Category Archives: Running

Do These People Even Know What ‘Sport’ is?

Oxford Street, at a busy junction
Image via Wikipedia

This is going to be a bit of a rant, so I apologise in advance.

Last week, I decided that I really needed a new pair of running gloves (I appeared to have lost one of my old ones so I had at least one very cold hand when I went out running – and I looked a bit silly). I thought that while I was at it, I might pick up a new pair of running tights as well, seeing the weather is pretty cold. So, I marched up to Oxford Street and went to a ‘Sports Store’.

Notice the inverted commas there?

Upon entering this ‘sports store’ you might be fooled into thinking that actually there was only one sport in the world (football – not such a bad sport but not helpful in this situation). You could also be fooled into thinking that anyone who does ‘sport’ is actually far more concerned about what they looked like than the sport itself. And then you had to look around at the people shopping there, and realised that ‘doing sport’ probably never came into it.

I am not kidding, but there were quite a few whose idea of sport was probably lounging in front of the TV with a jumbo bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Of course, they would be decked out in all of the latest Nike gear whilst they were in front of the TV, but it wouldn’t go beyond that.

Do these people even know what sport is?

I went to the desk and asked a somewhat gormeless looking young chap whether they had running gloves. He mumbled something vaguely incoherent and waved me over to a corner where a big sign proclaimed the word ‘running’. OK. That’s a start. However, the running section consisted of three sad looking clothes rails, two of which were filled with brand name shirts (of which half weren’t even technical) and the third holding about 10 pairs of shorts and three-quarters in sizes 14 and above.

I marched immediately back out, wondering when sports clothes had changed from being clothes for sport to little more than a fashion statement.

My next stop was the Nike flasgship store. Yes, brand name central. And fashion central as well, so it seems. Honestly, I am a runner. I don’t care if my clothes match. I don’t care if my top is colour co-ordinated with the flash on my super technical running pants which then colour coordinates with my latest super technical running shose. If you saw the state of me on most runs, you wouldn’t need further convincing. But it isn’t just the state of me. Every runner I know couldn’t care less about latest fashion, colour matching or brand advertisement. We run because…

Wait for this…

WE LOVE RUNNING.

And to that end, I just want a pair of running gloves and a pair of running tights and I don’t care what brand, colour or innovation they carry, they just have to do the job.

I know. I’m getting old. It happens.

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Is it me, or are things getting more difficult?

(YEAR IN FOCUS ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

We all know that paying the bills is a bit more difficult nowadays. We also know that it is bit harder to make ends meet and it’s more difficult to know what the future is going to hold in terms of jobs, finance, the environment and politics. I know this isn’t me – this is just things getting more difficult as we head towards the 21st century teens.

But how come, now that I am two weeks into my 16 week marathon training schedule, I am finding it harder to run that I did when I started?

I have been running first thing in the morning before work, which is pretty tough at the best of times when it is dark, cold and wet. But it isn’t that – it’s more that I feel sluggish, tired and like I weigh about 25 stone when I am out. I only did a 4 mile run this morning in the drizzly rain, but every time I lifted up my foot to run, it was like my leg had turned to lead.

Is it because I am out running immediately after I get out of bed and before breakfast? I heard on a podcast once that even if you can’t eat before you head out first thing, having a glass of Coke helps as it gives you a bit of sugar to keep you going (I have tried this but I am not sure whether it has helped).

Is it because I am carrying extra weight after the Christmas period? Every time I pick up a 5kg bag of potatoes, I always think that that is what I am having to carry with me each run, when I really shouldn’t have it on me at all.

Is it because my poor body is in shock – going from running once or twice a week up to five times?

I am not sure what the answer is, but it is making the mornings difficult. No, I am not going to get disheartened because I am only going to improve over the next 14 weeks, but I wish I knew what was going on.

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Race Report – Heckington 10 Mile – 26 July 2008

The day was absolutely perfect in every way…for the beach. For a 10 mile run – my first race since the marathon – it wasn’t quite as perfect. For my readers over in Australia, when I say it was 27 degrees celcius, you may scoff, but my goodness it was HOT! It took me back to London Marathon day 2007 although the temeperature was even higher. Still, it was wonderful to be racing again and I had a fantastic day.

I parked up not far from the delightfully atmospheric hay cart.

The race was in Heckington in Lincolnshire. Why I was racing that far away from home is a long story which I won’t bore you with here, but actually, it wasn’t too bad. I will be comfortable looking for races which take me more than 100 miles from home again after this one. I left home at around 7.15am for an 11.00 start. It was already warm at that time so it was fairly obvious the day was only going to get hotter.  Despite both sat navs telling me different routes, 20 minutes of confusion as I found myself on a new road which neither of the sat navs had any idea about (according to both of them I was driving through a field) and sciatic problems (solved by some strong Neurofen), I made it to the Heckington Show by 10.00am. The run was part of the local agricultural show which was a pretty impressive event. I parked up, put on lots of suncream and went to find the start line and the toilets.

Because it was so warm, my normal loo loop didn’t happen. Obviously my body was determined to retain every bit of moisture I put in it. I was glad, I needed it. When the starting gun went off for two circuits of the main arena before heading out to the two loop route around the country lanes, it was clear that the weather wasn’t going to produce any stellar race times.

Nevertheless, with walking and trying to cool off, I still finished in 1:27.11. Imagine what a time one could have produced if it hadn’t have been so hot! This is because the course was flat and fast, and you know my liking for two loop routes. Anyway, here it is again…the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

  1. The scenery: The Lincolnshire countryside is glorious. Coming from London, I can just drink in the English countryside endlessly. From the hay carts and hay bales to the endless fields, it reminded me why I love the countryside so much.
  2. The marshalls, especially the wonderful lady at 5 miles: As I came to the end of my first loop, one of marshalls saw how hot I was. She asked whether she could take my hat to look after it. Of course, this is my lucky hat with tiger ears so to hand it over was a bit scary, but I was just so hot. I gave her my hat and my Shuffle and oh! what a relief. I was so grateful to her. And better still, just as I was coming to the end of my race, she retrieved my belongings and gave them back to me with a huge smile and word of encouragement. She, and all of the other marshalls were truly fantastic.
  3. The trophy: That’s two 10 ton laser cut glass trophies I have now! Both Heckington and Leith Hill are now sitting proudly on my dressing table. Much as I love medals, these are really very cool.
  4. Two loops: I do like these and out and back runs, simply because it is a lot easier to anticipate how close you are to the end. Of course, it also means that the front runners go past you well into their second loop before you have even come close to finishing your first, but I didn’t get lapped so it was fine.
  5. The Heckington Show: This was just like the Royal Adelaide Show on a small scale! I adored the Show when I was a kid – we would save for it for months. Wandering around Heckington, I looked at the chickens and the baking competitions, the draught horses and the dog show, the embroidery, the nik nak stalls, the sheep and the farrier. Honestly, if it wasn’t so hot and if I hadn’t promised Bachi I would be back in London for 6.00 I would have stayed all afternoon.

Horses! This made me very happy after my long hot run.

The Bad

  1. The heat: I have gained a new level of respect for Ethiopian runners.
  2. The lack of shade: The route was along a series of country lanes, most of which went through fields and lacked any kind of overhanging shade. All you could do was put your head down and plod on, promising yourself you would stop for a breather at the next bend or the next fence post. Fortunately I had covered myself with suncream before the race so I didn’t burn too badly, despite the amount of sweat and water I poured over my head.
  3. Not enough water: One can’t expect the organisers of this fabulous little local event to anticipate the kind of temperatures we had, and with only 175 odd runners, water at 2, 4, 6 and 8 should have been plenty. But I am not sure whether it was and I am grateful to the tiny little additional water station which seem to have been set up between 3 and 4.

The Ugly

  1. Trying to get changed after the race: picture this – stinkingly hot car, without much room to manoevre. Soaking wet Nancy from a combination of sweat and water over the head. Busy car parking area with very little privacy and a need to replace the running gear with something a little more respectable to wander around the show in. Fortunately, the car has tinted windows at the back, so with the help of a towel, I did manage to finally remove the nasty soggy running gear and put on a pair of shorts and a singlet top. But I think I was sweating more by the time the exercise had been completed than I had been finishing the race.

Fortunately for these chaps, they were only doing a bit of marching – not setting off for a 10 mile jaunt.

A New Dawn: Getting up with the Sparrows


It’s been a while since I have written, as I have been on a running hiatus. I have been hoping that my sciatica might have got better, but despite physio, a good chair, osteopathy and rest…it’s still there. I got to a point where I decided that no matter what, it was going to hurt and I really wanted to get back to pounding the pavement, so I am accepting it as part of life.

In the past month, the company has moved to a new office in central London and I have found myself commuting again for the first time in 10 years. Of course, knowing my dislike for getting out of bed, I was left with a dilemma…

When was I going to run?

My choice was, either get up and run before work, or run when I get home. However, I don’t usually get home until 7.30 or 8.00pm, by which time I am shattered and can’t do much more than have a glass of wine and a good sit down. So I finally admitted to myself that if I wanted to get back to running, and really achieve my goal of running four more marathons this year (yes, you heard correctly), then I was going to have to get over my pillow love and start running first thing.

Well, a week into running and three weeks into the new commuting experience and I am up at 6.00am and have got myself back up to 4 miles of a morning. Don’t fall over with shock – I didn’t do it overnight. I knew that if I was to achieve the morning jog, I would have to ease myself in.

Each morning, weekends included, I have been getting up 5 to 10 minutes earlier. Each time I did it, I congratulated myself, and it got a little bit easier. Of course, the fact that it is summer and light at 6.00am is helping, but I am actually enjoying getting outside bleary eyed, before I have even had my coffee, and going for a run. Although it apparently takes 30 days to create a habit, so I still have three weeks of it to go, but I am pretty damn proud of myself.

So, I am back…again. And the sparrows are thrilled.

Thanks, Hamed Saber, for the sparrow picture!

The Guilt of the Taper

I have had so many ideas for posts over the past week whilst I have been running which I have noted down for future days, but I wanted to talk specifically about the feeling which I and I am sure around 39,000 other people are currently experiencing as we head towards the big day this Sunday. That is the guilt we feel about the taper.

It is always this last week where every good book recommends you take it easy. Do a reasonable run a week before the marathon (I did a 12 miler), and then spend the next week looking after yourself, getting plenty of sleep, cutting the running down to a minimum and carbo-loading. I know it is the right thing to do, but you can’t help but worry. If you don’t taper, you can exhaust yourself before the start of the marathon, but if you do, then you are probably feeling the same as I.

I’m going to stack on pounds…

It’s pasta week for me. By Sunday, I won’t want to see another plate of pasta ever. The meals planned for this week are pasta and tuna, pasta and salmon, pasta and vegetables, pasta and chicken, lots of water, lots of fruit and vegetables and lots of pasta. We all know nowadays that eating a lot of carbohydrate isn’t so good for your waist line if you aren’t burning it off so, although I know it is psychological, this carbo-loading period still makes me feel like I am piling on the kilograms and I won’t fit into my running shorts by Sunday.

My fitness is going to vanish…

Of course it isn’t. In fact, I have read studies which say that easing up significantly on the miles before the marathon actually helps your fitness (don’t ask me how, the physiological part isn’t really my area). But that doesn’t stop us feeling like we are being lazy and minute by minute, the fitness is draining away.

All my injuries are getting worse…

Purely psychological again, but as worry begins to build leading up to the race, you start to become more aware of it. I have discovered that my so-called hamstring problem isn’t a hamstring at all. I have somehow managed to inflame a disc in my lower back which is causing a great deal of pain to my sciatic nerve which runs all the way down my right leg to my ankle. The irony is the injury doesn’t come from running – it comes from sitting too much!! I have several appointments with an osteopath to try and help it (it hasn’t helped so far) but because I know the race is coming up, it just seems to be getting worse and worse…

Anxiety dreams…

I always used to get them before exams – dreams that you forgot to show up or when you arrived you had studied for the wrong exam. Well, I now have them about marathons. I have already dreamed that I lost the ability to run, that I forgot to go the expo to get my race number and that I forgot what day it is and missed it…

Nerves…

The marathon is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical. When your body no longer wants to keep going, the only thing that will push you forward is your mind. What we should be doing is picturing ourselves getting through the wall, and picturing ourselves crossing the line. What we are actually doing is remembering how painful that wall is, and wondering how the hell we are ever going to make it to the 26 mile mark.

But overall?

Overall, I am so excited. I love this. Yes, I know I am going to be in pain. Yes, I know I am going to want to give up at mile 18 (and I won’t give up). Yes, I know I am going to be questioning my sanity as I run along the Embankment. But this is what I run for. Good luck to everyone on Sunday 13th who is running the London Marathon (or any other marathon for that matter). We’re in it together and it is going to be amazing.

Race Report – Kingston Breakfast 16 Mile Run – 30 March 2008

A Dark morning

The day started early – very, very early considering the race started between 8.00am and 8.30am and the clocks had gone forward overnight leaving us  with one hour less sleep than normal. It was pretty dark (and raining) when I got into the car, but the day was due to brighten up. I only live a 15 minute drive from Kingston but I am so glad I got there early. I made it into the allocated multi-storey car park without queueing (by the time I had walked downstairs, the queues had already started) and I made my first toilet visit without queueing (but boy, that was a miracle). It was cold, but knowing the route was flat, I was looking forward to a fast run.

The race started at 8.00 (for the 8.2miler), 8.24 (for the elite women) 8.25 (for the men) and 8.35 (for the women). Don’t worry, everyone else was confused too. And unfortunately, the lack of toilets left a 30 minute toilet queue so when I got to the back of the line at 8.10 for my last visit, it was touch and go whether I was going to make the start. As it turned out, I ran from the toilets around the corner and just made it to the back of the starting pack as the starting gun went for the women.

The toilet queue

Despite my hamstring issue (or whatever it is. I am wondering now whether actually it is another muscle back there), the course was flat, fast and fabulous. Two loops again which had the delightful result of you knowing exactly how far you had to go and what was coming up, and with my first ever negative split, I finished in an unbelievably fast 2:20.33. That is faster than 9 minutes a mile and a very comfortable race. And best of all, I felt pretty good and although I couldn’t have done another 10 miles at that pace, I could have done another 10 miles. So all set for two weeks time.

Anyway, as usual, here is the good, bad and ugly rundown of the day.

Good

  1. Weather: It started off raining, but as the morning arrived, so, eventually did the sunshine. Although handing my fleece in at the bag room was a difficult thing at the start (it was rather cold!) by the end of the second mile, I had already warmed up and was congratulating myself on my pre-race resilience. So many others were toting coats, jumpers and long sleeve T-shirts while I was feeling just right in the spring sunshine.
  2. Flat course: Ah, the best thing about a river route is that it is flat! And flat routes mean fast times. In contrast to my last race, it was a pleasure to be able to concentrate on speed rather than saving whatever you had left to get up the next hill. And because this is my usual training haunt, it was even better.
  3. Personal Best and negative split: I never thought I would manage a negative split. I ran the first 8 miles in 1:11.48 which meant the second half was run in 1:08:12! Granted I did really push myself for the last mile, but even so. When I passed the 9 mile pacer, I knew that it was going to be a good race for me. As for personal best, well, I am saying it is because the truth is I have never run a 16 miler before so in fact it is the only time I have. But I won’t tell if you don’t.
  4. Marshals: The marshals were friendly and ready with a smile and a clap. I always try and save a little bit of energy to thank them and smile at them as I run past. I think – they have given up their morning to stand in one place for several hours and argue with impatient drivers, so I am pretty grateful. A smile and a thanks is the least they deserve.
  5. Close to home: No long drive back – I was lying in a bath eating a naughty chocolate bar within an hour of finishing the race. It doesn’t get enormously better than that.
Me feeling jolly pleased with myself
Sorry about the endless picture of me taking pictures of myself, but there isn’t anyone else there to snap me!

Bad

  1. Start times and slow men: The start times were a bit of a shambles. Most people who were waiting in the toilet queue didn’t have a clue when they were due to start. And I am not sure what the purpose of starting the men 10 minutes before the women was. I started passing the trailing men at about 6 miles and then spent the rest of the race trying to dodge around them. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the paths weren’t narrow, but they were and overtaking manoeuvres weren’t always easy.
  2. Crowd support: Crowd? What crowd? Yes, it was an early start and with the time change, most people in their right mind wouldn’t have been up at that hour on a Sunday morning, but the race was pretty lonely from a support point of view. What crowd there was congregated at the finish line, and there might have been one or two pockets of people on the way (and a big thank you to them). It made it feel like a rather busy training run.
  3. Bag room attitude: Yes, there were a lot of runners. Yes, there were plenty of people to get through. But I have been to plenty of races where the bag room was free (it cost £1.00 here), the bag volunteers both took and retrieved bags (here, you had to get your own bag at the end), and they did it with a smile, a congratulations and a delightful attitude. I don’t want to be unfair – some of the people in the bag room were fine, but several appeared to resent the fact they were there and weren’t going to raise a smile or a friendly word for anyone.

Ugly

  1. The toilet queues: This was by far the biggest ugly. There were simply not enough toilets. There were half the number of toilets available as were available at Tunbridge Wells, and there were more runners. And, the toilets had been planted right in the middle of a very muddy patch of grass which made the whole experience even more unpleasant. As the race start(s) approached, the queues got longer and longer. I timed my wait – just under 30 minutes to get to the toilet. As I said, I only just made the start, so there were probably 20 or 30 people who missed it. And as this race didn’t have timing chips (why not?) then those people would have been relying solely on their own watches to get any kind of accurate time. I hate to say it, but it just wasn’t good enough. With the number of sponsors they had for this race, and the cost of entry, then surely they could have afforded a few more porta-loos. Judging by the queues, toilets are possibly the most important thing at a race and whether there are adequate ones or not will really affect one’s experience.

Humph! So speaks me! And judging by the ratings on the Runners World website I am not alone in this sentiment. Nevertheless, I was pretty pleased with the run and settled down that afternoon with a coffee in my finishers mug.
Would I do it again? For the personal best potential, most definitely. I would like to see a few changes in the race perhaps, but otherwise why not, seeing it is on my doorstep?

Good runs and bad runs

Exhausted

I don’t know whether anyone else suffers the same, but whenever I am training, I generally know within a couple of minutes of starting whether I am going to have a good run, or a bad run. A good run is where I feel like I can run forever – I get into my stride, get into ‘the zone’, and everything feels good. I had a 9 mile good run last night and got home feeling fabulous. But sadly, they are not all like that.

A bad run is where everything seems to ache, you can’t seem to get your breath and rather than being in the zone, you feel the whole time like you want to go home. The night before last, I had a bad run. I still ran, but I could tell the instance I picked up my gait that it wasn’t going to be a spectacular one. So what is it that determines whether your training run is going to be good or bad?

Without having done any kind of quantitative research on this, all I can do it suggest some hypotheses. Actually, what I am saying is I am not exactly an expert, so don’t take what I think as gospel. I wouldn’t mind doing a bit of a journal-type exercise over a period of time to see whether my hypotheses pan out, but in the meantime, for me the difference between a good run and a bad run is…

Food: if I have eaten a decent amount of good carbohydrate no more than about three hours before my run, it will generally be a good run. I remember once going for a run around midday after only having a breakfast pastry and a coffee at 8.00 that morning and almost passing out half way. And on the flip side, if I have had a good plate of wholemeal pasta for lunch and then run in the evening, I can run forever.

Rest: I sleep a lot. I love my sleep and unless I get my 8 hours a night, I am generally a pretty miserable person to be around. Power naps don’t do it for me. So, if I am tired, even if I have had a cat nap, more often than not my run will turn out to be a bad one.

Emotional state: we all get stressed about things. I like to run because it generally relieves that stress – I can switch off and think about something (anything) else other than work. However, I have had times where my mind has caught on something that is bothering me while I run and then no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to think about anything else. Unfortunately, that can turn a good run bad.

State of mind: as much as I love it, I don’t always want to go out and run. When I feel like I should or feel guilty because I haven’t run for a couple of days, then I am often setting myself up for a fall. On the days when I just can’t wait to get out there, 99 times out of 100 my run is fantastic.

Weather: this is going to sound really odd, but I love running in the rain. Generally, if it is raining, my run is going to be good. Granted, in London we are sheltered from the extremes of temperature. When it is cold here, it is only about 0 degrees. When it is hot, it is only about 25 or 26. That’s not to say we don’t ever experience extremes of heat or cold, but they aren’t as frequent. The weather here is generally pretty ‘blurgh’ – grey, overcast, not raining, no sunshine, not warm, not freezing – just nothing. On a nothing day, I am far more likely to have a bad run than I am if there is an extreme of temperature.

Route: there are only so many routes around where I live, and I know them all. I know I should do a bit more exploring, because a new route invariably means I have a good run. I do mean to jump in the car and drive somewhere different to run, but it is so convenient to just walk out the door…

I use MapMyRun.com to keep track of my progress and it provides a facility to record things like mood, nutrition and route. It would be worthwhile to see just how important each of these factors are for me personally so I know how to achieve more good runs than bad. Because ultimately that’s where we all want to be.

Salem Elizabeth, I borrowed your photo…thank you! It’s great!