One day, two terrains, three cheers and four new shoes

Someone may have just acquired not one, but two brand new pairs of running shoes. Runners are so easy to please.

Greedy, you say? Nonsense – I can explain everything…

Competitor Magazine Fall Shoe Review

As much as I enjoy training for a marathon, the increased mileage has rapidly raced my beloved road running shoes towards an early retirement. To ease the pain of letting go of my trusted companions of many miles – am I the only one who gets a bit sentimental about replacing her running shoes? – none other than Santa himself rushed to my aid today. He bestowed upon me a brand new pair of the very same shoes, just in an even nicer colour. What is more, because Santa knows everything and totally rocks, he brought them to me at a serendipitously perfect moment in time, while will allow me to break them in for use during the Athens Marathon. Amazing! (Incidentally, I couldn’t help but notice that Santa happened to be sporting the same Birkenstock sandals that my dad wears a lot. Weird, or what?)

Thanks to my fath… I mean, Santa’s miraculous intervention, I was free to plan a new mischief with the contents of my piggy bank. I briefly contemplated just how much chocolate I would be able to purchase with my riches, but a rare bout of sanity thankfully interfered before I could find out for certain.   

Instead, I came up with a much more sensible course of action: given that I no longer needed the money to buy new road running shoes, the only logical solution was to go immediately and spend it all on a pair of trail running shoes. Not wishing to postpone our destiny, my piggy bank and I trotted off to our local specialist running store, tried and tested several pairs of trail shoes, uhm-ed a little and ah-ed a lot, and eventually returned to the homely hearth sporting yet another pair of running shoes.

And just in case anyone is interested in the devilish details, the new shoes which are now eagerly lined next to my soon-to-be retired pair by the back door are the Asics Gel Kayano 19 and Adidas Response Trail 20.

I can’t wait to take them out and treat them to their baptism of mud! Right now, only one dilemma remains: shall the happy bunny go bounce on the trails or on the road this evening?

(P.S.: Three cheers to my dad, who is really awesome!)

My Great Scottish Run

Nine years ago, the Great Scottish Run was the first Half-Marathon I ever participated in. So when I found myself waiting in the starting pens for the gun to go off on Sunday, it was a special experience in many ways; a trip down memory lane, as well as a realisation of how far I have come.

Moreover, the Great Scottish Run was also my last race before I shall attempt the classic run from Marathon to Athens in November. As such, it was a dress rehearsal for my actual target race, and in many ways “just a long run”. With my training having gone as splendidly as it has, I was quietly confident in my ability to last the distance.

With the race day nerves firmly in check, I was able to just soak in and absorb the electric atmosphere. And boy, it was amazing! The biggest sporting event in Scotland held in its largest city, filled with people who were generous in showing their support of the race by lining the streets and making a plethora of cheerful noise. The event also added fuel to the national hype which is progressively building ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which come next year will be hosted in the very same city through which we trotted. Mortal runners got to line up behind some inspirational and well-known Scottish athletes, but the cherry on top of the icing on the atmosphere cake came in the form of none other than the legendary Haile Gebrselassie, who is of course and without a doubt one of the best distance runners in the world.

Given that I have no time for any form of recovery post-race, I couldn’t afford to race this run, so instead I decided to just have fun on the run and let everyone around me do the racing. I paid attention to the scenery, offered words of encouragement to fellow runners, hollered and waved at all those who cheered us on and tried to look gracefully aloof for any camera I spotted.

I stubbornly ignored my watch until just after the 10 km marker, at which point I noticed a young man who was slowing down. I pulled up next to him and stayed for a little chat, during which I found out that he’d never ran a half-marathon before and was deflated by the realisation that his goal of a sub 1:50 half-marathon was slipping out of his reach. I figured that if he had never before encountered a rough patch on a run, how was he supposed to know that they don’t tend to last? Therefore, I promised him that I’d do my best to pace him to his goal, an offer which lit up his face and instantly lifted his posture and pace.

For the second half of the half-marathon, I kept an eye on the time and my newly adopted running disciple and offered much feedback and encouragement, all while keeping up my earlier endeavours of hollering, waving, cheering and general admiring of the scenery.

Not only did the great Haile win the race, he did so by smashing the course record. In fact, he’s run the fastest half marathon ever on Scottish soil, his legendary status well and truly maintained.

Personally, I skipped across the finish line about 45 minutes after the elite runners, clocking an official time of 1:48, a certain determined young man nipping right at my heels. In hindsight, I realise that of course I ran his race for him in the end, but it was a wonderful and rewarding experience. My genuine delight for him to have achieved his goal eclipsed my own finish of the race. As these things go, we lost sight of each other in the t-shirt area and that marked the end of our journey together.

“If you can’t win, make the fellow in front of you break the record.”

– Author sadly unknown

I don’t even want to say too much about my time in the race, as this was never a goal to begin with. The aim was to prepare for Athens, to stay comfortable, and to enjoy the experience. Still, 1:48 is only nine minutes off my personal best, and I can honestly say that I have never felt so physically comfortable in a race before.

Most importantly, my run of the Great Scottish Run 2013 was without a doubt the most fun I have ever had in a race.

I can’t wait to line up at the start line of my next adventure and run a marathon from Marathon!

Great Scottish Run

A Worthy Pursuit

I don’t expect to break any personal records at the Great Scottish Run tomorrow.

Mind you, the amazing Haile Gebrselassie might just break several of them. I find it really exciting and humbling to think that with every stride I will tread in the footsteps of a modern day legend. I can’t think of any other sport where mere mortals get the opportunity to (vainly) chase the elite – yet another point to add to my ever growing “Why Running is Awesome” list.

“When you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners and not against the time.”

– Haile Gebrselassie

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A Map of my Weekend

Here’s what I’ll be doing this Sunday:

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But before I embark on this 21.1km journey on Sunday morning, I should really try to clear the cobwebs off my road racing mentality. The starting gun signalling the beginning of the last big race I participated in went off well over 18 months ago, so I expect to be a little rusty when it comes to remembering the intricacies of race-day etiquette.

The Great Scottish Run has a special place in my heart, as back in 2004 it was the first half-marathon I ever tackled and it was an amazing experience. This year, it is special not just by virtue of being a trip down memory lane; it is also my dress rehearsal race for November, when I will attempt to retrace the footsteps of Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens.

I can’t wait to get started!

Trailbound

There are many reasons why I love to hit the trails. It’s always a fun adventure that focusses my attention on the world around me while permitting my imagination to run wild. Besides, running on the uneven surfaces and frequent inclines is a fantastic way to build aerobic fitness and toughen up the legs, all while being spellbound by ever changing scenery.

Today, I set out to explore some new territory after work. Based on what I found, I can only conclude that I have unsuspectingly ventured through a secret portal into Middle Earth…

I followed a little stream…

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… ran through a tunnel…

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… crossed over (and under) several bridges…

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… ran under a waterfall…

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… and ended up on a mountain top!

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Days like today always remind me that I have so much to be grateful for. I am so lucky to live in such a beautiful corner of our world.  I am blessed with a strong and healthy body that allows me to explore the world around me, an inquisitive mind that always challenges me to keep moving forward and a heart full of wanderlust. Life can be amazing!

A Rendezvous with Winter

weather-winter

These days, everywhere I turn I feel as though the world is trying to tell me something. It’s written on the autumn leaves, which are blown from the trees in a breeze that has turned from warm and comforting to distinctively chilly. Dusk is beginning to resemble a distant relative with an annoying habit of always showing up early and uninvited, and with each passing day and I am finding myself progressively more drawn to the concept of hibernation. And just in case I was still trying to don a clever costume and hide in a crowded place, this morning the message was written in black ink on the white pages of my diary: October. Even I, a self-proclaimed sensei of avoidant coping, can no longer deny the fact that winter is coming.

Like so many others, winter after miserable winter I have struggled to keep exercising regularly. Year after year I have resigned myself to the idea that slowing down in winter is natural and that spring will bring with it the urge and energy to reclaim my usual fitness levels.

It’s not even so much the dreary weather that tempts me to stay inside, on the couch, with a hot cup of coco and a good book. – Hmmm, coco! – My mother raised me to believe that there is no such thing as bad weather, just unsuitable clothing. (Incidentally, whenever it rained, she also used to tell me that I wasn’t made of sugar and was therefore not going to melt, which turns out to be a great way of giving a five-year-old the hibbigibbies.)

I can handle the cold and wet days, or should I say, my wardrobe can handle them for me. There’s even something rewarding about running though a winter storm when most sane people are behind closed doors. It’s a very satisfying way of giving the inner pig-piñata a good old whack. But at the end of the day (no pun intended), it’s mostly the lack of daylight and related energy deficit that keep me snoozing in bed, soaking in the bath, curled up on the couch, or seeking the comfort of other soft and warm places for most of the winter.

Still, this year, I have decided, will be different. This year, I will take a stand against winter. Or rather, I will join forces with winter and declare war on the real enemy (that is, my couch-surfing, bubble-bath soaking and coco-slurping alter ego).

I have therefore formulated the following strategy for the conquest of winter:

1)      Sign up for a big race in spring. Nothing gets me moving like the terror of the thought of a finish line I won’t be able to reach. Moreover, like the unabashed geek that I am, I get great joy from keeping a training diary and piecing together a sensible training plan which I can then obsessively overshoot. At this moment in time, I am flirting with the possibility of signing up for the Maratona di Roma at the end of March. A spring weekend in the eternal city, anyone?

2)      Map out winter. As an aficionada of my running diary, I will wield the latter like a weapon and map out my opponent ahead of time. This time, I will use my running planner to plan winter itself. Just like any race, I will break it down into manageable chunks that will pass before I have really noticed them and keep my eyes firmly on the finish line.

3)      Invest in some awesome winter running gear. Before this month is over, I’ll treat myself to a new pair of trainers and fork out on a few additional pieces of running gear. I mean the type of gear that will make me get out the door for a run just to have an excuse to wear it.

4)      Join a spa (with gym). I hate gyms. I really, really do. They are smelly, tense and crowded and I always leave them feeling tired. I do, however, love swimming and have yet to find something more relaxing than lazing about in a sauna. I’m pretty sure that when I make the effort to travel to a spa (which I assure you will not be a problem), I will be able to convince myself to spend at least half an hour doing some form of cardio workout before taking a splash.

5)      Join my running club more often. My athletics club is awesome, and it’s big enough to have lots of training sessions each week and frequent cross country races throughout the winter. However, one of the things I love most about running is the freedom of being able to do it almost any time and anywhere. Because I tend to run when I where I like, over the summer months I only joined my club for a structured training session once a week. Having said that, the workouts were always fantastic. There’s certainly something about the presence of other people that makes me push myself that little bit harder. I’m therefore hoping that over the winter months, that same presence will also help me push myself out the door a little more often.

6)      Learn to do a handstand. Yes, really. It’s something that requires excellent core strength and balance, and which runner wouldn’t want more of that? It’s also something I can practice indoors, and having a measurable goal to work towards will hopefully make the required core strength and balance work more entertaining. Besides, a handstand is just a bit random, sounds amusing and has the potential to impress tipsy party goers for years to come!

This year, rather than simply surrendering to winter, I shall do my best to embrace it. More to the point, like any worthy opponent, I think it will be best if I keep a close eye on it. And that is, after all, a tricky feat to accomplish when one is stuck in front of a television screen.

Now, where’s that hot coco?