A Change is as Good as a Rest- But Sometimes You Need Both

I posted recently about my plans to mix up my training a bit with more gym sessions, and for the last few weeks have been enjoying circuits, Pilates and just generally being out and about with the dog. One thing I have not done is run. Not for a single minute. I haven’t set foot out of the door in my trainers since I crossed the finish line in Edinburgh on 28th May.

This self imposed and slightly unintentional running ban started under the guise of ‘recovery’. I’d run 4 races in 3 months, racing the distance of 3 marathons and who knew how many more miles in training. I was knackered. My niggling food injury had reoccurred with a vengeance and I just generally felt a sense of apathy towards the idea of running.

A quick Google search for information on how long you should take to recover after a marathon threw up fairly wide ranging results. I saw one suggest that you should rest one day for every mile you ran…. in that case I’m actually due nearly another week off! However, most seem to conclude that taking it easy for a couple of weeks should be enough to allow you to bounce back.

So, I’m not sure I can pin my continuing resistance towards the idea of running on a need for recovery time… physically, my body is fine. Mentally, however, I’m still not quite there. While a lot is written about the time to physically recover from a race, I didn’t see an awful lot on how much a prolonged period of training and racing can take it out of you mentally.

The level of self discipline and motivation it takes to get up at 6am and run in the dark before work, to leave your bed in the pouring down rain on a Sunday morning and drag yourself for a 20 mile run…. these things take mental strength and resilience. Is it any wonder then that after months of discipline and control, my brain has simply had enough? I’ve found that I’ve lost my love for running in it’s simplest form- just going outside and enjoying myself. It’s always been about the next race, the weekly mileage, the pace, the time. Maybe then I’m doing the right thing by giving myself a break from sticking to a schedule all the time, and just doing what feels right.

This prolonged recovery period will be enforced for a further week now, as I’m off to Glastonbury Festival on Tuesday. This is very much a big ‘bucket list’ item for me, and I can’t wait- I’m hoping that a week of drinking all of the pictured cider in a field will see me return home ready to get back out running- and hopefully find some of that enjoyment again.

Running Made Me Fat AKA My Quest to Get the Balance Right

I hosted a Twitter chat for UKRunChat this week; one of the questions I asked was around running nutrition. I was intrigued to know whether people ate what they wanted while training, or did they use their nutrition to support their running performances?

It’s something that I’ve not got quite right yet. I’ve always loved food, and have to watch what I eat and exercise to stop myself from piling on the pounds. I store most of my excess weight around my stomach, and get the best results from HIIT type exercises which focus on my core.

When I started training back in October, I stayed firmly in the ‘eat what I want’ camp; I hadn’t been exercising much prior to starting my training plan, so my body responded well to the increasing mileage, and I found that any extra calories were being nicely absorbed by my running.

However, spending the last 3 months in a continuous cycle of taper-race-recovery has seen my mileage drop off with no associated downturn in appetite. Running makes you HUNGRY. Even last night, a week after my last race, I went out for dinner with some friends and I had wiped my plate clean while theirs could have passed for untouched. And the whole fat-round-the-middle thing I mentioned earlier? Turns out that running doesn’t do much to target that area.

The end result of all this is that I now feel heavy and slow when running; I’m increasingly focusing on getting my weight down and the benefit this could have on my running times. I did what I always do when presented with a problem; firstly, turned to Google. A Runner’s World article suggested that losing ten pounds can result in a saving of 20 seconds per mile; when translated to marathon distance, this is almost nine minutes of time saved. The vague target I had in my head was to lose two stone before my next marathon; that would mean nearly a half an hour time saving, without any change to my training! Next, I consulted my resident running expert and proud owner of a sub 4 hour marathon time. After prefacing the conversation with the obligatory ‘Not saying you’re fat…’, he proceeded to agree emphatically with my vague Googling, and concluded that losing 2 stone would result in a significant drop in my race times.

So, there we go then; I’m out of excuses. No more ‘carb loading’ no more ‘reward meals’. I’ve spent this weekend meal planning, food shopping and prepping. I have packed up breakfast and lunch for tomorrow and planned what I’m cooking for dinner. It’s all been logged in MyFitnessPal at a grand total of 1,859 calories for the day. The other change will be my exercise; with no races scheduled until October, I’m ready to mix things up a bit. I’ve booked myself into 3 gym classes this week (the first at 6.30am tomorrow), 2 HIIT based ones, and one called BodyBalance (a mix of Pilates and Tai Chi), to focus on my core strength and stability. The conditioning I get from these classes should help the weight come off quicker than running alone, and will hopefully make me stronger and less injury prone.

I have a plan… now to see if I can stick to it!

I Only Went and Bloody Did It

Back in my first blog post, I talked a little bit about the challenge I had set myself for this year; three marathons for my 30th year, supporting 3 amazing charities along the way. Initially, I had planned for the Cardiff half marathon to be the final event, but having decided to do the Great Welsh half marathon in May, I found my challenge being compressed from 1 year into a 3 month period- the wisdom of which I was seriously questioning at around 1pm last Sunday!

Having completed Newport half, Brighton marathon and the Great Welsh half in the space of 2 months, that left me with one final hurdle to reaching my goal- Edinburgh marathon.

As I have probably made clear in my blog posts recently, I was absolutely terrified about this one. My legs were done in before I even made it to the start line; I had packed so much training and so many races into a 6 month period that in the weeks building up to it I could barely bring myself to pull my trainers on. But hey, I’d done it before right? Besides, I’d raised a lot of money for charity and didn’t want to feel like I was letting anyone down by bottling it.

Before I go into my experience of the race, I should make it very clear that the event itself was fantastic- incredibly well organised, great support and the course was absolutely stunning. I definitely intend to return when I am at full fitness to hopefully enjoy the whole experience a bit more!

Lining up at the start line at the foot of Arthur’s Seat I got a bit swept up in the occasion; despite my concerns about the heat, the city was beautiful and the atmosphere was great. I kept that positive state of mind for the first couple of hours, easing along, taking water on board regularly and gels every hour as I had planned. I also saw my husband at mile 10 which spurred me on a bit, and took my second gel at around this point. At about 12 miles, I had to stop to use the loo; there was only one person in front of me, so it only took a couple of minutes, but getting going again after coming to a dead stop was hard. My legs started feeling heavy and wobbly, and my head was fuzzy. I checked my watch- only 25 minutes since I had taken my last gel, so I shouldn’t need anything else for a bit. I had been drinking plenty of water, having got through about a litre by that point in the race…. I was doing everything right but my body was having none of it. Weird. I cranked the music up, chucked a few Haribo down me, and got my head down. I made it to about mile 15 before the wheels really came off. First one, then both of my feet started niggling with a recurrence of the injury I’d picked up a month or so ago just before Newport. The outside of each foot became really tight and tense; every time my foot hit the floor shooting pain would radiate through my toes and along the length of my foot. My physio had explained previously that the tightness on the outside of my foot was preventing my toes from splaying correctly, therefore stopping the shock from being absorbed correctly through my foot. I was gutted; I couldn’t believe that this had happened again, and not just in one foot but both! I felt like I could have pushed through the tiredness but this was a whole other ball game. I stopped to try and stretch my feet out, but nothing was really helping by that point. I managed to limp through to the turnaround point, and shortly after that saw the 18 mile marker. I was doing frantic calculations in my head; 8 miles to go- could I walk that and still make it in under the 6 hours 30 cut off for the race? Or should I just give up now, and try and avoid any further damage to my feet?

My natural stubbornness kicked in; I messaged my husband to let him know to expect me a bit later than we had initially planned. He replied and said that I’d already done so well, and no one would be disappointed in me if I decided to stop now; my response? ‘I’m getting this sodding medal even if I have to crawl over the line’. That last 8 miles wasn’t much more dignified than a crawl to be honest; I kept trying to stretch out my feet but the pain kept coming, often forcing me down to a brisk walk.

I kept plugging  away and counting down the miles in my head; the last 5 miles seemed to take longer than the rest of the race put together; the point I turned into the finishing straight was probably one of the most overwhelming moments of my life. There was a lady running alongside me at that point and we matched each other down to the finish; I could see my husband standing right on the line cheering for me and that gave me the incentive I needed to get over the line. I wandered through the finishing area in a bit of a daze, collecting my medal (my new favourite, it’s massive!), a lovely goody bag and T Shirt, and then met up with my husband on the other side. When I saw him, I completely crumbled; all the pain of the last 6 hours got to me, and I burst into tears. I had come so close to falling at the last hurdle, and I couldn’t believe I had actually done it.

Ignoring the pain in my feet that evening was wonderful; I had some fantastic messages from my friends and family, the donations were rolling into my JustGiving page, and it was great to be able to go out and enjoy the city (and a few beers!) without the thought of an imminent race looming in my head for the first time in months.

There will be time over the next few weeks to reflect on what I’ve learnt from this experience, and to think about where I go next; for now though, I am going to enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation- and more than a few glasses of Prosecco!


The Story So Far Part 3 AKA Things can only get better

At the end of my last post detailing my journey so far, I was seriously questioning my ability to complete even the first race in my series of challenges. I had suffered both mentally and physically, and the temptation just to pull the covers back over my head on race day was massive.

People who know me will testify to how stubborn I am; I hate ‘failure’, if I set out to do something I will see it through at all odds. Now, I know that getting injured shouldn’t be perceived as a failure, but to me it was; my body had failed me, and I was scared of letting people down.

With all of this rolling around in my head, I got myself out of bed on race day to be greeted by grey drizzly skies. Fine. I’d done 95% of my training in the pouring rain, I was familiar with these conditions. On went the long sleeves, in the bag went the bobble hat and gloves. I got dropped off close to the race HQ, got my number, got kitted up and was as ready as I would ever be to take this on. It was the first time I had done a race in an unfamiliar city, and it felt very strange to not know where I was going to get to the start; I had been so convinced I wouldn’t be lining up at the start that I hadn’t even looked at the course map!

As we were waiting at the start, the skies were clearing, and there was certainly no sign of the forecast heavy rain. I took things easy at the start and was settling into a fairly good rhythm when my music stopped playing. Weird. Much fiddling about with my phone and headphones elicited a further few 10 second bursts of  music, then silence. I was so annoyed with myself; I’d bought a new pair of Aftershokz headphones a few weeks before and had worn them for the first time on my last long training run; I hadn’t checked the battery life or thought to charge them as a precaution before the race. That was a major blow for me; I’ve never done a race without music before, it’s one of the only things that keeps me going when I am tired.

So- 12 miles of silence with only my own thoughts for company. OK. Shortly after the headphones incident the sun came out- it was boiling and I was running in a long sleeved black top, hat and gloves. I stripped off the hat and gloves fairly sharpish and managed to lodge them into my race belt.

Once I was done fiddling around with all my accessories, I could feel myself getting into my stride. My foot was fine, I felt good, a half marathon should be easy compared to the distances I had been training at, right? I should really be looking for a PB on this course. A part of my brain knew I was being ridiculous, that I needed to take it easy, not push too hard. This was only meant to be a training run, plus I was injured. But as the miles rolled around and my pace stayed consistent my confidence grew; I could do this, I was well on course for PB pace. What a brilliant start to my challenge that would be!

Inevitably, my bubble burst at around 11 miles. There was quite a steep hill and once I had pushed to the top I could feel my foot niggling. The final couple of miles were an out and back along the riverside- you could see the finish on the other side of the water, and the large bridge in the distance which I knew I would have to cross to get there. That stretch seemed to take forever- my foot was agony, I felt a sharp stabbing pain every time I put it down. I walked. A lot. I made it up onto the bridge to be hit by strong winds directly in my face; I made a few people laugh at this point as I actually said out loud ‘for f*cks sake’. I just wanted it done with. I’ve never been so relieved to cross a finish line.

Getting handed my medal at the end made some of the pain worthwhile- it’s absolutely massive! Definitely my favourite one. I was worried about my foot and what it might mean for the rest of my journey, but I made a conscious decision to put those thoughts aside for the rest of the day. Once I was home and had a large glass of Prosecco in my hand, the post race elation started to set in; it hadn’t been pretty or particularly impressive, but I had done it. I was half a marathon in to my 3 marathon challenge, and whatever happened next, no one could take that away from me.