London Marathon Training: The Treadmill

With Christmas and New Year now a distant memory it is time to prepare for the most important time in the running calendar….Marathon Season.

I’m not going to lie, getting myself motivated to train for the London Marathon the second time round has been rather tedious. With the festive season taking precious running time away, bad weather, injuries and re-occurring bouts of illness, getting out to pound the street has been difficult.

I have never been a fan of the treadmill. The monotonous pounding on the belt, going nowhere, staring at a wall and watching the clock slowly tick away simply bores me. I have always been a runner who prefers getting outside, running in the fresh air and picking picturesque routes to stimulate my mind.

However, the past few months have meant that I have had no choice but to jump on the dreaded treadmill (or “dreadmill” as I like to call it), to keep my legs ticking over and to work through injuries and illness without the harsh impact of the pavement or weather aggravating my ailments.

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In doing so, I have found a way to carry training when factors outside my control prevent me from getting outside. With the trusty iPad covering the time and distance, I can now work around anything that is thrown my way between now and marathon day.

Although I will never be a lover of the treadmill, spending time racking up the miles on the dreaded machine, I have come to appreciate there are benefits of getting indoors to train.

Its safe and convenient!

As the last few months have taught me, treadmill running allows you to focus on training without the risk of slipping on uneven surfaces or the aches and pains that you gain from the harsh pavement. Running in cold weather takes its toll on our bodies, as it takes a while to warm up muscles – using up precious energy. A treadmill workout allows us to invest energy into the job at hand – the training.

After running in the cold, and subsequently coming down with a rotten cold on several occasions, I have made the decision to take my running indoors in wet weather over the next few months. The idea of completing long runs on the treadmill fills me with dread, but loosing weeks of training due to illness is not ideal either. The treadmill allows me to adapt my plan to the weather.

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Running indoors is also safer. Dark winter mornings and nights are not ideal for women running alone. You can keep to the most well lit paths and still be at risk, especially if you go into your own running world like I do. During the dark hours I try my best to stick to busy areas, main roads and routes where I know I can get help quickly should I need it. That said, I would not risk training on dark mornings, when there are few people around. This is another occasion where the treadmill offers an alternative solution.

Control the pace!

Although they can be a bore, the treadmill is a great way to control a steady pace or training yourself to run at a faster pace for a bit of interval training. Adjusting the incline can also help your stimulate races, with pre-loaded race profiles to aid your training.

Improve your form!

According to Runners World, researchers discovered that runners have reduced stride lengths and higher stride frequencies on the treadmill compared to running outdoors, due to the feeling of instability when running on a treadmill. This in turn can help to improve form and reduce impact on the joints.

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Treadmill running is by no means the same as road running, and certainly not a form of training I enjoy. However, it offers a perfect way to keep my training for the London Marathon going during busy times and unpredictable weather. I definitely intend to take the vast majority of training outdoors. But, if I find myself on the “dreadmill” at times too, that is perfectly okay!

 

 

Exploring Pompeii, Sorrento & Capri

Venture to the southern area of Italy (into the “Italian Boot”) and you will find yourself surrounded by a mixture of history, culture and culinary delights. Several years ago I found myself immersed in Italian charm and sunshine, found in the south.

Known in Italian as the “Mezzogiorno” or “Midday” region, it is home to some of the most historical towns, tranquil bays and stunning coast line.

With only a few days to make most of the area I settled slightly south of Naples in Vico Equense – a quiet coastal town – in the historical farm house “Astapiana Villa Giusso.” High up in the hills, away from the hustle and bustle you would normally experience this farm house offered an idyllic break away with nothing but charm and tranquillity.

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Far from the mainstream hotel, this family run gem allowed an escape from everyday life. If you are looking from a break from Wifi, TV and luxury amenities then this is the place for you. Its remote location offers exactly that, whilst providing amazing views over the bay of Naples and being a great base for many attractions in the area.

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Pompeii

I could not visit the region without taking time to absorb the remains of Pompeii. The ancient Roman city that was obliterated when Mount Vesuvius erupted back in 79AD is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, attracting over 2.5 million visitors every year. You can easily spend a day wondering the ancient cobbled streets taking in the ruins as they stand today.

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The site can get extremely busy, especially in the summer months, so if planning a visit it is advisable to book in advance or plan a trip during the off peak season. I visited in September, when the weather was still pleasantly warm but had less of a crowd.

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Sorrento

This southern coastal town facing the bay of Naples offers a great combination of culture and history. Not only is it convenient for visiting nearby Pompeii, but also provides a gateway to Capri – just a short ferry ride away. Here you will find copious numbers of restaurants with sweeping water views offering gourmet cuisine, tasty Limoncello and of course Gelato! A day spend it in Sorrento is pure delight.

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Capri

We did not get much time in Capri, but the time spent was enough for me to fall in love with its rugged charm. If you have time it is advised to visit the Blue Grotto – only accessible by boat.

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Sadly with only a few hours to spare, we did not get to visit this waterfront cave but spent a great deal of time at the marina, swimming (or floating) in the crystal clear waters and riding the funicular railway to Piazza Umberto – the centre of the island which offered breathtaking views of the island below.

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A few hours on this stunning island was not enough – so much so that a return trip is on the cards.

My visit to the region was a whistle stop tour filled with culinary delight, stunning landscape and an abundance of Italian charm. I hope to return to explore more of what Southern Italy has to offer in the near future.

 

 

London Marathon Training: Fearing the known

When I discovered I had secured a space in the London Marathon 2017 I had a number of fears, with a little excitement. Despite any fears I had I threw myself into training, embracing all the highs and lows as and when they arose.

From the boredom and loneliness of training, to the fear of the unknown. It was a period in my life where everything was uncertain. Having never experienced a marathon before I was clueless as to what I should expect or how I would feel. As the miles increased week by week, so did the fear.

Whilst at the time this fear, the fear of the unknown, was unbelievably overwhelming there was some comfort in not knowing what exactly I had to face. Ignorance was pure bliss.

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Its been a good couple of months since I discovered I have received a ballot place in the London Marathon 2019 and I am finding myself feeling a higher sense of trepidation than before. I have not thrown myself into training, as I did back then. Instead I am finding excuses to pass on vital running miles with the hope that I will “get into it” in the New Year. That is not to say that I have not been training at all, I am still throwing myself into Spinning, walking and shorter running distances. However, I seem to have an aversion to racking up the miles and getting out there no matter the weather.

And the reason for this? The fear of the known!

I am putting off getting into the swing of training, not because I am lazy or that I don’t want to run the Marathon or do my best.

My mind just knows what is to come over the next few months: the early morning runs in the cold, the boredom of the long run, the worry of injury and knowing that in a couple of months the pain from training will be so immense that it feels like your legs will never be ache free again. And as such, it is not playing ball.

As with all training, it is not just the body that needs work its the mind too. And my mind is working overtime in attempt to combat my nerves and anxieties for the months ahead. Whilst the only way to alleviate these feelings is to simply get out there and run, sometimes it is just not that easy.

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So in an attempt to get my marathon regime under way I have to find new ways to push myself, to work around my fears and take my mind off the end goal. Its time to break down the training, to put a plan in place and to take training one week at a time.

It’s time for the work to begin.

Time for new running shoes?

As I set off on a bright Saturday morning for an easy four mile run, a route I have completed with ease on numerous occasions over the years, I quickly found myself struggling somewhat. The dull ache I had felt in my knee in recent weeks resurfaced, along with a throbbing pain in both shins.

I persevered for a mile or so, stopping now and then to give my shins a little rub, thinking my legs just needed to warm up. However, I quickly begun to think back on my runs of late and realised this was not right. I have struggled for weeks, with achy shins and knee – putting it down to being tired or just being a wimp.

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With the London Marathon training due to kick in shortly, I knew I needed to buy a new pair of running shoes, but it was just one of those things I just had not got round to doing. So, I was plodding along with the same trainers I had trained and ran the London Marathon in, back in 2017 – giving very little notice to the state of the shoes or how they were affecting my performance.

What became clear today was that my running shoes were well and truly dead. They had died some time ago, but I was too preoccupied to realise and replace them. And the consequence was that they were starting to cause me issues.

So how do you know when it is time for a new pair of trainers?

Is the mileage on your current running shoes too high? After researching this afternoon I have realised that mine were well passed the recommended distance. Depending on your running style, body weight and running surface your running shoes need to be replaced every 300-400 miles. This year alone I have hit 300 running miles, and this does not even begin to factor in the training I completed back in 2017: before, during and after the London Marathon. Just shy of two years of running miles!! It is no wonder, therefore, that I am starting to struggle with my well worn pair.

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Feeling pain? Muscle fatigue, shin splints and pains in your joints could mean that the cushioning has worn out on your trusted runners. Not only have I been feeling rather fatigued, but today’s running (and a few others recently too) caused pain in my shins and a week off of running due to issues with my knee. Pain box ticked!

Do your trainers fail the twist test? If you hold your shoe at both ends and twist the shoe the sole should remain firm. Older shoes that no longer have support will twist easily. Mine did not have an issue here, but that is not to say that they were still suitable to run in.

Are the treads worn out? Whilst stretching on the track at running club this week another member spotted the well worn patch on the sole of my shoe. Running with worn soles is a complete no no. I have been well aware of the issues with mine for some time, but carried on running regardless. I should know better than to allow my trainers to get to the current state and continue training. So why I am surprised with my performance this morning I don’t know!!

Alternating running shoes is often advised. Running with numerous pairs of trainers will mean that half way through the life cycle of one pair they will become a reference to help you notice when the old pair are ready to be replaced. I always have multiple pairs of trainers, which a rotated on a regular basis. My only problem this time was that it took me a while to pick up on that reference. Instead I put my performance, the aches and pains, and the fatigue down to over training and exhaustion.

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If, like me, you have problems keeping track of the mileage there are a number of things you can do to keep track. Either simply write the date you started training on the label or log the shoes on the app you use to record your runs. Both my Garmin and Strava have the ability to enter this information and keep track of mileage.

So, as I tell myself off for being so blase with the most vital piece of equipment a runner could need, I lay my well worn trainers to rest and begin the hunt for a new pair to get me on the road to the London Marathon 2019.

 

Sleep Trackers: Five Stages of Sleep

It is well known that a combination of a good diet, low stress and exercise enables us to sleep better. However, in the busy world we now live in, where we find ourselves having to deal with the stresses of every day life, snoring partners and restless children, it is no surprise that getting a good nights rest is something of a struggle for most of us.

According to Sleep-Science, scientists before the 1950’s believed that as people drifted off to sleep their brains and bodies would go into a “shut down” mode, entering a passive state which would enable them to recuperate from the days events.

What we have since learned is that sleep is a lot more complicated and active than we think.

Many fitness trackers have a built in sleep monitor that enable us to understand how well we are resting and in turn offer tips to help us improve our sleep. For many years I have tried not to focus heavily on the sleep tracker itself, as at times the constant monitoring of my own sleep cycle caused further stress.

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So what are the five stages of sleep?

Within Stage One of the sleep cycle our brains produce alpha and theta waves, and eye movement slows down – usually within minutes of nodding off. Here we are in light sleep, are somewhat alert and can easily be awoken. This stage of sleep is rather brief – usually lasting only several minutes.

Stage Two of our sleep cycle is also light, where our brain produces a sudden increase in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles. The brain waves then slow down. If you were to have a power nap this would be the optimum time to awake.

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Stages three and four is the stage whereby we enter into deep sleep, as the brain starts to produce slower delta waves. No eye or muscle movement is experienced during these stages and it becomes a little harder for someone to wake us due to the fact that our body becomes less responsive. As the brain starts to produce more delta waves, we will then move into a deeper, more restorative stage of sleep, and it is most difficult to wake up at this stage. This is the optimum time for our bodies to repair muscles and tissues – especially important for those of us who spend a great deal of time training.  This stage is also important for stimulation, growth, boosting immune function and building up energy for the next day ahead.

We then enter Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) about 90 minutes after falling asleep, with each REM cycle lasting up to an hour. On average, an adult has five to six REM cycles each night and during this stage our brains become more active. This is where our dreaming will occur, our eyes will jerk in different directions, our heart rate and blood pressure increases and our breathing becomes fast and irregular. The REM stage of sleep is important for the learning and memory function – this is where our brains processes information from the day before – storing it in our long term memory.

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As adults we spend half of our sleep time in stage two, 20% in the REM stage and a further 30% is usually divided between the other three stages. As we get older the time we spend in the REM stage will become progressively less.

My own cycle follows a similar pattern, with the vast majority of my sleep in the lighter stages – it’s no wonder I am easily awoken my snoring or our mischievous cats. I used to spend a lot of time worrying about my limited time in the deeper stages of sleep but as I get older and understand how sleep cycles change, this has become less of a worry.

The important factor for me is ensuring that I improve my sleep cycle as much as possible. Ensuring I keep to a regular schedule for both going to bed and waking up is extremely important – even at the weekend (though sometimes life even gets in the way of that bed time). Keeping a TV out of the bedroom is a must for me; though I am guilty of focusing on gadgets (i.e. my phone) before I drift off, falling asleep with the lights and sounds of a television will only have a negative impact on my sleep.

Other great ways to improve sleep is exercise – I never have an issue falling asleep due to high levels of activity, it is just the staying that way that’s the problem. So, at times I like to add Floatation Therapy sessions and massages to help relax my mind and body.

As our personal and professional lives become increasingly busy and stressful it is imperative that get the rest we need to keep our bodies functioning to their full potential.

Over the coming months, as my training for the London Marathon starts to take on a new level, my sleep will be most important and something I will keeping a close eye on.

Wonderful Walks: Epping & Hatfield Forest.

Taking a walk in the forest is a fantastic way to get outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

According to studies, spending time in a forest can reduce psychological, depression and hostility. At the same time it is also known to help improve sleep and the feeling of well being, whilst being mutually beneficial for your physical health and fitness too. The smell of trees also have their benefits as the chemicals they release, phytoncides, have been attributed to improved immune defences as well as a reduction in anxiety!

With all these advantages of walking around trees it is no wonder I feel so relaxed after spending time in my local wooded areas. When you add the fact that they offer such scenic surroundings to pass the time whilst walking, it makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time in the woods!

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I have always been a big advocate for exercising to improve mental health. No matter what activity you choose, you will always find that once completed your state of mind is completely different.

Walking or hiking is an activity that has become more frequent in my training schedule in recent years. It offers a break from the high impact and intensity from other activities I take part in, like running or spinning. Though, that’s not to say it is any easier. With a group of highly enthusiastic walkers – the pace and the terrain is always a challenge.

Whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge finding routes that allowed us to prepare for both the mileage and terrain proved rather difficult. Living around the Herts/ Essex border did not exactly prepare us for what we were to be facing on the island. So we had to search for the toughest hills possible, the longest paths and the most picturesque routes to keep our minds occupied on the challenge ahead.

Forest routes became a frequent favourite as most offered us all of the factors we needed for training.

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Epping Forest was one of these and one route we continue walking today! The 2,400 hectares of ancient woodlands is found between Epping at the north and Wanstead at the south. Here you will find 12 miles of woodland paths north to south and 2.5 miles east to west – offering a fantastic opportunity to walk a loop of significant distance. A forest with many paths that look identical, it does open the opportunity to get lost if you don’t know your way – I certainly did the first time I ventured there alone. Once you have familiarised yourself with the paths (perhaps with a map), you will find pleasure if finding new routes and working how to make your walk longer or more challenging.

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Not only that, but with our ever changing seasons you will be rewarded with a number of beautiful views whatever the weather. Epping Forest is always a hive of activity throughout the year, with dog walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders alike – all wanting to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.

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Hatfield Forest, though significantly smaller than Epping a short distance away, offers equally stunning views. Only 403 hectares, it is a biological Site of Specific Scientific Interest in Essex. Only a few miles from Bishops Stortford and moments away from London Stansted airport, this picturesque spot is owned and managed by the National Trust. Like Epping Forest, not only will you stumble across a number of walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders but also roaming cattle during the fairer months of the year. Whilst Epping offers an undulating terrain, Hatfield Forest is significantly flat in comparison. Running along the north of the forest is the Flitch Way, a former railway line passing through 15 miles of rural Essex between Bishops Stortford and Braintree, where you will find numerous runners and cyclists opting for the gentle path ways to clock up the miles.

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Delve further into the forest and you will find a mix of grassy paths, woodlands and even a lake. In the height of Summer, the forest is a hive of activity, with numerous families and friendship groups heading here for the day. In the cooler months, especially earlier in the day you will normally come across dog walkers and fisherman, taking advantage of the serene surroundings. No matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to be captivated by the beauty of the Forest, though more so during early, cold, sunny mornings in the winter when the sunrise and mist from the cooler temperatures provide the most beautiful backdrop.

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I have walked both Epping and Hatfield Forest countless times over the last few years and am yet to find a walk that I don’t enjoy. Each walk may see us taking the same steps, following the same paths at times, but every time we do the view is different. At the end of each walk we find ourselves feeling just that little bit better physically and mentally.

Royal Parks Half Marathon

On Sunday 14th October I took part in my sixth half marathon, at the Royal Parks. For many years I have entered the ballot in the hope that I would be able to take part in one of the most sought after runs in the racing calendar. Every year I failed, with this year being no exception. So I opted for a charity place. I was already raising money for Mind, so I used this as an opportunity to keep the fundraising going.

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In the lead up to the event, I picked up a cold and did not get in the distance I would have liked. So I knew ahead of the race I would have to accept the fact that there wouldn’t be any PB’s. With my recent news of a place in the London Marathon ballot I simply decided to use this as a training run to work out where I am right now and give me a goal to work towards the next half marathon.

The day started early, getting to Epping Station long before the trains had started running. It was dark, it was cooler than recent days and the forecasted wet weather was definitely starting to show its face.

Heavens opened as soon as I arrived at the event village. Before I had the opportunity to sort myself out and drop off my bag, I was soaked to the bone. With wet feet, clothing and hair frizzing with the humidity I simply resembled a drowned rat. And we had not even started. It was safe to say I was keen to get the race over and done with before I had a chance to catch a chill.

There was not much of a wait. In the yellow wave, I was rather close to the back, but did not have to wait too long before crossing the start line.

At 9:30am I was on my way.

The first 2 miles proved to be rather crowded. A total of 16,000 runners took part in the event, meaning that despite with the even waves, trying to get around the slower runners and form any kind of steady pace was impossible.

So I spent the first few miles just trying to get into the run, to warm up the legs and soak up the crowd – which in true London style came in their thousands to cheer everyone on. These miles saw us run out of Hyde Park, through the Wellington Arch, down Constitution Hill to the front of Buckingham Palace before working our way down Birdcage Walk and round St James Park before doubling back on Whitehall.

The route then follows many races I have taken part in before: the London Winter Run and London Landmarks Half Marathon, to name a few. As they were roads I was accustomed to running you would have thought I would have found the route a breeze. It was simply not the case. Between mile 3 and 4, as I double backed along the Strand, I found my pace slowing, feeling rather sluggish. By mile 5, as we headed along The Mall I was in desperate need for the bathroom – I had obviously over hydrated in the lead up to the event.

Toilet break taken, I plowed on. Back up Constitution Hill (yes it is actually a hill. Something you don’t realise until running it), towards Hyde Park and the screaming crowds yet again. The spectators and the cheer stations gave me the momentum I needed at this point. I had written my name on my bib and had random strangers screaming words of encouragement – I could not stop with so many eyes on me.

On I went zig zagging along the route through Hyde Park, finding the inclines somewhat of a struggle between mile 7 and 8, feeling my legs tighten between miles 9 and 10 and then feeling rather grumpy by the time I reached mile 11, when the heavens decided to open yet again.

I was stomping along, reminding myself I had just over two miles to get through, mostly down hill, but finding it rather difficult to keep myself motivated.

With the heavy rain unrelenting I simply had to get through as quickly as humanly possible – dry clothes and a hot tub session was calling.

It was then I passed the Mind cheering station. Wearing the charity vest with pride, I was spotted quickly and received the most almighty cheers from the volunteers. Giving me just what I needed to get through to the finish.

A few more turns in the course and the 800 metre marker was in sight (on an incline mind you), followed shortly after the 400 metre and then finally the finish line was in clear view, so I picked up the pace. No slowing down now, the end was near. I had made it yet again.

Not the best, yet not the worst timing for a half marathon. In fact the time of 2:33 ranked third in the six halves I had completed.

Although I had not fully prepared for the distance in the lead up, it showed that my training with Harlow Running Club was paying off. It was a significant improvement to my timing at the London Landmarks Half earlier this year, despite walking some of the route.

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It was not the result I wanted – I always secretly want to see an improvement. But It gives me a benchmark for training, It gives me an idea as to the work I need to do for the London Marathon and a new goal for the two half marathons I have booked for the Spring.

Despite being one hell of a grump throughout this race, it is a beautiful route in our city, and one that I would love to run again.

So I eagerly await the ballot entry email to sign up for the Royal Parks Half Marathon in 2019, in the hope that I can experience it again perhaps without the rain.

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Post Race Recovery

As I dragged myself out of bed this morning I felt the tell tale signs that I had pushed my body to the limit the day before, running the Royal Parks Half Marathon (write up to follow soon).

The delayed onset muscle soreness had set in. Walking down the stairs proved rather challenging, getting in and out the car made me look like an elderly lady and the more I remained still throughout the day the more stiff I became. To the point where I felt the best thing for me to do at the end of the working day was to go home, eat well and have an early night.

Whilst I feel a sense of achievement, completing 13.1 miles is always tough, I can’t help but look at the many steps advised to take to aid post race recovery and see what more I could have done to make the recovery just that little better.

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Rehydration is one of the most important steps post race. No matter the weather, rain or shine, the exertion on race day will mean any water taken on board will have been sweated out, along with electrolytes and minerals to boot. I always carry a hydration backpack whilst running; ensuring I don’t have to rely on water stations en route. At the finish line I always take extra water that is being handed out and on the journey home I tend to pick up a bottle of fizzy water to quench the first. Then, once home, the rehydration will continue. Though this time round I should have added a few electrolyte tablets to replace those that were lost during the race itself.

Cool Down is extremely important, especially if you have a long car journey ahead. The temptation once a race is complete is to sit down – something I always try to avoid as (like I have seen today) the more I remain stagnant the more I suffer with stiffness over the next 48 hours. Post race I try and use a short walk as a cool down; usually the walk from the finish line to the tube station is sufficient for me.

Eating to recover is always recommended. Something I always have an issue with. Post race the last thing I want to do is eat, with the over exertion (and perhaps too many jelly babies from spectators) making me feel rather nauseous. It is advised to eat something with a good mix of protein, carbohydrates and healthy. Bananas are always readily available at every finish line, which is unfortunate for a banana phobe like me. My go to once home is a jacket potato with beans! Ultimate comfort food.

It is recommended to have a gentle massage to flush out the lactic acid and toxins. If you head to a sports therapist to aid your recovery, make sure they are aware you have taken part in a race so they know to be gentle. Personally I have to wait a few days before allowing any therapist to ease out my aching muscles. Instead I always spend a good 30 minutes in the hot tub at the gym, followed by some time with the foam roller. The roller and I don’t get on at all. It’s not pleasant process – but necessary.

Stretching is one step I always skip! And seeing as I failed to stretch after yesterday’s race it is no wonder I am feeling the aches and pains today. As I increase the training in the lead up to the London Marathon this is something I am going to have to pay more attention to.

Add some post race Protein to your meals! As a vegetarian I often fill up on eggs or Quorn post race. An omelette is a perfect way to fill up on protein and aid muscle recovery.

Early to bed! Not only do most races start early, requiring a nasty wake up call especially for a Sunday, but your body has been pushed to its limits. You are bound to be tired and it’s normal to feel like going to bed before the sun goes down. After yesterday’s race I spent the afternoon in fresh pajamas, on the sofa with a duvet before tucking myself into bed well before 9pm. It was the most dreamless sleep I had had for weeks.

Continue to rest in the days following the race. Don’t rush into strenuous training straight away. Take advantage of those rest days, with active recovery. Today I am allowing complete rest, but tomorrow I will return to running club for a gentle track session and will keep the legs ticking over throughout the day with a lunch time walk.

Despite running numerous races over the years, and having the experience to know what’s best, I still made mistakes in my post race recovery. Hopefully I will continue to learn from these and make better choices next time round.

Running the London Marathon…..again!

As I crossed the iconic finish line at the London Marathon in 2017 I believe the first words that came out my mouth were “Never Again!”

Despite saying this then (and every moment since), I, along with thousands of runners, still decide to chance my luck with the public ballot assuming the odds will not be in my favour. But like the lottery, you have to be in it to win it, so after being inspired by thousands of runners in April, you throw you name into the mix and see what happens,  and simply forget about it for several months. With around 17,500 ballot places against over 400,000 entries for 2019, the chances to get a spot is around 5% – so most walk away disappointed with also a sense of relief.

I assumed and prepared for this result myself.

As my social media feeds started filling up with posts picturing the iconic “commiserations” magazine I was expecting my own copy drop through the letter box.

You can imagine my shock (and horror) to discover that the odds actually were in my favour. As I was “In” and heading to the London Marathon for a second time.

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It has taken me a good few days to digest the ballot result. As I shared the news with various people I received messages of congratulations (like I had completed the race already) and from my running club members, who were rather envious.

As the news has sunk in I have begun to realise how privileged I am to receive a ballot place. There were over 400,000 entries and I got a spot. The spaces are like gold dust, with the London Marathon being one of the most sought after races. Who doesn’t want to run in our great city and to be part of the most amazing day in the sporting calendar. And I have the opportunity to run it again. I was chosen!

So as I come to terms with the challenge I now face, I am looking forward to see how the London Marathon will be different for me the second time round.

I know what to expect in 2019. Unlike my attempt in 2017, I will not be be in the dark on race day itself. The course will be familiar, I will remember the sections on route where I found myself struggling and prepare mentally and physically to overcome any issues that may arise. I know that just after the half way point when you see the faster runners coming back towards you I will need to dig deep to push through – as this had a mental impact on my performance in 2017. Knowing what to expect will  go a long way to improve on my previous attempt and help me prepare for race day.

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There is no pressure to fundraise. Although it was amazing to be offered a charity place in 2017 and raise money for the Willow Foundation, the stress of trying to raise such a huge amount did add to the worries of training. If I was not running and thinking about running, I was constantly thinking about creative ways to raise money – often putting a lot of money into raffles and bake sales myself. And whilst it is a fantastic thing to be able to do for a charity I do question the large targets most set when eager runners sign up for such events. Thats not to say I will not be throwing out a fundraising link – because I will continue fundraising for Mind in memory of my Uncle. It just means that I can relax knowing that all I need to do is get the training in and run on race day.

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Back in 2017 I trained alone, with no guidance other than running forums, blogs and advice from friends. In 2019 the shape of my training will be completely different. As I am now a member of Harlow Running Club, I will have set training days which take away the stress of planning routes and motivating myself when I just don’t want to run. I will also have an array of equally crazy people, who are either running a marathon for the first time in Spring 2019 or those who have run multiple events, to train with, to get advice from or simply to encourage me to keep going when I just don’t want to. In addition, training with the club will give me that little extra running ability I just didn’t have from going at it alone.

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Finally, to this day I still remember that finish line that so many friends raved about. During training, when they all said “the finish is so rewarding” they were not lying. It was simply one of the most defining moments in my life. The pain and time had no relevance – I had completed the London Marathon and nothing could beat that feeling of euphoria!

So, I look towards 2019 with a sense of pride, excitement and I must admit, a shred of fear as I prepare to tun the greatest race on earth yet again.

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Chasing the Personal Best

The “Personal Best”, the constant quest to obtain a PB can be rather stressful, frustrating and challenging.

As many of my previous posts have detailed, I hold my hands up and say I am constantly hoping for a personal best on a daily basis, whether it is during training or during a race itself. The ability to improve on your previous performance is not only rewarding but also extremely motivating, for anyone – not just runners.

But, as many like minded runners would relate to, as soon as I hit a new PB I am constantly attempting to compete with myself and, as such, often find myself frustrated with my ability to push myself further. When in fact, I should be looking at my progress and how far I have come.

Six years ago today, I took part in my first ever race. Taking part in the Willow 10K was rather daunting and the furthest I have ever run. I completed the undulating course in 64 minutes and whilst I was ecstatic with the result I declared I would never run a race again.

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Though, the next year I was back again – in attempt to beat my previous years time. However, on my return I immediately felt the pressure to improve on the year before and, subsequently failed.

Again I vowed to never run again. But went on to join a local boot camp several months later which opened up a whole new world and level fitness, and the addiction to running races continued to the point that I have now lost count of the number of 10K races I have taken part in, along with half marathons and the London Marathon to boot. So much for never running again.

Despite now being a “seasoned runner,” someone who is extremely capable of running for miles without issue – I am constantly doubting my ability, chasing the PB and getting frustrated or wanting to give up when I don’t get it.

But what we all fail to understand is that the “Personal Best” we all crave for every time we don the running shoes doesn’t always have to be about time. The personal best can also be a distance you set yourself, a goal you have overcome whilst running or even just how you feel during a run or race.

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My local parkrun is a prime example of this. It is one run that stresses me out each week. The pressure to improve, to do my best often causes a panic within and makes the run one I tend to not enjoy. When I first started taking part, week after week I would get a PB until I found myself no longer improving. I took a long break, whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge and returned in June to again see a succession of PB’s. But for the last six weeks there has been no PB, and I find myself frustrated before I start every Saturday.

The course itself is not an easy one. Two and a half loops of the local town park, which includes a grassy up hill section – that I have never been able to conquer until a few weeks ago. On the second loop I was determined that no matter how slow my pace was, I was going to get to the top without stopping. And I did. I did not have a PB time wise that Saturday morning. But, I was ecstatic – my personal best for that day was conquering that nasty hill.

And some further PB’s followed after, with a sub 30 minute 5K personal best during a session with Harlow Running Club. It was flat and it was on a track – but nonetheless – it was still a personal best.

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So we need to take the achievements where we can. It doesn’t matter what your minute/ mile pacing is. It matters that you are moving, it matters that you understand that a personal best can be found in other places too.

We all put far too much pressure on time forgetting that in doing so you can bring stress and pressure to the body. Instead we should relax, enjoy the activities we are doing and take the PB’s, in what ever form they come.

Time Out in Zante

With the heavy rain and wind we have been experiencing over the last few days it is hard to remember that a little over one week ago I was basking in thirty degree heat, with my toes in the sand and a nose in a book.

It had been a while since I had a complete “beach break.” Time to simply to nothing but rest and soak up the sun. Don’t get me wrong, we always ensure we get our holidays. It just seems that it has been a while since a holiday revolved around the beach. I expected our trip to San Diego the previous year to have a little more relaxation, however with so many things to see and do – it just did not work out that way. Plus with some great running routes around Mission Bay I could not resist a few early morning runs to get the day started.

Fast forward to Summer 2018 and after a good eight months training and racing, amongst other stresses of daily life, I was well and truly ready to worship the sun for nine days. And for a good five days, it was the perfect opportunity to do so. Until I ran out of reading material. So from the sun lounger I enquired with my trusty Trip Advisor app to allow us a few days exploring.

The first trip on the agenda was a Turtle Spotting Cruise. A cruise that promised a little wildlife as we cruised the bay of Laganas in an attempt to spot the loggerhead turtles swimming in their native environment.

We managed to spot one turtle as it came to the surface. However visiting in September, when it was coming towards the end of the season, meant that this was the only one we could spot whilst on the cruise.

The boat continued on from Laganas bay, cruising the coast of Zante, past the small island of Marathonisi (otherwise known as Turtle Beach due to its uncanny resemblance to the sea creature), before stopping around the Keri Caves for an opportunity to swim in the crystal clear waters.

With a sea temperature of 24 degrees we did not hesitate. Leaving many members of the tour on board we jumped straight in and was rewarded with one of the most pleasant swims I have yet to experience.

On our second day trip, having already had the pleasure of a tour on around the coast by boat, we decided to book the Zakynthos Island Tour by Coach and as a result saw some of the most beautiful views to date.

Starting early we met our coach and tour guide towards the north of the island, quickly making our way to one of many stops – views of the neighbouring island of Kefalonia.

Back on the coach, our tour guide continued to delight us with facts about Zante in an extremely entertaining manner until we arrived at our next stop – Agios Nikolaos.

Here, you would find the opportunity to take a small boat and visit the glorious Blue Caves. Sadly, on the day we took our trip, the sea was far to choppy to risk a small vessel. Therefore we simply took in the views of the small town before heading off again to our next location – Navagio Beach. Otherwise known as Shipwrecked Beach.

The views to be had on the cliff edge overlooking the beach were breathtaking. Luckily, due to the choppy waters, there were very few boats visiting the beach itself that day. So we were treated to unspoilt views of the cove, the shipwreck and the stunningly aquamarine blue waters that surrounded it. For me, this was the highlight. I had never seen such a sight in all the time I have been travelling. It is clear to understand why it is known as one of the most photographed beaches in the world. Some even risk their lives (against the advice upon the cliff top) to get a better view and picture to take home. I stuck to the guidance of our tour rep and was simply memorised.

Our time at the top was rather brief, as coaches tend to find themselves in a bit of a pickle getting back down the tight roads if they linger too long. So we were off before we knew it. If the tour had ended here I would have returned home happy – it was the view I had been waiting for.

But our tour continued on. Visiting the quaint Monastery of St. Dennis in Anafonitria and the village of Exo Hora, well known for it’s 2000 year old, gnarled olive tree – which is still producing olives today.

After so much excitement everyone on the tour was ready for a spot of lunch. And the spot for lunch could not have been more perfect. Nestled on the cliffs in Kampi, we enjoyed a fantastic meal at a traditional Greek Taverna, whilst offering cliff top views that would please the most seasoned traveller.

After a good week of all inclusive hotel food, I could not have been happier with the vegetarian offering this venue had for me. The dreamy location was just icing on the cake. A perfect end to a fantastic tour of the island, as after our lunch it was back to our resort for the last few days.

The resort itself, though not the best in terms of accommodation and cuisine, offered us a fantastic, quiet get away with great views and sandy beaches.  The perfect place to recharge your batteries and make friends an adorable litter of kittens!

As the post holiday blues set in, it’s hard to imagine I was actually in such a picturesque location.

Zante proved to be one of the most beautiful, unspoilt and tranquil places I have had the pleasure of visiting.

A place I would happily visit again in the future.

Adidas City Runs: Clapham

Sunday 16th September saw my return to Adidas City Runs, with the Clapham 10K route. After my pleasant run with them a year previously with the Shoreditch 10K I was looking forward to seeing what South London had to offer.

As with most race days, it started with a very early morning to ensure that I arrived in plenty of time to get myself sorted before the start: multiple toilet breaks, adjustment of kit and filling up my running bladder for the miles ahead.

There was not much time to hang around, as within 30 minutes of my arrival the first waves were being called to the start pens. My wave (wave C) was soon heading in the same direction. Very little time passed before the runners were off!

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Starting at Larkhall Park the route saw participants head north towards Vauxhall before turning back towards Clapham, along Wandsworth Road, skirting the east of Clapham Common before winding round the tree lined streets of Clapham Old town and North Clapham towards the finish line back at Larkhall Park.

The race started off well. Despite the recent balmy temperatures the morning was over cast, cool and saw a welcome gentle breeze – making running conditions seem perfect.

From the first to the third kilometre I found myself comfortable, setting a good pace (albeit, slightly faster than previous races due to my training with Harlow Running Club) and generally feeling rather relaxed after a recent break away in the sunshine.

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However, perhaps due to my lack of training in the lead up owed to my holiday or my faster than normal pace, or perhaps a mixture of both, I started to find myself tiring rather quickly between the third and fourth kilometre. Add in a couple of unexpected hills around the “flat route,” slowing down my pace further, I found my spirit wavering slightly – stopping to walk the hills that I would not have caused issues previously. I also started to spend more time looking at my watch, trying to work out if a PB was on the cards. During the first and third kilometres this was looking likely. After four kilometres I started to give up on the PB yet again, deterred by my post holiday fitness level, and to simply use this race as a way to return back to training after a very inactive break away.

The route itself was not without challenges, as mentioned above there were a number of hills thrown into the mix that were completely un-expected, the twists and turns around the residential streets became tiring and to top it off, as with the Shoreditch 10K, residents ignored the signs about road closures and decided they were well within their rights to drive down the closed roads. I saw at least three drivers, with very little regard for the runners around them screaming at the marshalls, obviously putting both at danger with their stupidity to pay attention to the signs around them.

And the water stations? Where were they? There was nothing available until after the 6KM mark. Many runners were overheard asking the marshalls “where is the water station?” And on what transpired to be a rather muggy day once we got well under way, this was an error of judgement on the organisers part. Luckily, I always run with water so it did not cause an issue for me. But there were many participants clearly struggling with the lack of hydration.

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That did not put runners off enjoying the course, however. Many participants around me were clearly enjoying themselves (some more than others) and there were many smiling faces as we approached the final turns to the finish line.

Despite my lack enthusiasm throughout the route, I was undeterred as we came towards that final stretch. Any energy I had was used for a sprint finish, allowing me to come under my British 10K time from July (just).

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Was I bothered about failing to get a PB and a sub 60 minute time yet again? Not really. I had enjoyed my much needed time off, coming back feeling refreshed and ache free. I always say “next time.” And I will get there one day. With the ability I have gained training with Harlow Running club, teamed with regular Spinning classes – I have no doubt that I will eventually reach the goals I set for myself.

In the meantime, it’s time to head off to running club……….