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.”

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!

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From Familiar To Intriguing

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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!)

Forward Momentum

I’ve read somewhere that the body needs at least half a day of recovery per mile run in a race, which would imply that it takes less than two weeks to physically recover from a marathon – which strikes me as a rather simplistic and optimistic estimate! Personally, it makes much more sense to me to to simply accept that recovery needs as long as it takes…

It’s been sixteen days since I ran my first (almost) marathon, and I have enjoyed the recovery almost more than the training itself. I’ve been out running wild and free on most days, with no regard for speed, pace, distance or elevation covered. It’s been a wonderful time to indulge in zen running at its finest.

Today, however, I felt a shift in the gears. For the first time, there was some genuine power in my legs and I felt like running fast. This was the first easy run since the marathon during which my pace had naturally, unnoticeably and comfortably dropped back to well below the 9-minute mile mark.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that today I also suddenly felt the urge to start training again and thought seriously about racing. When I got home, I scanned the horizon for my next potential target race. I’ve identified two serious contenders: I could revisit my favourite race distance and shoot for a new half-marathon PB at the Inverness Half Marathon, or aim for redemption by tackling the Rome Marathon – both of which are in March.

“In a moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

–          Theodore Roosevelt

In that spirit, I’ll sleep on it tonight, brew over some training plans and triangulate them with my diary tomorrow and make a decision by the end of the week. I can’t help by marvel at how natural all this has been and that both my body and mind found the perfect time to make it known that recovery is over. It’s time to get serious about running again…

Decisions,_decisions

Marathon Madness is (Almost) Upon Me

My bags are packed, my animals have been delivered into the care of trusted friends, my plants have been generously watered and my travel documents have been checked and double checked. Tomorrow I will board the plane to Athens and begin my much-needed ten day vacation on the Aegean shores.  Oh, and then there’s that little excursion to Marathon on Sunday morning.

what could go wrong

I’m 5 days away from running my first marathon, and I feel like a child who is counting down the days until Christmas… Someone once said that the marathon race itself is a runner’s lap of honour to celebrate all the hard training, which is a great way of looking at it I think.

During my taper, I had plenty of time to reflect upon my training. I hope I don’t sound arrogant when I say that this has gone a long way to soothing my pre-race nerves. For one, my training has gone genuinely well – I’ve hit all my weekly targets, while remaining flexible and sensible during individual runs. Tallying up the total number of kilometres I’ve run in training over the past 16 weeks, I realised that this number will cross into four figure territory during the marathon on Sunday. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it won’t change the fact that for the first time in my life I have run 1000km in four months!

I’ve even been uncharacteristically well behaved during the taper itself (so far!). Only once did I run significantly longer than I should have done and I didn’t sneak in any extra runs or naughty cross training. Bashing out two tempo runs on consecutive days was the only genuine act of idiocy I own up to.

I’m fairly certain that this act of self-restraint was only possible because I kept myself occupied with other marathon-related tasks during the taper. My mp3 player is now loaded with a carefully assembled marathon soundtrack. My poor muscles have been stretched and stretched some more. The sports massages were amazing and I’ve discovered foam rolling (seriously, it’s something else!). Finally, I think my podiatric tlc might have rescued a toenail I had already written off long ago.

So now there’s not much left to do but to get on that plane and keep counting down the days until I get to run my lap of honour!

Sports Torture/Massage

I have only one regret following the sports massage I had this week: I wish I had gotten it sooner. Much sooner. In fact, I wish I had started subjecting myself to regular professional sports massages a couple of months ago, when I first embarked on this marathon training madness. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an indulgence – a sports massage is a far cry (sometimes literally) from a touchy-feely spa type massage. There’s definitely quite a bit of pain involved, but I found the process also amazingly revealing. I became aware of tight spots in my body that I never realised were there. It turns out that there’s a pattern of tension running through almost every major muscle group on the dominant side of my body. It’s blatantly obvious now that it’s been pointed out to me, but before the massage, I really didn’t have a clue.

Yet my therapist remarked – jokingly, I hope! – that if I keep letting my right side do all the running, I’ll soon end up going around in circles. There was no panic about it, no “this is terrible and you’ll have to come back at least once a week for the rest of the year” nonsense. Quite on the contrary, the massage therapist’s approach was reassuringly realistic. She insisted that bodies aren’t perfect and symmetrical and that running close to 1000km in three months – as I have done lately – is bound to highlight and exacerbate the weaknesses and oddities that nature has inflicted upon me. “Let’s face it”, she said as she clawed into my hamstrings, “when you train for a marathon, you’re going to get niggles. The key is managing them.” I left the clinic not only with a completely kneaded and relaxed body, but also a plethora of trips, stretches and exercises to play around with in my free time.

Another nifty side effect of the sports massage is that I really felt like an athlete. That might sound a little odd given that I’m about to run a marathon, but most of the time I feel like a fluke, an imposter who tries to hang out with the big guys. Yet while the massage therapist was dropping her body weight into my back via her elbows, we discussed my training and recovery in detail (well alright, she discussed while I winced – still, it’s closer to a conversation about my running than I usually get, as most people retreat swiftly in the opposite direction as soon as I mention the “m” word).

I cannot recommend it enough – if you are a runner, or any athlete, I’d definitely suggest surrendering to a sports massage here and there. Even and especially when things are going apparently really well – as they are for me – a capable professional can still highlight things that can be improved and dealt with before they become problems. I’ll definitely surrender my muscles into Karen’s capable hands again, before running in the magical Scottish wilderness turns me into a human equivalent of the fabled Haggis, only capable of running around in circles.

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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.

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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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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:

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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