Back in the pool

Given that the last time I went swimming was an impromptu dip in a rather chilly Lake Como after a long walk up and down the Italian hills, and that the last time I was at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic pool I was clambering over giant inflatables in a Total Wipeout style afternoon with my waterpolo pals (don’t ask), it was really good to get in a proper swimming set at the Olympic pool last night.

My limbs were conscious of the 4 mile run I’d put in earlier in the day, as well as the fact that I haven’t been swim training much lately, but both my limbs and my soul felt good for a dip!

I don’t know how, but sometimes I forget how much I adore swimming; luckily it only takes the smell of chlorine and a length or two to remind me. What makes me all the more happy (and frightfully nostalgic) is when, as with last night, there is a swimming club training in a couple of the lanes at the same time with lots of kids going through the hours of lengths that I went through at their age (and then gossiping in the showers afterwards!).

I keep toying with the idea of re-joining a club, although I fear that I’m not as fit as I might be and will end up floundering at the end. If anyone can recommend any good masters clubs in London or fancies trying out with me, let me know.

 

In the meantime here is my set from last night:

Warm-up

200 m front crawl
4 x 100 m front crawl FLAF (full stroke, legs, arms, full)
100 m backstroke

(700m)

Main set

4 x 25 m IM (fly, back, breast, front crawl) x 4 plus 30 seconds rest between 100 m sets
150 m breathing every 3 strokes for 50 m, 5 strokes for 50 m, 7 strokes for 50  x 2 plus 30 seconds between sets
100 m front crawl kick
100 m backstroke kick
4 x 100 as 50 m backstroke 50 m breaststroke

(1,300 m)

Swim down

200 m front crawl

Total: 2,200

IMG_3664

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100 squats a day?! Plyometric, mindful training

With my summer holiday to Corsica drawing closer (although it feels like summer has already ended in the UK) I’ve been increasingly noticing all of my squidgy bits. This week, when trying on bikinis under the rather harsh lights of the store changing room, I felt less than confident about baring my all in public.

In a last ditch attempt to tone-up pre-holiday I’m following a series of exercises from PT to the stars Dan Roberts, as featured in Women’s Health. Roberts promotes a method which encompasses plyometric training, mindfulness and martial arts, using dynamic, body weight exercises that help improve tone, stability, balance and strength.

The routine includes a daily set of 100 squats, a 3 minute half boat pose and (my least favourite) jumping split lunges. I’m using this programme in conjunction with my usual workout regime of yoga, running and circuits.

Four days into this new regimen and I’ve got that pleasant degree of muscle-ache that says something positive is happening. Today I even hit 200 squats!

I’m realistic in how much impact these exercises can have in the short term and with this in mind I bought a couple of throw-on jersey dresses to keep my stomach under wraps. But I also treated myself to a super-cute bikini, which I hope will get at least one outing during my trip.

Either way, I’m really enjoying (in a slightly sadistic way) pushing my body in a way not experienced while running, and if these exercises serve to strengthen my hamstrings, glutes and core, as the muscle ache implies that they are, then the long term benefits alone make them worthwhile.

In case you would like to join me in this rather gruelling routine the exercises are as follows with thanks from Women’s Health:

The mixed martial arts knee strike
Targets: glutes and hips; Improves: balance and fat burn

Start in a ‘fighter’s stance’ – left foot forward, knees slightly bent. Raise both arms up and to the left. Pull your hands down as you push your right knee up and out. Return to the starting position. Do 100 on each side.

The incline push-up test
Targets: upper body, core; Improves: strength, power

With palms on a chair, shoulder-width apart, get into a high plank. Keep your shoulders, hips and knees in a straight line. Bending at the elbows, lower yourself down, so your body stays in a straight line and then drive back up. Do 50 reps (rests permitted).

The mindful v-sit trial
Targets: abs and lower back; Improves: posture, focus and breathing

Sit in a half boat post – knees bent, feet lifted and thighs at a 90 degree angle with the floor. Keep your back straight and shoulders back and down. Gently place your hands on your knees and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Aim to hold for 3 minutes.

The jumping split squat
Targets: lower body and glutes; Improves: cardio endurance

Start in a lunge, front knee bent 90 degrees to the ground, and back knee bent so it is almost touching the floor. Keep your torso upright. Jump, switching your feet mid-air. Keep going for as long as you can.

The sumo squat 100
Targets: inner thighs, core and glutes; Improves: hip flexibility

Stand with legs wide, knees soft and feet turned out. Squat down as low as you can go before driving back up to the start position. Repeat, 100 times!

Trailblazer

IMG_0135This weekend I ran in my first trail race. The event was part of the Rat Race Trailblazer series, in association with Runner’s World; held in Bedgebury Forest, just outside of Tunbridge Wells, it was the perfect setting on the most beautiful, sunny day.

I entered the race with my Tough Mudder pals, Lucy and Anna. Sandra had also hoped to join us, but unfortunately she was injured and unable to run.

I was up at 6:15am and prepared with a bowl of oats, topped with cinnamon, raisins and pumpkin seeds, before getting to train to meet the others at Anna’s. Anna drove us from London to Kent and we arrived with plenty of time for pre-race preparations – collecting our numbers and race packs, dropping off our bags and warming up – before being led to the start of the race by one of the volunteers.

There were eight waves of racers and we were in wave two. Despite my usual pre-race anxiety, I felt surprisingly relaxed – I think this was primarily because this was my first trail race and I had no idea of how I’d fare on the hilly, uneven terrain. For this reason I had no targets or expectations regarding times, which really took away any pressure.The only objective I hadset for myself was to enjoy the run and my surroundings, and given the beauty of the route, this second objective wasn’t going to be hard to achieve!

We were warned at the start,that the first kilometre was up hill, so I took it easy, getting into my stride and picking up the pace on kilometres two and three.

The kilometres ticked over pretty quickly, as they are apt to do in races, and before I knew it I’d hit 6k. There was a tricky long pull up hill from 6 to 7 kilometres, during which I kept my head down and focused on keeping my legs turning over, thinking of Clay’s advice about taking lots of little steps. It was soon over and I started to let my legs out for the last few kilometres.

I’d hoped to really accelerate through the final kilometre, as I could feel I still had plenty left in the tank (probably not something to admit under race conditions!) but then we hit the final hill.

IMG_0159With no cover from the sun, which was by now beating down, the hill went on for what seemed an eternity; it was a killer to end on. My pace dropped right off and I focused on the heels of the man in front of me as I tiptoed up and up. When we reached the top we were greeted by the sight of the finish line. The very last stretch into the race ‘village’ was flat (thank goodness) and across soft grass, so I pushed a last sprint, past then guy whose heels I had followed up the hill. Spurred on by my run past him, he also sprinted, and we raced to the end!

It was such a fun experience and with no pressure to hit a particular time target I really enjoyed every minute – if anything it was over all too soon.

I met the other girls at our pre-arranged spot and we all agreed we’d definitely be doing more trail runs and would be revisiting this route next year. We also gushed over the amazing post-race packs, in which got water, coconut water, Matcha tea, a copy of Runner’s World, a Trek bar, some dried fruit and a Bounce ball, all vegan and gluten free – a rare treat for Lucy and I who could, for once, enjoy everything!

The event was so well organised and with lots of really helpful friendly volunteers, I’d strongly recommend it to anyone thinking of trying out their first trail run.

IMG_0160My glutes were suffering a bit on Sunday after those hills, but luckily, after a morning of painting and decorating, R and I had a blissfully relaxing afternoon visiting some friends of ours in Barnes.

After a heavenly weekend of good company and sunshine it’s perhaps unsurprising that I had a touch of the Monday blues (and a touch of sunburn!) so in a bid to cheer myself up, I may have entered another marathon…

Happy running

Marathon fever – Paris

photo (12)
Running Expo – It’s a big world. Go run it.

Regular readers may be vaguely aware (I think I might have alluded to it once or twice?!) that on Sunday I was set to run in the Paris marathon.

After months of training, lots of new kit (all totally necessary of course), a number of practice races, miles of long Sunday runs (and post-run Sunday afternoon snoozes) and a series of physio sessions, I headed to Paris on Friday, fit, healthy and injury free.

I was there with a group of four friends and our respective families; five runners among over 40,000. With me were my running buddies and marathon veterans the Twins in Trainers, Jess and Bex, Jess’s husband Cri and R.

R and I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday and, after dropping our things off at the hotel, headed straight to the Expo at Porte de Versailles to collect our numbers. We were cutting it quite fine, getting to the Expo not long before it closed, however we managed to make it, just about. Arriving in the exhibition hall with all of the entrants’ names written up on the wall was so exciting; being at the Expo I really started to feel part of something great and it was amazing to see so many like-minded people, all of whom had been through the same months of training to be here that I had.

We collected our race packs and even had time for a brief wander around the stands, (which made me want to buy a whole host of running goodies), before it was time to leave.

photo (14)We had supper nearby, at a little restaurant just a few minutes stroll away. We were ushered in by a rather insistent but harassed waiter and sat at a table at the back of the restaurant, where we were totally ignored for a good fifteen minutes. When the food arrived it was delivered with brusque irritation and a nonchalant Gallic shrug. It was the sort of service that you kind of want in Paris – a style that would send you running elsewhere, but in France it sort of seems part of a more authentic experience, besides, the food was good and hearty.

On Saturday we spent the morning wandering around Montmartre and enjoyed a trip to the Sacre-Coeur.

The start before the start
The start before the start

After a delicious lunch of dates, avo, orange and a mixed leaf salad, we practiced the route to the start of the race, at the Arc de Triomphe, making sure we knew our way and how long it would take. We had a quick nap before supper, which we had at a nearby Italian restaurant, so that we could all stock up on carbs.

I rose early on race day (around 5:30am), had a breakfast of oats and a banana and got ready to go. We all met in the hotel reception at 7:15 am to head to the start together.

It was a glorious day, all sunshine and blue skies, but holding in it the potential to get very hot. There was a pleasant chill to the morning air however, and I think everyone was holding out hope that it would linger for a few more hours at least.

Pre-race
Pre-race

Our pre-race preparation wasn’t quite as thorough as it might have been as on arrival it wasn’t immediately apparent where the bag drop was and there was no one around to direct us. After a slight panic we eventually got some directions from another runner, sending us off a good few kilometres away from the starting pens. We made a toilet stop en route and, as is always the case at such events, were stuck in a queue for an age meaning that we arrived at the pen, having fought our way through masses of people, only just in time for the start.

It was so nice being in the pen with Jess and Bex and while we only ran together for a short distance it was so uplifting to have people to share the exciting starting experience with.
The first few miles evaporated under my feet; I could hardly believe it when I reached the 5km mark, where my parents were watching and cheering. I was feeling strong and happy and riding on the back of all of the support and cheers from the sidelines. Plus I was in Paris! In Paris and running a marathon!

I hit the half marathon point in about 2 hours 2 minutes and continued to feel pretty strong to mile 17. I wavered a bit from 17 to 18 however. It was getting really hot and as the route headed into a tunnel the air became so close and humid. Not long after the last bridge, just before the Eiffel Tower, I had a gel and some water, letting myself walk as I sipped it, and made a loo stop, before starting up again. I pushed on to 22, letting my pace drop, but crossing the 20 mile wall with the kind of euphoria you can’t imagine – I knew at this point this was the furthest I’d ever run!

I tried to convince myself to mentally reset from mile 20, telling myself that I was just running a 10k, no big deal right? Or not. My body just wasn’t going to be fooled. 22 to 24 felt long but manageable. This part of the route was through a park on the west side of Paris and it was so pretty I alternated between distracting myself with the scenery and just keeping my head down and plodding on, but I swear the distance from 24 to 26 was longer than two miles! In my head I knew it was no distance at all. Two miles, pah! I wouldn’t even have counted that as a training run at home, but now it was the longest two miles of my life. I could feel my form falling apart from 24 to 25 and let myself walk a few steps as I saw my fellow runners do the same around me. But I was adamant that I would run the final mile and hearing my name cheered from the sideline spurred me on.

We ran a marathon!
We ran a marathon!

As I crossed the 26 mile mark I almost cried with happiness and as the finish line drew closer I was totally euphoric.

You see, what I’ve never admitted here is that I’ve never been totally sure that I could run a marathon. While other people have professed faith in me, this is something that I’ve never really believed myself. Until now. While I love running, on Sunday I proved to myself that I am actually a runner.

And as soon as I crossed the finish line I knew it was something I wanted to do again.

When I started training the girls told me I’d become addicted to marathon running and I never believed them, but I was wrong.

photo 4I loved the whole experience, the event, the training, everything. I know it’s a cliché to say it’s about the journey, so I’ll try to resist, but it certainly wasn’t all about the one race. I learned how to run 9 miles comfortably, then 12, then 15, then 18, then 20, something I never thought I’d be able to do. The longer races I’ve done, (and my new 20 mile PB at 3 hours 4 minutes), would have seemed impossible only five months ago. And while the long Sunday runs have dictated my weekends for some time, they have also given them purpose and a sense of achievement.
I walked in a dazed state from the finish line to collect a medal and t shirt and picked up some banana and an apple that was on offer. I met up with Jess and Cri by some miracle, especially given the number of people around, and Bex also found the three of us.

Red wine and baguette post-race
Red wine and baguette post-race

We headed back to the hotel to shower and spent the evening sipping champagne and red wine, eating plenty and discussing how our various races had gone at an old Parisienne bistro in Montmartre.

It was a perfect conclusion to an amazing day.

Two marathons run from a hospital bed

As marathon day draws ever closer my fear is tempered with the gratefulness. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky I am that I can just get out and run. And keep running.

This weekend I completed anther 20 mile race and it felt good. I thought of Clay as I ran, heard his words in my head: take it easy kiddo, you’ve got all the time in the world. And so I took my time. And this time I hit no walls and felt no pain. My hip and knees held out and I finished the last three miles strong.

We talked about the race last night over sticky rice and veggie sushi, enjoyed from a hospital bedside table. If I complete this marathon it will be as a result of such talks and mine will not be the only marathon born out of this hospital ward. Last night Clay gave me another blog post. Enjoy: 

***

Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand
Manawatu Gorge, New Zealand

I would love to run a marathon again…I have to ask myself, am I getting too ahead of myself? Is it too soon to even think about running that kind of distance, let alone run at all?

I’m a bit of a desperate man right now, so I look for any loophole in the ‘rules’ given to me by the doctors. My train of thought is this: I’m a forefoot striker type runner and only my heels are broken, so surely I can start running once the swelling has gone down and my heels have repaired?

The question is how long will it be until I’m operational again? Can I wait the time it takes? How much damage can I do trying to run too early? Will I ever be able to run long distances again? So many questions, so many variables, how can I stay optimistic amongst all these questions and bloody emotions?!

He farts again, it smells horrific. It has a nasty bight to it that stings my nostrils. Every time my buddy Jim and I run together it’s the same: he leads I follow and he farts. My one saving grace is that we are outside and in the bush (or forest if you’re not a Kiwi) and running. It’s not a cracking pace but fast enough that I don’t pass out from the smell.

I feel good, no I feel great. Healthy, fit, alive, this is what I live for. This is my escape, my ‘me’ time, the problems of my world melt away the second I start moving through the bush. The birds sing, sometimes at a deafening volume but I love it, the ground is soft, the thick dense New Zealand bush is picturesque and serves as a wonderful shade in this 28 degree weather.

The temperature under the canopy is around 18 degrees, perfect running temperature, the track we are running on is called the Manawatu Gorge walking track; it’s a 10 kilometre track that runs west to east along the southern side of the gorge. It climbs 200 meters on one side and drops 200 meters on the other making our vertical change 400 meters, however we plan to run the track in reverse also making our vertical gain 400 meters and vertical drop 400 meters. Of course it is much more than that, this is New Zealand and if there’s one thing we know how to do here it’s hills, many hills; big, small, and everything in between. The track rarely lets up as we climb to start off, but seldom do we stop running, up and down hills, rarely is it flat enough for you to notice, this is the kind of course your after to increase muscle in your legs.

I had recently converted to barefoot or forefoot style running, it took a long time to change without injuring my feet but I feel it was worth it. I no longer have sore knees, ankles or Achilles tendon problems. I do still get problems with the stress fracture in my foot when I overdo it, but it’s much less of a problem when I run on trails.

The style of running feels good, I find I’m more upright making breathing easier, my strides are smaller so I feel like I’m more efficient when I run, particularly up hills. To start with my calves were burning when I ran but they got used to it and it stopped being a problem. The biggest change was my speed, I definitely slowed down for a few weeks but after a while the speed came back and I found I could run for longer at the same speed. This might have been due to the millage I was doing of course.

Perhaps barefoot running is the answer then, and to run trails to start with. This makes me wonder are there any good trails in England, anything I can compare to home? Or are they just hard slightly rocky farm trails over hills? They might have to do for now and it will be better than running on the road for sure. I could combine it with hiking, something I want to do for my rehab program; I could easily fit in a run at the beginning or end of a hike.

So I guess I will have to see how it goes, see how my body takes to walking first; then slowly introduce running. From there I can build up to a half marathon, then a full one.

All I can say is wish me luck and let’s hope I the have patience to see this thing through. It will be such a good feeling to be running again and such a good feeling to complete a marathon again.  Baby steps all the way.

Carpe Diem

Natural highs

beansWhile I know that ultimately results come from regular training session and plenty of hard work, I’m still not adverse to hearing about natural solutions that might help boost performance. These are particularly welcome when they include items which might ordinarily be counted as indulgences, such as coffee and dark chocolate!

Recent reading has highlighted the following as potentially beneficial to both performance and recovery:

  1. Coffee

Research has shown a link between coffee (or more specifically, the caffeine in coffee) with improved exercise performance and decreased perception of effort.

Reports from the European Food Safety Authority and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicated a link between caffeine consumption and increased endurance levels, while the EFSA study also showed that caffeine could effect the central nervous system in such a way that it reduced perception of fatigue and pain.

Coffee is also thought to encourage muscles to use fat for energy, and all of this from just two 250ml cups of coffee (totalling around 200mg caffeine) 30-60 minutes before exercise. That’s certainly reason enough for me to drink up!

  1. Peppermint oil

A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that 0.05ml of peppermint oil added to a bottle of water everyday for 10 days significantly increased participants time to exhaustion.

  1. Dark Chocolate

It is thought that epicatechin, found in cacao, has the potential to boost performance with early studies showing a link between the intake of epicatchin over a 15 day trial period and an increased number of muscle capillaries and energy-producing mitochondria.

  1. Nitrate rich foods

Spinach, beetroot, celery and rocket are rich in nitrates which oxidise in the body to form nitric oxide. This widens blood vessels and makes more oxygen available to your muscles and may increase mitochondrial efficiency.

The Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that just a 280ml glass of beetroot juice could lead to performance gains

5. Pineapple

Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain, a natural painkiller, which can help reduce pain and inflammation. Blueberries and green tea are also thought to have similar anti-inflammatory properties.

Happy training!

Red wine, olives and not much sleep, or a lesson in questionable training practices

imageI’m not sure how long it’s been now since I accepted ‘tired’ as my default setting.

Back in March I wrote about our tendency to be ‘tired and wired‘, and although after that post I made tweaks to my lifestyle for a week or so, I seem to have slipped back into the same pattern of burning the coffee-fuelled candle at both ends.

Whether it’s first thing in the morning, emerging blurry eyed for a run, or resting my eyes on the commute to work; at 3:30pm when the post-lunch sleepiness sets in, or at 10pm on my way home from a work/sporting/social event, before collapsing into bed ready to start over again the next day, I seem to be in a regular cycle of weariness.

I do of course find routes out of my soporific state – endless cups of tea, water to stay hydrated, stretching, running, fresh air, the occasional nap – but these tend to feel more like temporary fixes, rather than actual long-term solutions.

What is ridiculous is while I acknowledge that I am tired, I hear myself denying to others that I’m trying to take on too much.

In fact, despite my constant reminders to myself that I can’t do everything all
of the time, and to embrace the JOMO (discussed in a previous post) I can’t help but harbour the belief that everyone else is managing to do more than me and still stay afloat.

I look at my colleagues with children and wonder how they are able to juggle their commitments so apparently effortlessly, or my friends who not only have successful careers, but also make their own clothes, bake, host dinner parties, attend regular yoga classes and still manage to look fresh faced and rosy cheeked everyday (you know who you are!).

After a busy week last week, a hectic Monday in the office (including a trek to and from our Windsor office), a 2 hour dance class in the evening and a resultant late supper and even later night, it probably shouldn’t have been surprising that when I woke up on Tuesday I was a little weary. Moreover after a morning of firefighting emails and two meetings, it probably wasn’t totally out of the blue that my lunchtime run was a little below par, despite my protestations at the time that ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me’.

With a serious marathon training programme fast approaching I can’t help but think I need to reassess how much I can realistically take on. I will certainly be giving my diet and red wine habit a review (fewer evenings of trading an actual meal with a glass of red wine and a shared bowl of olives), but I think I also need to think about the importance of sleep, rest and recovery.

R was talking to me about one of his friends who is a seasoned marathon runner and he said that it was taking his recovery and rest days seriously for his latest marathon that really helped him smash his PB. So no running, dancing, swimming or climbing on rest days, and plenty of stretching, sleep and protein rich meals. Well, if it’s good enough for a real marathon man, then it’s good enough for me! And I definitely will have an early night…tomorrow maybe.