A trip to Gran Canaria

I was very lucky to win a trip to Gran Canaria to take part in the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria half marathon. I had four days in Las Palmas, courtesy of the marathon organisers, and made the most of them.

A 3am alarm is never much fun, but it was worth it, as it meant that we could make the most of the time we had in Gran Canaria. We landed in the mid morning, thrilling to see the blue sky and bright sea, and the outlines of the mountains rising up to the middle of the island. Las Palmas is a big city, with a beautiful long sweep of beach, and just outside of the city to the north is an area of trails and hills called La Isleta.

We had to go to the marathon expo to collect our numbers, so strolled along the beach front, realising that this would be the final three kilometers of the race. After getting our numbers and scoping out the start, I returned to the hotel to get changed for a run. On instinct, I headed for the hills that I could see to the north. Within a few kilometers I had left the main city behind and was heading up along a path through the volcanic rock. It was a fun, rocky, steep trail, leading up to a peak with a cross at the top. I ran up, took some photos, then tried to put my dubious descending skills to the task. In road shoes, this was probably not the best idea, but it was so much fun. I did fall once, but it didn’t matter. My first mini taste of the volcanic hills of the Canary Islands has left me very hungry for more.

The race itself was on the Sunday. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m good in the heat, but with only two days to acclimatise, I knew that it would affect me. The half marathon and full marathon started together from the same starting pens. There were around 6,000 participants. It was hot and crowded. There weren’t many women around, and it was hard to get a space to run for the first kilometer or so. I went off at a good pace for me, and felt strong and happy. It was flat, and as we were running down the city boulevards, we were mostly shaded from the sun. 5k in just over 21 minutes, I was happy with that. 10k in 43 minutes, absolutely spot on.

After 10k, the route took us out towards the harbour and away from the shade of the roads. A strong wind had started to blow, and it was getting hot in the full glare of the sun. I still felt very good, but realised that I probably would not be able to keep my pace up for the duration. I passed the 10 mile mark, just over 1:10, but the wind and the heat got me and I slowed down. The final approach to the finish along the beach front was spectacular, but tough. The brick paved surface was unforgiving, and the wind was harsh. I was passed by two women who were simply stronger than I was on the day. I finished in 1:35 – not a great time, but in the conditions, on an exposed, twisty, windy course, I was happy enough. I was in the top 20 women and the first non -Spanish woman home.

After the race, which was extraordinary well organised, with plenty of food and recovery drinks available at the finish, being able to swim in the ocean was a huge treat. My feet were a bit battered (my friend Mr. Plantar fascitis, and his cousin, black toenails, had come to visit again). Spending the rest of the day lying on the beach was such a pleasure.

Home in a dank, rain soaked day, having already done my run and got wet, with the reality of picking up the milage for marathon training again (week 3), it seems like it never really happened. But those few days of warmth and sea and mountains will sustain me, I hope, through the tough miles that lie ahead.

What is motivation?

An icy morning forced me onto the treadmill instead of the track. I did my speed session as planned, but it didn’t feel right doing it on the “dreadmill” – sort of like cheating as it dictates the pace. The workout was to be 7 reps of 3:30 at 10k pace, with 60 seconds recovery.  This is a favorite track session as it forces you to be aware of pace, keep it even, but the sets are long enough to be an endurance stimulant.

It made me think about motivation and what makes us runners. I’m an amateur runner. I don’t have to be out there running 30 kilometers on icy roads in order to make a living. I do it because I choose to. And I could choose not to, at any time.

A lot of material is posted and shared on running and exercise webpages about “smashing your goals”, and “achieving your dreams”. And there is no doubt that having goals is an encouragement to work towards achieving them. But when you are on a block of training that spans 15 long cold weeks, those goals can seem very distant for some people. Once I’ve set myself a task, I don’t find it difficult to do what I have to do. For me, the motivational challenge is setting the task to begin with. Once I have a schedule, I will do the runs. I simply do them, tick them off; the responsibility is taken away from me, rather like a running watch set to beep your reps on an interval session. It beeps, you run. It beeps, you stop. Thought not required. I like this. I sometimes dread setting out on a long run, but I know that once I’ve covered around 5k, I’ll be ok. I know that when I get home I’ll feel great knowing that I’ve accomplished a small step on the ladder towards my goal. I suppose this is what keeps me going. Each run is a small accomplishment. And I like feeling accomplished.  I also like the feeling of having each day mapped out in advance. I know that I will be running x amount. The rest of the day has to be arranged around that one fixed thing. I like that certainty.

Thinking back, I’ve always had a strong sense of obligation to myself and an appreciation of routine. At university, I studied harder and with more structure than anyone I knew. I was in the library at opening time, and didn’t leave until it shut at 10pm. I always sat in the same seat. I did this for five months straight until finals, and I loved the steady discipline of it. I got a First.

The closest thing I’ve found to that experience and ultimate success has been training for a marathon. You put in the work every day. Then, you run the race. If you’ve done the work, you’ll be ready for the race and, barring external factors, you have a good chance of achieving your goals. I hold myself responsible for my own success, provided I give myself the best chance of achieving it. This is what motivates me.


Week 2,chilly miles

I started the week with a bad flare up of plantar fascitis, and a badly blistered little toe, both on my left foot. This didn’t bode well. But the week progressed better than expected. My Friday long run was just over 30k (nearly 19 miles), done on icy ground. The ice forced me into trail shoes, and they helped my foot a lot. The run felt pretty good. I’m not pushing the pace at all in this part of my training cycle, later on I will do segments of my long runs at or above marathon pace. At the moment the long runs are being done at around 30 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace, and I’m including a lot of hills. I’m hoping that this will help me build strength without breaking myself down. In the past, while I’ve felt strong up to 20 miles, I have faded. This time, I’m really concentrating on endurance base, and will add the speed in once I feel that base is strong. I’ve also been wearing a compression sleeve on my foot, which has definitely helped with the heel pain.

The day after my long run, I did 10 miles over some stiff hills, partly off road, as a back to back effort. Again, I felt quite strong and enjoyed the run. After a high mileage week last week, this week I’ll drop it down a bit, as the week culminates in the Grand Canaria half marathon. I am not “tapering”, but will not do a long run. Instead, I’ll do my normal speed session (if the track isn’t frozen), one 20k run, and then a mini taper of a short recovery run at home before flying out, then quick 10k the day I get to Spain, and an easy jog the day before the race.

As it is below freezing here at the moment, the prospect of 21 degrees C and sunshine is hugely attractive. Bring it on!

Goal setting and one week, two days of marathon training down

I’m just over a week into my Pfzinger marathon training plan, 16 weeks leading up to the London Marathon on April 24th. I’ve been setting goals and my race calendar has filled up quickly. My first long run of the year was 17 miles and over 1,000 ft of elevation gain. It was a great run, and I felt a lot stronger than I had anticipated. However, despite thinking that the plantar fascitis was beat, it has obviously affected my stride pattern as I ended up with a nasty blister and black toenail on the little toe of my bad foot. OUCH! I really hate blisters and my feet seem annoyingly prone to them. I’ve been able to run with a silicone protector on that toe, but it is still a niggle, and very annoying.


“A” races for the first half of 2016:

World Half Marathon Championships, Cardiff, March 26th

Virgin London Marathon, April 24th

Peaks Skyrace (30 mile Ultra) – August 7th


“B” races:

Race to the Stones 100k, July 16th (of which I will probably only run the first 50k, as my “A” Ultra is only three weeks later)

Wokingham Half Marathon, February 21st

Bourton 10k, February 28th

Grand Canaria Half Marathon (courtesy of the fabulous Marathon Talk) is on January 25th, but I will not race it, wanting to enjoy a holiday and take it at marathon pace and enjoy my surroundings.


Later on in the year, I will do the Bounder trail race again (I was second last year), and possibly the Mourne Skyline Ultra in October.