Rebel Without A Pause

Is anyone else wondering how it’s possible that we are already approaching March? What happened to the first one-sixth of the year? Have I been hibernating? Have I been travelling at the speed of light? My main running goal for 2014, after all, was to educate myself properly about running speed workouts and to subject myself to them in all their gory glory.

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Before I blast my way through the whole year and straight into 2015, I think it’s about time that I pause for a moment and reflect upon what I have learned about speedwork so far:

  1. It’s perfectly doable. I was the first to admit that prior to this year, I was a speedwork Scrooge. I could handle some hill sprints and the odd fartlek run, but anything beyond that I deemed too complicated or painful for a free spirit such as myself. However, I found that even the toughest of intervals are absolutely doable and strangely satisfying and fun to complete. There, I’ve said it.
  2. Planning is paramount. Incorporating speedwork into my training schedule has taught me the importance of monitoring my runs and planning my workouts carefully. I find that the single most important factor to consider is my recovery time. I’m learning how much time I need to recover from the different workouts. I firmly believe that this is highly individual, but for each individual, there’s a pattern. I’m learning that there are some workouts I bounce back from, virtually ready to tackle the next on the following day if needed. Other workouts, on the other hand, leave me in need of extra recovery. By paying attention to this, I can make sure that I plan my training in a way that ensures that I’m physically in the best form to tackle a particular workout, and give myself enough rest to allow my body to adapt to the demands I’m placing upon it when this is needed the most. I’ve actually found that my training has gotten easier as as result of me learning more about my recovery times and planning my training schedules a lot more carefully.
  3. I’m feeling the paces. By running deliberately in different training zones I’m learning a lot more about what the different paces feel like. I play games on my runs now where I guess my pace before I look at my watch, and I’m getting increasingly more accurate with my guestimates. What is more, by running set distances at a target pace, I’m quickly developing a pretty accurate feel for how long I’m likely to be able to maintain a certain pace. Both are, in my opinion, really useful skills, which allow me to run very evenly paced training runs.
  4. Speed + Endurance = Stamina. I’ve always loved endurance runs and clock quite a high weekly running mileage – I just love to run and running a lot feels natural to me. That volume of running has taken me quite far (no pun intended!) and does, to a degree, translate itself into faster speeds in shorter races. However, I am find that the opposite is also true – since adding some serious speedwork to my training, I’ve noticed a big difference in my physical endurance and strength on longer runs. About two weeks ago I finished a 38km long run feeling perfectly strong and bouncy, surprised to note the curious absence of the “tired bum” syndrome I usually experience after a run of this calibre.
  5. I’m feeling it! Last but absolutely not least, I’ve learned that it’s totally worth it. Be warned, for this is the bit where I shamelessly gloat a little (ok, a lot!). This is where I tell you that I “accidentally” ran my all-time 10km PB during a training run two days ago. Yes, really. I got a little carried away (or hungry) during a tempo run and arrived back on my doorstep (to the smell of honey roasted vegetables in my oven) after 45:23 minutes. Yummy! This tells me that I’m either doing something very right with my training, or I’m doing something very wrong with my racing! Either way, I’m a happy bunny!

What do you think? How do you feel about speedwork? Have you noticed any differences as a result – besides running faster? Have I inspired you lace up your trainers and tackle some intervals? (I’m looking at you – you know who you are!)

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Resting… the Hardest Part of Running?

I’m beginning to realise that endorphins are my drug of choice – and right now, I’m in a state of rest-day induced withdrawal.

Most runners are painfully familiar with the joys of the taper in all its terribly glory; including the bloated feelings of laziness, the perpetual suppression of running-related stimuli, the carb-obsession and the everlasting state of severe grumpypansieness. And do I even dare touch upon the precarious mental state of the injured runner here? For fear of my life, I think I won’t. The point is that both of these runners are suffering from running-withdrawal, and it ain’t pretty.

As a runner taking a few rest days, my mental state is differentiated from that of the tapering runner and the injured runner mostly by superior levels of masochistic tendencies, as my plight is truly self-inflicted.

Yet the urge to run is strong in this one. Things are so bad that I’ve actually caught myself daydreaming about a treadmill earlier…

Accidental Run

After all, what’s a runner who isn’t running? The obvious answer would be that a non-running runner isn’t really a runner at all. However, my rational mind tells me that there are plenty of scenarios where a runner who isn’t running can also be a pretty smart runner.

The truth is that I fully understand the importance and value of rest days. I’ve trained hard for five weeks now, with three to four workouts a week topped off with at least two easy runs. It’s high time I take a little break; both my body and mind will thank me for it and come back to training stronger than before (even if the latter is currently staging a dirty riot).

“I’m doing the right thing… I’m doing the right thing.” Repeat after me: “I’m doing the right thing.”

Running Crazy

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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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!

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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