Tuesday, 28 August 2012

OK - so THIS is "trail running"...

Correction: last Tuesday I did NOT go trail running. I ventured into fields, ran on grass, climbed over gates rather than opening and closing them… but that was not trail running.

I discovered this three days later, when I set off for a sub-30’, road-based 5k. Two thirds of the way through my spleen was hurting, so I slowed down and started humbly walking the short distance home. As I looked up my time on RunKeeper someone from a house I was passing suggested I did less texting and more running, but was duly reassured once I’d told him I was actually looking at my run, adding “Today just wasn’t my day”. He seemed reassured by that and on we carried with our respective tasks.

I am familiar with spleen pain, for that’s what it did for most of my football training within half a lap of jogging back in 1980s Italy. So, much as I was frustrated that I may have paced myself just a little too ambitiously (though I’m still not sure I had…), even after all this time I knew exactly what the problem was and that it wouldn’t last long. As I approached the junction to our estate, the pain had all but gone. It was then that I was passed by a couple who live nearby and whom I know, the wife mainly through tennis and the husband partly through tennis but mainly because of cricket and his son. They’re the sort of people who don’t necessarily make our Christmas list (very few do, to be honest) but whom I’ll always acknowledge and sometimes have a chat when our paths cross. They have beautiful seaviews from their house and I can but apologise for instances when a glowing yellow dot has detracted from them in recent months.

As Bob (for that is Sally’s husband’s name) passed me, he joked about the fact that I should stop walking and start running with them, for that was indeed what they were out doing. I gave the suggestion a second’s thought and proceeded to do just that, safe in the knowledge that, if the pain resurfaced, it would do so fairly quickly and I would still only be a few minutes from home. As it happens it did not: whether things would have been different had I tried running on my own again, I honestly have no idea. Maybe the social aspect of this particular run helped: it didn’t feel a particularly fast run either, though the average pace of 6:20, when you take into account some of the sections, is by no means sluggish. We headed downhill on the pavement to start with, as I thought I’d enquire how long a run this was likely to be. “Oh, we don’t run far… about three miles”. OK, that sounds doable, spleen willing…

…and what a lovely three miles (well, 6.24km, in the end) it was! 2.4km into it we left the road for the Portishead Coast Path. I’ve lived here almost a dozen years, I’ve heard of this here path and the beaches along it, but I’m guilty of this being the first time I ventured down there. OK, so for the first few hundred yards we were fighting overgrown weeds and brambles, some of the literally shoulder high: but these things aren’t so bad when you’re with someone who genuinely knows where you are. Eventually we found ourselves running alongside the rocky coast, making it a challenge to keep an eye on the terrain. There were a few pit stops along the route and on one occasion Bob suggested taking a photo of me, something I would never think of in the intensity of sport. I’m not good, but boy do I focus. Always been like that. Fortunately I felt that a photo would be allowed and let him take one: here you go, have a look (sunglasses recommended).

I should maybe confirm that the ship did not crash into
the lighthouse
as a result of my allegedly distracting attire
Once we’d got to the end of the path there was a lot of altitude to make up and there were a few instances of steep steps to shorten that process. After those and around half a mile of track I’ve beaten only too well in recent months I was home, delighted with the run. Delighted with the trail, the scenery and indeed the social aspect, with having someone to whom talk. Which doesn’t mean I took a dislike to asphalt: ours is a necessary relationship. Nor did I regret not having found it or tried it earlier: there are reasons beyond training which meant my early days were, or are being, spent on “the lap”. Even when I run 18k, I’m never more than one kilometre or so from my front door. A front door I first stepped out of wearing my Asics 149 days after intrusive brain surgery. I felt good then and I’ve only felt better since: but even now I cannot walk out of that front door totally dismissing the possibility of an epileptic seizure. I try to balance optimism and caution in my choice of routes and I was concerned that the rocky coast path would be on the wrong side of that divide. But I now feel comfortable about running it on my own and hopefully will do so soon. As I said, the risk hasn’t gone forever: but, on that basis, I’d never step out of my front door, just like you’d never venture beyond yours. What I have done is reached a stage where I don’t hear Captain Mainwaring shouting “You stupid boy!” in my ears.
Ollie and I by the Bristol Channel.
(See, I don't make this stuff up!)
Cousin Ollie (as in, one of my Mum’s younger sister’s sons) came down for the Bank Holiday Weekend, arriving late Saturday and leaving Monday evening. He’s had previous mentions on here, for he (and Cousin Nats) followed in my footsteps and signed up for the SheffieldTenTenTen! As soon as he’d booked his trains we agreed to go for a Sunday evening run, which meant that last week’s Long Run was on Saturday. This meant Mrs S could watch “The X Factor” (shouldn’t that be “The WHY Factor”?) live rather than waiting twenty-four hours. It also meant I’d have 18k in my legs when heading out with Ollie the following day, but I wasn’t overly concerned. I decided to venture down the Coast Path and expose Ollie to nicer sights than those offered by my tarmac routes. Not sure I share his enthusiastic view that put Portishead on a par with California, if only because I’ve never gone Cali: feel free to make up your own mind by looking at these pictures. There were times when I wasn’t sure we were heading the right way but as it happens we did alright, with the exception of the end where I should have stuck to Friday’s shortcuts rather than leading us to walk through someone’s garden to get back onto the main road. I was in now characteristic glo-yellow and had lent Ollie a glo-green top: hopefully that meant that, whilst nobody could miss us, nobody would think that a couple of intruders would have chosen such inappropriate attire.

Would you spot these two?
Ollie and I before setting off
Even my good friend Richard spotted us earlier on our route and texted me: “If my eyes weren’t dazzled by the fluorescence I could have sworn I just saw you running up Nore Road…” Funny how all these people are spotting me jogging yet I never see them, eh?!

This newfound trail-enhanced route is 7km. I’ll soon duly add a lap or two to get it around the 10k or 12km mark and venture down it. Almost did so this morning, but for the heavy rain from last night, so I opted for “the usual run” instead: it will still be the default option, but it too will benefit (as will I) from it not having exclusivity. That Marriott fella’d be proud!


As long as I don’t get lost in the scenery, I’ll be fine on the coast path. 
If you could care less, this is my new
Portishead Coast Path Route
Those steep bits at the end will be good for me, too: hills are my friends, hills are my friends… And don’t worry about my clean shoes. Having already sent Ollie to Decathlon for some more (smaller!) running shirts, a pair of shorts (same size) and some sweatbands (longer ones), on Friday I asked him to pay another visit for a pair of trail shoes. I’d bought a pair on June 23 but then returned them (courtesy of a lift from Ollie) on June 24, once I’d convinced myself I could tackle the trail element of the SheffieldTenTenTen with my Asics. A belief I still hold on to: but, in the meantime, I’ve equipped myself with £30-worth of trail shoes. Decathlon’s “Kapteren 100” don’t feature in any of the running magazines I’ve read, but if all they do is ensure I don’t ruin my Asics, I’ll be happy!

And you know what? This isn’t Cali, by any means. But nor is it a bad place to live, in case you ever thought I felt that way from previous posts. When you see the sun shine on the Bristol Channel as the sun sets over West Wales, it’s quite beautiful. The truth is, this place is ‘guilty’ of the same thing that Santa Margherita Ligure (GE), Italy was guilty for my first eighteen years: it’s not Sheffield. Other than that, it’s alreight.

p.s.: Ollie had missed that pile of televisual manure because he’d been travelling down here when it was spread. So guess who had to sit between him and Mrs S to watch it off the Sky+ box last night…

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Leaving The Beaten Track

So much for plans. Ventured out for a run last night. Cousin Ollie’s coming down late on Saturday night for two days so I think I’ll end up bringing my long run forward by 24 hours, as a result of which I brought my Thursday morning run forward to Wednesday evening, which I also did because I’m WFH today and I find the early morning endorphin release isn’t as beneficial when I don’t go into the office, which I normally do on Thursdays only my lift provider’s away today, so… Anyway, I went out for a run.

All the stuff I read when I started getting into this running malarkey suggested mixing up routes and surfaces. I resisted doing so purely because of practicalities and limitations: I live on top of a hill and, whilst there are a few options in terms of which roads I use, the one I’ve settled on is a good one: nice gradient mix, not too busy… although it has meant I’ve settled into a routine of laps and, with or without stopwatch, my body has learnt to pace itself well. It knows what it can achieve when I’m doing four laps, when I’m doing six… all well and good, but I’ve no real idea as to what I can expect it to do in either the 10k or the Half. I have route maps for both but they are mere indications, not least because map reading never was my strong point.

Anyway, Nick hammered the point home again in a series of tweets last week:

“Keep making your body guess”… hmmm… makes sense… I don’t want to, but I know I should…

…so I ventured onto trail last night. Well, onto the field opposite our house, then through to the adjoining fields for a while until I got back onto the road for two laps of my usual route. To some extent I had done something simiar in Devon, but that was pretty genuine grass during the warmest and driest week of the year. Last night it was to start with, but it got less even once I’d left the main field, not least because this hasn’t exactly been the driest of Augusts. Look, it’s as if I drew pretty little doodles running round and round the various fields before heading off onto my usual route, which I stretched by heading to the Primary School and back to ensure I exceeded 10km:

Boy, am I glad I did that!

This was a wake-up call. Having clocked 5’59”/km on Tuesday on a route with even greater climbs, last night only a surge at the end got me down to 6’19”/km. That surge was on tarmac. Until then, I had failed to match recent pace on the softer trail underfoot. Which, I understand, is the main terrain for the TenTenTen.

Was it just about the terrain? I don’t believe so. Out of my comfort zone, my body’s autopilot failed miserably. My legs couldn’t pace themselves on the back of previous runs: as a result, they erred on the side of caution. When I repeat yesterday’s route I will have a better idea and would expect to do better. But first time round, with a significant part of limited brain power trying to figure out pace whilst looking out for slip hazards, speed was always going to suffer. For me, there will be no dress rehearsal of the TenTenTen, whereas it’s Cousins Nats’ and Ollie’s default practice ground. Hopefully I’ll glean something from those around me: furthermore, the Sheffield route is regularly trodden upon by runners and walkers alike, hopefully making it more suitable than a bunch of fields into which only tractors, seagulls, crows and dogwalkers (so presumably dogs, an’all) appear to have ventured recently. That’s got to help… hasn’t it?

As summers go, it’s not been a great one for trail running. Besides, I wanted to ensure I was doing OK on the road before venturing off it, not least from a safety perspective. But if I’m still doing this in a year’s time… who knows, maybe I should spend £35 in Decathlon. For now, the Asics did the job. Look at the state of them now… they’re hardly the shiny new things I brought home last April, eh?

Bless’em… I should probably revert to the old Nike pair I wore in Devon next time! I know these don’t look too bad, especially compared to some of the football boots I’ve brought home over the years – but you’re not meant to get your running shoes dirty! Are you?

So where does this leave me? I am certainly less confident about breaking the hour mark in Sheffield, purely because of the role of trail and of my unfamiliarity with the route. No less confident about completing the 10k: I’m running at least 10km three times a week, I’m in good shape, I can do the ‘completing’ bit. Because of that confidence, however, some of my focus has inevitably shifted to the time and last night reminded me that there is a reason why athletics, as well as Formula 1, takes place on tarmac rather than trail. Not that I feel bad about beating the hour mark looking less likely: last night simply gave me an enhanced appreciation of the importance of those two factors (to which I had referred last month anyway as the two greatest unknowns), reminding me that my regular pace is simply not fast enough to counter-balance their impact. To some extent, it kind of takes off some of the pressure I was beginning to put myself under… But it has no real impact on my plans for the
Bristol Half Marathon, which will be an all-tarmac affair. Moreover, the sad reality is that I can glean a better understanding of the route for the latter than for the Sheffield TenTenTen. When I actually run in Sheffield, I’m sure I’ll recognise every bit of it, for the race is set across parks and woodlands I know and love well… I’m just struggling to get a precise sense of it from afar. Fortunately those kind people at Kandoo Events have posted a couple of videos… hmmm… OK, yes, that seems doable. Besides, one should not underestimate the power of adrenaline. Just watching these clips has brought tears to my eyes. That’s my land, those are my people. I’m training hard, I’m watching what I eat… but, cometh the day, I am sure I can rely on the spirit of those who came before me to rise through the Sheffield soil and inspire me to do myself, and them, justice.
Whatever the terrain, on September 23 I’ll be back on the beaten track. My track. And I’ll be alreight.

Last but not least… by the time I’d got the kids to bed and had figured out that I did actually want to go running, rather than wait for this morning, it was a bit on the dark side. But fear not, my friends: for I am truly gloriously equipped for running out in the country, be it on its narrow roads or in deserted fields, even as the sun finally sets. Indeed, as per previous post, I give myself a decent shot at survival on local B-roads, too. It’s not ideal, of course: but I do make myself as hard to miss as possible. The photo below was taken in Paris, some 50 days (and seven kilos) ago. But fear not: I’m still glowing (in a mardy kind of way). And, to the best of my knowledge, not because of radiation. Either that or the radiation sometimes makes me glow orange or green.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Rewarding Nature Of Doing Less!

It’s been a good week. Clocked paces of 5’58”/km and 6’07”/km on my 12.3km early morning runs on Tuesday and Thursday, which as much as anything pleased me because they reinforced a sense of consistency established last week with paces of 6’13”, 6’09” and 6’09”. That 6’09” over 18k was, of course, particularly pleasing! Good work, Squintani… good stamina…

…but what about some speed? Never much of that around when I take to the road. So today I treated myself. I treated myself to a flat 5k: less than half my standard distance and without any of those hills that I love so much! And I truly do love them, by the way: ever since Nick told me I did, that’s been my mantra whilst running up them!

Anyway – 5.05km today in 25’58”, a pace of 5’09”/km. That is by far the fastest I’ve run since I started tackling this running malarkey that, as you know, I cannot stand. The first time I’d embarked on a proper run, after the initial walk/run training, was back on May 5, when I ran 5.2k in 34’. That was a pace of 6’32”… so every kilometre I ran today I ran in 1’23” less… over 10k, that would be twelve minutes less…

…and that’s encouraging. It’s an indication of increased fitness, lost weight but also an improved understanding about my body and how to best use it when trying to put one foot in front of the other at a slightly exaggerated pace. It’s still greatly unspectacular, in the great scheme of things, but it’s good enough for me at this point. There is both scope and time to improve, certainly ahead of the Sheffield Half Marathon on May 12. For the time being, the focus is on the SheffieldTenTenTen on September 23 and on the Bristol Half Marathon a week later. Not an ideal combination, I grant you: or, at least, not one for which it is easy to train at the same time when you’re at my level of inexperience. For the 10k, for example, it would be great to try and maintain today’s pace but increase the distance by, say, one kilometre every three days, with a view to trying to sustain it over 10k. For the Half Marathon, I need to continue improving my stamina with the 12km and 18km runs I’ve been doing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. It’s hard to balance the two: and, when having to make a choice, I now have to prioritise my plans for the Half Marathon. Because I know I can manage the 10k, even though I’d like to manage it a bit faster than currently anticipated. The Half Marathon… I’m hopeful, even confident, but it needs more work. Tautologically so.

So it felt like I did less today, because I ‘only’ ran 5k. But I went for it (by my standards!) and I felt just as tired when I got home. That’s a mindset I need to get to grips with: sometimes less really can be more. I just find it hard to accept I’m putting in a good shift when I’m ‘only’ out for half an hour. You’d have thought my injury scare and my improved performance when I reduced the number of weekly runs might have taught me something, but there’s just no hope. Not as much as one might like, anyway.

My plans for next week therefore look like a repeat of this: two good 12.2km runs on Tuesday and Thursday morning, a 5k at a decent pace on Friday and then an 18.5k long run on Sunday. Look – I’ve grown so accustomed to the expression I’ve dropped the inverted commas! Mind, those plans are subject to change: if I can hook up with Karl (more about him in a forthcoming post), I’ll do what he says. He’s fitter and wiser than I am. Wigan lad, top fella. Posted summat on Facebook about being in training for something without stating what, till I rumbled him and worked out it was the Bristol Half Marathon. I signed up later that day… though, of course, suggestions that knowing someone who’d already signed up influenced my thinking would be… well, spot on!
Anyway, forget next week: I still need to tackle this week’s long run! Took me 1h53’ last week. No real goals for this week, to be honest. Yes, I would like to improve, or at least not fall back: but I’m just going to let me legs dictate the pace. I have started wearing a watch again, not least because the heat’s long subsided so even with my levels of perspiration I can get away with the one wristband! I have so far managed to avoid memorising specific split times at certain points along my run, thereby avoiding over-analysing things in moto. But when I was coming to the end of today’s little ‘dash’ it did help to know how I’d been doing and find a little extra inside me to break 26’. If, come Sunday, that means I find a little extra for the last few kilometres… well, bonus.

I started well today. I finished well. But even today my body was unable to sustain that pace throughout, slipping to 5’49” three kilometres in (but always sub-six!). Some of that is physical, some of it mental. I will continue to work on my stamina, although part of me is contemplating converting one of my two morning 12km runs into a second 5km run – thoughts? And I will think a little more about speed, too, dedicating this Friday 5km run to it. I can’t do the whole speed drills thing: I don’t run on flat, let alone a running track, I run on country roads. That and… well, I don’t want to get cocky right now. I want to run 10k on one September Sunday and 21.0975 the following: I want to start and I want to end. Trust me, given where I was when I embarked on this journey, that will be quite some achievement. There will then be a 224-day gap to May 12th and the Sheffield Half Marathon. If all goes well in Bristol next month (and that’s a big if), I might try and get smarter (and faster) for the homecoming gig. For now, it’s still all about getting there.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

That's Another Fine Mess Tha's Got Thisen Into, Squintani!!!

I’ve only gone and done it..!

No, I’ve not signed up for the Cheddar Gorge. Seems interesting enough, but it never really bowled me over. That and the fact that Mrs S didn’t enthusiastically embrace my suggestion, meaning I’d have to get to Cheddar on my own: doable, not ideal in a 10k run context. So back to Plan A: the Sheffield at the TenTenTen will be my first race. It’s just that now I’ll be running a half marathon the following week.

You still with me?

Yes, I’ve signed up for a Half Marathon. 21.0975km, as I’ve swiftly memorised (a series of decreasing odd numbers helps). To be precise, I’ve signed up for the Bristol Half Marathon. Given that I live near Bristol and I will have already made my debut in Sheffield, it seemed logical enough – that and the fact that its 30/09 schedule is fairly convenient, all things considered…

…and by “all things”, I primarily mean its timing in relation to the 10k. A single week later sounds close, not least because it is. But what would I be doing on September 23 if I weren’t running in Sheffield? I’d probably be running 18.5km in Portishead, that’s what. Balance the shorter distance with the unknowns of a race and there probably isn’t a lot of difference… or so I hope, anyway.
See? I'm not having you on!

So – for what am I training now? A 10k? A half marathon?

Good question, I’m glad you asked it. I guess… sorry, having given the matter considerable thought, I am of the viewpoint that I am training for a half marathon. In doing so, however, I need to review the amount of speed work I do. And by that I mean increase. I had just been getting into a routine: 12.27km on Tuesdays, 12.27km on Thursdays, 18.48km on Sundays. Across all those I’ve been targeting an average of sub 6’/km, but without singling out specific speed sessions. Now, one reason for that is, quite simply, that I’ve been running on hilly routes: and I am pleased with both my 6’09”/km over 18.5km on Sundays and today’s 5’58”/km over 12.5/km. You could even suggest that, having got to a stage where I can run 18.5km, stopping not because worn out but because of impending a) darkness and b) Olympic closing ceremony, I’ve actually built up the stamina to run 21.0975km. I obviously need to maintain that, but to spend some time and effort on my speed would not be the cop-out that my mind intuitively views it at. It’s not about running as much as possible… it’s not Squintani, it’s not…

…yes but hang on, I’m enjoying my morning 12.5k runs! They get me all happy and motivated! Hmmm… I may have to introduce a fourth session, a 5k’er which is as flat as they come round here, and see how quickly I can run that… Maybe on Friday mornings? Or maybe Friday evenings? Or even Wednesday mornings? Hmmm… actually, it could be any one of those. Not Mondays, because my post-long run rest day needs to stay a rest day; not Tuesdays or Thursdays, because I’ll be running 12.5km on those morning; not Saturdays, because I want another rest day on the eve of my long run; and not Sundays, because I think 18.5km should suffice. So… this here 5k ‘dash’ could fit in on either Wednesdays or Fridays, either in the morning or in the evenings. The TV schedule and/or Mrs S may influence that call, as will the fact that a Wednesday morning would equate to three consecutive early rises… yes, and I need to get the kids up on Wednesdays if Mrs S is doing so on Tuesdays and Thursdays… don’t really want to run Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, do I? again, if Mrs S is doing Thursday morning I need to do Fridays… hmmm… Friday evening is looking good, isn’t it? And why not - a good way to get some fresh air into the old brain! Moreover, a 30’ session shouldn’t be a problem with Mrs S! I think I might just high-five myself over that one!
In fact
… hey, I WFH* on Fridays! Could even be a lunchtime session! The opportunities are endless!!!

Oh, one last thing. When I went out running on Sunday, I saw a deer. And not in the far flung distance: no, right in front of me, on the road. It’s adjoining to a forest and their presence is well known, hence the presence nearby of a sign like this. Still, you rarely see them… unless, it seems to be, they stray out of the comfort of their forest and onto the road. I was about ten metres away so, against all training plans, I stopped, both to admire it and ensure I didn’t freak it out. It seemed fairly young to the untrained eye, but already had antlers, so I was most keen to not upset it. At the third attempt it found its way back into the forest. I hope to see it (or any of its relatives) again, but, most importantly, I hope it keeps safe. Unlike the pigeon I saw this morning in the middle of the road, which was serving as breakfast for a gleeful crow. Can’t win’em all.

I’ll try and delve a bit more into why I signed up for this here Half Marathon, and how I am going to get there, soon. For now… I’ve only gone and done it!!!

* "Work From Home". You knew that, right?

Friday, 10 August 2012

The Rewarding Nature Of Gerrin’Up Early!

It’s Friday today. On Monday morning, Mrs S and The Boys headed up to visit friends in Derbyshire, returning yesterday while I was in the office. Three days of solitude for me: not a status I would want to enjoy on a regular basis, but one that, on an infrequent basis, helps me recharge, refocus and even (brace yourself, Mother)… tidy up! Three nights when I could go to bed when I wanted, without worrying about waking up anyone, and three mornings of getting up when I wanted, without worrying about being woken up by anyone. So – what did I do? Did I rave into the early hours of the morning and then sleep in till noon before stumbling over to my home office?

No, you cheeky mares! Yes, I did stay up later than usual: but that was about the Olympics and, on Wednesday evening, about finalising a document in conjunction with two colleagues till midnight. Again, not something I’d want to do daily, but there are times when you get a real buzz from the race against the clock… We were all in different parts of the country but let me tell you, this Internet thingy is great and might even take off one day! On two mornings, however, I got up earlier than usual: around an hour earlier than ‘usual’, whatever that means. On Tuesday and Thursday I got up at 6am, got dressed and… went out for a 12k run!

Shocking behaviour, Squintani. It’s one thing to get up at silly o’clock when away (e.g. Amsterdam, Paris, even just across the hill in Bristol), when you have evening commitments that will keep you off the road and don’t want to lose your rhythm. But when you’re home and with the entire evenings to yourself? OK, so the Olympics were on and were always going to take up my entire evening, but still…

…well, there was method in my madness. These here endorphins – they are cool, man! So what if I ran before going into the office – would they put me in a good mood? Would I feel all the better for knowing that, when I got home, I didn’t have to go out?

Around 8:30 on Tuesday, my lift provider (is that the right term?) pulled up. I’m not the worst morning person, by any means, and I enjoy my work: but still I’m a human, and a naturally-mardy Yorkshire one at that, so I’m not always bouncing when I get into his car. But on Tuesday…
…let’s put it this way: I answered the routine “how are you?” question with “Obnoxiously happy”. Can you stand those happy people, the ones that smile for no apparent reason? Eeh bah gum, I can’t be doing wi’that – have a word wi’thisen!
Sadly, on Tuesday I crossed over to the happy side. I came home from my run happy, not least because I was happy with my 6’13” pace over the 12.27km. Showered, broke fast… and was ready for the day ahead. I wasn’t surprised by the endorphins just after the run, but boy did they appear to hang around for most of the day…

…and the same was true yesterday. Up early, identical run (RunKeeper tracked both at exactly 12.27km), a slightly faster pace (6’09”/km). Hardly a killer pace, but over a slightly longer distance than the 10k I’m targeting and over four laps of my hilly route, with just a couple of flat kilometres halfway through, still encouraging. Again, in a nice mood as I headed into the office. And home to an empty schedule bar the Thursday pub visit… well no actually, Mrs S was back so I spent the evening at home, but then were else would you want to be when Usain Bolt’s competing in the 200m?

By the way, did you go to the Olympic Games? Sadly, I didn’t. Young kids, see. Too young to take them, trust me. Do I wish I’d been at Venue X for Event Y on Day Z? Not so much, no: there’s a lot to be said for 42” LCD screens. Do I wish I’d made it to London to take in the atmosphere?
OK, I’ll give you that one. So much so that, when I got home from the office on Tuesday, I booted up my laptop again to see if I could get to Hyde Park the following day. Yaheey, ticket for Hyde Park bought! It was actually free to enter, but £3.50 got you a “priority entry” ticket, or whatever it was called. Even by tight Yorkshire standards, that seemed to make sense: it was e-mailed to me, so time wasn’t an issue. Right, just the transport to sort out… onto the National Express site… coaches sorted, details entered, now to press the ‘book’ button…
…and that’s where the dream ended. The site had allowed me to navigate my way through and only now saw fit to tell me the outbound coach was full. Looked into the subsequent one: same process, same ending. Looked at other options (e.g. Megabus, train), but nothing was feasible. OK, I’d have got there on time by train, I was just somewhat reluctant to pay triple figures for the privilege. Cycling into Bristol for the early Megabus (which might have been full anyway) appealed, but if you’ve been around me during sports you know that there are aromatic downsides to a one-hour cycle ride which would clash pseudo-dramatically with a 2-hr+ coach journey. So I gave up. I’m not too upset, because I did at least try: besides, I’ve got my £3.50 ticket as a memento. I’ve not actually brought myself to open the e-mail yet, but it’s there – and I won’t delete it.
(It would have been great to make it on Wednesday because that’s when the Men’s Triathlon took place – in/around Hyde Park! Silly me, didn’t realise that until I started trying to get there! That may have something to do with the coaches being full, eh? I would have loved to see the Brownleebrothers bring gold and bronze back to Yorkshire – I just left it too late!)

Away from the Games, another reason for testing pre-work runs is that last Sunday’s ‘long run’ made me aware that the nights are drawing in. Oh yes they are! I was fine while I was out there, but upon coming out of the shower some ten minutes later I realised that it had suddenly got seriously dark. Not the kind of dark in which I particularly want to be running up country roads. Sure, as the months go by the mornings will get darker, too: but at least you know, as you set your feet out of the house, that it’s only going to get brighter. You are not worried about how it’s going to be in a quarter of an hour, half an hour or a lap’s time: you know it’ going to be fine. That and the roads are quieter – although to what extent that holds true is something I will have to re-evaluate once the school holidays are over.

So what next, now that Mrs S & The Boys are home? That’s a very good question, I’m delighted you asked. I want to explore getting into a routine whereby I go on a 12k morning run on Tuesday and Thursday, embarking on my ‘long run’ on Sunday evenings. I generally work from home on Tuesday, but in the evenings Mrs S goes off to Brownies at around 6pm, so I’m housebound for a couple of hours: I’ve run upon her return in the past, but that won’t work on shorter days. I generally go into the office on Thursdays, so can take my happy endorphins into the office, and Tue-Thu-Sun seems like a good schedule in terms of allowing rest. Just a thought for now and one that needs to pass muster (and Mrs S), but on paper it sounds alright. As for how it will work in reality, once there are kids that need to be got ready for and taken to school and once there are wet and cold mornings, we’ll see… but I’m optimistic.

Oh, as for Cheddar Gorge (subject of a fleeting reference at the end of my previous post) – not sure, yet. Need to sit down with Mrs S, who’s aware of the request (I e-mailed her whilst away) but has yet to appreciate the potential for it to double up as a family day out. I’m game: emotions aside, wanting to debut in Sheffield at the TenTenTen aside, I think it would be good for me to get another 10k under my belt before Endcliffe Park. Not so much for the exercise, rather for the routine, although at least in Sheffield I’ll have two of my cousins alongside me. Till the start, anyway. After that, I look forward to seeing them at the finish.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Rewarding Nature Of Doing Nowt!

When I last posted on here, on August 1, I had just returned to exercise (on the bike) having been frustratingly kept resting by a niggle. Probably an overworked stomach muscle, a muscle that had eluded my attention for the previous 36 years. Having cycled without pain on Yorkshire Day, I apprehensively put on my running shoes on August 2. I was worried I’d feel that same muscle, either because there genuinely was something wrong with it or because of a psychosomatic reaction. I do believe that problems often are in the head rather than the body, but that awareness didn’t mean I felt immune to its effects. So I walked out of the door aiming for my first 10km in eight days wondering how my stomach would react and how, for that matter, my legs would cope…

…because, let me tell you, I wasn’t looking forward to running last Thursday. I’d had a long day in the office, I was heading out to the pub around 9pm… I had to push myself a little to fit in a run. Not through shortage of time, simply through loss of rhythm. Something that I have been aware of ever since I embarked on this running malarkey: the fear that I’ll do fine whilst I keep going, but that inertia will also kick in when I’ve been resting. Inertia, in itself, has no negative connotations. Inertia means retaining a “state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force”. So, when you’ve got rhythm, inertia means you will retain it, like a disc thrown on the ice where it encounters little or no resistance. But once that disc has lost its velocity, something’s going to have to make it budge again, because it won’t generate energy by itself… As it happens, I got my backside out of the door and embarked on that 10k. With no real expectation of picking up where I’d left off in terms of timing, but relieved that the process was back on.

Well, what happened? Simple: I ran 11.42k in 1h07’13”, breaking the 6’/km barrier for the first time (5k aside) and quite comfortably so at 5’53”. To put things into perspective, my previous best pace on a run longer than 10k had been 6’25”. By not running for a week, rather than running four times a week, I had shaved 32”/km off my best time. Nothing for you to celebrate or analyse, but something I was happy with!

Some of you might be wondering what that all means, whilst others will wonder why I’m surprised, given that all the experts warn you against ‘overtraining’. What it means is simple: resting was good, it allowed me to come back at a pace which makes a sub-hour 10k realistic; it meant my legs did as I told them more than they previously had. As I train for September 23, I’m intentionally running an 11.4k route instead of finding a 10k option because it makes it more likely that there’ll be something left in the tank when I approach the final stages of the TenTenTen. Turns out resting has a larger role to play in this quest than I had figured… although I’m not annoyed about running as frequently as I have done up to now. I had plenty of kilos to shed and I’ve done so – kilos I didn’t want to be carting around with me on the hills of Portishead. Now that I’ve done that bit, I can focus more on timings. In fact, at this rate, I might even start wearing my stopwatch again!

All that said, I did attempt a 5k at lunchtime the following day. Well, it turned out to be a 5k, anyway: I set off for ten, only sixteen hours after Thursday’s effort. I realised early doors that the legs weren’t anywhere near as fresh: they were again stepping down a gear uphill, asking me to put more effort into the run, whereas less than a day earlier the stride had been more natural, my rested legs more responsive. Whereas previously I might have ground out ten kilometres, on Friday I was happy to cut proceedings short. Suddenly the bigger picture was clearer to my untrained eyes and an early finish did not feel like failure.

That was Friday afternoon. I was home alone with the kids over the weekend while Mrs S visited a friend across the Bristol Channel in Wales, looking forward to my Sunday evening long run. ‘Long’ for me, anyway: 15k or so. When I set off last night, I felt good, the way I’d felt good on Thursday. So much so, in fact, that mid-run I decided to tweak the route: instead of an even combination of four laps of the flat section from a nearby roundabout to the school and back and of four circuits of the downhill/uphill section on the other side of the roundabout, I replaced two of the flat sections with an additional ‘hilly lap’. After all, “hills are your friends”, Simon W had told me on Twitter. Now I don’t know Simon W beyond his @mazymixer account, but he tweets about running (amongst other things) so I keep an eye out for comments that may inspire me. Besides, his Twitter page does say
feel free to chat, so I (sometimes) do. Ditto with Martin Brown, only I know a bit more about him thanks to the great article he contributed to the “Yorkshire Post” last May. You don’t need to care about running to be touched by it: but if you do run, if you are in need of an extra shot of energy when running up those friendly hills, Martin’s article is a good one to carry in your mind and in your heart. Last but not least, the fourth member of this Twitter exchange was Nick Marriott, the Twitterblade to whom I turn whenever I have a specific running question. Nick’s my personal running guru. He got a mention on here as far back as May and it’s his blinking fault I have become as friendly with hills as I have…

I kept that Twitter exchange in my mind as I ran 15.59k in 1h37’11”, a pace of 6’14”/km – five seconds per kilometre better than my previous 15k’er, and that was flatter. Back in May I also wrote about the “instantaneous connection between people who have never met before yet who share such vast common ground that even some of the closest friendships cannot boast”. Now, I wouldn’t want to burden Simon, Martin or Nick with that, which I’d actually written with #Twitterblades in mind in the wake of our Wembley defeat against Martin’s Huddersfield Town (Simon’s footballing circles are far loftier), so with people whose shared experiences are more clearly defined than ‘running’. Nevertheless, on a day when all over Britain shoes were dug out of cupboards following Mo Farah’s 10,000m Olympic gold, my inspiration came from three fellas whose achievements I can relate to a teeny weeny bit better… yes, I might have run 5.6km more than Mo yesterday evening, but it did take me 70’ longer! I truly hope that the likes of Farah, Sheffield’s very own (lest the world forgets!) Jessica Ennis and all our other medallists go on to inspire future generations. But, once dreams of Olympic glory are realistically beyond you or behind you, it’s your peers who inspire you, whom you believe when they tell you that “hills are your friends”. So thanks, guys – I hope I can give a little back when you embark on your runs. Hey, I’m a novice here: no marathons on my CV. I don’t even have a CV! All I have is a registration to a 10k in a month and a half’s time, and some hope of one in a month’s time if Mrs S agrees to drive me down to Cheddar Gorge*. But I’m working on it… not to follow in Mo’s footsteps, but to follow in yours and in the millions of folk like you who enjoy their running and sharing their experiences… we’ll leave Mo be and happily settle for that.

*ooops… did I really admit that on the worldwide web? no no no, of course there will be no races before Sheffield!