running definitely showed that. Everything I’ve read online and the physios I’ve seen and spoken with have advised that rest is not best. I mean, that’s not to say that running through it is a good idea either. It means rehab and strengthening. And there are set-backs and aggravations and you can be setback weeks (I’ve experienced that a few times!).

I try not to read the forums anymore (you really shouldn’t) but so many people have said they had this injury for months, sometimes years. And even then they weren’t properly over it. It’s a depressing place in those forums and I know not to read too much into it or apply it to me… But when you’re standing on the edge of a big decision, it’s hard not to be dragged down there.

But until things really regress, I just have to keep going. I actually have no idea what to do otherwise. Even without thinking about Chicago, I want to run normally going forward. When it’s been so long you can’t seem to see an end. Will I be running normally next year? At this rate, I don’t know. Yes I’m being melodramatic, pessimistic and pathetic, but it’s hard not to let the panic consume you. When something you so love to do is taken away from you – or tarred in some way – your outlook can be a bit bleak.

Sorry for being so down. I just needed to vent.

What would you do?