Musical Memories of Running in 2013

While I don’t always run to music, I have noticed that sometimes songs can anchor certain memories, and because I have started to occasionally run to music in 2013, some songs have become irrevocably linked to certain running moments for me.

Do you have any favourite running songs? Do any of them remind you of particularly memorable moments? In the spirit of reflecting upon the year which draws to a close today, I want to share my top ten running song and corresponding memories of 2013 here (and thereby own up to the randomness that is my running music playlist…):

Aerosmith – Living on the Edge

This song reminds me of the start of a 20 mile long run I did in the summer. It now stands for that wonderful feeling of taking the first few steps of a run which I know is going to be awesome. It’s like the first day of the holidays; the start of an adventure that is only just beginning…

Bon Jovi – Blaze of Glory

I was just cooling down after an all-out hill sprint session that had seriously zapped all my strength at the time, and just as I was cruising back down towards the harbour down a gentle slope this song came on. It reminds me how good it feels to give everything once in a while.

Fun – We are Young

This song started ringing in my ears on a particularly beautiful summer day while I was running through a rather remote and lushly green forest. I just couldn’t help myself, the sheer joy of it grabbed me and I started to bounce around the track and danced along to the tune. It’s good not to take anything for granted and to fully enjoy the good moments when they happen. It’s okay to dance like nobody is watching (but best done when there’s really nobody watching…!)

Guns’n’Roses – Sweet Child of Mine

I was coming to the end of yet another long run when the guitar solo at the start of the song put some serious bounce back into my steps. It is possible to find new reserves of strength and speed even after running for hours already and this song will always remind me of this important knowledge.

London Grammar – Strong

One of my most beautiful regular runs is also one of the toughest; it follows a stream up into the mountains, which means that the first three kilometres of the trail take me relentlessly uphill. The first time I managed to run the whole way up to the first plateau without stopping I felt pretty close to throwing up.  I had to walk for a bit after all, there was no way around it. This song got me through the mixed feelings of making it to the top for the first time and not being able to run once I got there. It’s ok to take a break here and there, and it’s important to work with my body rather than against it. Once I had taken a few moments to recover, I ran on for more than ten additional kilometres, feeling strong and full of oomphf.

Massive Attack – Teardrop

This song means a lot to me at any time, regardless of whether I’m running or not. It reminds me of how many problems I have solved on a run. I mostly just have fun on runs, but sometimes running is a great way of working through all sorts of emotions. Running is good for me in more ways that I could list.

Mumford & Sons – Lover of the Light

I was running in a nearby nature reserve and was trying to find the way to some lakes which I knew to be somewhere around the north-western parts. The map which I had studied beforehand (but which I had failed to take with me) had clearly indicated the presence of lakes. However, I ran, re-ran and backtracked many paths that day, until even I had to concede that I was running around in circles. This song instantly snapped me out of increasing levels of frustration. I realised that I was running strong and healthy and the destination didn’t really matter all that much. It’s all about the journey after all, isn’t it? It may have been another “dance in the forest while nobody is watching” moment.

Newton Faulkner – If This is It

When it comes to simply enjoying the moment, this is the ultimate song for me. One day, while I was clocking up some miles on the country roads around my village, this song came on. The views in the area are pretty, but not amazing, at least not to me. They are just my home turf. But running always makes them special.

The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil

This song will always remind me of the beginning of the end. I love the song and I love the Stones, but I mostly remember hearing this song when I was battling with the ever more crippling physical effects of dehydration during the Athens Classical Marathon. The drum loop at the end of the song goes on and on and on, just like my misery on that day. I needed it to end; both the race and the song. Sadly, both dragged on for what seemed like forever on that day…

The Used – Taste of Ink

Again, this song stands for the life-affirming awesomeness that running has been for me in 2013. I heard it when I reached the top of a mountain I run fairly regularly. The ascent itself isn’t really runnable, but as with all hills, the best parts are the views from the top and the prospects of charging downhill “brakes off, brains off”. Here I am indeed!

I wish you all a fantastic start to 2014 – may the year bring you countless happy moments!

happy new year

“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

Holiday Randomness

St. Andrews fog(running near St. Andrews in the fog)

One of the best aspects of being off work for the holidays is that much of the structure and routine in my life get swept away by a wonderful sense of randomness. I get up when I like, go to bed when I like, I eat when I’m hungry, and I run and ride my horse whenever I feel like it. I’ve been baking cakes, hung out with friends and have contemplated writing my next novel.

Unfortunately, in the midst of this controlled chaos, I have yet to find the time to write a coherent blog post. Therefore, rather than yielding to blogging silence, the least I can do is to share the randomness with you. In that spirit, here are some of the running things I’ve been up to:

  1. I’ve added a new pair of running shoes to my repertoire: the Asics Hyperspeed 5. As I’ve pointed out in an earlier post, one of my main running goals for 2014 is to get serious about my speed workouts. I was so excited when they arrived that I decided to take them for a spin straight away…
  2. I’ve discovered that early morning runs are not for me. Seriously, half of the time I don’t know my own name before breakfast, so why I thought it was a good idea to go for a run after rolling out of bed (new shoes or not) eludes me. While my first run in my racing flats wasn’t terribly fast, I was still very impressed by them – they are insanely light and definitely keep me on my toes (no pun intended). However, the absence of cushioning is also very noticeable, and I know that I’ll have to work my way up the miles with them carefully before I can comfortably race half-marathons in these shoes.
  3. Eating a curry the night before going for a long run is not a good idea. Actually, it’s an exceedingly terrible idea. Just thought you’d like to know.
  4. Try as I might, I just can’t convince my friends that running in the hills in December is good fun. Most of them think that my hill runs are crazy (regardless of the time of year) and some even think that any form of running is a dreadful idea. I have, however, been able to convince some very important friends to come hiking in the mountains with me. It’s also good fun (just slower fun) and means that I can scout new trails for running. I’ve been getting very excited about sneaking back to some of the places we have visited; just me and my running shoes.
  5. While I’m on the topic of scouting new areas: I’ve started reccing the route I’ll run in June as part of the Great British Relay. I’ve almost got the route it finalised; I’m staying off the main roads, which makes the route slightly longer, meaning that I’ll have to run faster. It’s a careful balancing act between safety, fun, speed and time. While I know that the event is still months and months away, I’m getting pretty excited about it already.
  6. Last but certainly not least, my experimentation with the Nike Running Dri-fit Toe Socks has begun. So far, I can report that they are a bit tricky to put on but feel quite nice to run in. They also make my feet look kinda cute (now there’s something I never thought I’d say). I will keep using them for a few weeks and see if they make any difference to the state of my toenails. Certainly after my long run this morning, my toes felt marginally less battered than normal, so my hopes for these socks remain high!

I hope you’re all having a very merry holiday time!

Running Bloggers, Merrily Running Together?

First of all, I want to wish everyone a very happy Christmas! I hope you’ll have some very relaxing and invigorating festive days as this year draws to a close. Let 2014 be the year when all your wildest dreams come true and chase you, incarnate, down the street.

Snow-Laded-Christmas-Tree

So far, I’ve spend my Christmas riding, running, eating, and getting merry in many ways. I celebrated Christmas Eve with a little evening run around St. Andrews, including a spell of running on the West Sands, the beach made famous by “Chariots of Fire”.

St. Andrews beach

Today, I ran up the Bishop in the Lomond Hills, which seemed appropriate for Christmas Day. However, when I say run, I mean that I crawled up the hill (I took the steep path up from Scotlandwell) only to be almost blown away near the top and getting very wet feet on the boggy descend. Nevertheless, it was lots of fun, life affirming, and certainly a great workout that allowed me to tuck into Christmas dinner without shame.

Bishop 1

Thank you all for being part of this great community of running bloggers! A few days ago, the lovely TartanJogger and I half-jokingly contemplated the possibility of going for a run together at some point. It’s made me think that there are many fellow running bloggers here who I’d just love to meet for a run. Any thoughts, any takers?

21.12 for 12.21

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

– Albert Camus

First of all: Happy Winter Solstice!

solstice_Stonehenge

We’ve made it half way through winter! Sure, some bad weather might still come our way, but in my head at least, it’s only going to get better from now on.

Unusual for me, I decided to do my weekly long run this Saturday afternoon. I decided to go for it when I learned yesterday that Nike has a special charity focus event today: 12.21 Move More. The idea is that individuals from all over the world can pledge the Nike Fuel (Nike’s activity counter) they earn on this day to charity, which Nike will translate into financial donations.

While I’m really not bothered about Nike Fuel, I do use the Nike Sports Watch (which I love) to track all my runs. Therefore, even though I just want to know about the distance, pace, elevation etc. of my runs, courtesy of Nike I also get a number representing my hard-earned Fuel for every run.

It was a no-brainer really: run lots today and let the corporate giant make a donation to charity.

My initial plan was to run a whole marathon, but this proved tricky since I was not able to set out before 1pm. I took my hydration pack and plenty of food with me and set out on an easy, but very long run in a nearby nature reserve. However, on this occasion my otherwise much loved solstice worked against me and I just couldn’t outrun the dusk. If I had planned things a little better I could have brought some lights and reflective clothing, but without either a night run in the forest was off limits.

In the end, I ran 21.12 miles today. It seemed like a good number to give to charity. And I loved every single yard of it! (Which is weird, because I am normally only capable of comprehending distances when they are expressed in the metric system).

Tentsmuir-10

 

 

Let the Storm Rage On

That’s it: I’m officially on annual leave for the next two weeks! Naturally, the weather is terrible, but I didn’t let that stop me from heading out for a cool, celebratory trail run. I was really hoping to find some snow, so that I could finally build my first snowman of the season. With that goal in mind, I ran up the highest ‘mountain’ in the county this afternoon. (Don’t be too impressed though, the highest peak in Fife is West Lomond, which at 522 m isn’t really all that high – the run from base to peak and back is about 12km).

Lomond Storm

Sadly, I found no snow on the peak, just some very wild winds and a hailstorm, neither of which lends itself to the building of snowmen. I only encountered one other person who was crazy enough to also be out -hiking- on the mountain trails in the middle of a storm in December. In typical British style, he made some comment about the weather as I passed him. Call me weird, but I didn’t feel like stopping for a chat while the strom raged on around us; instead I just shouted something about heeding the call of a hot chocolate and resumed my downhill charge – weeeeee. What an awesome run! At the risk of sounding like the good old Coca-Cola advert: The holidays are coming!

A Run Down Memory Lane

This weekend, I was in Germany to see my family for some early Christmas celebrations. Therefore, I spent most of the weekend wearing silly hats and drinking mulled wine:

Elvish ChristmasMulled Wine

I’m lucky in that I get to travel a fair bit; both for pleasure and work. And whenever I find myself in a new (or in this case, old and familiar) place, I’m always looking forward to the moment when I can finally put on my running shoes. I love exploring new places on foot; it’s always an adventure which is exciting and relaxing in equal measures. These runs are about enjoying the sights and not about the pace or distance covered – in fact, I make it a point to stay comfortable so that I am sure that I can keep going for as long as I like.

In that spirit, I enjoyed a nice long run along the along the Rhine river in Cologne this weekend. It’s a place where I’ve spent many days during my childhood, as Cologne was once my hometown. Revisiting these places presented me with a strange paradox, as it was both inherently familiar and so different from what I remember. Things change so much, so quickly. Nevertheless, it was good to be back, even if it was just for one weekend and a single long run.

Leinpfad

Redefining Speed

“I don’t have to run faster than the psychotic-maniac-vampire-cannibal, I just have to run faster than whoever is with me when the psychotic-maniac-vampire-cannibal starts chasing us.”

– Jim Benton

2013 has been a great year of running for me. I’ve loved every moment I’ve spent in my running shoes and have discovered many new things about me, as well as the world around me. Above all else, I want to keep that passion alive. I want to still be running when I’m 70 years old and I still love every second of it.

But as it is, I’m not 70 yet and I know there’s more speed in my legs than I have been able to squeeze out of them so far. You see, the distance part of distance running has always come easy to me – I love my weekly long runs more than any other workout and can happily spend several hours out on the trails. However, when my training plan calls for a “5km Tempo Run” or “10 x 1 minute strides, 1 minute off”, or even just a “8km Fartlek run”, all my best intentions fly out the front door with me. The honest truth is that I usually end up figuring out how many kilometres I’m supposed to cover in that particular workout and then I go and do that distance a little faster than normal. In my world, this has so far sufficed to place a tick against any speed workout in my running journal.

And to be fair, my training strategy of endless hilly trail running combined with my narcoleptic approach to speed workouts has gotten me quite far in the past. Sometimes, I even got there reasonably fast!

Having owned up to the fact that speedwork is the Achilles heel of my training, it’s only logical that 2014 shall be the year in which I focus on speed. I’m not necessarily saying that I want to run much faster (although that would be nice too, thank you very much!). Instead, I simply want to focus on getting my speedwork and training paces right (and then see what happens).

I’m a big fan of the McMillan running calculator and the personalised training plans. Given that they provide me with the exact paces at which I should be running each workout, I’m all out of excuses really. I shall make a conscious effort to become more disciplined about my training paces and training intervals while preparing for my next target race (the Inverness Half Marathon). There, I’ve said it.

Besides, if everything else fails, all of this can go down as a cleverly disguised excuse to indulge in some retail therapy. After all, wannabe speedsters need at least one pair for racing flats, right?

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Five Reasons Why I Love Running in Winter

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Reason #5: Snow! So pretty and crunchy beneath my feet! It makes me want to bounce, but I usually manage to resist the urge of rolling around in it and making snow angels. In any case, I’d have to try really hard to get too hot while running in winter.

Reason #4: I use all my running gear. In the summer, I’d run in a sports bra and underpants if I could get away with it (sometimes, I do!). The shortest tops and shorts just keep being washed and worn over and over. Not so in winter. I’ve dug deep into my closet and uncovered all my running gear, which all gets worn in winter, usually in layers or twos and threes.

Reason #3: I try lots of new stuff in winter. In the summer, running outside is easy, when it’s possible to go almost anywhere, at any time. In winter, my usual routes are often no longer safe or sane to run, so I had to get a little creative. I’ve run before work, run at lunchtime, run at night, run on the roads, headed into town and have run on the pavement. I’ve visited the running track, have run while wearing hats and gloves and have experimented with the dreadmill. All of these things didn’t sound at all appealing at first, but really, how can I know what I like and what I don’t, what works for me and what doesn’t, if I don’t try it first? The change of routine is welcome and I’m discovering new things and am learning more about myself as a runner every day.

Think outside the box - Jan A. Poczynek

Reason #2: Badass feel factor increases exponentially when conditions and temperature decreases. Sure, it’s easy to put on the running shoes on a perfect summer evening, when the sun is kissing the horizon and a gentle summer breeze lays in wait to caress my exposed skin. But in winter, running straight into a hailstorm makes me feel so much cooler (in every way) than sitting on the couch and eating peanut butter with a spoon straight out of the jar.

Reason #1: And number one reason why running in winter is awesome? Chocolate! That’s right. Only in winter is it possible to eat chocolate while running. I use it for fuel on long runs or just because it’s a weekday that ends with the letter “y”. Seriously, it doesn’t get more awesome than this!

chocolate-heart-cookies

From Familiar To Intriguing

night-run

Over the past few weeks, the darkness has forced me to take my evening runs off the trails and onto the sidewalks of my village. It’s been a different, but unexpectedly enjoyable running experience for me. I love the silence, the solitude, and the way the shadows dance in the streetlamp lights.

It’s this new-found love for running in darkness that has stopped me from joining a gym so far this winter. I’m not only very comfortable and happy while running outside on the dark winter nights, but lately, I’ve been tempted to venture away from the relative safety of the well-lit sidewalks.

With this in mind, I’ve found myself seriously contemplating the possibility of investing in a head torch. Given that I don’t know anything about them, I decided to head down to my local running shop – which had conveniently announced a late-night opening for a Christmas celebration this Wednesday evening. Armed with a Santa-hat, my ulterior motive and I trotted down to the store to join in the merriment of their Christmas evening, prize raffle and organised run.

The evening began with an easy and jolly 5k group run, which saw a group of us jogging merrily around the city while nattering away about Christmas, running and certain things we promised to never mention again. Upon our return to the shop, while preoccupied with nibbling the top of a mince pie, a certain bewildered runner in a Santa hat was announced as the lucky winner of… a brand new head torch!

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Clearly, it was meant to be. Last night, I took my new gadget for a test run in my local park, and I absolutely loved everything about it. The torch itself is small and light; I didn’t even notice that I was wearing it, apart from the light bubble it created just in front of me. The solitude and stillness were extreme and beautiful, and the crisp grass beneath my feet and my frosty breath in the night air were wonderfully refreshing. The familiar surroundings of the park suddenly became mysterious; a new territory to be explored by night.

I really hope that my gym isn’t missing me too much, because at this rate, they won’t be seeing much of me this winter!

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(A massive thank you to Run4It for a lovely evening and an awesome new toy!)