Thoughts on Healthy Running

As much as I love running, it’s not always pain free. I’m not talking about the “pain” I feel when I force my legs to work particularly hard and my lungs threaten to explode. I’m talking about the running-related kind of pain that I’m not actually proud of; the kind of injuries which can put us runners out of action and make us positively unbearable to be around.

My poor feet bear the scars of the battles I have ran in the form of blisters and black toenails. I have slipped and tripped over anything from dogs, children, logs, roots, puddles to my own two feet. I have tumbled gracelessly and fallen straight into nettles, dirt and mud – resulting in a plethora of cuts and bruises to most body parts, as well as my pride. The pinnacle of my running related (self-)harm came in the form of a tree which I somehow failed to avoid. The tree, in turn, asserted its presence by breaking two of my toes.

Ok, I admit, I seem to have an aptitude for – how shall I put this? – suffering foolhardy injuries (perhaps my partner was onto something when he asked if I like to watch documentaries about natural disasters “for inspiration”). However, true running-related injuries remain a mystery to me. When it comes to IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and other conditions that send shivers down any runner’s spine, I am very pleased to say that in ten years of running, I have not run into any of them.

I put my resilience to these conditions primarily down to plain old good luck. Perhaps I have good genes or youth is still on my side. Maybe I have just never really run hard enough to truly push my body to its limits. I’m certainly in not assuming that I will dodge the running-injury-bullet forever.

Nevertheless, I have five golden rules that I run by. While they aren’t particularly novel or ground-breaking, I wanted to share them here as they have genuinely become the cornerstones of my physical fitness:

1.      Live a healthy life. I would never expect my body to be able to perform any feat of strength or endurance if I didn’t take the time to look after if properly. A healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, investing in my relationships with other people and  keeping tabs on stress and chocolate consumption are all part of my everyday adventure.

 2.      Be an athlete. I don’t think of myself as a runner; I think of myself as an athlete who happens to love running in particular. I habitually engage in physical activities other than running, such as horse riding, yoga and swimming. I work a lot on my balance, core strength and when the stars align I might even be spotted lifting weights. I don’t do these things especially to improve my running per se; I do them to improve myself as an athlete.

 3.      Think about your running form. Few would deny the importance of a good running form, both in terms of enhancing performance and avoiding injuries. In general, I like to trust my body to know what it is doing. Rather than trying to somehow consciously change the way I run, I have made running form drills a part of my warm-up routine.

 4.      Vary everything. I never do the same workout twice. I change the speed, distance, intensity, surface, time of day and direction all the time. That doesn’t mean that I never submit myself to a planned workout regime. One week, I might run a tempo session on the track, the next week I’ll take it to the beach and the week after I might run it on the hilliest trail I can find. You get the idea. The variety keeps things fun and interesting, the workouts remain challenging and the ever changing surfaces ensure that different muscles get to bear the brunt of it.

 5.      Listen to your body. This is perhaps the most important point. When my body is telling me that it’s tired, I don’t attempt to get out of this hole by trying to dig deeper. By this I don’t mean that I don’t stick with tough workouts – I quite like them actually. But when something feels genuinely wrong, I am happy to walk away and try again another day. On the other hand, I also don’t hesitate to keep going for longer than planned when a run happens to feel particularly groovy. I refuse to become a slave to any training schedule and sacrifice common sense in the process.

While these habits have done nothing to thwart my sporadic displays of gracelessness, they are certainly not doing me any harm either. In fact, I rather suspect that they have a thing or two to do with my continued enjoyment of injury free running.

 Happy, healthy running everyone!

joints

Taper Territory

I’m not going to beat around the bush here: I’m no good at tapering. Give me any training plan and I’ll hammer out the tough workouts with cheerful obedience. However, tell me to slow down and put my feet up and I not only lose that focus, but come dangerously close to losing the plot altogether. The closer I get to the actual race, the more I feel like I should be doing something (specifically, running hard); slowing down, on the other hand, feels as foreign, foolish and repulsive as eating fried insects on a stick.

My first marathon is now only fifteen days away, which places me squarely into the danger zone of metaphorical insect eating. I realised with horror that yesterday’s trail run was the last of my beloved mid-week 10km workouts. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the necessity of the dreaded taper: it’s when you funnel all that great training into a bottle, cork it up and spend three weeks shaking it with beastial vigour, only to pop the cork in unison with the sound of the start gun and explode onto the race course.  Thankfully, I have plenty of training under my belt which is ready for the bottle; I don’t intend to throw 14 weeks of lovely running into the bottomless pit of idiocy by failing to slow down now.

Instead of just sitting around and chomping on my fingernails, I am going to direct all that antsy energy at the many marathon related tasks which I have been neglecting:

  • Put some effort into dropping some serious hints in the vicinity of my partner in the hope that he will arrange an indulgent spa day for me after the race – one can always hope!
  • In the meantime, I should really stretch a little more and sign up for a sports massage or two.
  • My feet – toenails in particular – are screaming out for some love after the many weeks of abuse. I shall heed their call.
  • The pants dilemma still needs to be solved – that is, I need to decide which shorts to wear for the marathon (a recent 20 miler has revealed a disastrous chafing flaw in my favourite Nike racing shorts).
  • My newly acquired mp3 player needs to be filled with the tunes that shall ring in my ears for 26.2 miles. This is serious stuff.
  • I will investigate just how much chocolate can be consumed in taper times, by means of a personal case study.
  • Crucially, I still need to finalise the preparations for my trip to Marathon (as in, I’ll be starting my first marathon in Marathon, to run THE marathon from Marathon to Athens).
  • I need to stock up on porridge and Vaseline.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I still need to figure out what in the name of Pheidippides I want to achieve during the actual race (besides not dying).

Suddenly, fifteen days don’t sound like much time at all. Now that I have a clear chart to navigate the taper-territory (and chocolate!), I hope that my voyage across these treacherous waters will be much smoother than I had initially feared.

charts

Dreadmill Revelations

Today, the inconceivable has come to pass. Snowballs are flying in hell as I write this. Rome is burning. Yours truly had a good run on the treadmill.

Wait, what? I must admit that I’m still pretty shell-shocked myself and am trying to figure out how that could have happened. Perhaps it was just one of those days when Venus and the Moon aligned on some celestial plane, meaning that any run was destined to be awesome, regardless of the conditions. I also haven’t discounted the possibility that I may have just been temporarily possessed. The fact remains that the girl who lives by this motto

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actually had a good time running on the spot in a sweaty room full of strangers for more than an hour.

So what exactly did go, well… right? I can think of a whopping three reasons:

Firstly, I had a terrible run last night, and by terrible I mean dreadful. I joined my athletics club for a workout, not appreciating that they have moved to the winter training schedules, which means running in packs around village roads by night. (I’m still trying to simply ignore winter, so it really did take me by surprise). To make matters worse, the coach promptly sent me off with the fast paced group. While I’m glad that he has faith in me, it meant that I spent the better part of a nightly hour chasing a group of super athletes around dimly-lit streets. In the rain. They were casually discussing their sub-three hour marathon plans while I was basically fighting for my life. I never knew that my lungs were capable of generating such pain. I was roasting beneath the water-repellent-my-ass layers of my reflective rain coat, but unable to take it off lest I wanted to become a target for approaching cars. Trust me, that particular thought did not go uncontemplated throughout the evening. When the ordeal was finally over, I barely managed to stagger back to my car and the dry heaves lasted all night. But because all runners share a bit of a masochistic personality trait, today I was naturally raring to go again, keen to redeem myself. It was dark and wet yet again, so I jumped on the treadmill with a most primal “bring-it-on” attitude, knowing that whatever torture it would fathom, it could never rival last night’s agony. As it was, I found immense satisfaction in watching the rain tickle down the outside of the window in front of me. Therefore, revelation number one is that a positive attitude really helps. Who would have thought?

Secondly, I never run with music – until today. When I’m outside, I quite like listening to the wind, the waves, and the chirping of the birds (yes, I’m a treehugger). On a more practical level, I also consider it a perk to be able to hear approaching cars, wildebeests and chainsaw wielding psychopaths before the point of impact. However, earlier this week I purchased a little mp3 player and have started putting together a soundtrack for the looming marathon. Today I took the musical set-up for a trial run. I’m happy to report that the headphones are comfy, the sound is clear, the mp3 player didn’t drown in my sweat and the whole thing had the nifty and unexpected side effect of making my time on the treadmill infinitely more interesting. Revelation number two: the next time I will find myself facing the dreadmill, I shall again be armed with my loaded mp3 player.

This brings me to my final point about the joys of running on a treadmill. My training schedule demanded a threshold run from me today. My initial plan involved hitting the track (another once-in-a-very-blue-moon occurrence with me) for some good old “Yasso 800s” – I know, I know, not quite a TR but still speedwork. But due to the darkness and the rain, and mostly not wanting to repeat last nights torment (oh dear God no), I took the workout to the treadmill. And oh boy did it spice things up… the miles flew by and for the first time I know for a fact that I completed the whole workout faithfully and at the correct pace. There’s huge satisfaction in that. Revelation number 3: treadmills are great for structured speedwork; and running hard intervals makes the time pass much, much faster!

Today, the girl who runs wild has stepped upon her arch-nemesis. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’ve found an ally against winter in the treadmill, but I think it is fair to say that I have at least taken the first few steps away from the warpath. I’ll always prefer running outside*, and the wilder the trail the more I’m likely to enjoy it. However, after today, I must concede through gritted teeth that running on the dreadmill can certainly be worthwhile, bearable, and dare I say it, fun.

*Last night excluded

P.S.: I can confirm that this is also true:

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Share the Love (Liebster Award Part 1)

liebster-award

Yesterday evening I came home to a very nice surprise: the awesome Trails and Ultras has nominated me for a Liebster Award! First of all, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Trails and Ultras for this acknowledgement and kindness!

For those of you reading this, I can only recommend Trails and Ultras’ blog – it’s full of gems about running, which are illustrated with beautiful photographs and very entertaining doddles!

As far as I understand it, the Liebster Award is all about sharing our passion for writing, spreading the word and giving us an excuse to blog a little more. The rules for accepting a nomination are as follows:

  1. You must link back to the person who nominated you.
  2. You must nominate a further 11 bloggers, each with under 200 subscribers, go to their blogs and notify them of your nominations.
  3. You must answer the 11 questions given to you by your nominator and come up with a further 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

I want to nominate blogs which I think are genuinely fantastic and special to me. However, because I have only been a part of this wonderful blogging community for a short amount of time and I am sure that there are many awesome blogs around which I have yet to encounter. Therefore, it might take me a little while to reach the required eleven nominations. In that spirit, here are my nominations thus far:

SmallIslandRunner: A lovely blog documenting one runner’s mission to run every road on the island of Jersey within one year. The wonderful Ella has a contagiously positive attitude towards running and it’s been a genuine joy to follow her journey around Jersey.

Write…Run…Repeat: This is, hands down, one of the most entertaining blogs I have come across. The author is very insightful, at times sarcastic and generally self-depreciating. However, the man is an absolute pro on both the writing and running fronts – highly recommended.

Arunnertravels: A beautiful and beautifully written blog about the author’s main passions in life: travel, running and writing. This blog manages to be dreamy, passionate and entertaining at the same time. Whenever I read it, I feel as though I’m getting a little lost in another world.

Run, eat, sleep, run.: This blog is truly inspirational. The author is one of the toughest runners I have ever come across. Not only does he partake and kick ass in some of the world’s most extreme ultra events, he does so while coping with and raising awareness of Type 1 Diabetes. Absolutely amazing!

More Elevenses (Liebster Award Part 2)

The second part of the Liebster Award (I raise my glass again to the awesome Trails and Ultras!) involves getting to know each other a little better. Here are, therefore, eleven random questions which Trails and Ultra has put to me:

  1. If there were a movie based on your life who would play you and why? I’d love to say Juliette Binoche, but in reality it might have to be Franka Potente, as I’m not sure that Juliette would be up for all that running!
  2. What was the last thing you googled? The Cotswold Way 100 mile ultra. Yep, I’m having dangerous thoughts. Is anyone with me?
  3. What is one of your guilty pleasures? Mozart Truffles!
  4. What is something you know now but didn’t know then? I’m not trying to be all clever here, but doesn’t this refer to just about everything? However, I have recently come to realise that nobody is normal.
  5. What would you consider to be one of your greatest achievements? Getting my doctoral degree. A PhD is a bit like an intellectual ultra-marathon that takes more than three years to complete. I have come to the conclusion that many people have the cerebral capacity to get a PhD, but few seem to possess the guts, neuroticism and masochistic tendencies required to go the distance. I am proud to say that I am one of those few.
  6. What is the one thing not many people know about you? I have a hidden tattoo that only a lucky few have ever seen.
  7. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your life would you? What would it be? I’m sure I’m overthinking this again, but just how powerful is this magic wand? Could it be used to bring about world peace or an end to all the hunger in the world? Failing that, I’d probably use it to whack some respect and empathy into a substantial proportion of humanity.
  8. What is your favourite Disney movie? It has to be Mulan. Come on, the girl has a horse AND a dragon!
  9. What is something you’ve never done but would like to try? Sword fighting. I’m a peaceful person, but that does sound pretty cool, doesn’t it?
  10. What is your favourite place to be? My friends and family often comment that I don’t depend on my surroundings to be happy, and I would agree with that. I have travelled and moved around a lot and seem to have a knack for finding genuine enjoyment in most of the places I have been. However, if I could be somewhere else right now, I’d probably pick New Zealand – just somewhere a tad warmer for the winter!
  11. What is your favourite blog post you’ve written? I don’t have a lot of posts yet, so it’s impossible to pick a favourite. However, I found the writing of “Long Runs are Mental” pretty amusing.

And finally, over to my nominees – here are my eleven questions for you:

  1. What is one of the scariest things you have ever done?
  2. What was the last movie, TV show or book that has made you cry?
  3. If you could chose anyone, who would you pick to be your mentor?
  4. If the world is to end next year, would you change anything about your life?
  5. If you were reincarnated as a pizza toping, what would you be?
  6. What is one of your favourite quotes?
  7. What would you name the autobiography of your life?
  8. What was the last experience that has made you a stronger person?
  9. What do you miss most about being a child?
  10. What story does your family always tell about you?
  11. Where’s Waldo?

liebster-award

A Tale of Twenty Miles

After a very misty but very awesome autumn trail run this afternoon, I’m spending my evening tabbing between the Met Office website and Google Maps in an attempt to decide where to head for my long run this weekend.

My training schedule calls for another 20 miler; the last one before the actual marathon. (Hang on, did anyone else just hear Beethoven’s Fifth ringing in the air?). I could just re-visit the trails, which will no doubt make the run a lot more interesting, not to mention more challenging. As it is, I’m contemplating an excursion to the Hermitage in Dunkeld:

hermitage

On the other hand, it would probably be wiser to just hit the local roads – I do most of my running on trails and my legs could probably do with the pounding on concrete before the actual marathon. Besides, it’s not as though the roads around where I live are bad either:

Pittenweem Aerial

But while I’m trying to decide where to run, I’m actually finding myself feeling a little apprehensive about this particular run before I’ve even laced up my trainers. I usually love my long runs, so I’m not exactly sure what has brought about this emotional dragging of feet.

Could it be the fact that the met office is promising a type of weather for the weekend which lends itself to little other than curling up in front of the fire with a hot coco? While I’m not exactly a fair weather runner, spending the better part of three hours running around in freezing, horizontal rain will no doubt complicate my strategy for coping with winter (which currently involves simply and stubbornly denying its existence).

I might also just be getting a little twitchy because this long run will be my last run before I cross the all-important boundary into taper territory. If you must know, I taper about as well as a lumberjack would dance the Swan Lake.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I just can’t shake off the feeling that this last long run will have a disproportionately hefty impact on how I’ll feel during the actual race. Sure, I’ve run 20 milers before and have even felt good doing so, but it somehow seems that all good training would be eclipsed by a lousy, final long run with no further chance to redeem myself before the big race. This may not sound very rational, but since when do hearts obey any rules of logic?

I think the best way to handle these feelings will be to drown them in copious amounts of hot coco (hey, the Met Office practically prescribes it!), which I shall see to tomorrow. Once I have selected the scenery for my long run, I shall approach it with my usual curiosity and forward moving strategy (no pun intended). In any case, I think that there is a high probability that I’ll have heaps of fun once I get going, as running in punitive conditions tends to expose a perverse part of my personality which actually revels in the ordeal.

But if, on the other hand, the whole run ends up assuming the shape of a pear, there’ll always be more hot coco when I get back.

awesome run

Challenge Accepted!

This week I’ve been feeling pretty tired and I place the blame for this squarely in the court of the approaching winter. It doesn’t help, then, that my marathon training plan demands that I run more miles this week than I have ever done in the space of seven days. The fact that I spent last Sunday morning hammering out 32km on some very hilly trails almost certainly also has something to do with my slump in oomph. Still, I keep pointing the finger of blame primarily at winter and its knack for stealing away a little bit of my precious zest with each passing day, especially when each of these days is a little darker, colder and gloomier than the one before.

For the moment I have decided to simply ignore winter and am keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the 10th of November, when the sound of a gun in Marathon shall unleash me upon my first ever 26.2 mile journey. To keep me entertained in the meantime, my emotions accompanying the event have all gathered at a theme park and are hanging out in the creaking carts of the good old rollercoaster. Whenever I think about the race, any sentiment on the long and colourful spectrum from blissful excitement to sheer terror can temporarily possess my heart. The only thing that remains constant is my stubborn determination to see this journey through.

So far, winter hasn’t stopped me from training, but I admit that this week it has been starting to get a little rough. Yesterday, I willingly sacrificed my lunch break to run ten kilometres around a lake, incorporating a few playful strides into the run, which was all good fun. Today I was supposed to do a tempo run, but when I had finished work and other obligations, it was already dark outside. Damn, how did that happen? Winter 1 – me 0. I decided to hit the dreadmill and faithfully complete my 10 kilometre hill run (yes really, I’m that stubborn). At the moment, I’m calling it a 1-1 draw. Tomorrow I’ll rest; on Friday it’ll be proper speedwork and Sunday calls for another 20 miler. Naturally, the forecast for the rest of the week is solid rain. Excuse me for a moment while I go and contemplate my imaginary emigration to Antigua.

However, in a mere three weeks I’ll hop on a plane to Greece, escape the northern winter entirely and embark on 42.2 km Sunday morning stroll in the footsteps of Pheidippides. Right now, I really can’t wait to do just that!

If all of this sounds like a struggle, just wait until Monday when my taper officially begins. That’s also promising to be jolly good fun, in the nail-biting and hair-tearing-out kind of way.

Bring it on!

gloomy rainy night

Long Runs are Mental

Why do I, as a runner, always seem to have to justify what I do to others? And equally, why is it that non-runners always feel compelled to provide me with a plethora of reasons why they don’t run? I’m starting to think that the world is somehow divided into two kinds of people; those who run and those who don’t; only I never got that memo. I was probably out on a long run when it arrived.

In any case, one of the most frequenly cited reasons I hear from non-runners to justify their non-running existence is that they are convinced they would find it boring. This anxiety is of course completely misplaced, as running is in fact extremely thought provoking and mentally rewarding. To fully demonstrate this point for the benefit of all non-runners, I have kept a note of my own thoughts during a recent long run:

Mile 1: What a beautiful day, this is going to be good. My training has gone well so far, I’m hydrated and have faithfully completed the pasta eating ritual last night, so let’s do this!

Mile 2: Oh look, the first hill. I don’t need a power bar yet. That’s, what, 8 per ce… – No, no! Do not think about the distance ahead, it’s better if my mind doesn’t know what’s coming. Should I be worried that I’m thinking of myself as two people already, given that this is only two miles in? Anyways, better keep moving before I get cold. Is this a good time to re-evaluate the wisdom of my decision to go for my long run wearing nothing but running shorts and a sports bra? In October? In Scotland?

Mile 3: I hope I don’t encounter any out-of-control dogs today. Or ducks. Or highland cows. I love nature, really.

Mile 4: Must not look at my watch. Must not look at the watch… Perhaps I should run a bit faster anyways, just in case.

Mile 5: What’s with all the hills? Really, is this whole country hilly? Two more miles and I can have a power bar.

Mile 6: Have I locked my car?

Mile 7: Power bar! Now that’s fun to say. Power bar. Power bar! A bar that gives you power. Magic! Dammit, lost half of my power bar to an out-of-control dog or possibly highland cow. I’m not sure which, it all happened so fast. Also, am now covered in mud. On the plus side, it’s kind of cooling and affirms my tough-as-nails cross country runner girl image.

Mile 8: This is practically half way, right? Anyways, are running nicknames only cool if they are given to you by other people? I really need to pee…

Mile 9: Did that ranger really just see me wee in his forest?

Mile 10: Is there such a thing as eating an unacceptable number of pancakes? This is a purely hypothetical question of course, which is in no way related to the post-run lunch I’m planning in my head.

Mile 11: Okay, so, I’ve run 18km in 90 minutes. That’s an, uhm, what? 8, 8:30, 9-minute mile-ish pace. At this pace I will finish a marathon in 543 minutes, which is 7:23 hours. No, wait, that’s not right. How far is one mile again…?

Mile 12: Wow, I guess this is what forever feels like. Besides, I’m really getting hungry. Damn you, pancake thoughts… Is it possible to order takeaway food on a run? If I knew where I was, perhaps I could convince someone to meet me with a pizza? That marathon man dude did it once, but I suppose he’s in California where anything is possible. A mountain top in Scotland isn’t really the same as a stretch of Highway 101, is it?

Mile 13: Wait, I’m on top of a hill? How did this happen? Am I still on the right track? This doesn’t look at all familiar… Where am I? Hellooo? Anybody? Which county is this? And really, what is it with all these hills???

Mile 14: Up and right? Motion and poetry? No, seriously, what was my mantra thingy again? I just wish I had eaten that whole power bar earlier.

Mile 15: Looks like it’s just me against trail now. Nothing left to do but to keep going and confront all my inner demons.

Mile 16: …Pancakes…

Mile 17: I definitely didn’t put enough Vaseline under my arms, and I think one of my toenails just fell off. What else can possibly go wrong? At least I haven’t hit the wall yet…

Mile 18: Aaaaaahhhaaaahhhh I’ve just hit the wall… I have never felt so miserable in my whole life. My knees have turned to jelly and even my detached toenail feels tired… I want my bed. Or any bed. Actually, that pile of dirt looks good, too.

Mile 19: No, I will not let this beat me. I’m not a whimp. I’m a mud-covered tough runner girl cross-country person who still needs a nickname. Think of that guy who cut off his own arm when he got stuck on a mountain somewhere. I know, it’s kind of disgusting, but the point is, if he can do it, so can I.

Mile 20: “…I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it, I’m gonna laa-laaah, keep on, uhm, surviving…”

Finish: Wow, best run EVER… Now, where did I park my car again?

wall

To all running injuries: YOU SUCK!

I just had some sad news from my running partner in crime.

Although we live in different parts of the country, we have been training for the Athens Classic Marathon together. I love the idea of having a marathon training buddy (aka fellow loony) who is only an e-mail away. We’ve been cheering each other on all the way and I was looking forward to getting on the plane to Athens together.

However, sadly her marathon journey has come to a very painful end before she even made it to the start line… Her doctor has just diagnosed a runner’s worst nightmare: stress fractures.

I am, of course, devastated for her. Apart from not making the race, she won’t be able to run at all until at least Christmas time and has a very serious injury to recover from. I wish someone had told her that nobody was actually serious when we said “Break a leg!”…

I’m very sad to say that I’ll have to face the big 26.2 on my own this year, but we can always try to do so together again next year.

It’s literally time to put your feet up my friend. Get well soon!

And speaking directly to the stress fractures, I have few words to say except that I hope the desert winds blow a vexed scorpion in your direction. Oh, and don’t come near me either.