Sunday, 6 October 2013

Mile by Mile: Ten.

Mile 1

I have switched on my music and taken my first running steps.  My legs feel stiff and awkward and I immediately check my posture and my footfall.  I try and breathe evenly as I know it will get harder before I settle into a good breathing rhythm.  I let the music flow into my ears and into my movement and relax.  I try not to think about the distance ahead.  I know I can do it, I have done it before.  But it will take me the best part of two hours and that can feel overwhelming right at the start.  As my heart rate increases, so does my breaths, in and out and I check I am not racing off too fast as is it easy to do at the start.  As I move on from half mile distance, I have a feel for how strong my legs are today, I can feel if there are going to be any aches or niggles, or perhaps stiffness left over from my last run.  As my muscles warm up and the stiffness dissolves, I start to ease into my stride.

Mile 2


I am often still feeling a little breathless as I reach the first milestone and as I head towards two miles, I work hard to adjust my pace and even out my breathing.  My legs may still be warming up but I have found my rhythm and I am thinking less about footfall and allowing my mind to wander and take in the sights, smells, the sunshine, the cloud patterns.

Mile 3


As I push towards mile three, the initial stiffness in my legs has gone and I am feeling strong.  I now have a good idea of how the run will go and what kind of pace I will run at.  My breathing has evened out and I could easily run up an incline without too much trouble at this point.  If I get a downhill, I will let gravity do its work and lengthen my stride to enjoy the pull downwards.  I check my head is level, my shoulder down and shoulder blades pulled (not too tightly) together.  My waist is gently pulled in and I ensure I am not striding out beyond my body.  My feet hit the ground, mid-foot first, followed by my heel.  My knee bends as I hit the ground and I push off from my heel.

Mile 4

As I pass the three mile mark, I feel at my strongest.  This is how I used to feel after two miles, so it's pleasing to know I am peaking later on in my runs, getting stronger later on, being able to run well, later into the run. I am starting to feel a surge of energy at around this point and I can increase my pace without too much trouble should I choose to.  If I was running a 5 mile run, I probably would do just that, but I keep myself in check and reserve my energy for the miles ahead. 

Mile 5

The strong feeling continues and by this point I often feel as though I have lost a bit of time somewhere, the miles are passing quickly and I know I am reaching half way.  I don't feel daunted at running another five to six miles, although I know the last few will be tougher than this.  I enjoy the feeling of easily getting lost in my run, lost in the music and feeling strong as my feet keep on pounding.  I quite often want to grin as I run and dance along to the music.  If I am running alone, I often wish I was running with a friend, to share the euphoria.  I'm all too aware of the sun shining, or the clouds frowning and I take in the colours of the trees/fields, I watch the farmers in the fields, or grin at the cyclists as they whizz by.  My senses all feel sharp and I am very much in touch with my mind and body.  I am smiling inside and out.

Mile 6

As I approach mile six, I can feel the first touches of fatigue sinking in and often will need to recheck my posture.  I find I lean forward as I start to get tired so I check myself again from head to footfall.  My feet can sometimes feel slightly numb, although this is often a sign that the run is going well (ie I have stopped thinking about them, they are just there, running, running).  If I have to run over uneven ground at this point, I can often feel the effort required to keep a constant pace is greater now. The sensation of wanting to increase my speed is starting to pass, although with a check on my posture, I still feel strong.  I still have a lot of grins left in me!

Mile 7

As I pass the six mile marker, I acknowledge the fact that I just ran a 10km distance which is something I do quite regularly, but is still something to be proud of.  Six+ miles is my 'pat on the back' distance.  I know now if I had to quit and walk home, I have had a good run, I have pushed my legs hard and I have had a decent work out.   I still run uphill reasonably well, much easier than on cold, legs (ie at the start of a run), though I would need to adjust my pace to a slower jog to tackle hills at this stage. 

Mile 8

By the time I have passed mile 7,  my legs are aching.  Not unbearably so, but this is the point where my enjoyable pace can seriously decline and I start to feel noticeably tired.  If I were a runner who ran round in circles or laps, I could easily bow out a mile seven to eight if there was an option to do so.  If I am lucky, dropping my pace down a little gives me relief and I start to think about the distance I have done and the distance I still have left.  Ten miles is in sight and despite the discomfort, I want to carry on and reach my target.  (Besides, as I like to run a circular route, if I stop, I still have to walk the distance to get home!)

Mile 9

Under two miles to go.  That itself is a relief as I know two miles is not very much.  Thinking about what's left to run distracts me from the stiffening sensation in my calves and if I am unlucky, in my hips.  Again I benefit from straightening myself out and checking my posture.  I am very likely to be leaning forward by now, tiring myself out means I lose my good form.  I immediately feel better for pushing my shoulders back and getting my pelvis aligned. There is little I can do to relieve the tightness in my calves now, but I concentrate on my form and check I am not starting to plod, and still hitting the ground lightly and consciously.

Mile 10

I can't lie, by this point I am fighting myself to keep going.  In my mind I know it's less than one mile, that's about ten or eleven minutes of running for me, and this last little bit will be tough whether I choose to run it, or walk it.  I also know that amazing post-run euphoria is waiting for me.  But my body hurts, my calves are tight and threaten to cramp and my hip aches.  My shoulders ache too and I can feel irritated quite easily by my wires from my headphones or carrying my bottle.  Any change to my pace can really throw me out, going up/down a curb annoys me!  I have to work hard to keep things steady and light.  I often think about 'sprint finishes' and chuckle at the impossibility of such a thing, by now I have given absolutely everything.  I do my best to keep my posture and tighten up my core and work at light footfall.  I still get some relief from keeping this all in check, but by now it's a matter of just getting to the end. One foot in front of the other, don't stop, one foot down, another down.  I know my face sometimes gives away the fact that I'm a runner at the end of a long run, I no longer care what face I am pulling or how red/sweaty I am.  I may be gritting my teeth and I am almost certainly leaning forward again.....


As Endomundo tells me I have passed the ten mile marker, I immediately slow to a walk.  The relief is immense and my calves feel much better at once.  The aches in my hips take longer to go, but that's OK because I have just ran ten miles and actually those endorphins kick in immediately.  I have a nice five minute walk back to the house and I stretch my calves as I walk.  I pick up my pace as I get closer, I grin a lot and realise my stomach is growling and I want a drink!  I want to look at my route and see it written down:  TEN MILES!  That feeling should be bottled and sold.  If you haven't felt post-run happiness, I pity you. I want to shout it from the rooftops and enjoy every breath in and out which brings a self-satisfied feeling of YAY!  I get showered and hydrate myself and eat, eat eat! I have used around 1200 calories of energy and I know I will need to eat a fair bit of food for the rest of the day, and probably into tomorrow too!  I share my achievement with other running friends and the post-run buzz lasts a long, long time.  This is why we run.  It was a journey full of grins and endorphins and now the run is finished, they have been replaced by an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and an urge to get out and do it all over again.  Or enter some crazy event which is even longer than 10 miles.... 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Happy Runniversary!

In September 2012 I decided I wanted to learn how to run.  So I downloaded the Couch to 5km running podcasts to my phone and started to run. I made fast progress at first, which then slowed and levelled out over the year.  It's now a year on and I have been running for 12 months.  I have run 516 miles, and have never gone more than 6 days without a run. 

My running miles dipped over the Summer for a number of reasons: the heat, school holidays, our busy family lifestyle... so I decided to set myself a challenge in September, once the children were back in school and the weather was cooling down.  I set a goal to run 60 miles in September (and I named the challenge September60!) and I had a few friends from my online running group join me in my challenge. 

It was great because inexperienced/new runners and seasoned runners alike took up the challenge.  One lady (who I will call KC!) had started running in May via the C25k podcasts, and I know she hadn't done any runs over 3 miles previously.  She was viewing the challenge in smaller runs; 60 miles per month is 2 miles per day, or 4 miles every other day.  I believe she more than achieved what she set out to do - I know she had at least one run of 5 miles, which is a fantastic achievement. 

Dylan, on the other hand has been out far fewer times, but with 28 running miles achieved in just one day, he easily powered through the 60 mile challenge! 

Personally, I aimed to reach 60 miles by running 15 miles per week over 3 runs each week.  I wanted to vary my distances, so aimed to do a 3 miler, a 5 miler and a 7/8 miler each week.  About half way through the month, I realised I was feeling strong and fitter than I had previously and realised I was benefiting from the regular running.  Last weekend, I planned in a 10 mile run, which I did with my running pal, Ang. 

We planned a flat, off and on road route, and agreed to take it very slowly.  We aimed for 11-12 minute miles and we did it!  I had previously preferred to do my longer runs alone, but it was great having the company.  It took us 1 hour 54 minutes and it helped to pass the time, having a friend to share the run with, sharing the uphill groans and to swear with on the gravel that seemed to penetrate our thin-soled minimalist shoes!  We had an agonising wait for Endomundo to change from 9.99 miles to 10....and it was nice to be able to share that too! 

So that was my first 10 miler, and it was nice to do it as part of the September60 challenge AND in the month when I celebrated 12 months of running!

It did get me thinking though.  10 miles isn't that far off half marathon distance is it?  I have yet to enter any events, and will only enter one which really interests me and has a route which would be an inspiring run. 

I have found such an event, in November.  I am still running through the thought process, training and logistics of entering a half marathon any time soon.  And I am hoping my running pal Ang will be able to run it with me.  There are a lot of what-ifs and things I am unsure of, so I won't say anything else about it just yet. 

So it is the 29th September today and I have run 70 miles so far in September.  Blasted September60 out of the water... 60 running miles and then some!  I intend to try and keep things steady over the next few weeks as it is a fairly big increase I have done.  I tried to up my mileage a little too fast over late Winter and had to rein it in a little.  I intend to have a steady running month in October, with perhaps 1 or 2 longer runs.  I intend to stick (mostly) to 3 runs per week (mostly because we have half term and a few other things planned which will no doubt prevent this every week), and make a decision by the middle of the month about the November half marathon. 

So thank you fellow September60 runners.  It's been an awesome year, learning to run, running with amazing running friends and sharing the ups and downs with many of you.  I still consider myself to be an inexperienced runner and I know going into the second year will only bring better achievements, faster runs and stronger legs!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

I do Run Run Run, I do Run Run

Although I have re-kindled my love of open water swimming this Summer (read here) running remains this strange obsession, like something I can't live without and something I often go to sleep thinking about or looking forward to it. 

I have been running for about 10 months now and I am truly reaping the benefits of regular running.  I have never felt so fit, so energetic, so well and so toned.  I don't run in order to feel better the rest of the time, I run because I enjoy *doing* running and enjoy the way I feel afterwards.  I run because it makes life good, it gives me thinking space and time out from thinking.  It helps me function properly.  I have a fairly poor attention span and soon give up on things which don't give me enjoyment; I am not driven by results if I am not enjoying what I am doing to get results.

I have watched quite a few friends take up running this year and it seems clear to me that a few of them haven't enjoyed running, but keep at it for the fitness/weight loss benefits.  I really couldn't do this, I have learnt from my own experiences with trying other activities on my journey to fitness, that I need to feel the endorphins flowing and the activity needs to make me happy, or I will simply quit.

I conclude from this, quite simply, that I am a runner!  I am not the fastest, nor the fittest, nor am I competitive and I have yet to enter any running events/races.  But running is part of me, it makes me happy, it makes me feel good and I couldn't contemplate (ever!) not running.  I have tried to compare it to open water swimming, but I can't.  Swimming is something which makes me feel like an adrenalin junkie after a big adrenalin hit.  I would feel exhausted if I did it all the time, the the times I do it are fabulous and I spend a lot of time afterwards revisiting my swim, re-living it and loving every moment again.  I don't swim over the winter (with the exception of pool swimming which doesn't count!), and I can see for some people who swim in open water year round, they *need* to swim, just as I *need* to run.  I LOVE swimming, I really do.  But running is what I do.

So as the Spring has changed to Summer, I have run through many more weather extremes as the temperature has risen.  I have taken to the hot Summer runs rather well.  I struggled with my hydration at first, and suffered from headaches as a result of dehydration, which lasted all day, and sometimes left me feeling like I had a hangover if I had run in the evening.  But I have learnt more about my body's needs now and I have acclimatised over the last few months and I love running in the heat, it makes me feel well oiled and strong.  Since the end of June, the temperature has been very high, so I have limited my running distances to 5 miles, to ensure I don't dehydrate.  I carry water with me, but I am not great at drinking it and I have no desire to carry a large bottle (I use a 250ml bottle), so a 5 mile run means I can stay on top of dehydration.  I am running three times per week on a regular basis and I am close to running 50 miles this month, which I have been trying to reach since March.  (It's the last day of July today, and my mileage is at 46.4miles.  So if I do a 4.6 mile run tonight, I will have reached my 50 mile per month target at long last!)  So my shorter distances haven't affected the amount of miles I have been covering.  If anything, I feel stronger for doing shorter, more regular runs. 

I did manage to cover a 9 mile distance though before the weather for really warm.  I still have 10 miles in my sights, and I am hoping I will be able to up my distance again quite easily once things cool down and I am not sweating quite as much!

I bought a pair of Xero shoes last month too, which are very much minimalist/barefoot/barely there shoes and hugely encourage natural foot placement.  I have yet to run in them - in fact not sure I will as I am still working on getting them secure enough on my feet.  But I practically live in them the rest of the time and I may attempt a beach run in them while we are away.  So, I am still waxing lyrical about barefoot running to anyone who might care to listen although I tend to think less about my technique these days (good? Bad?  Not sure!)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Swimming, The Great Manchester Swim and SUMMER

Somehow, while I was busy enjoying myself, three months slipped by without a blog post!  It's a very good sign actually, that I have been busy with real events; busy running, swimming, cycling, gardening, reading.... busy enjoying myself, too busy to blog about being busy!

So here's an update from me on what has so far, been a glorious Summer of pretty hardcore fitness enjoyment!

I DID join the triathlon club, which means I have been swimming every weekend pretty much for the last two months, in a lake and I am now feeling much more relaxed swimming in my wetsuit and swimming in open water.  It is a fabulous place, a flooded quarry with beautiful aquamarine water, which is so clean and clear.  The owner has a lot of fish in there, including some koi carp, who are very nosey when we go swim with them - and I have finally got over my fear of seeing fish in the water with me as I swim (which was silly- of course I should have known I would see fish if I swam in lakes!)  There is a marked-out course and safety cover, and we have spent quite a few lovely Sunday mornings at the lake as a family - the children have been having picnic breakfasts by the lake as Dylan and I took it in turns to swim. 
The beautiful lake at Blue Lagoon

Me, free-styling home!

We share the lake with some big friendly fish!
As the temperature continued to rise throughout July, so did the water temperature and several times we have swam in water which is over 22 °C.  This is very warm, not far off some pool temperatures and warm enough for many triathlons to insist its swimmers don't use a wetsuit.   Unfortunately we are unable to swim without one at the lake (club rules), but it hasn't prevented me enjoying experiencing open water swimming in lovely warm water which makes matters so much less complicated, no acclimatising, no screeching as the water enters your suit, and no numb fingers!

Last weekend I took part in the Great Manchester Swim in Salford Quays, which is the third year I have done this event.  It was very different this time; in previous years the water has been either 12° or 16° and it has been grey and drizzly.  This year, it was beautiful and sunny, the temperature had been close to 30° for several weeks beforehand and the water temperature reached 22°!   I had also done far less distance training, compared to previous years, where I had been swimming one mile distances at least once per week in a pool, although I had been swimming around  one kilometre, nearly every week in the open water instead. 

The organiser took the unusual and unexpected decision to make wetsuit wearing optional and I JUMPED at the chance to experience an open water swim without my neoprene!  I knew I would be less buoyant, less streamlined and therefore slower, but I very much have a love/hate relationship with my wetsuit and I am a confident swimmer, so I decided it had to be done! 

It was the best decision I could have made - it was amazing swimming in open water, completely free of my wetsuit and I felt as though I was in the pool, but with the sun shining down on me and the brilliant atmosphere of the Quays all around me.  Front crawling WAS harder, and I was slower, but it was a fabulous swim and I had a huge grin on my face all the way round!  My time was one minute slower than the previous year, which wasn't too bad at all, especially as I am not as swimming-fit this year.  I am now looking to swim wetsuit-free again before the heat of the Summer leaves the water, it truly is addictive, invigorating and extremely freeing.  I have a weekend in the mountains in Wales up and coming; watch this space!

So much to say, so little time, I shall update again later this week with a cycling and running update - thanks for reading!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Splashing back to the pool and a little long run

I went swimming on Friday!  It has been about 3 months since I last went and I wanted to test the water, to see how much swimming fitness I have lost through not going regularly and to see if I am still capable of swimming close to 1 mile.  I wanted to try and decide if the Great Manchester Swim in Salford Quays will feature in our lives this July!

So I managed to swim the mile, 40 lengths crawl and the rest breaststroke in 46 minutes.  My average time when I was swimming twice per week was 45 minutes.  I am pretty pleased and can only conclude that running fitness transfers quite well to the pool!  I realised I have missed it.  It was nice stretching out in the water and feeling it carry me forward.  So, yeah, I think I need to enter the Salford Quays event. 

I am considering joining a triathlon club based near me who host open water sessions, so I can get a few open water swims in this season too.  I don't transfer well from pool to lake, so a bit of practise won't go amiss. 

And I spent yesterday supporting my eldest daughter who swam in her first swimming gala :-)  She was swimming in the 50 metre freestyle and she took 24 seconds off her entry time, so I left feeling pretty proud!

And so to running.  I went for a run this morning after easing off in the last week or so, to give my aching calves time to recover.  I felt pretty good actually and aimed to run 8 miles.  I chose a flattish road route and hoped for an easy run, which I did get, although I forgot to take my water with me and it was pretty warm out there, even though I left the house at 8am.  By the time I got to 6 miles my hips were aching and I wasn't really enjoying it as much.  I did a smaller final loop than originally intended and stopped running at 7.7 miles.  So close, but I really felt I had pushed as much as I could distance-wise for today.  Getting above 6 miles (approximately 10km) is proving difficult!    I still have my sights set on 10 miles though and I am slowly but surely heading towards it!

I re-hydrated with some electrolytes in water when I got back and stayed away from thee coffee and I seem to have not suffered too much today!

These are to be my next purchase (click the link):  huaraches sandals.

I have been after some for a while but they were not easily available in the UK and those that are (they tend to be the similar Luna sandals) are expensive.  But they have landed and they not only allow natural foot movement, they look pretty good too.  I have yet to decide if I will actually run in them or just use them for every day wear, I guess I will need to experiment when they arrive!  I seem to be shedding more and more physical barriers in the shoe department :-) 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

April sprints passed

Not sure how it suddenly got to be 21 April, and three weeks without a blog post, but here we are. 

It has been a busy month so far with family birthdays, holiday planning and working!  Running has had its ups and downs for me this month.  I managed a second 7 mile run and have upped my shorter run from 3.5 miles to 5 miles.  I have also been more consistent in getting out three times per week. 

But the last few runs I have been plagued by stiff muscles in my calves which although isn't particularly painful, it is making me enjoy my running far less.  My lovely wise running friends have come to my aid with a few suggestions and I will be changing tactics this week after having a few days leg rest.  I am going to have at least one very short run, (approximately 3 miles?) where I will aim to try and up my pace.  Speed isn't something I have worked on yet, as I have not really felt capable of upping my pace, but maybe this is because I am always pushing the distance.

I had vague plans to try and get to the 10 mile mark by July because there is a 10 mile event not too far away.  But I think now that is probably a little unrealistic and although I still have a 10 mile goal, I will reach is more slowly.  In the shorter term I had hoped to do an 8 mile run by the end of this month, but I shall shift that goal to the end of May now!

I watched parts of the London Marathon today - first time I have viewed this event as a runner!  I still have no idea how people run for 3 hours+ (for many, far longer!) and I can't begin to imagine how stiff you must feel afterwards.  Would I ever contemplate a marathon?  Doubt it!  I can see myself training up to a half maybe in a year or two though. 

I plan to get back into the pool this week too (I know I have said this before!) and I am looking forward to supporting my eldest daughter at her first swimming gala next weekend. 

I found a few blogs/websites which have been educational and enjoyable in terms of barefoot running (or rather running with minimalist-style shoes!).. I will leave you with the links for you perusal!

Run Blogger - blog with reviews of minimalist footwear, science-based theories about barefoot running and several very useful videos of techniques used in natural running.

Americaspodiatrist - blog from Dr Nirenberg on his professional view of all things barefoot.

Hot, tired and happy after a sunny Spring run this week!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Spring Running

Well the clocks have sprung forward an hour and although it is still extremely cold out there, Spring is most definitely in the air!  March was a great month for my personal fitness and I had a great month of running.  In total I ran 48.78 miles in March which is the most I have ever done in a month.  I am a little bit peeved that I didn't quite make 50 miles, but it was Easter Sunday yesterday, the last day of the month, and I was busy cooking most of the day, and feeling the effects of a rubbish night's sleep, so running wasn't really on the cards. 

But the clocks have changed and that means lighter evenings and more time to run.  It is usually about now that I get my bike out though it is still a bit too cold for me to want to do this!  I am setting myself a challenge of running 60 miles in April, meaning I need to aim for between 10 and 15 miles each week. 

I started my month's runs today with a short run with my 7 year old son and despite feeling like we had eaten far too much chocolate (we both had a stitch!) we had a fun run, off road.  We played music through my phone, and we both share a silly and literal sense of humour, so running along to Queen's 'Don't Stop Me Now', making rocket shapes with our arms and exploding along through the forest... we had a great time :-) 

And I had a fabulous run on Friday morning; I managed a 7.2 mile road run which is my furthest distance to date.  I had a personal best 'hour' in that run too and it felt really good to stretch out my distance as I have been stuck at 6 miles since mid-January. 

One of my running buddies has set herself a goal of reaching 10 miles before too long.  I am tentatively joining her.....