Training goals? What next…

So the end of January has already passed (how fast???!) and there are races being advertised left right and centre.  How do you pick which ones?  How to do you train accordingly for one but rest appropriately for another?  I’ve set myself one primary goal for 2018 and that is to run a half marathon.  I’ve picked the English Half Marathon in Warrington which is scheduled for mid September and I’m trying to look ahead and increase my mileage very gradually so that I can hopefully get to September injury free and fit enough to “enjoy” my first official 13 miler.  The thing is that many Sunday’s are littered with cross country (still just about a long run for me) and then there are 10k races that I’ve entered so really it’s not always possible to fit in the training runs that I need.

Here is my process though for picking events. I ask myself the following:

  1.   How much does it cost?  I’m pretty poor so cheap is good
  2.   What do I get?  I’m a fan of a good tech t-shirt myself
  3.   Will I get a pb?  I’m still at that stage where I’m getting pbs every couple of months so flat courses are a bonus
  4.   Will I have loads of support?  I love taking part along with a whole bunch of other NRC runners
  5.   Is it near enough to not need an over night stay?  I love running but not enough to keep ditching my kid over night.

So what is a girl to do?  Do I need to do a “long run” every week or is one or two a month enough to gradually build up ready for the big one?  I’m finding it really hard to navigate the conflicting advice.  I expect there will be weeks when I work hard and increase my efforts and feel sore after.  But, when is it time to take it easy and rest and when is it time to ignore the aches and push on?  When is an ache a niggle and when is a niggle an injury?  Where do we draw the line between a bit of arthritis masked by ibuprofen and a potential long term injury?

I’ve been exceptionally lucky this last year, I haven’t really had an injury to speak of, I narrowly escaped an ankle disaster with a light twist that was fine after a few days of rest.

I’m keen to know, how do you pick your races?  How do you prepare in the run up to a race?  How do you define a “long run”?  I’d love some feedback…

One of my priority runs this year will be the Northwich Festival of Running 10k in July.  My first every 10k last year it was a tough trail with some serious ups and downs for a fatty who’d previously never exceeded 6.5km!  To add to the challenge the weather was scorching and I’m not sure how I managed to get round but the support was incredible, the marshalling and organisation were to notch.  I love the medal I came home with and I’m sure it will be a favourite for years to come.  The event is run in collaboration with local children’s cancer charity, The Joshua Tree and offers a 5k race, 10k race and 2k fun run.  You can actually enter all three as they are held one after the other throughout the day!  It took me 1:38 to get round last time (yes that’s an hour and 38 minutes) and I’ve already shaved 20 mins off that 10k time although I doubt it would be considered a pb course.

If you are interested in taking part this year you can enter at http://northwichrunningclub.niftyentries.com/Festival-of-Running-2018 I hope to see many of you there, it really is a great event and of course raises money for a fantastic charity.

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I didn’t come last!!!

And the Bog of Doom didn’t defeat me…

Sorry it’s taken so long to process my thoughts, it’s been a busy week washing running gear and trying to get rid of mud from under my toe nails!  Photography credit to Ian Scouler of Northwich Running Club, we hate to admit but we love the shots of ourselves looking ridiculous 😀

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The Northwest Cross Country League took us to the delightful Croxteth Hall for Round 5 of 6.  Personally I loved the course, there I said it, I loved it, I really did!  The course was pretty flat although this was not my reason for preferring it, the mud was sloppy and slippy but not sticky.  The puddles were deep and dirty but not nearly the same hindrance as the sticky stuff at Runcorn.  I set off at the start of this round with rather less confidence but no less determined to finish.  Perhaps the somewhat warmer weather made it easier or possibly the lack of clay, who knows?  The Course consisted of 2 laps of a mixture of field and woodland including the deepest puddle, AKA the bog of doom (as photographed above).  I should explain that I was holding my hands up in fear of getting my watch wet.  If I find myself having to replace it I shall be investing in a waterproof one!

As per usual the NRC team were exceptional, Tiffany leading our ladies home and Chris not only leading our gents home the day after finishing 4th in the Warrington 5 miler (more about that event later) but then darting about checking on us slowies!  A-ha!  Plural for slow runners!  Indeed, because making her debut appearance in an NRC shirt was our Vikki.  Only recently out of couch to 5k Vikki has been un-stoppable.  She has goals set for herself through the year but none of these involved cross country.  As a valued club member she agreed to tag along and support the team at Croxteth but was cajoled into joining in the fun en-route to the venue.  I must apologise as we didn’t realise we should have asked permission in advance but there we were with a new recruit raring to go!

Vikki and I had agreed to run together and were blessed with the company of Jay from Liverpool running club (sorry if I’ve got that wrong) our tail runner for the day.  Jay was lovely, super supportive from the start, I knew Vikki was in safe hands if I was able to find my own pace and go a bit quicker (shocker I actually was by a fair bit).  So off I went on another solo jaunt hoping not to fall too far behind the back of the rest of the field and maybe even catch someone up.  Alas, I could see a few not far away but I didn’t manage to catch up with anyone (there is still a round left so who knows) but I was thrilled to get round without feeling like I might die.

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I was a fair bit further round than usual when our Chris finally caught up with me (after already finishing the race and finding his hat) so satisfied I was ok off he shot to find Vikki and offer her his support, once satisfied she was in good hands he returned to give me some much needed encouragement and actually get me to push myself a little harder on the last stretch.  I must admit, in hindsight I don’t think I put 100% effort into the course, saving myself expecting a much tougher experience I kept a bit in reserve that I actually might have been able to use to catch up those in front.  I’m still learning to pace myself and getting it wrong plenty!

I can’t believe I actually enjoyed this round, the people were marvellous, my team always encourage me when they lap me and our neighbours, Delamere Spartans have shown fantastic support also, I think every one that lapped me gave me words of encouragement, thanks chaps!

I can’t wait for the next and final round of this season.  Not just because I’ll be glad it’s over but because I really hope than by next season I’ll have managed a summer of training and healthy eating and instead of being that persistent fatty at the back I’ll be in the mix (probably sill near the back) but a bit less lonely and a bit less conspicuous.  I also really hope more average folks like me give it a try.  Mud, water, fresh air, it’s all good fun.  It seems horrid but despite the hateful conditions there is a weird enjoyment that comes from this sport and it’s not just for the crazy elites, you can actually enjoy being a bit rubbish at it too!  Not many of our club have managed every round this season so despite not contributing points I have at least won myself a place in that crazy elite squad haha see you all at Birchwood eek!

NRC visits Congleton Parkrun

27066941_10156357542522214_958784350334787037_nLast weekend, 15 of our fabulous Parkrun lovers (including me) set off to Congleton’s Astbury Mere.  A really lovely venue for a Parkrun despite the course requiring 3 and a bit laps (not everyone’s cup of tea).  This would be the second time we’ve planned to tour Congleton but ice scuppered our first attempt as the Run Director had to cancel due to ice making the course too unsafe.  A fantastic, clearly delivered run briefing explained it was a nat’s whisker from being cancelled again as there was ice on the path.  Runners were asked to take it easy at least for the first lap and cones cordoned off the particularly slippy sections using muddy grass instead.  It’s a great team running a very well organised Parkrun so no wonder 284 turned out despite the chilly start!

It is a flat course notorious for fast times although the path is narrow so don’t expect a blazing start unless you start from the very front.  Several of our club have found it a great pb venue so with this in mind I was aiming for a pb.  Lucky for me one of our fantastic club runners, David, had offered to pace me for the full distance and boy was I grateful.  Making the leap from 12 to 11 min miles hasn’t been the easiest transition.  I’ve become very comfortable with 12 min mile “chatting pace” and it has taken some time and effort to learn to push myself just a little bit beyond that and know that I can sustain a slightly more challenging pace.  I suppose with more practice this new quicker pace will, in time, become my new chatting pace, but for now, it’s almost tempo running for me!  So with Dave’s help, which I would describe as unobtrusive constructive pointers with gentle encouragement, I managed splits of 11:04, 11:12, and 11:20 which given the nature of the day – cold and slippy I went home very happy with.  I’m starting to think I might benefit from a bit more of a warm up although I’ve been reluctant in the past to “waste valuable energy”.  It seemed much easier at time trail having done 0.7km at chatting pace before the timed lap.  More experimentation required!

Anyway, less about me for a change and more about Congleton!  As I’ve mentioned the Parkrun is held at Astbury Mere.  It’s a very pretty venue and I’m sure stunning on a sunny day.  There is a small cafe with toilets accessible from outside which were open well before 09:00hrs.  They are clean and well stocked with loo roll so ladies needn’t be worried about their pre-run wee!  The course is very straight forward, 3 laps of the lake path plus 100m or so to the finish.  The course is pan flat, I honestly couldn’t detect a gradient even on lap 3 but maybe I was just too focused on keeping my pace going?  The path is firm and smooth but narrow and prone to ice in the colder months.  I would say the course is suitable for buggy runners BUT beware there is little space for passing other runners along most of the route.

I certainly look forward to visiting Congleton Parkrun again in the summer as I’m sure it will be a great place for another pb but with so many venues on the “to visit” list it may have to wait a while!  Right now we have plans to visit:  Croxteth Hall, Cheadle Hulme, Worsley Woods, Bushey Park (VLM weekend should be fun) Erddig and Watergrove.  If you have any thoughts and/or suggestions for “must visit” destinations please comment in the comments below!

 

Listening to advice pays off…

So as you can gather, I get a lot of guidance, advice and support from my club (Northwich Running Club (NRC)).  I’ve become fairly well known through my cross country efforts and supporting the new intake of c25k guys (who are all running really well now btw).  I’m fortunate that experienced runners have regularly taken the time to pace me, keep me company finishing races AND talked to me about how to improve my running.  It would be easy to dismiss the 12 min mile 7k runner as not in serious need of training guidance.  After all, if you just keep turning up to club and putting in the miles you will improve over time.  But, I’ve found it’s easy to clock up empty miles, too many miles and not make a significant improvement in any given area.  Well not entirely true, I’ve improved my distance but I run the same pace if I’m doing 4k or 10k!

When I got to the point where I could reasonably comfortably run 10k and feel like I could have carried on, but for the 100m sprint at the end, I realised I should be able to run 5k at a faster pace.  The problem I had was I had become too well trained in running at what I call  “chatting pace”.  I had become so focused on maintaining a sustainable pace that wouldn’t burn me out I panicked every time I tried to push myself to go a bit quicker.  I didn’t know how to make the right changes.  I had read about tempo intervals and various other interval training for increasing pace but hadn’t properly understood what “tempo pace” actually was.  Luckily for me our chief (Alan) lead us on a very icy run and noticing I was finding the run less challenging than some of our other runners (I’m just less afraid of falling and hurting myself because I’m stupid) he encouraged me to throw in some tempo intervals.  He explained what tempo pace means (I would define this as a bit faster than you find comfortable, breathing hard but still able to speak some words but not full sentences – correct me in the comments if you think that’s incorrect).  He helped me find my tempo pace by gradually increasing my pace and then holding it until we got to the next hill.  Then we did this again later, until we got to the trees.

I felt great for finally finding a pace that I could push myself to for short intervals and recover from while still running and not having to walk (or collapse in a heap).  Since then I’ve tried to incorporate them into most of my running weather at Parkrun or club runs, where appropriate.  It’s been about a month and my pace has gradually improved.  I’ve also got used to running at a heavier breathing pace which has allowed me to find more of a “race pace” for shorter distances.  I’ve taken my club time trial (3k) pace from 12 min miles to 11 min miles and I almost managed it for 5km at Congleton Parkrun despite the ice and mud we had to contend with.  Granted I wouldn’t have managed to sustain the pace I ran at, without the support of Dave, another of our club’s unsung heroes, but the point is that with just a little bit of knowledge and guidance I’ve managed to make an improvement of 8% to my pace!

So here’s the thing.  Even if you think you are “just” one of those slow runners who enjoys the company of a club run but isn’t very competitive.  If you want to make some improvements (8% takes you from 37:30 to 34:30 over 5km) ask your coaches and run leaders for advice.  If they are half as good as our guys they will be over the moon to help you out!

In less than I week I’ve busted out the following pbs:

1 Mile:  10:49 (15 seconds off)

Time trial (3km):  20:40 (2:20 shaved off)

Parkrun (5km):  35:25 ( 34:55 according to strava – 1:12 shaved off)

I’ve joined Slimming World (again) with the determined intention of shifting some off this lard.  I’m pretty confident that lighter should mean faster, so watch this space and lets see if I can smash these pbs by this time next month!

Cross Country Conundrum…

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Round 4 of the Northwest Cross Country League took us to Runcorn.  Despite it’s huge urban sprawl and very industrial heritage, Runcorn hides a huge green space that goes by the name of Town Fields Park.  Mostly grassy with some woodland areas the park is fairly flat with the exception of a steep slope which backs onto the infamous dry ski slope.  Of course in true cross country (xc) style the organisers included the steep slope and made full use of every available gradient within the park to create a course that spans 2.5 miles.  Runners complete 2 laps of the gruelling course (if they can) in order to collect a finish token for their team.

Some of the competing runners are, in my humble opinion, incredible.  Completing both laps before the end of my first I never cease to be amazed by what these crazy folks can do!  On top of this the support given to weaker runners is unwavering.  This is my fourth xc and my fourth finishing last.  While I am proud of myself for jumping so far outside my comfort zone I can’t help but feel some embarrassment for my tubby figure and lack of athleticism.  Seemingly though, all anyone else sees is another “athlete” forcing herself to endure this cold, wet, agonising, muscle draining activity for…  FUN???  It matters not how good or bad at it you are, it’s sodding hard.  I mean really hard.  I have yet to meet anyone who claims it’s easy.  You see, the better you get the faster you run and it’s just always hard because you’re always pushing yourself to your limit.  Of course for me I have to endure this self imposed torture for twice as long (incentive to lose weight and get fitter if ever there was one) and there is a bizarre respect for that.

Being as Runcorn is the nearest round to my home, I managed to persuade my dad to bring my son to support the event.  I think it’s great for kids to see you do stuff that you’re not very good at.  It shows them it’s okay to have a go and fail or not be fantastic and it also shows that if you stick at something you will get better at it.  I believe it’s a great life lesson and I’m cool with my son knowing there is stuff I’m awesome at AND stuff I’m truly rubbish at.  I want him to see that you can get enjoyment from an activity despite your own potential lack of ability.  I do believe it’s all about winning but sometimes winning is just getting to the start line!

The thing is, my parents have a view that you should enter a race when and only when you’ve demonstrated you are of a suitable standard to at least keep up with the back of your peer group.  My peer group (5-10k 12 min mile – fun road runners) generally don’t enter xc.  So I am keeping up with my peer group.  Sadly, the rest of the buggers are at home.  The comment was made “Have you thought maybe you shouldn’t be doing xc if you’re finishing so far behind everyone else?”.  The point was made, in part, out of concern for all the fabulous volunteers and organisers who have to wait for me to get round in order to pack up and get a cup of tea.  I cost them an extra 10-20 mins of standing in the cold.  I do feel bad about this but I also see their enthusiasm and hear their cheers as motivation to carry on.  Am I being selfish?  Am I secretly an embarrassment to my running club?

Doubt started to creep into my head so I posted on our club facebook page asking what everyone else thought.  I’m pretty overwhelmed (AGAIN) at the response!  My club (Northwich Running Club) has been very clear.  They will be most disappointed if I give up.  I’m a source of pride and inspiration and I’m to keep going.  Well it would be rude not to right?

I’m not going to lie.  Watching video of me waddling along and seeing images of my bulk does not fill me with happiness.  I do not feel comfortable AT ALL but I know if I keep racking up 30km a week and think about what I’m eating MOST of the time I will shrink and I will get fitter and stronger and actually most people now see me as a person who tries.  Not a person who is sat on her fat bum feeling sorry for herself like I did at one time.  In fairness to myself I was poorly and in pain but now I feel ten times stronger than ever and I’m even more determined to see out this season of xc looking forward to not being last maybe next year.  If like me you want to get better at running come and try xc.  Don’t wait until you’re ready, you probably never will be but do xc to get ready.  It’s a full body workout and although you’ll be slower than on the road (I reckon I’m getting on for 3 mins a mile slower at xc) you’ll build strength and character and be a stronger runner as a consequence!

One last thing (I know it’s a rambling post) I need to give another massive thanks to all my supporters.  Chris who has again run a whole extra lap with me, Ian and Mike who came back and ran up the last hill with me, all the folks calling out my name on their way past me and from the sidelines and also the person who is always everyone’s supporter but I forget to mention specifically, Alan.  Our club chief has been a huge support and mentor the last couple of months.  Sometimes we don’t want to hear it how it is but we need to.  Alan has encouraged me to challenge myself, be more focused on what running I do without getting carried away and doing too much.  It’s easy to get carried away and injure ourselves and it’s not always easy to know what to increase or push.  I’m really grateful for the constructive advice and sometimes kick up the back side occasionally.  It would be quite easy to keep running at the same pace and distance and then moan about lack of progress.  Sometimes we need someone to say actually, you need to start trying a bit harder.  Thanks Alan, you’ve listened to me moan about a bunch of stuff but you’ve listened and given me constructive advice.  It is hugely appreciated even when I forget to say so.  Thanks everyone else who’s had my back too, I’m enjoying my rest day but I’ll enjoy our fartlek session tomorrow even more!

If you fancy watching a very rough video of the xc course check out my go pro footage at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPyAr7sBo1k&feature=youtu.be

NRC hits Warrington!!!

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An all time record for Warrington Parkrun this Saturday with 539 finishers having a barcode scanned (no doubt there will be more who choose to keep their times and names anonymous).  Northwich Running Club contributed a staggering 41 of those runners having scheduled a tourist trip to our Neighbours just up the A49.

A few things about Warrington Parkrun (IMHO)…  The parkrun is situated within Victoria Park and utilises part of the Trans Pennine Trail.  It’s a pretty darn flat out and back course, using a loop round a football pitch and woodland path to turn back onto the return leg.  It’s well staffed by a friendly crew who provide tea and biscuits at the end.  Parking is ample and toilets are (ok not the BEST but) sufficient for your pre-run needs.  This being my second visit I’m happy to report that for a such a busy parkrun the support was mega and I’m keen to return and have a bash at a pb.  I reckon that as long as you account for a bit of traffic at the start (500 people it’s to be expected) then it’s ripe for a good time.

This week wasn’t about a pb for me, it was about returning some of the support I’ve received and helping one of our newer runners, Vikki, to achieve a new milestone pb.  Saving my legs for tomorrows, eek gulp, cross country was the goal so a steady 40 min parkrun was perfect for me too.  I’m proud to say Vikki smashed it!  Two minutes taken off her previous pb taking her just inside 40 mins is a fantastic achievement and I’m sure there is more where that came from!  Kudos to our veteran David who finished 5th overall and 1st in age category.  Notable performances also from Les and Mike who should probably be saving their legs for tomorrow!  It was great to see some of our newer runners venturing out on our crazy tourist Jaunts and fingers crossed this will be the beginning of many more to come!

 

Hanley Parkrun and new achievements!

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With ten club members making the trip to Hanley it was a great club vibe.  A few of our guys are running in the Wirral Way Half Marathon tomorrow so they were “taking it easy” in their terms while some were going for quick times and some (myself) were aiming to chug round at chatting pace working on a bit of mileage increase this month and needing to remember how to run at a steady pace.

Hanley park is a lovely venue.  There is seemingly a substantial amount of renovation work being carried out thanks to some lottery funding and despite the toilets being less than the best right now it at least ticked off all the boxes for what we needed.  Parking at the park itself is limited but just round the corner at Staffordshire University there is ample space for more than all 400+ runners!  The team at Hanley are fab, they know it’s a complicated course with some tough uphill sections and they are enthusiastic and well organised.  A really clear briefing at the start meant we were almost clear on where to go and how many laps of the various loops we needed to complete.  The course is well marked out and the marshals are great at making sure everyone is going the right way and of course digging deep up those sodding hills!  If there is one thing to moan about it would be finding the bar code scanners at the end.  They were hidden in a crowd of finished runners and in my post run haze I had a job to find one but it wasn’t an insurmountable problem, just might have been easier if they’d been to one side at the end of the funnel as usual or maybe wearing a flag in the crowd but hey…

If you like a cup of tea after your run you’ll like this one.  Just round the corner from the Park is a lovely church hall offering tea, coffee and toast.  Reasonable 50p donation for the drinks and all served by a lovely lot.

I’m trying to increase my mileage without damaging myself this month so I decided to aim for a steady 12 min mile pace which in fairness would have been a pb not long ago but has now become a fairly easy chatting pace.  The plan was to try to stick to a consistent pace regardless of gradient and finish with a feeling of “could carry on”.  Sarah and I smashed it without having to set a watch to bleep and the double bonus was my legs feeling less sore after the run than before.  I’ve actually experienced an effective recovery run!!!  It might sound silly but being able to run 5k slower than my normal pace without having to walk (because I can actually run fast enough to have a slower pace that is still running whoop whoop) is actually an achievement in itself.  I feel raring to go for tomorrow’s run.  I might even make it my first “long” one!

To finish a Parkrun in just over 38 mins might not sound like a great achievement but for me to finish in 38 mins and feel like I could run the distance again is a huge step in the right direction.  It’s a massive confidence boost and I’m looking forward to pacing my club buddy next week to get her pb while I take it easy ready for cross country part 4.

If you have any questions about Hanely parkrun stick them in the comments below.  Also if you want to recommend a top Parkrun for tourists add that in the comments along with your reasons why we should go!