An awful pb

I took part in the mass participation race at the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff this past weekend. Guess what? I got a pb. By around 10 seconds. I should be celebrating! No. It was an awful race, a real test of my mettle, and the suffering didn’t end with the finish line.

The first issue was that the race start was 2pm. I decided to get up early, and go for a loosening easy run and scope out the start/finish area. On my way, I encountered the Kenyan women’s team out for their morning jog, all dressed in immaculate matching black Nike tracksuits and looking gorgeous. I’m not a big person. But next to these tiny, graceful, elite women I looked like an actual lumbering hippopotamus.

The weather forecast for the day was not promising: heavy rain and wind was coming our way, due to hit almost as soon as we were set to start. I decided to run in arm sleeves and compression socks, and gloves, and had plenty of old clothes and a poncho for the starting pen. I managed to warm up before the worst of the rain came, then into the pen in the drizzle. The pens were based on expected finishing time, which works so long as runners are honest about their ability. I was a bit bemused to find myself standing next to two women in the 1:30 pen, who were discussing their hopes to break 2 hours! Why do it? It was a crowded start anyway, and they were only going to get in the way of other runners, and possibly get jostled. When the gun finally went off, it was quite chaotic. I learned subsequently that the eventual winner, Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, fell at the start and had to weave his way through the mass runners to make it back to the front of the race. I saw a woman in an England vest crying with blood on her knees, obviously having taken a fall at the start.

Weaving through the chaos, I managed to find a decent rhythm at around 1:30 pace. At this point, while it was windy, the ran wasn’t too bad. The first 5k passed in just over 21 minutes, and I felt ok, not great, but ok. We ran through the exposed harbour area and were lucky with the weather, as the wind stayed at bay and it wasn’t raining at all at that point. I was still feeling just about ok, not amazing but I was running solidly.

I had just passed the 8 mile marker when things started to go wrong. Suddenly, spectators scattered for cover. The wind gusted so hard that a few runners actually lost their footing and were blown sideways. The rain came down in buckets, blown directly into us like waves off the sea. Within seconds we were all soaked through and running into gusts of wind that made progress extremely difficult. I lost around 10 seconds per kilometer at this point, and started to get cold. For the rest of the race, it continued to rain heavily, with the wind gusting sporadically. At mile 12, a stiff hill was probably not what any of us wanted to see. I finished in just over 1:33 – not a spectacular time, but probably a decent achievement considering the truly unpleasant conditions.

It wasn’t over for me. I got cold quickly, despite having plenty of layers in my bag. Shivering, I tried to head back to the apartment we had rented. At this point I started getting stomach cramps, and I knew I was in trouble. I took some Buscopan and immodium, but it was probably too late. Back at the apartment, I ran a hot bath, but had to alternate between the bath and the toilet, as colitis took hold and blood was pouring out of me. I had vomited up the tablets I had taken, along with my recovery drink, and I knew that I was badly dehydrated. The cramps were extremely painful, and all I could do was curl up next to the toilet and hope for the best. For the next five hours, that’s pretty much all I could manage. Finally, the cramps subsided enough for me to start to sip some water, and I began to rehydrate a bit. By the next day I could eat again, but there was still quite a bit of blood in my stools. My theory is that I got so cold, my body directed the bloodflow to my extremities and my bowel and colon were starved of blood, leading to ischmic colitis. I’ve always been prone to GI issues after running, but usually a combination of buscopan and anti spasmodic drugs keep them at bay. This time nothing was going to help and I had to ride out the pain and discomfort.

It took a lot out of me, and while I’m running again (I have a big mileage week this week , culminating in my last long run before London), I’m not feeling particularly strong.  But I think if I can do my runs on tired legs and just get them done, it will be great training stimulus, and after this week I start tapering anyway. So lets just get them done!

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Musing on clubs, injuries, and the running year

I am a member of a very active running club, and have lots of friends who are also typical club runners. I’m not; I don’t tend to go to club nights very often as I prefer to structure my own training, and I don’t do cross country in the winter. I enjoy being a member, wearing a vest, being eligible for leagues and prizes. But I’m aware that for some people, club membership can put a lot of pressure on an individual as a runner, and this can cause problems.

The running year is quite structured for a normal club runner: marathons in spring and autumn, summer road races, winter cross country. Cross country and road races tend to be part of leagues and club championships, putting a fair amount of pressure on a good age group club runner to take part in as much as possible. Add one or two marathons to that mix, and you’ve got a year of running at a high intensity with little down time (if any). The difference in terrain is a positive as cross country does use different muscles than road running, but the training and intensity (and volume) usually remains high all year round.

Added to this pressure to take part and perform for your club, there is the additional pressure that a runner put on themselves: fear of missing out. You watch your club mates and racing friends improve, set new pbs, get quicker. You fear taking some time off and falling behind. You worry about how you will be perceived if you turn up and under-perform. So you push it all year. I watch some of my friends set amazing pbs in their autumn marathons, go straight to cross country and race week after week, and now are heading into the road racing season, without a break. Sadly, I also see them getting injured or ill through over-training.

We are all competitive by nature, otherwise why race? Strava and its ilk add to that competitive streak, allowing us to compare our runs, times, training volume. I get a thrill when I’ve done the most miles in my club’s Strava group for the week. Why should it matter? But it does.

This is the reason I’ve decided to take myself away from the road racing scene this summer. Last year I was club champion for my age group and raced almost all the local road races (mainly 5 mile, 10k and 10 mile). I’ll be off doing mountain races and ultras, and hopefully allowing my body some new stimulii to help ward off injury. It will be hard watching people I was quicker than over 5 miles last year catch me up and go past, but I’ve made my decision to step off the treadmill of the yearly club running cycle.

I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong: for some people, this is their life and it works for them. But I’m not completely sure that it is healthy for amateurs to train with this sort of unperiodised intensity, with little or no down time of changes in focus through the year.

Let me know what you think!

Progress!

I got it done last week (well, mostly, but more of that later). My long run felt like a real step forward for me. I set out to do 36 kilometers on a flatter route than I have been running. I decided to not decide on the pace and just run to feel. I felt great, and kept on feeling great for 34 kilometers. Then, I encountered  a flooded river. Going round would have added over six kilometers to the run. I didn’t fancy actually doing a marathon in training. I had already been running for two and a half hours. I had no choice. In I went. My poor beloved Altras. My poor compression socks and tights. It came up to my knees, then higher. I waded through, out the other side, and squelched the last two kilometers home, feeling pleased with my run. My pace ended up around 10 seconds per kilometer slower than my target marathon pace, but I felt really strong and not tired at all.

The following day, I had a bit of foot pain and If I’ve learned anything, I have finally learned to back off my feet. As much as I wanted to do my recovery run (mainly to get my mileage up for the week), I decided to cycle instead. I was glad I did as by Sunday my foot felt ok, and I set out for a 25k hilly run, across a stunning route including forests full of deer, and nearly 500m of accumulated climbing. Again, I felt strong, even on relatively tired legs. I think (hope) that FINALLY the hill work and endurance work I’ve been doing is starting to pay off. I was exhausted on Sunday  night, but am hoping that I can manage another quality week before a mini taper in advance of the Cardiff world Half Marathon championships on Easter Saturday. 12805803_10153503027436693_2433975883641660422_n

Rain-running

 

Double day. Torrential rain.This morning, I ran my steady first run of the day dressed in: sports bra, tee shirt, warm running hoodie, Asics light running jacket, Ronhill waterproof trailrunning coat, full length running tights, compression socks, buff, two pairs of gloves, one pair of Hokas.

My planned route was interrupted by some impressive flood water, and a helpful workman who stopped me from running through it, saying “that’s raw sewage love, you don’t want to go there”. Nice!

My office smells of the drying gear draped over every radiator. I have to put it all back on and run 6k tempo back to the car later. Please let it stop.

This is marathon training.

Big week ahead! Red alert!

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This week was a lower mileage week with no long run, but that was replaced by two long-ish runs (15 miles hilly and 13 miles flat), and complemented by a 10 mile hilly tempo run. At this point in my training, this made for an easy week, even with the speed work of 9x800m done on the road and a HIIT session on grass.  Anyway.  It is Monday now and all is forgotten. Today was my strength and conditioning day. Celebrations! What follows is my highest mileage week and my longest run of this training regime.  It is also the beginning of doubles (running twice a day). My mid-long run will be 15 miles and my long-long run  will be 23. HELP! It looks terrifying written down.

Remember: I do this for fun!

*wobbles head*

Accepting the need for adaptations in training

I’m half way through my London Marathon training schedule. 8 weeks done, 8 to go. I’m doing all right, apart from the niggling plantar fascitis that I’ve been “dealing with”, and some annoying recurring blisters (that I’m “dealing with” also – with hemorrhoid cream, which does work, and just accepting them). Last week I was supposed to race a 10k on Sunday, but having done a half marathon the previous week, and a 20 miler with marathon paced segments, and plenty of hills, on the Friday, I bailed. Instead, I drove my partner there, he raced (and got a PB by 5 seconds), and I did a lovely hilly 10  mile scenic run. Much more fun than killing myself over 10k in my opinion. That brought my mileage up to a nice peak, and completed that mesocycle of training.

My big issues have been around my track sessions. Last year, while training for the Edinburgh marathon, I went to the track religiously, every Tuesday morning, and did endless 800m repeats at 10k pace. Lots and lots of them. They worked, I felt really strong. This time, the foot pain has made it impossible to sustain the intensity required for a quality track session. I’ve had a few where I’ve had to call it a day after fewer reps than I wanted to do. So, I’ve decided to knock the track on the head for the time being and do my speed work on a flat, straight cycle path instead. Today I managed 9x800m on the path, and felt so much better. My left foot can’t quite cope with the constant turning on a 400m track, but is happy enough on the straight. Road intervals for me for the forseeable.

Ironically, it has taken me being injured to finally wake up to the importance of strength training. In the past, I’ve relied on the fact that I ride horses and cycle daily, claiming that these keep me strong enough. They don’t. I’ve finally gone and figured out a proper set of strength and conditioning exercises, ranging from static stretches, balance drills, and weights. A lot of focus is on improving my foot and ankle strength, but also on core and upper body work. I have become strangely addicted to doing these exercises and feel that they are helping already. I look stronger (visible abdominal muscles hello!!) Shame it took an injury to get me to that epiphany.

This week is a lower mileage, faster running week with the longest run only 15 miles. Following that I’ll do my longest run (23 miles) and highest mileage week of the entire schedule. I’ve got three more races before London: a hilly 15 miler, the world Half Marathon Championships, and a trail 10 miler that I was placed at last year. I’ve already gone through one pair of trainers, am in the process of killing my second, and have ordered a pair of Altras in an attempt to get on top of the toe blister issue.

My other adaptation has been in my diet. I’ve already written a bit in this blog about my slightly disordered relationship with food. It is something I struggle with, and paradoxically, marathon training makes it worse as it makes me hungry all the time. I eat healthily in general, however, my normal diet was quite high in carbohydrates (albeit always complex carbs, not processed carbs) and probably lacking in protein, or anything to help me recover better in between sessions. I was getting energy dips in the afternoon, and generally feeling tired. I’ve changed it up quite a bit – cutting out carbs from one of my meals completely, easing back on them in general, and seriously increasing my protein intake. It has worked. I feel a lot better and my energy levels are more stable. I’m also less hungry as my meals are more satisfying. I’ve even dropped a bit of weight, which is a good thing as my racing weight is between 50 and 52kg, and at the start of training I was closer to 54kg. Which is still a healthy BMI as I’m 5’4 and carry some muscle.

Basically, I’ve been taking a recovery drink for after hard sessions comprising of 1 tablespoon chia protein powder (powered chia seeds, nothing else), shaken up with half coconut water and half almond milk, and a teaspoon of almond butter. Amazing  stuff. For dinner, where I would in the past have had meat, veg, and a grain/rice/pasta, I’ve simply kept it to the meat and veg. The calorie intake is the same, as I’m taking on the extra calories through the recovery drink and the almond butter (and snacking on a handful of raw nuts). But the energy release is so much better for me.