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Thursday 30 May 2013

The Snake Who Wasn't Breakfast: 5 Mile Build Up Run

Goal: 5 miles with middle 3 at 7:30 min/mile, 7 min/mile. 6:30 min mile.

A perfect morning. I’d slept through my alarm that I set for 7am, finally waking at 10am. But today it didn’t matter. It was the bank holiday weekend, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and I was sure whenever I ran today it would be a good run.

After a lazy breakfast and shower I pulled on my running gear and headed into Yeovil for my run. When I think of trail running, I don’t think of Yeovil. But maybe I should. There’s a disused railway line – flat, smooth paths and reclaimed as a trail with a thought for the wildlife – and it’s PERFECT for running. This morning with the blue skies overhead and with tall trees and lush green banks all around the lazy hum of bees to keep me company it would be perfect. It was also too early for the local chavs to be out, although I didn’t really have to worry about them wanting to run with me. They don’t tend to like running, sticking instead to their tried and tested daily circuit exercises of ‘speed-smoking roll ups’, the chav triathlon of ‘cider- drinking, vomit-hugely and pass-out-in-resulting-vomit-puddle’ and ‘distance expectorating’.

I parked near the start of the trail and while I waited for my Garmin to pick up a signal, I saw a raven behaving strangely. It was flapping around something it had dropped but didn’t want to pick up with me nearby so I went to investigate. A shape on the ground was sinuously moving away from me. My first thought was a grass snake, but it was too small and had no real markings except behind its head. A slow worm. These look like snakes but are actually tail-less lizards – you can tell as these have eyelids like a lizard, snakes don’t. It didn’t seem particularly afraid of me so I bent down to have a proper look at it. The very end of its tail was missing – maybe it had been breakfast for the raven - but it didn’t seem particularly distressed as it moved away towards the safety of the grassy bank.

Being a bit superstitious (aren’t all runners with our lucky race tops and special socks?) I might have taken a raven dropping a snake as a symbol of something. I wasn’t sure quite what it could be a symbol OF though. Everything I thought of didn’t sound quite right.

”Today snakes can expect a lucky escape” sounded too much like a horoscope in a tabloid and “The Guardian of The Tower lets slip the Tempter” sounded like the start of a new Stephen King Gunslinger book. In the end, I decided that it was just a warning for everyone around that runners will steal your breakfast if they’re close enough.   

I ran onto the trail and stood at the start of the path looking down towards my route, the distinctive Wyndham Hill to my right with its crown of trees. This is the start of my run. And I breathe deeply wondering what today and this run will bring.

I’ve got 5 miles to do this morning and the middle 3 are to be build-up miles. I can start at any pace but mile 2 is to be run at 7:30 min/miles, mile 3 at 7:00 and mile 4 at 6:30. I can wheeze and puff like a 60-a-day smoker and run at a 15 min/mile for mile 5 if I like. So long as the middle 3 miles are right.

I trot down through the trees, using the first mile as a warm up and just enjoying being out and moving in the morning sunshine. It’s really warm already and is vest top weather. I can finally believe it‘s going to be June next week. There are lots of Dads out today, all with little girls. Maybe Saturday morning is Mum’s lie in morning or grocery shopping. Or maybe Mum is out for a run and will be running past them later waving cheerily as her daughter looks on and longs for the day that she has long legs and can run as fast as Mummy.

I notice that my breathing isn’t as easy as it should be and realise I forgot my hayfever tablet. Bother. A silly thing to do and one that could make a difference to my run this morning. I try to ignore that and just concentrate on how nice it is to run on this path in the morning and listen to the river running by on my left and the birds in the trees. Today is a perfect running day.

The trail is so tree covered, the Garmin signal and pace are jumping around so I reset it after the first mile so I can get an average pace over the next 2 miles. It’s no good checking the watch and being told I’m doing a pace worthy of Mo Farah one moment and then the speed of Gordon Brown the next. My math isn’t good enough on the run to work out what the average is likely to be. My brain turns to porridge while I’m running.

It’s a lot easier with the average pace. My only problem with this is that I worry that I’m going to slow down towards the end so speed up in the hope of keeping some ‘in the bank’. It just means I do the interval too fast and get puffed out. This showed up in lap 3 which was the 6:30 min/mile. I struggled to keep my breathing easy. I don’t know whether this was actually down to hayfever or just me knowing that I’d forgotten the tablet and was expecting it to be hard. I paused near one of the gates I had to weave through and gave myself a few steady breaths (read: pant like a Labrador) before carrying on.

I pushed on through and finally finished by a quiet pool and a bridge crossing a quiet stream surrounded by weeping willow trees. A girl passed me with a black Labrador and gave me a sympathetic smile. I wheezed at her and attempted a smile which probably looked like a grimace but which seemed to reassure her I wasn’t dying even though I was making all the right noises for it.

After I recovered slightly, I realised that I’d finished my mile by an interesting uphill trail ... Seemed silly not to run up the hill. That’s what hills are for, after all. And who knows what interesting things might be at the top.

I ran up it. And up it. And up it. I’m sure it wasn’t as mountainous as it felt but it DID feel positively Himalayan. I got a pause for breath as a family straggled by the Dad being towed by the daughter and the Mother by a little boy. I got a “Why is she so puffed out from running these TINY hills” look. I pretended they cheered me on instead and passed them by and found a choice of trails. Uphill? Or downhill? Up of course. I followed the smooth dirt trail and it wound between tall trees and gave views into little hidden valleys. In the sunshine, it felt warm and exotic and didn’t feel quite like England.

The trail wound downhill and I ran down enjoying the feel of my feet on the smooth path. At the bottom it looped down further and narrowed and I found a cloudy blue pool like a cataracted eye. The stones around the edge were wet and puddled and there was a spring filling a small basin with water. I stopped and looked over the edge of the bridge and my reflection stared back at me, but the water was opaque and I couldn't see the bottom of the pool. It felt like a secret and magical place and one that I’d never find again, except by chance.

I left the pool and ran on, following the trail through a stone archway and back onto a gravel path and back to the world of traffic noise, ice cream vans and children playing in the garishly coloured playground.  

Goal: 5 miles with middle 3 at 7:30 min/mile, 7 min/mile. 6:30 min mile.
Actual: 5.79 miles with middle 3 at 7:12 min/mile, 6:42 min/mile, 6:25 min/mile

Garmin info here:
Miles 3, 4 and 5 (after avg pace reset):  

Friday 24 May 2013

How Long Does Speed Training Take to Work?

Goal: 8 miles at 7:30 min/miles (8 miles in 1 hour)

I read somewhere recently that it takes between 10 days and 2 weeks for speed training (intervals and such) to have an effect on your overall speed. I can’t remember where I heard this but I can remember being surprised that it happened so quickly. I always assumed that building up your speed took months of slogging and practising paces and running round the track in fast loops like a hamster on a wheel. I wasn’t quite sure how you knew when you’d reached the right speed. Maybe they’d bring people with pompoms out or something.

However, I now think the interval training takes effect long before that. I think it starts immediately after a successful session – if not during. That moment when you think, “Bloody hell! I just managed to run a 6 minute mile pace!” And because you’ve done it once, you know you can do it again. So you do.

It was a bit like this for my run this evening. It was down on my training plan as 8 miles at 7:30 min/miles. This sounded fast. However this week I didn’t overthink it. I’d done 7 miles at this pace last week – I knew it was possible. And because I knew it was possible, it was a much easier run.

Last week I’d felt as though I was fighting the whole way to keep the pace at 7:30 and pushing every step of the way. This week, it felt more flowing, more comfortable, more possible.

I even hit the heady heights of a sub-7 minute mile briefly, but that was because I was listening to Running With The Kenyans again and got a bit carried away with one of the race reports. Maybe I should listen to race reports during my own races as they always make me run a bit quicker. Maybe I’ll never run with the Kenyans in real life, but in my head I’m matching them step for step.

Distance: 8 miles

Time: 58:39

Average Pace: 7:19 min/mile

Thursday 23 May 2013

Goal: Horrendous Sounding Speed Session

Goal: Horrendous Sounding Speed Session

6 x 90 seconds at 5k pace (6:19 min/miles) with 30 secs recovery
6 x 60 seconds at mile pace (6:01 min/miles) with 1 min recovery straight into 1 mile at 10k pace (6:26 min/mile)

This was a lot better than I expected and I found it a lot easier than last week’s training. I’d like to claim credit and say it’s because I’m getting used to speed sessions or that I’m getting fitter but I think it’s purely because the faster intervals were shorter and had nice generous recovery periods.

In fact, I’d go so far as to so I enjoyed this one.

Is that a sign I wasn’t running hard enough? I hope not as I really want to get that sub-20 min 5k this summer. Also please, please don’t tell Marathon Coach Steve this …otherwise I am quite positive that the next session will be fiendishly difficult. You’ll find me draped over the treadmill crying and swearing off trainers for life.

Actual: 6 x 90 seconds at 5k pace (6:19 min/miles) with 30 secs recovery then 6 x 60 seconds at mile pace (6:01 min/miles) with 1 min recovery straight into 1 mile at 10k pace (6:26 min/mile)

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Sub 20 min 5k plan: Built for Speed

This is the schedule Coach Steve has given me to speed up my 5k and 10ks and ultimately the marathon. I'm (very) relieved to say that Week 1 is complete!!

Sub 20 5k plan:

Week 1

Tues: 5 x 4 minutes at 10k pace with 1 min recovery (aim for approx 6:30-6:45 miling)  then 5 x 2 minutes at 5k pace (aim for approx 6:20-6:30 miling with 1 min recovery
Wed: steady 7 miles in 7 min 30 miles
Thurs: 5 miles with middle 3 miles at sub-7 min miles
Fri: rest
Sat: parkrun 5km or hills
Sun: slow hour

Week 2

Monday: 5M easy or rest
Tues: 6 x 90 seconds at 5k pace with 30 secs recovery then 6 x 60 seconds at mile pace with 1 min recovery. straight into 1M at 10k pace
Wed: steady 8 miles in 7 min 30 miles
Thurs: 5 miles with 3 miles build up run miles of 7:30, 7:00, 6:30
Fri: rest
Sat: parkrun 5km or hills
Sun: slow 75 mins

Stupid Mornings ... Where's the Coffee?

Goal: An hours slow run.

I hate morning running. It should be lovely! The day is dawning, it’s all peaceful and nice and no-one is around! The morning is fresh and new and I’m greeting it with a burst of energetic enthusiasm as a thank you!

No. It’s not like this. It’s leg dragging, lung burning hell. Dreary and hateful and it feels like I’m running a 5 minute mile when in fact I’m running a 10 min/mile. Mornings are for sleeping and for putting the coffee in the cup and the kettle on and blearily reaching for the porridge. Not this energetic nonsense.

As you can see from the Garmin info I really wasn’t feeling the running love this morning. But it’s done. Can I go back to bed now?

See - even the cows are lying down!

Goal: 1 hours slow run
Actual: Almost an hours very slow run.

Squashed Bottles, Deer & Running Like a Kenyan

Goal: Parkrun 5km or hills.

This session caused me two problems. Number 1: I couldn’t get to the parkrun and back in time to get to the wedding I was attending later in the morning so parkrun was out. Number 2: I was staying in Kempsford - quite possibly the flattest place I’ve ever been in. As hilly as a pancake but with hedges and church spires so trying to get the hill session done might be a challenge. I briefly considered asking the vicar whether I could thunder up and down the church tower steps, but didn’t think this would be a goer.

I finally managed to track down a hill but it was a 3 mile run away. So the total 5km I was SUPPOSED to do on the schedule wasn’t going to go quite to plan. I could drive to the hill, but that isn’t really in the spirit of this whole running game, is it?

It started off as quite a grey and dull morning, but by the time I got a mile or so into it the sun was out and it was beautiful. Pretty much what you think of when you think of Gloucestershire actually. Dusty village lanes, green hedgerows and church spires rising in the distance. Also massive fields of that yellow stuff that wants to get up my nose but I was smug knowing I’d taken one of my hayfever tablets that day and could sniff yellow flowers to my heart’s content. Although I decided just to stick to the running this morning. It’s easy to get distracted when you know you’re supposed to be running up and down hills.

It was a lovely run and I listened to Running With The Kenyans audiobook as I went. There’s nothing like a bit of inspiration as you run and I found myself trying to even out my form as I ran. The chap in the book describes the perfect form as pretty much the same way Sam Murphy had told us we needed to do it. A straighter back – leaning forward slightly and lifting our knees and kicking out behind. The author of the book describes it well as “trying to ride an invisible unicycle”. It’s a quicker cadence and a more rounded running motion. It’s tiring trying to keep it up but if I remember to make sure I practise every time I go for a run, then hopefully I’ll be a bit more Kenyan-like (if only in my mind) and a bit less Dorset-Lass-Going-For-A-Clump-Around-The-Countryside-In-Her-Wellies.

I finally got to the hill. It’s deceiving. It starts with a nice gentle slope and then suddenly goes mad and turns into something positively towering with overhanging trees and bits of shade and narrow bits just for extra ‘Making Getting Killed By a Car Here Easier’.  I decided that it was probably too long for a sustained hard effort and it would get irritating having to leap out the way of the cars that were occasionally driving up. I stopped at a gateway and a squashed plastic bottle was my start marker and the darker line on the road up above made by the overhanging trees was to be my finish line.

I sprinted up the hill hard as I could to the dark line and then ambled back down again at a slow jog for a recovery. As soon as I reached my plastic bottle I did a U-turn and sprinted like a maniac for the dark line again. Rinse and repeat 5 times. I’d like to have done another set of these maybe with a minute break in between sets to give me time to celebrate a successful set (read as: fall over / throw up / pass out) but due to my warm up and cool down distance of 3 miles I was a bit pushed for time. I ambled to the top of the hill and turned around and ambled home again.

It was gorgeous running back and the sun was really bright and warm. As I ran on the lane, I startled a herd of deer in the field of yellow rapeseed next to me and they ran alongside me briefly, their heads and backs moving above the bright yellow of the plants like inverted rocking horses. I ran on feeling lucky to have seen them.

Those little dots in the distance really ARE deer! Honest!

Goal: 5km parkrun or hills
Actual: 6.67 miles including 5 hill repeats         

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Mad Girl Running: 5 miles with middle 3 at sub-7 min/miles

Goal: 5 miles with middle 3 miles at a sub 7 minute mile

My session tonight was 5 miles with the middle 3 at sub-7. Sub 7? Really?!! I’m not entirely sure my legs DO sub-7 minute miles. They have in the past but there’s usually a really good incentive involved like an ice cream van at the end of the road, a parkrun in which I REALLY have to pass the person in fairy fancy dress just in front of me or it’s the sprint finish at the end of a race and there’s a man trying to beat me because I’m a GIRL. Grrrrr. See. Really GOOD reasons.

However, I’m also a wimp. There was no way I could face emailing Marathon Coach Steve with an email along the lines of “... I was too scared to try.” He’d give me a withering look (visible even through an email) and tell me to just do it. It’s a LOT more scary than it sounds, honest.

So the drive home from work was me trying to figure out where I could run 3 consecutive sub-7 miles. My usual routes have kerbs and places where I have to cross multiple roads or are hilly and potholey. Not good. I remembered vaguely that I’d seen a park on my way home from work – in fact one I run past on my 9 mile route. I couldn’t remember much about it apart from it was flat and only about a mile away from home. But did it have a path around it or was it just a playing field? And would I have to avoid low hanging play equipment and the legs of over enthusiastic toddlers swinging from it as I ran?

When I got home I googled the park – I bloody LOVE the Google maps satellite option – and there stretched out around the edge a path. And even better when I measured it, it was exactly 1 kilometre a lap.

It was fate. Or maybe a runner had designed it. Either way the Running Gods had smiled. It was perfect.

I’d underestimated my faffing about time as usual and by the time I got to the park it was dark. It was gloomy and unlit but there ARE a few positives from light pollution and that’s being able to see in a town at night. Even if it is a rather eerie orange glow.  

Right. The running jacket was secured around my waist – I briefly considered hiding it in a bush but this WAS Rugby ... next time I saw it, it would be being worn by a tramp eating chips – and plugged in the iPod. Power songs – GO!

I probably should have done a warm up lap and then I would have spotted the shin height metal fences in the dark beforehand but the Running Gods were guiding my feet and I – just by chance – navigated the narrow gap between them, breathing a sigh of relief that I wasn’t doing the next 10 metres on my face. Graceful as I’m sure my flight would have been, scrubbing around in the dark looking for my front 2 teeth would surely scupper my chances of a sub-7 minute mile.  

Down the path, past the dark, rather strange Teletubby-house style building, under the height restriction and a swerve around the corner past the gloomy graveyard and through the darkness towards the next corner. Rather sadistically the park designers had put in another shin high fence but it was a graduated one so I had a brief chicane before heading up the next long side of the rectangle. The Garmin lost signal under the trees so I had to guestimate my speed until I was back at the starting point.

It was a fantastic circuit on a smooth tarmac path and the park was deserted. Apart from one couple having a rather wobbly late night walk after a few pints at the pub – who had jumped in a comical way when I passed them – I hadn’t seen a soul. It was perfect for speed work. All those times during marathon training that I’d struggled with time to get to the track and all this time the park was only 2 miles – a perfect warm up distance – away.  

4 laps down and onto the final lap, coming under the trees and focusing with the tunnel vision of the hard panting desperate-for–it-to-be-over glare of the speed session runner on the final corner as my finishing point, a patch of darkness moves slightly and I realise a cyclist without lights is coming the other way. We miss each other narrowly and his frightened grey face flies past my left shoulder as we narrowly miss each other in the dark.

And I finish the speed session.

I’m never sure whether it’s an intense runners high I experience after speed sessions or whether it is a huge feeling of relief that the session is over and completed successfully. I run home smiling the whole way. Drunks coming out of the pub, stop and stare at this ponytailed mad girl running down the street in the dark in a vest top, her running jacket tied around her waist and flapping like a neon pink sail. I wave at them and jump over the puddles and enjoy the run home.

Goal: 5 miles with middle 3 miles at sub-7 min/miles
Actual: 6.71 miles with middle 3 miles at sub-7 min/miles

Monday 20 May 2013

Dogs, Imaginary Dogs and Deer & Putting Your Child on a Leash: 7 miles at 7:30 min/mile

Goal: 7 miles at 7:30

I don't know why, but the thought of any pace at below an 8 minute mile scares me. It just sounds so darn quick. It doesn’t matter what I try and tell myself, it sounds uncomfortable and just a bit too ... wind tearingly, vomit-inducingly, hair-staright-out-behind ... fast!

On the schedule for this evening was 7 miles at a 7:30 min/mile. Humph. I’d better find a route where there aren’t too many gates to climb, roads to cross or ploughed fields then. I’d hate to die under the wheels of one of those moped riders just because I was too determined to maintain my pace to check the road was clear.

I decided to run Central Walk (ahem … Run) which is a disused railway line running through the centre of Rugby, It’s usually peaceful and fairly quiet apart from the dog walkers and cyclists. Personally, I reckon they’re the SAME dog walkers and cyclists every day, rotating like on the Truman Show. They take it in turns to maintain traffic on the route. REALLY, they’re undercover naturalists waiting for a (non-looping) dog walker not to scoop the poop or a cyclist not to stick the path, then they’ll STRIKE. The offender will get a stiff talking to about eroding paths and the dangers of dog poo and get sent on their way with a warning and a leaflet about Natural Beauty on Rugby Byeways.That’s why it’s poo free and the cyclists tend to have a scared look and stick to the paths. You realise I said NATURALISTS don’t you, not NATURISTS. They’re all fully clothed. I know you were thinking it. 

I’d meant to run straight from work. This never happens. I get in the door and get distracted by what's in the fridge. I got distracted this time by a large packet of chocolate buttons and by the time I’d polished those off, I decided I may as well have tea now as well.

I set off about 8pm, leaving the sound of a wailing toddler who really didn’t want to go to bed and the sound of a huffy Daddy who really DID. Outside the door, there was silence apart from the birdsong. Bliss.

A trot around the block and then onto the paths leading along the canal. A few ducks swam peacefully, looking peaceful and completely unlike the Hovis Muggers I knew them to be. First rustle of a plastic bag containing bread and those things lose control and go bread barmy. Don’t trust ducks.

Under the canal bridge and over the cobbles, dodging a walker coming into the tunnel from the other side and hopping over the half a tree some chav has thoughtfully broken off and left as obstacle training for me. Bless their hearts. Don’t let anyone tell you that chavs don’t care.

Following the cycle path with fields on either side and over the river. The mountain bike someone had left in the river seems to have disappeared. No doubt, it’s been dragged home by someone who has cleaned the duckweed off and sprayed it with oil and has popped it on ebay. Good luck with THAT one, Mr Buyer.

Over the road with a pause to check I’m not about to get mown down by a mad moped rider, a pensioner or a cyclist on a bike dripping with duckweed. Nope and over the road, past the post office with a stuffed Postman Pat toy looking out of the window. 3 year old always says “Look there’s Postman Pat” when we passed the post office. I always used to mollify her with ”Yes dear. That’s right, it’s the POST OFFICE.” Thinking I had a child prodigy until one day I spotted the toy. Under the railway bridge, echoing with traffic and grey with traffic fumes and dust. This is my 1 mile point.

Past the bus stop – no teenagers today with outstretched legs to trip over – past the corner shop and up the tiny residential street. I squeeze myself as small as possible to make way for dog walkers and people going in and out of the takeaway. It sounds silly but I try to be a running ambassador. And besides any one of these people could be a runner too. A hand patting you on the back for encouragement as they pass you in a race, a friend sharing a water bottle or a conversation in the portaloo queue.

The tower blocks stretch up high at the end of the road, windows already lighting up in the dusk. I turn right onto a path of cinder blocks and through a tunnel of trees and all of a sudden all of the town sound is muted, then as I travel further down the path, blocked out. No car horns, traffic or train noises. As deeply and quickly as though a velvet hood has been dropped over my head.

The next 4 or 5 miles are all on trail – a mixture of cinder paths, dirt and gravel. Lovely. Much more fun to run on than pavements or roads and much kinder on the joints. Not so kind on the trainers, mind, when I get home from running here, they’re decorated with a lovely mixture of brown water and mud. It’s worth it.

I passed a few cyclists who greeted me with nods or smiles and a few dog walkers with well-behaved charges who DIDN’T greet me with drool or jumping up. Exactly as it should be. What is it with dog owners who excuse their ill-trained pet’s behaviour as “He wants to play”? Who cares if he wants to play?! He’s NOT ALLOWED to play with ME!! Mind you, I’ve never had a problem with dogs except for the odd overenthusiastic lick and muddy pawprints on clothes but I seem to one of the rarities. Most runners I’ve spoken to have been chased and quite a few I know even bitten. I love dogs, but only well-trained ones. You wouldn’t let your kids bite people, would you? Or poo in the street? Well if you do, please keep them on a leash. Yes, the kids.

I reach the end of the path and turn around. A man is holding a lead and peering into hedges calling a dog’s name. There’s no sign of the dog and the man looks a bit shifty. I’m sure he’s quite normal but the way he’s acting makes me wonder whether he’s taking his imaginary pooch for a walk. Well. At least he wouldn’t have to pick up poo I suppose. 

Back down the path. It’s very slightly downhill on the way back but the way back on any route always seems much easier than the way there. No idea why. I guess it’s knowing you’re on the home straight. This time, the path is entirely deserted and I have it to myself. The birds are singing and dusk is falling. It’s peaceful and lovely running here on my own. I always find running with other people harder. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of inane chatter I manage to produce. It must be quite tiring for them to listen to. Although it’s an incentive for them to speed up and escape the noise – the run is over quicker and they’ve got a new PB into the bargain. Win.

As I come down towards the end of the path, there’s a movement on the verge to my right. I stop and 2 deer are looking at me. They’re timid, but not scared and they’re small. Much smaller than the deer I’m used to seeing. They’re about the size of Alsation dogs and a deeper brown. They move away from me steadily but not fearfully and move into the bushes at the top of the verge. It’s amazing that I’m standing on this path in the centre of a town – although it feels secluded and peaceful – and I’ve come face to face with 2 deer. It’s lovely. 

Sorry ... not a great pic. In fact it looks like a kangaroo. But it was a deer. Promise!

A few minutes later my path ends and I’m back onto the pavements and on the home stretch. It’s been a nice run and quicker than I usually do this route. But it’s nice to know that I can do this pace if necessary. The deer have been a lovely addition to an already lovely run.

Goal: 7 miles at 7:30 min/miles

Actual: 7 miles at 7:25 min/miles

Thursday 16 May 2013

Fancy Some Pain?

I’ve entered the New Forest Marathon in September (and naturally having succumbed to the “I can do better ...” which strikes after EVERY marathon, no matter how successful it was) I’m looking for ways to knock a few minutes off of my Paris marathon time. Or as many minutes as possible without having to have my legs amputated and replaced by those of a Kenyan.

According to the experts (in this case the hugely successful Steve Smythe who has run a sub-3 marathon for THREE DECADES!! – The man’s a machine!!  – a good way of doing this is to start with the basics. I’m going to work on 5k and 10ks and build the speed up on these.

In theory, I like this idea. 5ks are short, they only last about 20 minutes (and a bit) and there’s a parkrun every Saturday which can be my progress test. Also it should be fairly easy to tell if something works or not. If I get slower, something’s gone horribly wrong. In theory, 5ks are good.

However, in reality 5ks hurt. They REALLY hurt. In fact every time I finish a parkrun I say to whoever is standing in the barcode queue with me “I’d forgotten how much this hurts.” This may be down to my terrible memory. Or lack of originality. But I remember getting myself around my first parkruns (about 2 and a half years ago) by telling myself “Just finish this one. You don’t have to do this again next week if you don’t want to ...” Of course the next week I’d always be back in the queue saying to whoever I was standing next to “I’d forgotten ...”

As the saying goes, misery likes company ... so do you fancy a bash at getting your 5k time down? It doesn’t matter how quick or slow you are ... the aim is just to knock a minute or so off of your current time.

Partners in misery so far:

Anyone else up for some pain? We'd love to have you along too!

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Ha ha!! Take THAT Speed Session (Victory Dance)

After several attempts at this session, I‘ve finally beaten it! (Does victory dance and waves arms around nearly knocking over Victory cup of tea)

I don't know why this session was so daunting to me. These paces are ones that I've run without trouble in the past (well ... maybe a BIT of trouble and a LOT of panting) but I hadn’t run this sort of session for so long that I got worried. What if my legs have forgotten how to run under a 7 minute mile? What if I’m forever stuck in a “used to be able to ...” moment? I’ll turn into one of those irritating old farts in the pub that when they hear you run, come out with such gems as “... in my youth, I used to run a 3 minute mile, but they wouldn’t give me the record because I only wore my school daps ...” or “I won all the cross country runs around here when I was a lad. We didn’t have trophies in those days though. They paid me in potatoes. That’s why I can’t show you any of them.”

Plus, this is the first session of the new schedule that Marathon Coach Steve has given me. What if my marathon time was a fluke and now that the pressure is off I can’t do it anymore? I’ll be a disappointment. A waste of time. Well ... that’s how I’ll feel, anyway.   

Every time I got thwarted in my attempt at the session, it grew bigger and scarier still.

1st attempt at Draycote turned into me into a panting, sweaty mess and after 2 intervals I realised I wasn’t going to be able to do it then. So this turned into a gentle run around the reservoir eating gnats instead.
2nd attempt was on the treadmill late at night. One interval later I was a panting, sweaty mess and the lure of the bed was too strong. After a shower, of course.
3rd attempt yesterday at the gym ended in me looking at my socks wondering where my trainers were.
4th attempt – session completed. It was actually not even a particularly tough session ... even after all of the build up.

When I started the session, the first interval was the very worst. It was very obvious that my head was getting involved and was telling my legs I couldn’t do it. (Pesky talking body parts) That I’d already tried this session 3 times, that it was The Impossible Session. Despite the fact that I’ve run similar sessions before. Despite the fact that I’ve run this pace last week in the gym. After the first interval, my legs pretty much went “Meh ... Is this all it is? No problem” And the rest of the session flew past.

So that was that. Also it means that the first session of my new training plan has been completed! I’m back into it! A goal!! No more drifting aimlessly and being able to laze on the sofa and taking rest days as and when. No more laziness and being able to do washing 3 times a week instead of every day. No more having radiators free of damp and steaming running gear. Back to showers 3 times a day and wet towels. Back to stuffing newspaper into damp trainers and blistered toes and manky toenails.

You know what? I’m REALLY looking forward to it.

5 x 4 mins at 10k pace (15kmh or 6:26 min miles)
5 x 2 mins at  5k pace (15.3kmh or 6:19 min miles)
Rest intervals of 1 min walking at 6kmh

48:03 total including warm up and cool downs
9.33km total including warm up and cool downs

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Standing Around in my Socks

I was hoping to write you a post about my successful speed session today. On which I leapt gracefully onto the treadmill, did each interval perfectly (with no sweaty fingerprints on the display and absolutely no dropping the ipod) I wanted to tell you about how I looked like a model on the cover of Runners World and quite unlike my usual ungainly, sweaty running self and how I made each interval look effortless.

However, I got to the gym and realised I’d forgotten my trainers. I stood in the changing room in my socks for a couple of minutes trying to think of a way to do the session sans trainers but no miraculous solution presented itself.

So I said “Bugger”. And went and had a go on the sunbed instead.

They've got sheep on.

Speed Session Fail ... but still a good day

Today was supposed to be a good, hard speed session. Well actually … yesterday was supposed to be this session, but after a couple of fairly intense cross country runs on consecutive days I’d had a rest day yesterday instead.

So … TODAY was supposed to be the good, hard speed session. It all started off well enough. I had 5 x 4 mins of 10k pace which was to be 6:30 – 6:45 min/miles with a minute rest, then 5 x 2 mins of 5k pace (6:20 – 6:30 min/miles) with a minute break.

After a warm up - including a run back to the car when I realised I’d left my sunglasses on (only realised when I went for a pre-run wee and nearly dropped them down the loo) – I set off. This pretty much set the tone for the entire session.

For some reason even my warm up wasn’t comfortable. I was doing a steady 8:30 – 9 min/mile which is a reasonably slow warm up pace for me. Stretched the warm up out a bit longer … maybe it was the heavy lunch I’d had a couple of hours earlier … or hayfever … or gnat fear. Was grasping at excuses to try and explain why I didn’t want to do a speed session.

Deep breath and pressed the lap button. Realised I was going a bit too quickly so adjusted my pace down, turned the corner and straight into a headwind. I pushed on, but I found I was tiring quicker than I should have been even with the wind. The seconds were taking forever to tick past and it felt like the 4 minutes would never end. Gasp … drag legs on … splutter … Finally the beep meant I could stop.

One minutes break REALLY didn’t feel like enough. Gave myself a mental shake. This is a speed session. It’s MEANT to hurt. Suck it up, buttercup.

Set off on the second lap … puff, pant. WHY is this feeling so hard? I know I can run this pace! I ran this pace at the end of my MARATHON for the sprint finish. Argh! I finished the lap with nothing left in the tank. Nothing.

I stopped for my minute to see how recovered I felt, but even TWO minutes later I was puffed out. I wasn’t going to manage 5 of these … let alone 5 x 5k pace intervals after these.

The feeling of failing at a speed session is even more extreme than the huge high after a successful one. But it wasn’t going to happen. There was a problem for some reason. Whether it WAS the heavy lunch, hayfever or just a bit under the weather, I wasn’t going to manage this session. Sometimes, doing the right thing just means knowing when NOT to run.

It wasn’t any less frustrating even so. I knew I could run this speed – in fact I’d run intervals at faster than this last week with only 15 seconds recovery, rather than the generous minute today.


I’d managed only 2 intervals, but that didn’t mean that this had to be a failed run. A failed run would be one where I trailed home not having bothered even trying. I’d tried and while I hadn’t done the session, I’d expected to, I still count any day that I run as a good day. It’s my ME time. My time I can please myself and not have to make inane conversation or pick up toys from the living room carpet or try not to get irritated when the car in front of me stalls at the traffic lights. My time to think my own thoughts and listen to my own breathing and the sound of my feet on the trail.

Any day I run is a GOOD day.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Come for a Run in Dorset With Me ...

Enough was enough. I needed to go for a run. It was a beautiful day outside and I knew that I’d enjoy it once I got out there. Also as I was down in Dorset it meant I had some of my favourite trails to run. I just had to stop dragging my heels ...

I decided I’d get changed into my gym kit and go from there. That worked of course. It always works. Sitting around in lycra at home smacks of kinky things and slight perversions. Whereas RUNNING in lycra involves putting yourself through pain, rubbing Vaseline on certain areas and safety pins. Lots and lots of safety pins. It’s COMPLETELY different. (Cough, cough)

Let me take you on my run.

We'll start with a suicidal dash down the main A30 to get to the footpath before you’re mown down by either a) a lorry trying to get past another lorry in the narrow road b) one of the 85 year olds who insist on driving despite the fact they’re no longer able to see over the steering wheel or c) one of the local chavs driving a Fiesta at 80mph despite the fact the car is well over 20 years old and parts are dropping off it like confetti. However, I made it down the hill at speed and managed to make it into the safety of the footpath despite a car being parked directly in front of it. Probably a bit of a passive-aggressive protest at the ramblers. Or runners.

Past St Cuthbert’s old chapel, tucked away in long grass and iron railings. The grass along one side worn down slightly by feet passing, a green pathway in testament to the old man that lives there now, tending the churchyard and no longer of ‘No Fixed Abode’.

Over the granite stones set vertically as a stile, no brambles today - too early in the year so my calves are safe - and over into the tractor-tyre-rutted and dried earth and under the railway bridge. A brief moment of cold and dark away from the sunshine and out into the sun again.
A choice of paths but no hesitation to me who has run this route many times. A swerve to the left and into the field of young crops, following the line down the centre to avoid damaging the plants. In the distance a runner in a white shirt being trailed by a black dog.

To the edge of the field and into the next, soft ploughed earth moving under my feet and confirming that today I’m doing a PROPER cross country run. None of this dusty smooth footpaths and stopping-at-the-pub-for-a-cider stuff today. Although, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a Dorset cider should the opportunity present itself.

Over another stile and into another field. Long tussocked grass, green and lush, impeding my progress, brushing my ankles as I run towards the gate on the far side of the field and into the woods beyond. And cold! Away from the evening sunshine, the shade and shadows of the wood are cool. Following the smooth-worn dirt path which winds between the trees and jumping over the fallen trees impeding my progress at intervals. This is one of my favourite parts of the run. I always feel alone and very free on this section. The woods are always green and always smell the same. The scent of earth and dark leaves. 

Out of the woods and onto a stony path which stretches to the left and right. I follow the left fork and come out into the sunshine onto a small road. It is well maintained but is part of the private estate. In front of me hills stretch upwards, with tall old oak trees as standing sentinels on the slopes.

I turn left before the old stone bridge and turn towards a grey stone farmhouse. In the autumn the trees are heavy with fruit along the road and hang red apples before me in temptation. I turn right before the farmhouse and an old man in the garden raises a hand in greeting. I wave back and turn into the field and start the climb towards the top of the hills.

The grass is long and tussocky and sheep have been in this field. They bleat at me and scatter from the fence in the field next to me, the fence to my left. I run up and up towards a high stone wall with a 7 ft iron turnstile – which clacks as I turn it - and up into the deer park. I have never been attacked by a deer here, although I hear that they can and sometimes do. I’m not sure I could outrun a deer, even with the incentive of not being speared on the long pointed antlers. I’ve seen them here but not recently.

I start the climb on the short rabbit-nibbled grass up to the top of the hill. My breathing is harder and the gentle slope of the hill steepens. I see that the runner in front of me with his dog has stopped and I stop and walk with him until the top of the hill, the black Labrador running in between ankles and stopping to sniff the dog-interesting smells on the grass.

We start to run at the top, through another turnstile – clack, clack, clack – and onto a smooth path with roots and banks lush with grass and spring flowers. The branches of the trees dapple the sunshine and the path is as spotted as the belly of a trout. 

Over the stile at the end and onto a road, I look across the brown ploughed fields to my left although my route lies under the dark trees ahead. Through the pines and conifers – smelling the deep green scent - and onto a concrete path, laid in blocks. The path is the remnant of the refugee camp for the Jewish families who lived here in wartime. Now running on it in the sunshine, there are no signs of the Nissin huts which stood here when I was younger, but the woods still retain a faint sadness. Or maybe I am imagining it.

I run through the trees and out through to the sunshine on the far side. When I was younger, those woods seemed to last forever. Now they last but a few minutes.


Another turnstile and a view across Sherborne and the tops of the oak trees growing on the lower slopes of this hill. The path winds downwards and gets steeper and steeper until I’m running flat out and I’m not sure my feet can keep up. One day I will fall and tumble all the way to the bottom of this hill but today is not that day.

The shooting lodge sits at the bottom of the hill, unchanged, boarded up as usual. It looks like a cottage from a fairytale waiting for a witch to inhabit it who would be the guardian of the path and who would challenge all the foolhardy travellers – and runners.

Turnstile and clack, clack, clack and onto a road of stones and dirt hemmed in with fences. Fields lie to the left bordered by the wood, the edge of which I skirted earlier. To my right a lake shines like a mirror laid on the land – a grey gleam. The tents and marquees of the fair are white blocks set up to celebrate Spring and the castle glows a dull sandstone yellow, its towers and turrets a familiar sight to anyone who has lived in the town.

The road slopes gently down drawing you into the castle grounds until a set of iron kissing gates lead you onto a grass fringe between ploughed fields and up a steep slope to the woods at the top. This is awkward as whether you take the lower or upper path on the grassy strip you have one foot in a ditch and your graceful run is transformed into a Quasimodo style stumbling gait. Even Liz Yelling wouldn’t be able to flow gracefully on this path.

A quick breather at the top of the hill and a turn around to admire the view and the path snaking backup the hill behind me. I wave goodbye to my fellow runner and the black Labrador called Tom.

Decisions. Do I turn right and follow the road and grey pavements back home? Or do I turn left along the grassy hill, enjoying the evening sunshine on my back and searching for more hills? Is there a decision? Of course not. I run along the side of the hill and down towards the gates at the bottom.

A steep path winds upwards through the hill ... and above my head something huge and red roars with the breath of a dragon. A hot air balloon, the basket surely skimming the tops of the trees above my head moves ponderously above me, yellow flames shooting into the colourful sphere above the invisible people.

Up to the top of the hill, playing fields stretching out to my right and the evening sunshine stronger and hotter than earlier. The grass as bright green as a painting against a sky bright and blue as a butterfly’s wing. No wind at all. A perfect evening.

I pass a house, quiet and secluded. A man lies on a wall with a glass of wine in one hand and a cigar in the other with his back to me. I pass him unnoticed. The smell of cigar smoke in the air.

The lane winds upwards and becomes narrower and turns into a dirt track. Spring flowers are blooming in the shaded banks and I pass these under the shade of the trees, glad for a coolness and to be out of the sunshine. 

As the track becomes rutted, I start walking for a while enjoying being out in this evening. Smelling the green of the banks and trees, away from the roar of cars and smells of exhausts. The tang of fresh sweat on the air and my hair in my eyes. The sun is warm on my shoulders and it is nice being here alone. I will remember this when I am working at my desk, in the bustle and chatter of an office with the air conditioning and the hum of computers. I will remember the sunshine and the flowers and the hard ruts under my feet and knowing that there is no rush today. 

At the top of the hill there is a crossroad. I pretend not to know which direction to go, choosing the left fork which I know finishes at a pair of heavy iron gates flanked with tall weathered stone posts with English roses carved into the stone. I run to the gates and pause to admire the view across the fields to my right before turning around and coming back to the crossroad again and the rutted tracks criss-crossing. 

I turn to my left at the crossroads, taking the fork straight on and it goes downhill to a track carved out of the dirt by a tractor, ankle twisting ruts and a tall mound of grass in the centre. Again this path terminates at high iron gates and a gatehouse. I retrace my steps back up the track and choose the final arm of the crossroads.

Onto the smallest trail and into the shady woods. Bluebells make a blue carpet under the trees and the sunlight is dappled on the ground. It is shaded and cool in here, in this tunnel of trees.

I run on and occasionally catch a glimpse through the hedge of fields stretching out towards the hills and a speck on the horizon is a red hot air balloon. 

The path finishes abruptly and out onto a grey pavement and a main road with cars roaring past. I look down the hill to where Sherborne nestles in the valley and turn my face towards home. Down the pavement and the sharp hill, faster, faster, trainers flying out and car drives looking on at this lunatic flying down the hill who is laughing with the speed. The cars keep away from the pavement, leaving me a wide margin as I sprint down the sharp slope, but I trust my feet and these trainers. They have run a marathon with me and have taken me up hills and through mud and around tracks. I arrive at the bottom of the hill breathing heavily but safe and smiling.

I cross the road and up onto a grassy hill, mowed smooth. Rabbits scatter towards their burrows as I run past them and up across the crest of the hill to the stone steps. I pay a quick visit to Dick’s bench and sit for a moment to admire the view, then on again into the avenue of trees and towards the deep cut path shaded by curving trees down to the bottom of the hill.

Onto pavements, I pass Perli and remember Autumn days collecting bags of conkers from these trees, their wide trunks and high branches stopping generations of children from climbing them to collect their spiky treasures directly fom the trees. Past the gates of the new castle and up to the bridge and over the river – a streak of blue reflecting the sky. Up and up over the railway line, the old castle’s ruined towers stretching upwards. Yellow sandstone against blue sky.

Onto the quiet roads, past the high stone walls bulging out onto the pavements, tendrils of dusty ivy reaching out. On past the stables where I had riding lessons at school, now a B&B, no longer the tang of horse on the air as you pass or the noise of hooves from the yard.

Up the hill and looking out at the view to my right, cows coming out into the fields and a patchwork of hedges and fields and the castle in the distance. In front of me, a final pavement to follow, a hill and home.