Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

The London Marathon: Decision to Defer

When you enter into a challenge, no matter how big or small, the last thing you think about is the possibility that you will have to admit defeat and defer.

During the training for the London Marathon back in 2017 I found myself with a few niggles, strains and even a small groin injury that put me on a week long time out. But generally I ploughed through the pain and boredom of training with little complaint.

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Second time round it seems that I have been riddled with injuries. The beginning of my training schedule saw me struggle with the annoyance that is shin splints. Then, as documented several weeks back, as I attempted to increase mileage I hit a major stumbling block.

Diagnosed with Peroneal Tendonitis and ligament damage in my ankle put me on a serious time out. Easing off the training and instead resting, whilst carrying out a variety of strengthening exercises.

The last three weeks have not been easy. As I struggled to come to terms with “rest” and panicking about time slipping out of my hands, attempts to run were filled with stress and anxiety.

This weekend I had planned to spend it picking up the miles again. But yesterday morning I lay motionless, summoning myself to pull myself together and to get running. With my anxiety level through the roof I managed to get out the front door and pounding the pavement, only to find that dull ache in my ankle increasing and the sense of failure overwhelming.

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I knew right then I had to make a decision. Do I push myself through the pain when I am clearly not ready and hope that 10 weeks is enough to pick everything back up? Or do I make the most disappointing, but probably most sensible decision to defer my entry to 2020?

It is very easy to slap on a brave face and push through both the physical and mental pain. I am not one to admit defeat. I love the thrill and accomplishment you get from working hard to achieve things you never thought possible.

That said, at times you can do more harm than good carrying through when your mind and body just has other ideas.

So, after much deliberation and with a heavy heart, I made the move to defer my London Marathon space.

Instead I will be concentrating on building up strength, both physically and mentally, and most importantly I will be concentrating on learning to love running again. With the pressure off I can head back to the simplicity of running just because I can, not because I have to. To spend Saturday mornings enjoying the local parkrun and weekday evenings pounding the track and streets with Harlow running club.

It’s time to shake off the disappointment, to start loving running again and to focus on the London Marathon 2020!

 

 

 

 

Climbing Pen Y Fan

Nestled in the Brecon Beacons National Park lies Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales. The gruelling mountain walk to the summit was the location for training at the break of dawn this Saturday morning, in preparation for another adventure to take place later on this year.

Not to be outdone with the London Marathon, I will be joining several others to complete the 84 mile walk that is Hadrian’s Wall; from Bowness-on-Solway in the west through to Walls End in the east.

Taking on two huge challenges in the space of a month may be incomprehensible to many. But for others, like myself, it is just about living life and making the most of every possible adventure.

Therefore, not only have I been attempting to add in the miles (with great difficulty of late) for the London Marathon, I have also had to keep up the long distance walking too.

So, Saturday morning saw myself and a fellow training buddy head off to south Wales at 3am. Less than 12 hours after I arrived home from a week away and with just four hours sleep I was waiting eagerly for the sunrise at the bottom of Pen Y Fan.

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Much to my surprise we were not the only early risers. In fact there were numerous vehicles parked up with enthusiastic ramblers and hikers ready to take on the challenge.

And a challenge it was. Not only were we faced with sub zero temperatures, meaning layers were key, but also over 30mph winds with a strenuous up hill climb to boot.

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As with most mountain climbs, the first 20 minutes is somewhat of a struggle. With the wind, cold and an almost vertical start we had to take our time and acclimatise to the conditions we were facing. In addition, the rickety paths along the route we chose (later discovering we had taken the tougher course) meant we had to watch our footing to prevent slips and falls.

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Half way up, and rather exposed to the elements, we found the wind speed picked up and as such made the sensible decision to get to the summit and back down again as quickly as human possible.

As we reached the top we found ourselves surrounded by many other walking enthusiasts, who had clearly chosen the quicker, easier path.

Had the weather allowed us to feel safe, we would have continued on to include the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder” that forms part of the Fan Dance route taken by potential members of the British Special Forces. Unfortunately we had to make the judgement call and return back down after a quick celebratory picture at the summit.

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We quickly descended, taking just a fraction of the time it took to climb to the top, praising all the hikers attempting to make it to the top en route.

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In just over two hours we had braved the strong winds, reached the summit and returned to the safety of the car, ready for hot Ribena and breakfast – all before most people had risen from their beds.

Before we knew it we were flying back down the motorway and home, elated by the mornings achievement.

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As we made our climb a part of me wondered why I put myself through such gruelling training. Why couldn’t I just stay in bed on a Saturday morning like the average Joe?

Why? Because when you get to the top and see the view, you feel so alive!!

London Marathon Training: Week Three

It has taken me some time to put words together that can summarise the third week in my London Marathon training – mainly because I have been a week long strop.

I began the week with the ultimate rest day, waking up at the Champneys resort in Henlow.

The temptation to book myself into high intensity classes and go for a country run was extremely high. However, with a slight niggle in my ankle from the previous weekends activity and a poor night sleep due to lack of heating in my room, I gave myself a stern talking to. Simply allowing myself to relax by the poolside before my treatments later in the day was the one thing I needed right there and then.

Tuesday, still in a rather relaxed state post treatments, I allowed myself a gentle day of walking before ramping up the mileage at the latter end of the weekend.

The rest of the week started well with spinning sessions and treadmill running. But on Thursday evening, whilst attempting to complete my long (10 mile) run that little niggle I felt in my ankle during the week got progressively worse.

Only 3 miles away from my 10 mile goal, running was no longer an option. I started to experience shooting pain all the way from the ankle joint to the hamstring – bringing training to a complete halt.

Hobbling home, I made a swift decision to book myself into the sports therapist the next day. Lucky enough, SV Therapy were quick to respond to my desperate messages and a tough session followed to determine the source of my pain.

The verdict: Peroneal Tendonitis.

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Not only did I have a touch of this painful condition, but I also had ligament damage and scar tissue from a previous ankle injury that had not healed correctly.

It is safe to say that my session with the therapist was not easy. The pain was intense and I left for the second time in two weeks feeling rather bruised and battered – but also relieved to have a action plan to strengthen my ankle.

First port of call? Rest. My least favourite activity. Meaning no running for a good few days. In addition lots of exercises and icing the affected area.

You can imagine the mood of a runner who has been benched, particularly when training for a big race. It was not great.

Riddled with another injury made me question, yet again, if I should be taking on such a enormous challenge. Despite many assurances by others that it was still only week three and I still had plenty of time to get the miles in – once I had recovered – I have spent every “rest day” since the diagnosis thinking I should defer my place. With loosing valuable running time I keep thinking of the long runs I would be doing had I not had this set back.

Analysing and overthinking the situation does nothing for confidence. So yet again I had to start then new training week telling myself to forget about the miles I have not achieved and take each day at a time.

And so, as I entered week four, my only goal was to take baby steps, to plan my training a day at a time and to find myself fit enough to run the London Winter Run this coming weekend.

But most importantly – I need to stop beating myself up about miles and training I have not been able to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Time Out at Champneys

I have always been an advocate for experiences rather than things. So when the other half handed me his credit card for my birthday and said “book yourself into Champneys for the night,” I was in my element.

When you spend your life rushing around at high speed and training consistently, time out becomes precious. Even more so when it is time you can spend alone, with a book, and complete relaxation.

So last this time last week, after a long walk on one of the coldest mornings of 2019, I checked into Champneys at Henlow Grange for a one night spa break.

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Having been a spa day guest many times before I knew a overnight break, where the majority of my time will be spent in the famous white robes, was just I needed.

Checking in with ease just before 2pm, I quickly fell into the relaxed mantra that Champneys promote.

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Donning my robe I booked myself into a Thalassotherapy session – a warm salt water treatment rich in minerals that is ideal for re-mineralising the body and aiding the detoxing process. The session, lasting around 25 minutes, is designed to stimulate and tone tired aches and pains – perfect for those who are put through their paces with training.

After my session in the Thalassotherapy session, I took to the conservatory with a piece of cake, a hot drink and a book – admiring the sun setting on a cold, frosty day.

A light nap followed in my room, followed by a three-course meal (included in the package) and a bottle of wine. Although I know Champneys are very much into the detoxing and well-being, the dinner was somewhat of a disappointment. Not only were the portions incredibly tiny, but also some dishes were simply tasteless. You have the option to purchase extras – such as side orders – should you feel you need them. But personally, after spending a fair amount of money of a bottle of wine, I felt inclined to add further expense to my bill.

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On returning to my room for the evening I found myself disappointed further. I had no heating – on a day that hovered around zero temperature wise. I complained several times and was advised I would receive a portable heater – only to have to go searching for one when, at 10:30pm, I was still waiting. After heading to reception, to be given a broken heater and no resolution to my predicament I gave up on expecting any kind of service from the team that remained over night. I prepared for a cold night sleep – with extra layers.

Awaking early the next day, I removed all my belongings at 7:30am and headed to reception to speak to someone further. With treatments booked for later in the day, I had no choice but to hang around and see out the rest of my stay – soaking robe (not drying out overnight without heating) and all.

Although I received an apology, it did not feel heartfelt – the manager on duty knew there was no heating in my room before they left the night prior, but nothing was done. And the next morning nothing was offered to make up for it.

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After a very nutritious breakfast (much more satisfying than dinner), I spent the morning lounging by the pool waiting for my treatments. My original plan was to join a few classes in the morning however, after a disrupted sleep in the cold, I simply had no energy to entertain my original schedule.

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The treatments themselves were delightful. After a full body exfoliation, body wrap and head, neck and shoulder massage I felt extremely relaxed – though I wished I had moved the treatments to the day prior when I did not have to drive home.

Post treatment it was time for the final meal – a buffet lunch – both nutritious and satisfying, before heading home.

Leaving the resort in a mix state of relaxation and disappointment. Disappointment coming from the lack of customer care and service when it came to the lack of heating in my room.

However, a week after my stay, I was contacted by the new resort manager. Swiftly restoring my faith in their customer service – I was invited back to Henlow with a guest.

So I return to Champneys next month, for a little more rest and relaxation in the hope to test out more of their fantastic treatments.

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London Marathon Training: Week Two

As with most things in life, plans just turn out how you hoped.

Week two of my London Marathon training was case and point. I had goals in mind, I had targets to reach and training all mapped out. However life inevitably got in the way, with work commitments taking me on the road and cold weather hindering my training outside.

So how did training plan out for the week?

Monday: much needed rest day and sports massage (ouch).

Tuesday: 1 Miles. Treadmill

Wednesday: 3 Miles. Treadmill

Thursday: 5 Miles. Outdoor. Sub zero temperatures.

Friday: Rest Day

Saturday: 8 Miles. Treadmill

Sunday: 9.5 Mile walk

Total running mileage: 17 Miles

Starting the week with a rest day and sports massage sounded idyllic in theory. Then, half way into the massage it starts to sink in that the planned run for the following day will be difficult. The painful process of easing out the muscles was intense, though strangely satisfying. The only issue – feeling like a tenderised piece of meat the next morning.

So it is safe to say my planned run for Tuesday did not go well. One mile in my battered muscles were not playing ball.

Work! We have all had times when work gets in the way of training – and last week was one of those for me. Driving to the south coast on Wednesday meant an early start, six hours behind the wheel and missing my usual spinning session.

Thursday, again I was back to the south coast and thinking it will be another bad day for training. Luckily I managed to get home at a reasonable time, fitting in a five mile steady run. However, the sub zero temperatures saw my breathing struggle and made me re-evaluate my training plan should the temperature drop further.

After 12 hours driving the days prior, I knew my usual early morning spinning class on Friday would not happen. Being on the road for two days on the trot had completely wiped me out. A second rest day was on the cards as I prepared for a long run on Saturday.

Baring in mind the temperature drop I headed straight to the treadmill on Saturday morning, getting the planned eight miles under my belt as a result. At least one day went to plan!!

Sunday saw me rise early and join my usual walking buddies. Again, sub zero temperatures and before sunrise too, we headed out to complete an impressive 9.5 miles before most had risen from their beds.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing at Champneys Henlow (review to follow soon), making the most of the hot tub, pool and thalassotherapy treatments – easing the achy muscles.

So – the week did not go as planned. Too much got in the way and my mileage goal was not met. But, that was just one week.

I am now well into week three and am determined not to be distracted.

Goals for the week:

  • Reach 25-30 miles
  • Get my spinning classes back on schedule
  • Complete a long run of 10 miles

Let’s see how it goes……..

London Marathon Training: Week One

Yesterday saw the end of week one in the London Marathon training schedule. After a shaky start to the year, with what appeared to be shin splints threatening my plan, I finally found myself back into a rhythm. I found myself finally coming to terms with my ballot place and gently working through the week – looking no further than the day ahead rather than the bigger picture.

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So what did I manage to get into the schedule this week?

Monday: 4 Miles outdoor, undulating terrain. Steady, yet wary of the shin issues.

Tuesday: 4.6 Miles. Running club speed work on the track, with warm up/ down runs to and from home.

Wednesday: Spinning.

Thursday: 6 Miles. Indoor. Treadmill.

Friday: Spinning

Saturday: 5.4 Miles. Indoor. Treadmill.

Sunday: 7 Mile walk. Hilly terrain, Epping Forest

Total Running Mileage: 20

Considering I was concerned about my physical ability the week prior, I am pleased with such a solid number to build on in coming weeks.

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If I compare this to my training for the same week in 2017, when my last marathon training schedule kicked in, there is a increase of 6.5 miles. So already I am getting off to a better start. Perhaps having experience this time round is working in my favour.

So the shin pain has eased, my mileage has doubled on the previous week and I have finally got back into routine. However, as with all plans there is room for improvement. For instance, yes I completed a good week of training, but where in that schedule was a rest day? There was not one. I unintentionally carried on training as I did not feel like I needed one. A mistake I cannot make again. Rest days are equally as important as training itself.

As I enter into week two I have a few goals in mind:

  • TAKE A REST DAY.
  • Get back into food preparation.
  • Have a sports massage to work out any niggles.
  • Increase mileage (aim for an extra 5 miles).
  • Plan an outdoor route for Saturdays long run.
  • Add in some weight training (return to Body Pump).

With many goals there is no time to waste. It’s time to get into week two!

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!

 

 

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.

 

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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