Is it me, or are things getting more difficult?

(YEAR IN FOCUS ...
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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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Welcome 2009 – The Year of Five Marathons

Runners participating in the 2004 US Marine Co...
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I can’t believe it has been nearly six months since I last wrote. Actually, yes I can. I just kept putting it off, and putting it off and before I knew where I was, it was the end of the year. I did run five races between the last post and this, including my piece de resistance – The Dublin Marathon where I wiped the floor of my previous best by finishing in 3:56:02. I will do a post which outlines my experiences at those five races, but this post is just a hello from me and a pledge for this year.

I ran two marathons in 2007.

I ran three marathons in 2008.

So…

I am going to run five marathons in 2009.

I am already signed up for London (again) and Edinburgh and I think I will finish the year with New York in November. I haven’t decided on the other two yet, although I have been invited to go and do the Munich marathon, which is three weeks before New York. I am quite tempted, although it means I am going to be quite tired for New York, but we shall see. If I want to up my tally again in 2010 then running two marathons in a months shouldn’t intimidate me.

In between, I will do some halfs and 10 and 16 milers along the way, but that is my goal. And I would also like to get a Boston qualifying time if I could (easier said than done), so I will need to shave more than 6 minutes off my best time.

Best get training…

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Olympic Inspiration for the Average Runner

I absolutely love the Olympics. Of course, I have favourite events – the Equestrian, the Swimming, the Marathon, the 10,000 metre – but I can sit and watch any of it. I almost wish the Olympics was run every year, although perhaps that would take the fun out of it? Or perhaps not…I reckon I would still be just as gripped by it. Having mixed allegiances means that I usually have two teams to cheer for. If the Aussies can’t get a medal then I want the Brits to (or best of all I would love them to both get one, like the silver/bronze achieved in the Equestrian Eventing). If neither of them are in the top three, then its NZ or Ireland. But I will still sit there clapping and cheering when anyone does a fine job or holding my head if someone messes up, no matter what country they represent.

So many people go on about the “magic of the Olympics” that it is now a bit of a cliche. But there really is a magic, and it is one which affects so many aspects of my sporting life – whether it be my running or my horse riding.

I was watching the interview with Paula Radcliffe a couple of days back and I could feel the ‘magic’ filling me. I was so inspired by her determination, her smile and enthusiasm, despite the disappointment she experienced in Athens in 2004 and the sheer scale of the competition she was facing. In the short interview, you could see in her eyes that she adored what she did for a living. Running marathons was her dream ‘job’, despite the hours of training, the tears, the triumphs and the sheer hard work. When I was out running this morning, wanting to stop and have a rest at 6 miles into my 7 mile run, I thought of her and how many times she would have felt like I did (although probably a lot faster and a lot further into a run). Would she have given up? No. Would any of the athletes who were competing have given up? No. And what separates me from them? Physically – a lot. Mentally – not very much at all.

I think every runner can draw inspiration from Paula and every other athlete at the Olympics in Beijing. I know that most of us will never run at that level, but just getting out there to run – to compete with ourselves and the clock and the terrain – puts us in the same league. I am as proud of every one of my medals as any Olympian, even though I know that everyone else who ran the races I did have the same medals hanging in their bedrooms. Each one is as good as any Olympic gold medal to me because I know I did the very best I could. That’s why I wish the Olympics could be run every year – just to let me watch the people I so admire, and remind me to keep doing my best no matter what.

In the meantime, I have a half marathon to run on Sunday morning. Paula will be lining up just after midnight on Saturday night, and despite the fact I need my sleep, I will be setting the alarm to watch the women’s marathon. I need my inspiration more, and I want to be just one more voice to cheer her on.

Good luck Paula.

Thank you so much, Vidiot, for the image. I was more than 2 hours behind her in New York so just didn’t get a chance to see her. This almost makes up for that.

Heavy Breathing

In 1993 I had a small(ish) accident playing touch rugby. Thanks to a small collision with a team mate, I landed up with 12 stitches down my head, two chipped front teeth and a broken nose. Fortunately (and to my parents relief), the accident didn’t affect my looks in any way, to the point that you have to look very hard for the scar which is about the only visible indicator of the incident.

However, I remember that accident every single time I get out to run, and I am sure that people running around me find out about it too. Although my nose was repaired aesthetically, it means that my right nostril is always very slighly blocked. If I cover my left nostril, I can’t get enough oxygen in without opening my mouth, which effectively means that I only have one and a half bits of nose to breath through rather than the two which most other people have.

The result is this. 1 – 2 miles into a race, I am breathing through my mouth only, and quite heavily too. I must sound like I am really struggling because I have had people comment before. Because I normally run my training runs with an iPod, I tend not to hear myself. It is only when I am running an ipod free race that even I realise that I must sound like I have entered the race with about two days of training.

Honestly, I am fit. I can finish this race. Please don’t panic – I am not going to collapse and die (even though I might sound like I am). I just need to breathe heavily to get in the amount of oxygen required to complete the run, and seeing my nose isn’t helping me at all, I don’t have a lot of choice.

I don’t know whether this is a real problem or an imagined one (perhaps I am not as fit as I would like to think?), but it is most definitely a problem I have to live with. And my fellow race runners are going to have to live with it too. Perhaps I should wear a T-Shirt which says “heavy breather” clearly across the back. It might help me avoid some of the looks or sympathetic comments about how I am ‘struggling’ but I can get there.

Thank you to iTripped for the image

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.

Why, Smokers, Must You Sap Me of my Oxygen

I really don’t like smokers. Actually, that is unfair as my boyfriend remains a smoker, as are two of my colleagues at work and I like all of them very much (particularly my boyfriend). So let me rephrase that – when I am running, I get really annoyed with smokers who don’t seem to realise that I need all of the oxygen I can get.

I frequently run along the Thames river path – a glorious pathway which follows the river as it meanders all the way to the Tower of London (although that is a 19 mile distance away so I tend not to run quite that far). Because of the beauty of the scenery and quality of the path, I often share it with walkers, families, dogs, children, prams, bikes and other runners.

And smokers.

It always amazes me – when you are out doing something healthy like walking along the river, accompanied by ducks and the sound of lapping waves, why would you want to pollute the air by blowing cigarette smoke into it? Or, more importantly – why would you want to pollute everyone else’s air? Especially mine!

Picture this – you see a group walking up ahead. You know that you are going to have to duck around one side or the other of them (as they are straddling the width of the entire path) and you try and judge whether you would prefer to run through the hedge or almost fall into the river. You make your decision, call out ‘coming through’ as you contort your body so the hedge doesn’t remove an eye, and you are met with a lungful of cigarette smoke as the person nearest you waits until that very moment to exhale all of their toxic fumes. Don’t they realise how unpleasant it is? I’ve already had to weave around wafts of it as I was approaching you. The last thing I want is a lung full of it. I find that my face screws up naturally as I make all attempts to stop breathing for long enough for the unpleasant odour to pass. And more often than not, the smoker is blissfully unaware of my discomfort, my faltering steps and my facial expression which would turn milk sour as they take another long drag.

Really, running is an exercise that requires air – plenty of it. Anything that impedes that flow of clean air makes the whole experience a lot more difficult to deal with. Generally, if it is getting towards the end of a run, I need all the oxygen I can get. Your inconsiderate exhalation makes my run to my imaginary finish line momentarily harder. Thanks – I can put myself through enough torture. I don’t need you to make it worse.

I try to understand – I mean, in Britain now it is illegal to smoke inside any public place, and inside is defined as anything with a minimum of three walls. So it means that in order to get their fix of tar, they have to go outside. But don’t they realise that I am running because I don’t smoke and have no desire to start.

So that’s my rant. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh on the poor smokers. I mean, they aren’t solely to blame for the depletion of clean air and oxygen so necessary to the average runner. Don’t get me started on the men and women who think that dousing themselves in perfume or aftershave is a great idea before a run, or worse, those people allergic to deoderant and clothes washing…

But that is probably another (even more unpleasant) story for another time.

Thank you hegarty_david for the image

The Early Morning Run


She wakes me every morning – that blasted cat. I hear her clawing at the quilt incessantly, knowing that eventually I will give in. The problem is, over however many years of her doing this, especially in summer, I have trained myself to wander into the kitchen, give her a handful of cat kibbles and go back to bed. But now that my time is more constrained and I am determined to run, for the first time in a very long time, Dizzy is more of a blessing than a curse.

I have found that in order to make myself go out in the morning, I have to have laid my running gear out the night before. There is a little pile on the floor – shorts, t-shirt, socks, underpants, bandana for my hair, water bottle filled, bum pack ready to put my iPod in. When I get up, I feel the battle begin – every morning it’s the same…

“Oh, it would be so nice to get back into bed for another half an hour…the quilt is still warm”

“You know you are going to feel lousy if you do”

“Yes, but I could always run this evening?”

“There is no chance that is going to happen, you know it”

“But it looks like it is raining outside”

“Since when have you ever been bothered about running in the rain?”

“But…but…just another half an hour”

“Come on, Nancy – get your gear on, get out there, you know you will enjoy it. Just 5 miles this morning. It’s not that much”

As time has gone on, the voice of running reason has been winning out more and more. I slip into my gear without even bothering to have a coffee and I am out.

I start my run accompanied by Steve Runner at Pheddippidations. I am still working my way through his archive so I reckon I have plenty of mornings to go yet before I run out of recordings of his encouraging voice. After 10 minutes of a slow warm up jog I am beginning to enjoy myself. I generally find myself smiling at one of Steve’s jokes or nodding at an observation. The most wonderful part is getting the enouragement from my cyber running buddy which helps me over Richmond Bridge, or pushes me into the next interval. If I get through an episode of Steve before my run is finished, I listen to Nigel at Running From the Reaper or Matt at The Dump Runners Club. One of those two will usually bring me home – sweating and very, very content. Ready to start my day.

I know this is easy in summer, when it is light well before I get up. But my hope is that I can get the routine so firmly entrenched that when winter comes, and the pile on the floor also includes gloves, woolly hat, rain jacket, lights and reflective bib, I will still win the argument with myself.

Now let’s see if Dizzy can still keep up with the wake-up call when it is cold and dark in the morning. You’d better – oh fat cat – I’m relying on you.