Category Archives: training

The wrong way to taper

Chinatown Food Street

Most marathon training plans recommend tapering for the final three weeks or so before the big day. And while I’ve definitely wound down since my final big run, I think it’s fair to say my tapering hasn’t been optimal.

Experts recommend easing off the running, doing shorter distances of 12 miles, then in the final week doing shorter, gentle runs only, to allow muscles to repair and increase levels of glycogen.

But training slowed down considerably for me almost immediately after the Hyde Park 20, as work got too busy to fit in much running, then came to an abrupt end last week when I flew to Singapore for work.

Optimistically, I bought three sets of running kit with me, but between jetlag and work I didn’t fit in anything at all. I managed to train while in Abu Dhabi in February, but that was a comparatively chilly 24 degrees. In Singapore this week it was 30, and the humidity was killer.

So I did what anyone with a marathon to run in less than a week’s time did: stayed indoors. In fact, I barely moved at all, taking taxis and the MRT instead of walking even short distances, as the humidity leaves me a sweaty, dishevelled mess within minutes, and that’s not a good look.

On the plus side, if there’s one thing Singapore is good for, it’s eating. And eat I did. Admittedly, all the wrong things (satay, chicken rice…), but it all counts, right?

Not drinking. Yeah, that didn’t go well either.

I’m back in London now, getting over my jetlag, paranoid about every twinge in my feet, feeling anxious that I’ve thrown away all those months of hard work.

Race report: Hyde Park 20 miler

hyde park route map

Yesterday was my final long run, a 20 mile race around Hyde Park, designed with spring marathon training in mind. I’ve run up to this distance before – once a month ago, and again last week – but this race gave me an opportunity to try it out in race conditions, with water stops and chip timing.

Up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning, it looked like quite a nice spring day as I headed for the bus. By the time I reached the starting point near Hyde Park Corner it was gloomy, cold and threatening to rain. I handed over my £20 on-the-day registration fee and was given my timer chip, race number and bag tag in return. It was only then I realised I’d forgotten my Pebble.

Hyde Park start line

At the start line

As I pinned on my race number, I spotted an old schoolfriend, Paul, who’d decided to run the 20 miler for no reason, with little training and  without the last-minute training desperation of a spring marathon. Can only assume he was doing it to undermine my own struggle. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time, so it was great to catch up, not least because it took my mind off the freezing weather and the fact it had started to rain.

As the start time approached, I said goodbye to Paul, who headed over to the speedy pacers, and made my way to the chunky plodders group at the back. The race started exactly on time. It takes a winding four-mile course around the park, run five times to make 20 miles (16 and 24 mile options are available for slower and faster runners, respectively).

All in, the Hyde Park 20 Miler is an excellent race for marathon training. It’s well organised, with water stops every few miles and a decent swag bag at the end. The five-lap course is a little dull (especially on the fifth time around), but that does help with pacing.

I began strongly, but slowly, with a steady 10 minute mile pace all the way around for the first three laps (miles 1-12). The first lap was one big throng of runners, being cheered on by people in the park, but this thinned out progressively as the faster ones sped ahead, and by lap three I was running on my own and the cheerers were replaced with bemused people wondering while a handful of runners were wearing race numbers.

Paul overtook me midway through my third lap, and finished over an hour before I did. It’s been well over a decade since we left school – we’re both getting our first grey hairs, but ironically are far fitter than we were back then. As I ran, I realised I could never have done this at 18. I didn’t touch sport from the age of about 13 onwards, and it wasn’t until I found running in my thirties that I realised I had the mental and physical strength to do it when I put my mind to it. I only wish I’d discovered this earlier and saved myself a lot of self-loathing in my twenties.

By the time I hit the fourth lap, I could see the fastest runners finished already and collecting their goodie bags. I still had two laps to go. Around about here I started to feel really bad cramp in my leg. I spent the next mile wondering if I should stop. I pushed on through, slowly, and by midway through this lap it had eased off. The rest of lap four passed reasonably quickly, but the number of runners was really starting to thin out.

By the time I reached the end of lap four, I wondered if I was so slow there would even be time to do the next lap. I checked with the steward, who told me there was plenty of time, and reassured me that there were plenty of people behind me. I grabbed a Lucozade and kept plodding on for the fifth and final lap. This one was hard. It was just the slowest runners (like me) left, plodding along but flagging.  Somewhere on the first mile of this lap I hit a junction and with no runners in sight to follow, couldn’t remember which direction to take. I chose the wrong path, and had to double back on myself.  I had chat with another woman who made the same mistake, and we ran alongside each other for the first three miles, cheering each mile marker.

We reached the Mile 3 sign – signalling the last mile of the course – and let out an audible cheer. I powered down this stretch of Rotten Row, determined to run this final mile. I did, but I was so slow it was barely running at all. My lap five companion powered ahead, having found a reservoir of strength somewhere that I didn’t have. It was all I could do not to stop and walk. As the bandstand came into view I found a tiny bit more energy and sprinted as best I could for the last 300m to the finish.

Me at the finish

Me at the finish, exhausted

As I picked up my goodie bag I burst into tears, wondering how the hell I’ll do that again in three weeks time, with six more miles on the end. No one warns you how emotionally tough distance running is. This race was hard, but I performed better than I have when running on my own, and felt a genuine boost every time someone cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m hoping this will see me through the final 6.2 miles on the big day.

My Runkeeper made it 3:41:48, which I’m relatively pleased with as it’s a full minute per kilometre faster than I did on the same distance last week, and bodes well for a sub 5hr finish.  Pleasingly, my Runkeeper has upgraded itself to Elite, which gives me access to extra charts and stats (which makes my inner analytics nerd happy).

Emotional wobbles aside, after a rest and massive Sunday lunch, I’m feeling as prepared as I’ll ever be for 26.2 in three weeks time.

Let the tapering begin.

Race report: Reading Half Marathon

reading medal

Yesterday I ran the Reading Half for the third time. But this was the first time when it hasn’t been the focus of my training efforts, but merely a milestone on my training toward a longer distance.

This year I was more than confident I could do the distance, so used the Reading race as an opportunity to road-test my kit, battery and my live broadcasting, as well as my pacing in race conditions.

On previous years there’s been a big bunch of us doing Reading, but this year I was on my own (usual companions being struck down by injury, etc), so my husband came with me to keep me company.

hotel gift bag

Care package left in my hotel room

I booked us in to the Malmaison Reading instead of the Novotel where I’ve stayed the previous years. I was really impressed when I got the the room and found they’d left a care package containing Lucozade, a Mars bar, hand cream, foot cream, and a card (pictured). This, together with the home-made granola they had at the breakfast buffet, were nice touches that would get runners coming back year after year.

Having failed to book a table for dinner, we ended up schlepping around town trying to find a table (every Italian restaurant being full of runners), and didn’t eat until nearly 9pm. This meant that come breakfast time I wasn’t hungry. I forced down some fruit, granola, half a croissant and a pot of green tea, and headed for the shuttle bus to the start line at Green Park.

I went for a pee, dropped my bag off at the bag drop, wrapped myself in a space blanket for warmth, and went to the loo again, then headed to the start line. Almost immediately I needed the loo again – that green tea was a bad idea. But it was too late to go again before the start, I just had to live with it.

I lined myself up near the 1:55 pacer, working on the basis that I’d start there and fall back if needed. The starting gun went – it took me another seven minutes to cross the line. I started well, keeping up with the 1:55 pacer well. As I hit the big hill between miles 2 and 3, I started being overtaken a lot, and feeling quite uncomfortable. I focused on getting to the loo at mile 3, and on the excellent tunes chosen by my friends for my #DistanceDisco collaborative playlist.

It turns out the first loo isn’t until mile 5. Once I finally got there, I felt a lot betterbut the few minutes I spent in the queue there meant I lost the 1:55 pacer. But I was still ahead of the 2:00, and still keeping up with those with blue race numbers.

The crowd support at Reading is amazing – people out cheering in their front gardens, children giving out jelly babies, a church pumping out techno music, a pub giving out beer, and (my favourite, every year) the thundering drum band under the underpass, which spurred me on to my speediest stretch of the race.

Somewhere near the bottom of the big hill at mile 7, the 2:00 pacer caught up with me. I was determined to stay ahead of him, and spent the next mile and a half pushing myself hard to stay ahead. But it was really tough, and I realised it wouldn’t give me a chip time under 2:00 anyway, as I started slightly further ahead. So I decided to slow right down and run the last four miles at a comfortable pace.

Me, around mile 9

From there on, I enjoyed every minute. I checked Twitter and sent this selfie where I look slightly deranged. Here I learned (via Twitter) that my location broadcast had stopped working at some point, so I restarted it (I’ll post again on how that worked once I have feedback from my beta users).

The final few miles – which on previous few years I’ve hated as they’re on a switchback loop along a stretch of motorway with little crowd support – I found good fun this year. I crossed the line grinning and doing a Spitfire.

(The tune that was playing when I crossed the line was Scissor Sisters’ Filthy Gorgeous, chosen by John Field).

Chip time: 2:10:10 – faster than last year, slower than the year before, but on target for a decent marathon time.

Thereafter, it all went a bit wrong. My husband, who’d come along to see me across the finish, sent me a text. I got this, but he didn’t get my reply saying where to meet. In fact, phone coverage here was a complete fail and we couldn’t get any texts or calls through to each other to arrange where to meet. After 25 minutes trying to get hold of him, I was freezing and shivering, so gave up and joined the bus queue. Eventually, he managed to find me there.

me with my medal

My second medal of the year

The bus situation was a mess. In all, I was in the queue for a bus for over two hours. This is an unacceptably long time leave people shivering in the cold, in their sweaty running kit. The longer we were in the queue, the more tempers flared and more upset people were. A woman in front of me burst into tears. Someone else collapsed. Next to me a man with a very tiny baby got into a row with a security guard as he was desperate to get his baby out of the cold and rain.

Having crossed the line at 12.30, I didn’t get back to my hotel until after 3pm – well after checkout time, meaning I barely had ten minutes to shower. I didn’t get lunch until after 4pm. In all, it was a great race but the day was ruined for me by the logistics afterwards. I’m really not sure I’d do Reading again.

Why couldn’t Pheidippides have stopped at mile 15?

runners legs

I returned from my last long run clutching two Sainsburys bags full of ice and granola bars, shaking. I was tired, bored and weary. My entire body hurt. I’d run 28km– my furthest yet – but it hit me that in two months time I have to do all of that, with nine more whole miles on the end.

Then, following advice I’d read in Runner’s World, I attempted an ice bath. I filled the bath with cold water, chucked the bags of ice in it, and got in. My husband handed me a mug of green tea as I sat, waist-deep in the freezing water, shivering: “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Ice bath….it’s supposed to help” I replied, between howls of pain.

“That’s just mental”

After the five longest minutes of my life, I got out, and wept. The last three miles were awful. I now know what people mean when they talk about hitting the wall. I spent the last half hour of the run plagued by self-doubt, thinking there’s no way I can do this. Every step was a desperate internal battle.

When I got my marathon place, I knew it’d take over my life in the months leading up to it. But I hadn’t really thought about what that meant. My weekends are no longer spent seeing friends or spending time with my husband. Instead, they’re measured in distances. 22, 24, 26 kilometres.

When colleagues ask me on Monday morning what I did at the weekend, there’s only one answer: running. From waking up on Saturday morning, the entire day revolves around it. Breakfast: running fuel. Let it go down. Plot route on Mappedometer. Pound the pavements for hours. Stretch. Shower. Eat. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.

We went out on Saturday night after one of my big runs recently. I had nothing to talk about apart from running. All I wanted to do was eat and go home. I have become a running bore.

I’ve started obsessively reading running blogs, studying my time and distance data, and find myself Googling recovery methods, interval training and nutrition strategies when I’m lying in bed. Other people have started to associate me with running (something I still find a little odd, given I don’t really consider myself a runner). They ask me how it’s going, what time I’m aiming for. I smile and say it’s going ok. I don’t tell them about the toenail that’s looking iffy or the chronic bra strap chafing that no amount of Vaseline seems to solve.

Having now run almost 18 miles – which took me three and a half hours – I truly appreciate what a bloody long way a marathon is. That’s the kind of distance one would not normally balk at taking two or more trains to cover. I only recently learned the marathon distance was supposed to be 25 miles, but the additional 1.2 were added at the 1908 Olympics so the route would pass the King. I’d never had any particularly strong feelings on the monarchy, but the thought of this one act of subservience that’s condemned hundreds of thousands of runners to an additional ten minutes of agony is enough to turn me into a hardened republican.

Someone asked me if I’ll do another marathon after this. Clearly, they haven’t run a marathon themselves. If they did, they’d know the tedium of spending most of your free time either running, recovering from running, or thinking about running.

I replied that it was highly unlikely.

“That’s a shame. You’re on 18 miles with over two months to go. That’s brilliant.”

And finally, for the first time since Saturday, I smiled. Yeah, I guess it is.

Photo credit: Dave Morris (flickr)

Long Slow Run Report: hitting the finish lines

The Mall

With two and half months to go, it’s time to start building my endurance. After last week’s 22km, this week I was aiming to add another two to that.

I began by plotting out a route on Mappedometer, all through pretty familiar places which meant I wouldn’t need to keep checking maps.

Hammersmith: fugly

Hammersmith: fugly

I set off, from my house in Barnes, and headed north. I crossed the river to Hammersmith and made my way round the pedestrian’s nightmare that is the Broadway shopping centre/rounsabout/bus station. It occurred to me that if London was ever invaded, Hammersmith would be the western front. An invading army would take one look at the place – with its flyover, its ugly shopping centre, miserable high street, and the monstrosity that is the Ark – and turn around and go home.

I left the place as quickly as possible, and headed through Olympia and on to Kensington High Street, where I dodged slow moving, bewildered tourists – something that were quickly to become a theme for the run. I turned into Kensington Gardens, which was much better running territory, although there were still far too many tourists. I looped around the top of the Serpentine in order to cross where the finish line was for the NYD 10k only a few weeks ago. I thought about how hard I pushed to get there in under 1 hour, and really picked up the pace here.

I carried on through the park to Hyde Park Corner, where I stopped to drink some water and take a really rubbish selfie. Then set off again, down Constitution Hill, past Buckingham Palace and down the Mall. By this point I’d really got into my stride. As I tried to picture myself running across the finish line there on 13 April I experienced a proper rush – I was actually enjoying  this. It felt odd.

I took a quick snap, then turned south through St James Park and through the backstreets of Westminster, close to where I used to work. It was odd to see how much had changed since I was last there – shops closed, others opened.

From there I turned on to the embankment, and headed along the river, taking the same route I took when I ran home last week. In Pimlico I passed a petrol station and considered stopping to refill my water bottle, but decided against it.

This was an error. It turns out it’s feckin’ miles until the next one. This stretch of river seems to go on forever without passing anything much. After an age – in which I was really parched – I reached World’s End in Chelsea and turned toward Kings Road. There’s a Shell garage by this junction, so I stopped here and bought a Lucozade. I still had my headphones in, and it was only when I went to pay that I realised I was heavy breathing and looked an absolute state – no wonder the people in the queue gave me a very wide berth.

From there it was a relatively straight run down Kings Road and over to Putney. This final stretch – the last three or four kilometres – was unbelievably hard. Every step felt like a challenge, and I had to force myself to keep going.

I made it – 24.52km – but was disappointed when I worked out this is closer to 15 miles than 16.

There’s still a very long way to go.

Long Slow Run Report: The easiest half-marathon I’ve ever run

Richmond Bridge

With big plans for the weekend, I took an afternoon off on Friday so I could get my weekly long run in. Target: 13 miles.

I’ve run three half marathons before, but have never gone any further than that. Each time, I’ve prepped carefully for the race – tapering the week before, carb loading the previous evening, ensuring I have specific kit ready. All the things I feel I need to be able to make it round.

Friday wasn’t one of those days. I slept badly, then had a pretty full-on morning at work. I was so busy I didn’t leave as early as I’d planned to. I grabbed a bite to eat near work, working on the assumption it’d go down in the hour or so it’d take me to get home and put my kit on.

But it took me ages to get back, so having planned to be out on my big run by 1.45, I didn’t actually get out until just before 3. I plotted a route on Mappedometer, put my trainers on, and headed out, feeling a little flustered and daunted by the challenge of doing such a distance with less than optimal preparation.

I quickly got into my stride, running past Chiswick Bridge, Kew Bridge, the National Archives and Kew Gardens, then the Old Deer Park. Although I was slower than my usual pace, it felt really good! I kept on going past Richmond Lock, and finally to Richmond Bridge (pictured above).

I’d planned to go a mile or so further along the river’s edge then turn back, but the sky was already starting to look a little grey so I decided to turn back there. At night the towpath is very dark and very quiet, and I wouldn’t feel safe being there after dark. So I turned around there and headed for home, back along the same route.

When I got the the point on the towpath where I’d normally turn to go home, I checked RunKeeper: 16.5km. I mentally mapped another 5k loop and kept on going, through Barnes Village, up Castelnau to Hammersmith Bridge, then turned down Lonsdale Road back west again.

Here I remembered that this road was my route of choice when I first started running, and thought about how much I’ve improved since then. I’d run over 12 miles and yet it still felt almost easy. Amazing.

Just then, I tripped on a paving stone and fell over, only very narrowly avoiding hitting my head on the ground. My right knee took the impact. Ouch. It took me a moment to work out if I was properly injured. Then I picked myself up, and started walking. I soon realised that although I was bleeding, I could run on it. So I did. I kept on going. As I got into my stride again I managed to forget about it.

When I got to the end of my road, I checked Runkeeper again. 21.4km. I still felt like I had more energy left, so decided to make this my longest run yet. I knew I’d done 21 point something when I did a half marathon, but I couldn’t remember what the something was. So I aimed for 22km just to be sure, doing a quick loop around near my house, and finally just running up and down the street outside my house like a loon until I hit the distance.

I DID IT! 22km! And despite having not had any of the right prep, or eaten properly, or even had a good night’s sleep, I genuinely enjoyed it. When I’ve done halves before I’ve prepared carefully but still find them tough going on the day. But I was able to run slightly more than a half marathon with none of the stuff I really believed I needed to achieve that, and found it the easiest half marathon distance I’ve ever done.

It’s often said that long-distance running is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. With my mind focused on the end goal of 26.2, the 13 mile barrier has quickly gone from being a possibly unachievable distance to something I can find easy.

I’m looking forward to the next challenge.

A home run

Battersea Power Station

Today I tried running home from work for the first time. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for ages – first, looking up all manner of routes on MapMyRun, then obsessing over what kind of runner’s backpack I’d need to minimise chafing.

But yesterday I caught up with two colleagues who are also running the London Marathon to compare training strategies. Both are taking a similar approach to me – a weekend long run with a couple of runs in the week – and we chatted about the logistics of fitting in running around our busy jobs.

On my way home I realised the obsessing with routes and kit was yet more procrastination, and I should Just Bloody Do It. The struggle with hills on my last two long runs have left me feeling a little downbeat about my strength, so I figured I ought to try some running on the flat to cheer myself up. And the run home from work is exactly that – right along the Thames from the City westwards. None more flat.

Attempting to set off early, I changed into my kit then had a minor panic about what I did and didn’t need to take home. Eventually I stuck my iPad and personal phone in my bag along with my Oyster and bank cards and a bottle of water, and stuck my work clothes, shoes and the handbag full of crap I usually carry around in my locker in the office. I strapped on my Pebble and my little rucksack, fired up Spotify and Runkeeper, and headed out of the building.

I headed vaguely south-west, hitting the riverside at Blackfriars, down the embankment to Westminster and my old workplace, the Houses of Parliament. I ran past the bus stop opposite my old office on Millbank, and felt a pang of guilt at the number of times I’d hopped on the bus from there to Vauxhall rather than do the 15 minutes walk.

From there I kept going along the river, past Millbank Tower and the Tate, and headed for Fulham. There I was stuck on a corner for five minutes while police stopped traffic in all directions until a car and motorcycle outrider appeared.

It passed, and I was off again, heading along the embankment. When I stopped to take a picture of Battersea Power Station, I noticed my Pebble – which I’d thought I’d fixed after its recent fail – had died again and was giving me the error 504 sadface.

Strangely, this didn’t bother me at all. I was actually really enjoying the run. I kept going, ticking London bridges off in my head as a passed. Vauxhall, Chelsea, Albert (site of my very first snog, fact fans), they seemed to pass in a blur as I processed the day’s stresses and mentally wrote the first half of this blog post.

This is the point where the Thames Path veers quite spectacularly from the actual river and gets quite confusing, so I made for the relative safety and simplicity of Kings Road, which gets progressively less glamorous as it extends west.

Outside a kebab shop, some twats with bikes shouted something at me. I expect it wasn’t very nice. I didn’t care. Right then, I felt fucking brilliant. Strong and healthy and happy.

Soon I reached Putney. It was just before 7pm by then, so I decided to head for the station and take the last couple of stops back from there, else I’d have been ridiculously late back, and the route from Putney home is through parkland so I wouldn’t feel safe at night.

I jumped on the train a couple of stops, then sprinted the last half a kilometre back from the station with a huge grin on my face. I haven’t felt so alive in years.

Long slow run report: Bristol

Avon Gorge and Clifton

Running is a fantastic way to explore a new city. By sticking your trainers on and getting out there at street level, you really get the feel for a city and how its neighbourhoods connect together. Wherever you are, with running gear on and some music in your ears, you look – and quickly feel – like a local.

This weekend I was afforded just such an opportunity, when the four of us who run Intranetizen, a world-leading intranet blog, got together for a planning weekend in Bristol, to look at the design and content of our website.

Regular readers of this blog (hello Mum!) will note there was no Long Slow Run Report last week. Having prepped for a a good 12-miler, I promptly got one of the worst colds I’ve had in years and really couldn’t face it. But with less than three months to go to the big day, I can’t afford to miss another weekend’s mileage, so that meant being an anti-social house guest and heading out for a big long run on my own.

Our host and long-time Bristolian Jonathan Phillips plotted a route for me using mappedometer, taking in all of Bristol’s main sights in an 11-mile route.

From Jon’s house in the north of Bristol, I headed to Durdham Downs. It was a beautiful winter’s morning, but seemingly endless rain we’ve been having meant this section, on grass, was surprisingly tricky. I had to do baby steps for a good 2km to avoid slipping over. When I reached the edge of the park, all was forgiven. Firstly, it was paved. But more importantly, it has a spectacular view over Avon Gorge and down to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Bristol was looking mighty fine on Saturday morning.

From there I headed down Circular Drive, then up Ladies Mile and back down again, before heading out of the park and down a steep hill, into Clifton, and past Bristol Zoo.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From there I headed onto Clifton Suspension Bridge. There’s something strangely pleasing about running across bridges. Living by the Thames it’s something I get to do quite a lot, but Clifton is a spectacular bit of engineering, and one which I was pleased to be able to see up close.

From there it all went a bit wrong. The plan was to head straight on, touch the entrance to Ashton Court, then turn back and head back the way I came. But somehow I took the wrong turning and ended up heading the wrong way. Pleasingly, it was all downhill, so I kept going. But when the pavement ended and I was running on the edge of the road with traffic racing past me, I realised this was a bad idea. I was going the wrong way. Worse; that nice downhill run was about to become a steep uphill on the way back.

I turned and ran back the way I came. There was a raised pavement on the other side of the road, so I headed over where at least I felt safe. But that was quite some hill. I don’t know if it’s because it’d been a fortnight since my last long run, but I found it really tough going. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any power in my legs at all. My run was barely any faster than walking, and at one point I gave up and just power-walked it.

I found my mojo again when a tourist stopped me and asked the way to Ashton Court, which only added weight to my theory that you always look like a local in running gear. I had no idea but could confidently state it wasn’t down that way.

This detour added about a mile to the route, the latter half of which was a horrible uphill slog. Eventually I reached the entrance to Ashton Court and headed back to the bridge. For the first time in what seemed like hours, I was back on the flat and running seemed easy again. I crossed back from North Somerset to Bristol, admiring Brunel’s engineering wonder on the way.

onion seller

Onion Johnnies: normal for Bristol

From there I headed back uphill into Durdham Downs. Again, I really struggled with the incline. It was around about there I started to question both my ability to complete a marathon and my sanity for even attempting it. I just couldn’t find any power in my legs to get me up the hill. After what seemed like an age (but was probably only ten minutes), I reached the top of the hill. Back on the flat everything seemed ok again; I could have gone on for another hour.

After my unplanned detour earlier I decided to cut out Ladies Mile and the path along the edge of the gorge and head straight for Jon’s house. I ended up going the wrong way entirely, taking me into Bristol suburbia, where I saw a Frenchman selling onions and a man who fell from the eighteenth century,

After two hours and eleven miles of exploring, I made it back with a mix of emotions. The hills were hard. I seem to have lost all my strength and I’ve definitely got slower. But I’m getting more confident about endurance. I will make it around. And that feels good.


Long slow run report: the first ten-miler

steep slope sign

With exactly 100 days to go until the marathon, it’s time to start upping my distance. I did a nice 13.5k a couple of weeks ago, so on Sunday I did the first ten-miler of my training programme.

I began by reviewing my nutrition strategy. That is, I stayed in bed until half ten wondering if I could justify the rather excellent French toast with bacon and maple syrup from Pickle and Rye. In the end I decided against in favour of a skinny bacon sandwich (medallions on seeded rye bread), which had the edge as it was available in my own kitchen rather than going outside.

After that I spent an hour and a half waiting for my breakfast to go down and hoping it might stop raining. So it was half past one by the time I finally made it out. At least it actually had stopped raining.

I wore my Pebble and Fitbit, one on each wrist. Battery looked a little low on the Pebble, despite having been on charge all evening. Weird, I thought. I slipped my phone in the back pocket of my leggings and headed on out towards Richmond Park.

I was finding it tough right from the start. My Pebble was showing 6.49/km – a full minute slower than my 10k pace just a few days before – only partly accounted for by the slight incline on the road up to the park.

In ten minutes or so I reached Sheen Gate, the entrance to the park. On the plus side, Richmond Park is massive and beautiful, even on a grey January day. On the minus side, it’s hilly. The slight incline on the road up becomes a steady hill pretty quickly. As I headed towards Richmond Gate I started to get even slower.

I’d worn my jacket in case it started raining. I regretted this once I got into the park as it’s relatively mild for January and I was far too hot. At this point Kanye West’s Mercy came on my Spotify shuffle, a song I don’t really like and which goes on for far too long imho. I reached for my Pebble to forward the track on, only to find it had died. That battery indicator wasn’t lying after all. It felt like some kind of sign. I stopped for a drink of water, and as the sweet sound of Kanye West filtered into my ears, I got overtaken by my husband, who’d left 20 minutes after me.

I picked myself up and carried on, from Richmond Gate to Kingston Gate, a nice, gently undulating path along the edge of the park.

Right after Kingston Gate is Dark Hill, or as I call it Big Bastard Hill – a 100m incline over the course of a little under a mile. I haven’t run on hills for so long that I really struggled here; I was so slow I was barely running at all.  Just then, another runner I’d passed earlier on came the opposite way and I got my first hello, which gave me the boost I needed to get the the top of the hill, taking me to km 8 or so.

From there it’s a kilometre or so on the flat, to the point where the path starts heading downhill again. I stopped here to take a picture of the Steep Slope sign, and only then noticed a beautiful group of stags by the side of the path. It’s good, sometimes, so stop and take a look around. I lost a good five minutes here, but it was worth it.

The slope the signs refers to really is steep. Going down it I feel like I’m on wheels, and have to deliberately slow myself down so I don’t trip. This feels like the home straight, although really it’s only a little over halfway. From there it’s all flat, although at one point there was a giant, deep puddle which couldn’t be avoided at all so I did the last 3km with wet feet.

I reached Robin Hood Gate, then Roehampton. From there it’s no distance at all to my almost-end-point Sheen Gate, but I was finding it really hard. I stopped in my tracks, but a jogger coming the opposite way smiled and said “come on! you can do it”!”. I reached the gate, then Sheen high street, adding a little detour on the end to hit my target mileage.

I was a little disappointed to find, when I got home, that Runkeeper made it a touch under ten miles, so after all that I still felt like a bit of a failure.

Slow and hard work, this wasn’t one of my better runs.


Jantastic logo

Next week sees the start of Jantastic, a running challenge which looks to inspire people of all ages and abilities to start or continue running in 2014.

Participants sign up as individuals or as part of a team, making a commitment to run a set number of times per week (three, in my case), and logging these on the website, Through the site you can compare progress with other runners in your area or group, age group, or others with the same goals. In this way they hope to support runners through the grim winter months – a time when it’s easy to make excuses not to run.

Jantastic is the brainchild of the people behind running podcast Marathon Talk, and has received backing from England Athletics and sponsorship from adidas. Last year the challenge saw more than 125,000 runs and 600,000 miles logged, and organisers expect this to grow in 2014.

Jantastic founder Martin Yelling said “Running is an easy and effective way of keeping fit and healthy for people of all ages and abilities. The free Jantastic challenge is all about getting people active, keeping them motivated and supporting them through the tough winter months when it’s harder to head outside and go for a run.”

I’ve signed up as part of a team of others from an online running forum I use, to help me stay on my three-runs-a-week target.

Jantastic officially starts on Monday, so there’s still time to sign up.

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