Enduring

Once a year, my running club hold a talk about marathons early in the year, where advice and information is offered for free to any member willing to listen. It’s actually more of an endurance running talk, which we have been told can be from 3km and further, so it is suitable for all, really. There are usually 3 people who talk about various aspects of training, and it’s always very informative, and pretty fresh. There were some really interesting points that arose from it, and I scribbled down some that I thought affected me the most last week, in the knowledge that I wouldn’t get near my computer for a few days to write about it. I’m not claiming I know everything about running, and certainly not marathons, but I have a few tricks I will throw in the mix while I’m there.

One of the highlighted points at the start was about sleep. It’s so important to get enough of it, and for it to be good quality. Having been sleep deprived for 3-4 weeks recently, I could completely relate to this. I was feeling several effects it was having on my body, including training. Although that particular month in my life was a bit of an anomaly (no boiler meaning it was freezing cold, being literally woken by cats and dogs, the burglar alarm, and the steps to the loft being opened in the middle of the night…), there are some things that I find helpful to get to sleep a bit easier. For example, I know that cleaning my teeth wakes me up a little (might just be me – I think it’s the mouthwash), so I will try to do this in advance of going to bed, so I feel drowsier when I want to get to sleep. Also, I find that although I don’t really drink many caffeinated drinks, there is definitely a time of day where you need to stop drinking them, so that they don’t have an adverse effect on your sleep. I love a herbal tea, and these are great as a warm alternative.

If you have a busy mind like I do, then I actually find it hard to nod off sometimes if there’s too many things whizzing around in my brain. I combat this by keeping a journal and/or notebook next to my bed. This helps me to empty my brain before I sleep. It doesn’t matter if you never read the journal  again, it’s just somewhere to pour out all the rubbish and emotions that are floating around in your head. If it’s something I need to remember, then I will pop it in a notebook either in the form of a memo or a to-do list. You may find if you’re forgetful, that it makes you anxious you won’t remember to pick something up or do something in the morning, so this is perfect. Even if it’s just something you’re worried about getting done in the day. Alternatives are noticeboards, posters (for motivational purposes), or whiteboards. Now, I know what you’re thinking – but I have this great mobile phone or tablet that I can write these things on! Well, there has been a lot of research into the ‘blue light’ that is emitted from our electronic devices that keeps you awake for longer and stops you getting a good quality sleep, so I think it’s best to steer away from it and stick to good old pen and paper. I also enjoy reading a paperback book before bed – it really makes my eyes sleepy.

Recovery is extremely important. This obviously includes sleep, but many other things too. I wonder whether doing an active job where I am on my feet all day effects this in any way. After suffering with my foot after a long run at the weekend, I found the next morning at work very difficult, because I don’t have a job where I can literally put my feet up; I just had to power on through it. I will briefly touch on some of my favourite recovery things below.

  • I swear by a cold bath before a hot one. It’s great after a long run, but can be a little testing of your steeliness getting into it. I recommend 5-6 minutes in a purely cold water bath up to your waist, so it covers your legs and just sit really still – you soon won’t notice it. Sometimes in the dead of winter, I wear a woolly hat and have a brew in there with me, but shh… don’t tell anyone! Set a timer on your phone or stopwatch, and then leave it until it beeps – remember, a watched pot never boils! Once your time is up, add hot water to your bath and enjoy a good soak.
  • Throw some Epsom salts in your warm bath too. They’re great for you after a long run, and you can get them reasonably priced online on sites such as Amazon in bulk.
  • Wear compression tights either under your clothes if you’re out, or to bed when you sleep.
  • After a race, or a hard run, especially if you are away from home, i.e. you have travelled to a race, you still need to get some recovery food or fluid in you. I like to keep a serving of protein powder in a sports bottle, and a separate bottle of water in my bag. I pour the water in the protein powder bottle when I am done running, and try and get it down me in that precious recovery window of 20-30 minutes. I find it difficult to eat immediately after a long run, so drinking my protein works best for me. I actually dilute mine a little more than the recommendation, but that’s just a personal preference.
  • Electrolyte tablets are brilliant – I recommend them during and/or after your run – it can really help keep you hydrated, especially in warmer climates. They are also great for keeping you hydrated when giving blood, so you can get a PB for filling the bag…!
  • FOAM ROLLING. Enough said really. Great for your muscles, and it only hurts a little bit…. promise!
  • Stretch lightly after a run. You always have time – stretching should only take you 2-3 minutes after your run, and if you had time to go out for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer, then you have 2 minutes spare to stretch. Hold each one for only 12-14 seconds for maximum benefit – longer can cause more muscle tears than it will do good.
  • Eat well on rest days too. It is just as important to aid in recovery. I try to have at least one day a week where I try to rest as much as possible. This means no busying about at home and NO cross-training!
  • Roll a golf ball under your foot when you’re sat down to ease out any sore spots or tension. Or as I learned today, one of those nobbly reaction balls works great too!
  • I get a massage from a wonderful lady once every 3-4 weeks. This helps keep my body ticking over, and I can definitely feel a difference between going regularly and coping with elbows down hamstrings, compared to going irregularly and clinging to the bench screaming, whilst a thumb tickles my hamstrings! I realise it’s not financially viable for everyone, but if you can afford it, it is completely worth it!

Nutrition is also extremely important. In fact, I must admit that I am not always the best at it. If you fuel your body right, then it will carry you better throughout training and racing. There is so much out there on nutrition, so I would say if you want to get super serious about it, speak to a nutritionist. But essentially, look after yourself with what you eat, and try to make everything from scratch. Pre-prepared foods are full of hidden things. Also, remember  to train with whatever you are going to use on race day, whether that will be gels, baby food, dried fruit e.g. apricots, shot bloks, etc.

There was a good model used for training in fact. Imagine a three-legged stool, where each leg represents either training, recovery, or nutrition. If any of those legs either lengthens or shortens, then the stool will become unstable and potentially fall over. It is about keeping a good balance between all three aspects, so that your stool stays upright.

Another thing to think about is how absorbed we can become in our training, that we become blindsided to our own situation. It is a good idea to have someone around you who can be your eyes when you cannot see. A good exercise to carry out for yourself is to make a list of three things that are signs you may be overtraining or underperforming and sliding down the slippery slops of UUPS (Unexplained Under-Performing Syndrome), and give it to someone who knows you well, and will happily tell you when they think you’re doing too much. For example, my main three would probably be irritability, decreased endurance/strength, and persistent fatigue.

Listening to your body is so important too. Although it is great to pass the bat to someone to watch over you, and make sure you don’t get lost down the rabbit-hole, it is just as key to check yourself. Ask yourself honestly if everything is going right. Iron out any niggles before they become major injuries, rest where appropriate – even if it means missing a session if you don’t feel right, and don’t be afraid to adapt your plan or have a week off if you are unwell, as an example. Don’t lie to yourself!

Working with heart rate can be extremely beneficial, not just to keep you running within your capabilities and not to a goal/dream time, but also to monitor things like fatigue, overtraining, and effort. I certainly could do with training with heart rate a lot more. To figure out your heart rate zones, you should measure your resting heart rate. This is best done laying in bed when you first wake up in the morning, preferably with minimal movement. I would take an average from 5 readings.

Mental health is also important to keep you on track. Look after your psyche, and keep a positive mind and home environment where possible. There are some fantastic books out there for just this: “mind management”. A favourite of mine is the Chimp Paradox, but there are other great sporting specific ones, such as The Winner’s Bible. Remember the skills and techniques taught in them, refer back to them if you need to, and practice them. Create a good support network around you. I also find displaying achievements helps me remember how far I have come from being a complete non-runner to completing marathons, triathlons, and everything in between. I have a PB medal display, and a scrapbook with all of my racing memories in. Have a good mantra, such as “I can, and I am”; i.e. I can do it, and I am doing it now”.

Educate yourself. Listen, read, absorb, and talk. Any advice can be good help, but stay true to yourself – there can be a lot of different opinions about things out there, so don’t get lost in trying too many things out at once. Listen to podcasts such as Marathon Talk. Read books, websites, magazines, blogs, etc. Visit running shows, talks, seminars, and even take part in training courses.

Find a plan. Make it your plan. Stick to your plan, and this one plan ONLY. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing, just worry about doing your plan. Got it?

Keep a training log, so you can track how everything is going. It can be good to refer back to if you are having a particularly bad week or so, you can look back and see if your heart rate was increasingly high over a few days, you had poor sleep, you may have been overtraining, or maybe you have had some niggles that have developed into something worse.

I am also finding that fitting fundraisers/fundraising in around training can be tricky. This can be about planning around races you have signed up for, social commitments, etc. I like to incorporate some running events into my training, and this can mean adapting my plan for mileage, or possibly running to/from an event or before it. Sometimes due to family commitments I have found that doing my long run straight from work mid-week is an option. This means that I would finish running at a similar time compared to if I had run with my club but started 90 minutes later.

I hope some of my things help or inspire you in your training, and that you may enjoy some of the notes I took from a much vaster talk, where I condensed down the bits I considered simpler to digest and reflect on online.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

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You Are Capable Of So Much More Than You Think

I have only ever entered one team event before, and it was a bit of a peculiar layout to what you would normally expect. That one was a team relay triathlon, where A, B and C relayed within each part of the triathlon. So A would swim, then B would swim, then C would swim, followed by A cycling, then B and C cycling, then A, B and C running in succession. That was fantastic fun, and great for someone looking to try out the sport. This race, however, would be my first participation in a duathlon, and my first team one in a traditional sense, i.e. a first runner, a cyclist, and a second runner.

I was nudged by a friend at work to participate, because they really fancied it, and it took all of a few seconds for me to agree. I sourced another team-mate, my boyfriend, and we had a team of 3! Since I was the only member of our team who owned a bike (and rode it in a semi-competitive way), I would do the bike ride. Also, to be fair, I am definitely the slower runner in  the trio, so it worked out that everyone was racing to their strengths. This would be a sprint duathlon at Dorney Lake, starting and finishing with a 5km run, and a 20km bike ride in the middle.

I must admit, I hadn’t trained much on the bike in the lead up to this race. I had posted some times that I was pleased with in some triathlons before the season ended. The last of which had been mid-September, before I deemed it to be getting too cold to get my bike out on the road. I had been out on a 55km ride in the middle of a triathlon on my last ride, and I couldn’t feel my feet for the 2 and a bit hours I was riding for.

Unfortunately, due to timing, I had been training for the Dublin marathon, as you may know, and I had completed that just 3 weeks previous to this duathlon. As a general rule, after running a race, your body will take a day for every mile to recover, so I was still just inside that 26 day window of recovery. My legs had certainly been feeling it after those 26.2 miles, so I had decided it was best to let them recover, and go off the back of marathon training and the triathlon season I had just finished.

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A beautiful sunrise at Dorney Lake. My camera phone did not do it justice.

Runner 1, my boyfriend, had been improving over lots of distances in the last couple of months, including a PB time of 1:28:40 at Cardiff half marathon in October, and increasingly better times at Black Park parkrun all the way down to 20:05. He was really chasing that sub-20. Would today be the day? Black Park is a challenging course, especially if it’s been raining, and isn’t exactly flat, but Dorney Lake was pancake flat for sure.

Runner 2, my friend Jemma, had completed her first half marathon this year in a time of 1:36:43 – pretty impressive, and even more for your first half! On top of that, she smashed out a sub-20 parkrun in Rickmansworth on either her first or second run there (I couldn’t find the excited text message to check exactly). So we’re looking at two fairly evenly matched super runners, and myself on the bike.

This event was organised by F3, and I have to say, we did feel a little like they had organised the event with a team option, and then forgotten about the fact that there was a team event. But more of that later. I dug out the time trial bike, checked the tyres were pumped up and it still ran true, and that got popped into the back of the car. I have noticed as a cyclist, you definitely need more kit than a runner!

I registered at the tent, and was surprised to be handed only one race number. When I enquired, they said that was it, even though we were a team. There was also a couple of stickers for my bike. In the end, I asked an F3 employee, who agreed I wouldn’t have to wear the number with the pins on the bike, as I had a number on my front on my helmet, and on the seat post of the bike. They did explain that normally they would hand out race belts, but they hadn’t received the order for the race. No big, I guess – Chris would swap numbers with Jemma whilst I was cycling.

I managed to do a quick warm-up on my bike, which was very fortunate in the end, because the chain slipped off TWICE before I got it to settle in properly! I was lucky that didn’t happen mid-race! I think the chain had been knocked getting the bike in/out of the  car. I tucked down into position and shot up the service road, and was greeted with the beautiful sight of a deer prancing across the  tarmac and into the woods! I rode out for a mile, then headed back. There wasn’t much point in warming up too much, because I was going to have to rack my bike before the race briefing, and then stand in the cold wind waiting for Chris to speed round the 5km course.

Race briefing started slightly late, and we were a bit disappointed to find out that there was no mention of the team event at all. This was alright if you were familiar with the layout of a relay, but if you weren’t, like my team-mates, then it was slightly overwhelming. A mere few minutes later, the race had started, and Chris was off to complete his first of 2 laps along the 5km course. He was doing really well on the first lap, and was in a good position coming into transition.

We exchanged a brief conversation whilst I popped my helmet on, took the timing chip off him, attached it to myself, and grabbed my bike from the rack. “Well done!” “Thanks” “Did you PB?” “Yeah” “Sub 20?” Yeah” “AH! Well done!!”. Then it was time to run with my bike out to the mounting line. My legs were cold. I had tried to keep them moving a bit waiting for Chris to return from his run, and I had been wearing some lovely warm jogging bottoms, a coat, and a jacket. It was still going to take a little while to warm the muscles up though.

I knuckled down in the first lap, which followed around the return lake, and I knew it well. The wind was blowing hard that morning, and it was up to its usual mystical tricks at Dorney: you travel up one side of the lake into a headwind, turn 180 degrees, and cycle down the other side into a headwind… Go figure?!

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My inspiration for the morning. The one and only Chrissie Wellington.

I can’t say that I noticed the time going round the first lap, but just kept reminding myself that this was for the good of the team. The second lap ticked by nicely to the halway point, and 18 minutes had passed, so I thought I would be on for a reasonable time. I really had to focus and push coming down the home straight on each lap, because this carried the worst of that headwind. On the third lap, I decided I would be able to roughly predict the time I would finish the bike ride in, and screamed, “NINE MINUTES!” at my team-mates to give them warning for the fourth and final time I would be cycling to that point. I dug in through the last lap, and kept thinking about Chrissie Wellington, who I had met that Monday at a book signing. She had written “You are capable of so much more than you think” in my copy of her book, and I also remembered her talking about how in every race she had competed in, she had wanted to quit. I used these things as motivation to push on. I completed the bike ride in just over 36 minutes. Not quite a course PB, but it was certainly windier that day, and I was pleased with my 19mph average.

Over to Jemma for the final 5km of the morning. She shot off up the lake, so I popped on my warm clothes, and we walked over to a point on the run course where we could cheer her on. She came flying down the lake towards the end of the first lap, and I “encouraged” her. I will point out that I was instructed to cheer in this manner by Jemma herself: “Get those f***ing legs moving, Jemma! Run b***h, run!”. I saw her pick up, and move on to the second lap. I could see she was working hard. Chris stuck with the traditional, “Go Jemma! Well done!” – probably more acceptable to anyone nearby!

We headed over to the finish line, which had now deflated and blown over for the second time of the morning, and awaited Jemma’s return. Some more abuse/encouragement down the finish straight and a very strong finish indeed, then the duathlon was complete! We had done it in a time of 1:18:00 exactly. It appears on our Garmins that the run was slightly over 5km, meaning Chris’ amazing 5km PB of 19:45 doesn’t show on the results. However, they looked something like this: 20:13, 36:41, 20:24. I have actually just realised as well, that I managed to do negative splits on the bike! Over four laps, in order, I did: 09:32, 09:11, 09:08, 08:50 – FAB!

After Jemma had caught her breath, we headed over to the timing results print-out desk, and eagerly snapped up our results, to find out we were 1st in our category! We had only gone and won the team event! We were, and all still are, ecstatic! We were awarded a prize, and celebrated with a nice warm drink and a delicious baked potato.

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The dream team posing with our trophy and the Olympic rings at Dorney Lake.

It seems we may be the duathlon dream team. Bring on more team events! It really was great to participate as a team, and definitely something I will look into in the future.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

I Should Have Run Alone

Before you form an opinion of this post, or dismiss it, purely because of the title, I would ask you to read a little further. Here are my disclaimers, if you will. What I am about to explain does not reflect on anyone I have run with, currently run with or might ever run with in the future – this is me and my brain, not any of you. I want to make that clear. Secondly, I need to explain something from a book I have read that I use a lot in my life to explain and control (if that is the right word?) my feelings and sometimes my actions. That book is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.

My extremely brief explanation I need to give for you to understand the rest of the post, although I highly recommend you read the book anyway, is this. Your brain has 3 primary psychological areas: the parietal (the computer), the frontal (the human), and the limbic (the chimp). The computer stores and remembers information for you to use again, the human is you, and the chimp is your emotional part, who likes to be the first to react. He (or she) is the one I want to emphasise on at this point – he is your knee-jerk reaction, your first impression, and most predominantly for those of us who exercise, the one who puts those negative thoughts in our heads that make us want to stop.

Now I can rewind a little. I had been off work sick the day before, where I was run down with a cold. I hadn’t been able to run or attend a pilates session at the club. Still feeling the effects of the cold to an extent, I felt a little snotty and tired, but as I explained to everyone – I tried getting rid of it with a curry, so it must need a run to blast it out! I wanted to keep my legs ticking over, as it was now a week and a half until the marathon – eek! So, off I went, running a beautiful route through footpaths and down by the river.

That’s when it started. “I should have run alone.” It was The Chimp, he had climbed out of his box and was trying to get the better of me. I said to him, “No, I’m running a lovely route, enjoying nature, blasting the last of this cold out, and I’m tapering for the marathon.”. The Chimp went on to tell me that I was holding the others back, that I wasn’t good enough to be  running with them, and in an effort to make me grumpy, he screeched, “You should have run alone!”. Those words hit me hard.

I am sure – no, I know – that every runner, or any athlete for that matter, experiences at some point in their training that negative voice that says, “You can’t do this. You’re rubbish and you should just stop!”. I urge you all to ignore it. When the going gets tough, The Chimp gets scared and anxious, and thinks he is protecting you by letting you admit defeat. Don’t listen to him.

I have developed my own way of dealing with my chimp when I need to ignore what he says. Whether you are running, cycling, swimming, surfing, skiing, playing tennis…. whatever your sport is, this is relevant to you! I put him in his box, he can screech away all he likes, and I might hear him, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to him and give in.

At first, you are required to look into the past. Use your computer in your brain and look at what you have achieved. More often that not, you will have completed the distance you are trying to achieve when you start to struggle, so there is no need to listen to that negativity. ‘But this is the first time I am running 10 miles’, I hear you say. ‘I have got to 9 miles and this is as far as I have gone before, and I’m struggling, so I should give up’. To which I would say, “Can you run a mile?”. The answer is yes. You can run a mile. Tell your body (and your chimp) that although you have run 9 miles, it is only one more, and you know you can do that. I deploy this technique when completing longer training runs too. When you need to squeeze a 20 mile run out, I find the best way for me is to get to halfway and try and tell my body that actually, I haven’t just run 10 miles, I’m just heading out on tired legs from the week – it’s almost like a little reset button.

You are also required to look into the future. Alright, I haven’t taken my crazy pills this morning – make all the jokes you like – but I know what I mean. In this instance, on that particular evening where The Chimp has said that I should have run alone, I know that I need to look into the future and see how I think I will feel after the run. Obviously the future is not definite, so there will always be several possibilities ahead. Here, we have the first option, which is where The Chimp wins, tells me to stop and I have to drag myself slowly back to the club alone, in the dark. This will be a miserable experience for me and one I would regret. Option two – I continue running with the people I set out with, pushing hard to keep up, but listening to the chimp moan that it’s too hard and it’s going to ruin the marathon (he loves to be a drama queen!). Or, I can choose the third option. This is my favourite and the one that I was lucky enough to know to select that night. I continued running at a pace I found more comfortable, allowed myself to drop back a little and let the others go on ahead a bit. We are all aware I am tapering, no one is offended or upset by it, and in fact, later on I would be of use on “poo watch” down the trails where it has got a bit darker!

The final part to silencing the negative voice is hindsight. Now you have completed the run, The Chimp has calmed down, realised no one has died, and has been returned to his box, you can reflect on the possibilities of how the evening could have unfolded. So maybe I didn’t run with the club and I had headed out by myself. The Chimp is still grumpy because of the cold that is blocking up my airways and instead of flipping out about running with other people, he now gets the hump about running altogether. I end up run-walking the distance I wanted to complete, possibly even cutting it short and I feel unsatisfied and disheartened by the whole experience. Those few moments of doubt in this case, were managed and pushed away, and I could complete my run comfortably and in good company.

So, my point to all of this, is that if you can apply this reasoning to the negative ideas that appear in your head during any training, then you will hopefully find things going a lot more smoothly on the mental side of things. Training with another person, or with more people, can give you the support that you need to reach an end goal. Yes, you may be able to achieve it alone, but I wonder whether it would be with the same mental stability as if you were training with a group or in a pair. When I train in the pool with my friend, The Chimp might screech to slow down because you’re blowing and it’s difficult, but having that other person there stops you from ‘wimping out’, and forces you to push on. There is a certain amount of bravado about soldiering on when you are suffering, because you don’t want to look weak, or let the others down. You can use that to your advantage – harness it and use it to silence your chimp.

Although  I was almost afraid to admit it the other week (until a friend pointed it out to me), I started to get tired 17 miles into a 20 mile training run. He said, “you get tired like normal people”, and he was right. It didn’t matter if I was tired, as long as I finished it. I knew I had to just keep going, not only because I needed the run for my training, but also because everyone around me was counting on it. I didn’t want to stop, but I went quiet because I was tired. I was looking forward to the end and a drink of water. I pushed on, I completed the mileage, and I didn’t die. Proof to the negative thoughts that they were wrong yet again. I took that one, and logged it in a little box in my brain for another day when I would need to fight the good fight again.

Just remember – everyone gets tired, everyone can get negative, but everyone can come out clean the other side. And do you know what? I shouldn’t have run alone.

Thank you for reading as always!

Amanda x

P.S. All rights to The Chimp idea are obviously to Steve Peters. I hope he doesn’t mind me explaining a bit and how I use it!