Running 2K hard

This week’s running club session was tough! I think the only easy bit was the half-a-warm-up, because I got stuck in traffic on the way there so only had time for a short lap of the park instead of the full mile-and-a-bit around the lake. Never mind, needs must!

It was all about running fast and on tired legs this week. We started with a 400m sprint, followed by a 200m recovery, three times. Strange how 200m seems to get shorter and 400m seems to get longer the more times you do it. After that, it was a fast 2K on the track. I was determined to run it as fast as I could but to try to maintain a steady pace. It wasn’t easy as it was windy, and there were two laps of the five that I just couldn’t keep my pace up on the back straight as I was running straight into the wind. Given that my best 5K pace is about an 8.5-minute mile, I was pleased to have averaged 8 minutes per mile over the 2K. I even managed to accelerate over the last 100 metres for a sprint finish across the line. I don’t think I could talk for about a minute afterwards though! It also made me realise how fast some of the children run a Junior Parkrun. I thought I’d done well running it in 10 minutes, but my 9-year-old has a PB over 2K of 8:48!

It has made me more determined to get my Parkrun time back under 27 minutes though, and I’d love to see my time start with a 25 before the end of the year.

Last long training run

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This week saw my last long training run for my half marathon at the end of next week. I was hoping to be able to build back up to 10 miles, and I did it! I had planned a new route, running to somewhere I hadn’t run before, and in retrospect it probably wasn’t the wisest idea to choose a destination which required me to run the first five miles uphill. At least it meant it was downhill all the way back though! The weather has been really mild for late September this week but I don’t think I’ll have the luxury of running in shorts and a vest on the day. Long-range weather forecasts are inaccurate by their very nature, but at the moment the forecast for next weekend is for dry weather but only about 12°C.

So I guess in terms of training I’m as ready as I can be. All I have to do now is not get sick or injured before the end of the month. With this being my first half marathon I really don’t know what to expect. I’d like to finish in under two and a half hours, but really as long as I finish it I’ll be satisfied. I’m running to raise money for the Nottingham Hospitals Charity, which is meaningful for me because I spent a week in hospital in Nottingham after emergency surgery when my older son was just a month old. I want to do something to repay the care the hospital staff took of me then. If you’d like to donate, you can find my fundraising page here

My training plan now is to stick with my usual weekly running club session, Parkrun at the weekend, and then a medium-length run next week. Nothing too strenuous. And I’ll be watching the weather forecast to decide whether I’m running in my favourite two-layer shorts or my Mr Men capris!

Dartford Heath Parkrun

Another weekend, another parkrun and this Saturday we took a family trip to Dartford Heath. Actually my husband and kids have run this one before. They did the very first event there while I was away for a weekend with my knitting friends in May but it hadn’t appealed enough to me to want to try it myself. That’s largely because it’s a cross-country course and I really don’t do cross-country. I find the terrain hard-going, and I was completely put off cross-country running by the horrendous interpretation of the sport I had at school. My senior school was on the same site as the town leisure centre which meant we had access to great sporting facilities really, but cross-country meant two laps round the playing fields which got churned up into a total quagmire by the time several hundred teenagers had tramped round the course. But I digress…

What we had originally planned upon was my husband tail-walking with our older son, and I would run with the younger one. Running at his pace took away any pressure I might put on myself to get a decent time (which I’m not going to do off-road and then I just get frustrated with my inability) and this was supposed to help me to learn to enjoy running on trail routes. However we clearly fell foul of best-laid plans that day, because by the time we’d done half a mile, Son 2 and I at his pace were right at the back with Son 1 and husband tail-jogging along behind us and Son 2 decided he wanted to tail-walk with Daddy too. He was thus handed over to his father and I was freed up to run at my own pace, which is faster than the 12-minute miles we had been doing. Except I was now stuck at the back, and spent the rest of the first lap frustratedly waiting for corners, wider bits of path and other gaps in the “traffic” to be able to get up to speed. I ran the second lap at my own pace, but that was a bit late for getting a decent time.

I’m still confident to say I did not enjoy it. Trail running at speed is not my element. If I’m running in the countryside I want to be there enjoying being outdoors in nature, not haring through it like a, well, like a hare! I ended up finishing in 29:31 with a proper sprint finish which was respectable enough after the slow start, and then set off walking back up the course to meet the rest of the family.

When I found them, Son 2 was rather upset. Apparently it was only once I had accelerated out of sight that it dawned on him that if you walk with the tail-walker you’re going to be finishing last, and he’s only five and didn’t want to finish last but equally could neither catch me up alone, nor be brought to me as his responsible adult was required to stay at the back! In a last-ditch attempt at a compromise I took his hand and ran him past the group of ladies immediately in front of the tailwalkers and on to the finish so he wouldn’t be last, thoroughly confusing the timekeeper and finish token volunteer in the process by putting him through the finish funnel but not passing through it myself! (Once I explained afterwards it all became clear but I think I threw them somewhat at first.)

In summary, it’s not a parkrun I’d personally choose to run again but only because I am not a fan of cross country running. If you like a trail run, go for it but don’t expect me to come along and enjoy it!

Sprint shuttles and track two-hundreds

This week’s running club session was probably the last one that will take place in the park instead of solely on the track. The nights are drawing in and while it’s lovely to be able to run through the trees and around the gardens, it’s no good if it’s too dark to see where you’re running! We did manage half of the session out in the park though, in a field I had no idea existed! In teams of three, shuttle runs over short sprints of around 50 metres. I was quite lucky in that my two team mates weren’t too fast and I was able to keep up my sprint speed for the entire 20 minute session.

By the time that was done, though, the sun had set and we had to head back to the track before we lost anyone in the darkness! The session finished with two 200m sprints on the track, and then a one-lap cool-down.

I’ve been really pleased with my running club sessions lately. The last few have speed work, either shuttles or intervals, and I’m learning to pace myself well so that I can push myself right to the end. Not too easy but I’m not falling off my perch halfway through any more like I did when I started. That is helped by my knees being much improved. I need to remember to keep doing my physio exercises. When I don’t have the pain there to remind me any more, it’s too easy not to bother but I really don’t want to get injured again, especially when it’s only two weeks to go until my half marathon!

A catch-up training plan

With only three weeks to go until my first half marathon (gulp!) and with my training somewhat curtailed by my knees over the summer, I have instigated Plan B. At the moment my knees are definitely OK with three runs per week. I am sometimes sneaking in a fourth one while keeping my fingers crossed that the extra strength from my physio exercises will keep my hips in check and stop them from damaging my knees again. But don’t tell my knees about that fourth one!

Anyway, I had been up to 11 miles for my weekly long run before my knees decided they’d had enough but that was back in June. I decided at the end of August that if I was going to manage a half marathon that I was going to have to bite the bullet and start building up again from the 3-4 miles maximum I had been running through July. I had done 5 miles in preparation for the 10K, just to check my knees would cope with a further distance. A quick check of the calendar and some mental arithmetic brought me to the conclusion that I was going to have to use the Severn Bridge 10K as a training run for the Robin Hood half! I had five weeks between the two events. 10K is just over 6 miles, so if I could do 7.5 miles the next week, 8.75 the next, and 10 the next, I would have one more weekend in between to drop back to 6-7 miles the weekend before the half marathon. I haven’t actually been following an official half marathon training plan, just increasing my weekly long run by around 1 mile every two to three weeks, which seemed pretty conservative, but at least it had got me up to 11 miles. From what I understand, half marathon training plans have you train to 10 miles (and the atmosphere of the day carries you through the last 3 miles of the race). I know I have 11 miles in my legs at least. I just need to get my stamina and confidence back up, but adding 1.25 miles once a week still seems doable and I’ll have time for a “rest” weekend the week before.

I managed my 7.5 miles without any trouble last weekend. I was very aware that that had been my longest run for three months but it felt ok and I’m sure I could have run further. The plan for this week is to get to 8.75 miles. The other thing I need to work out is my fuelling strategy as that is something I really haven’t had chance to experiment with. If it comes down to it though I’m willing to run with my pockets full of gummy bears!

Severn Bridge 10K

Last Sunday, August 26th 2018, I ran the Severn Bridge 10K. Sharing its route with part of the Severn Bridge half marathon, the 10K is run almost entirely on the “old” Severn bridge as an out-and-back run.

I’d entered it months ago and had really been looking forward to it. Through all my knee issues, I really hoped I’d be fit enough to be able to run it. I like 10K as a distance. It’s far enough to be a challenge but not so far as to be boring or too much of an injury risk. I was a bit wary though because, as a result of my knee injury, the longest run I’d done in months was the Race for Life 10K at the beginning of July which I had literally limped away from.

The weather forecast for Sunday did not look good and sadly the Met Office had it spot on. The rain started on the drive there and by the time I arrived at Event HQ just off the motorway junction it was lashing down. I’d also misjudged my arrival time. I’d allowed a good hour to pick up my race pack expecting long queues for big collection and for the toilets and bag drop. As it was I waited less than ten minutes to collect my running number and then had to wait an hour in the rain. A tip-off from another runner led to me spending at least a bit of time in the dry and semi-warmth of the women’s changing tent but eventually I had to stuff my raincoat into my backpack and hand it in at the bag drop and make my way to the start. I’m sure the rain got even heavier at that point and the ten minute walk from Event HQ to the start line up on the motorway carriageway itself was wet and cold and I was shivering by the time I got there. The start line was near to a road bridge and it was a squeeze as everyone tried to shelter under it.

The atmosphere was lovely though despite the weather. I was there alone but never felt alone. I chatted with a number of other ladies, some like me hoping to finish in under an hour, some hoping to finish in under 90 minutes, and some just happy to finish! We weren’t kept waiting long before we were called forward to the start line and sent off on our way across the bridge. Beforehand, I had said I wanted to finish in under an hour. My PB for a measured 10K was 1 hour and 24 seconds so that seemed an achievable goal, but I also really wanted to enjoy the experience. After all, how often do you get to run (safely and legally!) along a motorway?! The weather conditions were really awful. I was trying to take in the view as I ran along the bridge but you really couldn’t see much through the mist and the rain. The first stretch up to the top of the bridge wasn’t too bad but the main flat stretch of road across was windy, and there was rain blowing into my right ear the whole way. I was keeping up a good pace following a lady in a distinctive red T-shirt and trying to console myself that at least the rain would be blowing down the other one on the way back!

At the other end of the bridge my spirits were raised by a bagpiper playing on a road bridge above the motorway! The run continued down past the motorway exit at the far end of the bridge before turning back to run back the way we’d come, and then turning again to run down the exit slip lane. I was glad to see the 5K halfway mark. Just a Parkrun to go! There was a water station there so I took a drink, although the irony of taking on additional water when I was already soaked to the skin and dripping was not lost on me!

The return leg of the run took place on the cycle path which goes alongside and slightly below the main vehicle carriageway. The puddles were huge! By the end of the path it was impossible to run around them and all I could do was plough on through the ankle-deep puddles and apologise to any runners who got splashed. My trainers and socks were saturated, rain was dripping off my hair, my chin, my nose, I had to keep wiping my glasses to be able to see, and then I heard and saw the most enthusiastic marshal standing by the gate at the end of the cycle lane. She was calling out that there was only half a mile to go and my spirits lifted. The route went up a slight incline to leave the motorway in order to access a path underneath it before finishing back at Event HQ. A marshal at a tight bend was calling out that this was the last incline, and I commented to a half marathon runner passing me that I really didn’t need an incline right then. He replied “I’m not teasing you, but this isn’t the incline he’s referring to”. He was right. The path went downhill, underneath the motorway, and then the final stretch was uphill. Uphill! With just a couple of hundred yards to go I dug deep, running past people who couldn’t do more than trudge but I was determined to finish strongly. I’d been keeping an eye on my average pace and knew I was looking to finish in under an hour if I could just keep going.

Then I came through trees and the path started to slope down again and I recognised it as being the final stretch into Event HQ, and I could hear the music playing and see the Finish line ahead of me with the clock on it. People ahead of me were obscuring the seconds part of the display but I could see the hours and minutes. 0 hours, 57 minutes. I sprinted! I saw the minutes figure tick over on to 58 as I approached but I didn’t care. I was well inside the hour. I’d done it! I crossed the line and stopped my watch at 58:10. Volunteers with armfuls of medals were there to greet finishers and I thanked one as she handed me my 10K medal. Next stop was a table covered in bananas! I had planned to save my banana until I’d collected my goody bag but once I’d unpeeled it I thought I’d just eat it and I don’t think a banana has ever been so tasty. I took a bottle of water, collected my finishers T-shirt and goody bag and headed for the bag drop to collect my coat and bag.

I really enjoyed the race despite the weather. It would be nice to run it again in the sunshine and actually get to enjoy the view but it was a fun race. I was even more delighted when the official results were finally released that evening and I saw my chip time was actually 57:53. I had well and truly smashed my PB and still can’t quite believe that I ran a sub-58 10K! And the best news, my knees are fine. Onwards and upwards to my half marathon now!

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A day for running and knitting

One of those rare days when my hobbies actually collide, yesterday saw me coming pretty much as close as you safely can come to running and knitting. My children had been to stay with their grandparents for a few days over the school holidays so yesterday my husband and I drove to fetch them home. Of course, we had to partake of a spot of Parkrun tourism on the way, but that meant driving in our running gear. If we’re both in the car, my husband usually does the driving and I knit! I’m still working on this massive circular shawl (only 21 more rounds to go now). Anyone looking through the window as we travelled would have seen me in my vest top, shorts and trainers (with Parkrun barcode attached!) with my knitting in my lap!

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Course PB at Parkrun

This week saw the 200th Parkrun at Dartford! Only my 24th so I have a way to go to reach that kind of milestone but I decided I wanted to make it a good one for me. I ran with my older son (who can actually run a 5K faster than I can anyway, even though he’s only 9) and we finished in just under 28 minutes. (His time was 27:48, mine 27:52) It wasn’t an overall PB for either of us, but it was a course PB for both, as the last time we ran Dartford we finished a second or two either side of 28:30. He has a stronger finish than I do, but I was pleased that I had enough left for a real sprint finish and passed two other runners on the final straight. Still a full minute slower than my all-time Parkrun PB, but I had got “stuck” at around 28-and-a-half minutes for a while so I’m glad that I’ve recently run three sub-28 Parkruns. Times are heading in the right direction, then!

Three runs this week

For the first time in a long time, my knees have successfully carried me through three runs this week. For a while, just one run was enough to set off what felt like a powerful toothache in my knee joints, but conscientious attention to my physio exercises has meant that I managed two runs for the last two weeks, and this week I decided to try for three. The first was Saturday’s Parkrun. Then I managed a comfortable 4.5 miles at around a 10 minute per mile pace. On Wednesday I went to the running club track session, which is always good if you’re looking for hard work. It began with the usual warm-up lap of the lake, just over a mile, then we ran sprint relays in teams for 20 minutes on the track. They were set up as a longer 250m leg and a shorter 150m leg. I teamed up with my kids (!) and to be fair to them they held their own running with the adults. The good thing about the session is that you can run it at your own pace, challenge yourself or take it more gently if necessary, and everyone supports each other. Lots of stretches afterwards helped to loosen up my tight hip flexors which also contribute to my knee issues.

Next stop is this weekend’s Parkrun!

Running on holiday!

I have been on my holidays! Despite the knee problem, or rather because of the knee problem, I managed two runs a week while I was away. Thankfully, with diligent attention to my leg exercises my knee tendinitis is almost completely resolved, and I’m hoping to get back to three runs this week. Of course it’s the school holidays and the children are at home so it may not be my knees that are the issue this week…

However, back to the holiday running. I have been diligently performing my leg exercises morning and night, and I had started to feel like my knees were improving. Parkrun on July 28th had been slower than usual but pain-free and with no repercussions so I had decided that one more week and I could probably risk trying a second run during the week.

Wednesday August 1st we were on holiday in the south of France staying with the family of friends, and it was too good an opportunity to miss to get up early and run along the sea front in Biarritz.

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I managed just over 3 miles out and back along the coast in about 32 minutes, just taking it steady and listening to my legs. I made sure I warmed up well and did plenty of stretches afterwards, and it felt good, comfortable, and great to be back out there and enjoying running and taking in my surroundings. I was also surprised how many people were surfing in the sea at 7am! According to the friend whose family we were staying with, many people there get up early to surf before work. That is commitment!

August 4th saw my first overseas Parkrun tourism, at Les Dougnes near Bordeaux. It was scorching hot, 28ºC already at 9am, not comfortable, and certainly not helped by the fact I was running with my 5 year old who hasn’t mastered pacing, shot off like a whippet at the start, ran the first mile in under 9 minutes and then realised his error. It took a lot of cajoling to get him round the rest of the course, and it was one of our slowest Parkruns yet, but a great experience to join in a Parkrun as real tourists!

On August 7th I ran along the river front in Bilbao. We’d taken a walk along there the day before and I so wanted to try a run but not sure whether to risk my knees. I’m glad I did. Again it was hot at 7.30am, 25ºC and 78% humidity. In fact I was momentarily relieved to believe it was beginning to rain until my hopes were dashed when I realised the dripping wasn’t rain but sweat!! Nice! I got back to the hotel looking like a tomato with a bad case of frizzy hair! The run had felt hard. I assumed it was the weather conditions that made a 10 minute/mile pace feel closer to 8.5 minutes. I was working my hardest and just couldn’t keep up the pace, but the following day I woke up with a cold so that was probably the main cause of my problems. Running past the Guggenheim museum was a great experience though.

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More Parkrun tourism this Saturday August 11th, in Exeter this time. It’s a fast flat course and I’d been hoping to do well but also had a nose that was running like a tap and felt generally pretty rough with the cold that was by now on day four and really getting me down. The run felt really good though, I felt strong and aware that my technique and form have changed for the better, and while it wasn’t a PB I was more than satisfied with my time of 27:23 (minus a few seconds because the start was very crowded). What was especially good was to meet up with some old friends from university who live in the area, who I haven’t seen for years. We didn’t have long to catch up, as we had to catch a train home, but it’s always good to get together with friends.

My plan for this week is to try a third run, and to start building my mileage up again slowly. I have a 10K at the end of the month and haven’t run more than 5K in several weeks.