My training runs

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Me and my big mouth!

Miles run over 2 weeks 43

How many times have you talked about something that you don’t want to happen and then it happens?  You tempt fate and then – BAM! It smacks you in the face. 

Well, no sooner had I blogged my last post about what every runner dreads ‘the danger zone’ and I go down with a horrendous cold with complimentary hacking cough.  I normally sail through sniffles but not this time.  Maybe it was because my body was too busy mending sore muscles that it didn’t have enough umph to see off those pesky cold bugs that had wangled their way into my body.  I felt awful so I didn’t run for a week. I hoped that by doing that, it would allow my body to attack the cold and get rid of it. 

The first run back was a 10 mile road race.  It was my birthday too, although I didn’t tell anyone. I had no nerves whatsoever as I just wanted to finish it, even if that meant walking.  I thought I’d be coughing from the off, but didn’t.  My throat burned at first and I could feel my chest wheezing a bit, but I didn’t feel ill.  My legs were very wobbly though.  I didn’t have much energy, but I just kept telling myself to go nice and easy.  I took my mind off everything by counting squashed frogs.  Not the nicest distraction, but the route was alongside the river Avon and it was mating time for frogs.  They had to cross the road to get to the river to spawn. I counted 29 that didn’t make it to the river, but instead made it to the great spawning ground in the sky.

I used a runner in front as a pacer from about five miles. She knew I was there because when we got to the hills, my wheezy chest meant I huffed and puffed to get up them. When we got to nine miles, I came alongside her. I felt obliged not to pass her as she’d done all the work and I’d just followed.  It wouldn’t be fair would it?  I was just about to open my mouth to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to overtake you’, when my competitive side kicked in.  Isn’t this what all these months of training had been all about?  Being able to finish strong? To keep going when the going got tough? Find those inner reserves when you needed them? Damn right it was!  So, head bowed, eyes to the floor I went passed her apologetically. I quite expected her to overtake me again, but it didn’t happen.  The last 400 metres were dire.  I dug deep.  I pumped my arms. I wheezed (not breezed) to the finish and fought for air when I stopped.  One of the marshalls rushed over to make sure I was OK as I was bent over double and went as white as a sheet, but after catching my breath, I was fine.

I ran a respectable 1.32 but I was shattered at the end.  And then the coughing started. It went on. And on. And on.  I could’ve hired myself out as a guard dog that night as my cough became a bark.

On the way back to the changing hall, I saw what would’ve been a fantastic birthday present.  What do you think?
My ideal birthday present

The next day, I went back up to the running club to do the normal ‘fast’ five miles.  I’d decided to give it a go, see how I got on.  I was going OK until around four miles. And then that niggle came back in my left calf.  It got tighter and tighter and as I cursed under my breath. I knew I’d have to ease off or risk it twanging. I hobbled back and did all the lower calf stretches I knew.  It was really quite painful.  Now what do I do? The marathon was four weeks and my leg hurt like hell. In the words of Dasterdly and Muttley, ‘Drat and double drat!’

The next day, my leg was as stiff as a rock and very painful to walk on. I rang the masseur who I’d booked to have a post marathon massage with.  I explained the problem:  marathon in four weeks, leg knackered! Could she help me?  I was relieved when she said she was almost sure she could and she could see me that afternoon.  Luckily I was able to get a couple of hours off work and went along. After prodding and pressing, she explained what the pain was.  As I’d increased my mileage, my body started building more muscle.  It does this by growing fibres and one of these had torn and the others had clamped over it to protect it.  That equaled pain. She pummeled my calf (there’s no other word for it) for an hour while I winced, stifled wails of agony and bit my lip.  She told me it would be sore but I was OK to run on it the next day. But she warned me – if you get stabby pains when you run, stop.

The next morning it felt like someone had used my calf as a punch bag.  I quite expected it to be black and blue as t felt bruised., But it definitely felt easier, not so tight.  So I decided to run that night. When I started running the discomfort started to grow from about mile five so at six, so I had no choice but to walk the next two miles back to the club.  I wanted to be safe not sorry.

My next run was going to be two days later and it was supposed to be my longest before the marathon - 22 miles.  When I got up that day, my calf didn’t feel too bad.  I made sure I did some dynamic stretches and had my partner on standby to pick me up.  When I first set off, it was fine, but then, as I expected, the discomfort started coming back.  At 11 miles, I was very close to making that call to be picked up as the pain had changed.  It was more like a soreness than an ache. What to do? I’d brought some Nurofen with me, but if I took them and the pain got worse, I wouldn’t know so decided against them. I thought about everything I’d read and remembered reading that all runners have niggling pains, which they run through.  So, as it wasn’t a stabby pain, I thought I’d carry on for a bit longer. The soreness did go, but the old tightness came back, but not as bad as before.  I was so thirsty though, which is a huge ‘no-no’ for runners.  I had been drinking my half water, half sports mix, but it wasn’t quenching my thirst.  So with the combination of a tight calf muscle and thirst, I decided not to do the full 22 but cut it to 20 miles which was much further than I honestly thought I’d manage when I set off. My last mile wasn’t a jog or a run, but a shuffle.

When I finished, I was close to tears.  I’m not sure if it was in frustration or the fact that I was so tired and my leg was so sore. It hurt to stretch. It hurt to walk. It hurt. I lay out on the grass and stretched my buttocks – even they hurt!  I was enjoying the warm sun on my face and the stretch when the next door neighbour turned up in a car!  I couldn’t get up quickly to save my embarrassment. Instead I rolled onto my tum, then up on my knees, one by one before finally pushing myself up off the grass making lots of old woman grunting noises. Then I staggered to the wall.  It was at that point I wondered who the heck said running was good for you! I vowed at that moment in time to only ever run a marathon once.  Once! But I said that about babies.

I’ve reached the peak of my training runs – it’s all downhill from now on. The magical taper.  The next time I run that far will be on marathon day, Sunday 10 April.  Three weeks’ time!

And just as a reminder of that fact, my race pack was waiting for me when I got home. My race number stared back at me – 3487. There's no hiding from it now.

I’ll do one more post before the race and then one after.  So, stayed tuned and keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep my mouth firmly shut until then.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Highway to the danger zone

Miles run this week 32

In five weeks’ time, I’ll have either finished the Brighton Marathon or will be limping my way towards the finish line.

And it’s at this time when the mileage is really ramping up that runners dread getting an injury.  The body starts to rebel against the demands you’re putting on it. Muscles buried deep inside make themselves known as every sinew plays its part in your training. Your body becomes a schizophrenic with your body and mind fighting against one another.

This week I felt tired for the first time.  On Monday, as soon as I started my five mile run, I knew it was going to be tough.  My legs felt sapped of energy from the off. My mind stepped in and said ‘keep going – it’ll pass’.  But it didn’t.  It was an effort to keep up with the others.  So much for a tempo run.  I ended up keeping a newish runner company at the back and even she was running stronger than me.  I tried to keep the negative thoughts at bay, the ones saying ‘How are you going to run 26 miles in a few weeks’ time when you feel like this running five?’

Experience told me not to get disheartened – all runners have bad days. And sure enough, when I ran on Wednesday, I felt back to normal which was a big relief. When I thought about it, I’d been sneezing for a few days and with a cold in the household, I’d probably picked it up – I just didn’t know it at the time.  Surround by tissues while typing this up on Sunday, that cold has broken, complete with sore throat.  Better to get it now than on 10 April.

Yesterday I ran almost 18 miles. With the weather warming up recently, I didn’t bother with leg warmers as I thought I’d get too hot. I wore my hat and gloves and stuffed my snood into Alan’s rucksack, just in case I got cold towards the end. Funnily enough, you may have heard all the press about footballers wearing snoods as a fashion item. I don’t think they’re necessarily wearing them as a fashion item; they may be wearing  them to keep warm like I do.  A physio told me a couple of years ago that wearing a scarf (or snood) keeps you warmer than a hat. The footballers wearing them look like they’re from warmer climes, so couldn’t they be doing the same?

Anyway, I arrived at Sandra and Alan’s at nine and was told today’s route was a ‘bit of a long uphill drag’. Oh joy. (See graph of the hills below, which cut off at mile 13 for some reason)
Saturday's hills in full glory

Neither Sandra or I know where we’re going on our long runs. We just follow Alan on his bike. We’d been going about half an hour when Alan got a puncture, so he stopped and we carried on after he shouted to turn left at the top of the hill.  The hill was the ‘long uphill drag’ and went on for about a mile. We turned left at the top and enjoyed the next downhill which then turned into a bit of a switchback.  Sandra reminisced about doing the same run two years’ ago when the same road was covered in ice, making it almost impossible to get up the hills.

We carried on running and came to a fork in the road.  With no sign of Alan and no clue of the route, we had a guess and took the right fork.  The further we got, the more we thought it looked more like a lane than a road.  So, I got my iPhone and opened up Google maps.  All Sandra knew was we had to pass The Cricketers in Tangley. I didn’t even know where that was so I couldn’t help.  Google maps showed we had taken the wrong route so we backtracked.  Had Alan passed the end of the lane while we were up it?  No way of knowing.  We ran on and saw a sign for The Fox at Tangley (fantastic Thai food if you’re ever in the area) which made Sandra think we’d definitely gone the wrong way.  Like most of us, we don’t memorise phone numbers anymore – we just rely on our mobiles. She didn’t know Alan’s number off the top of her head and I hadn’t got it in my phone.  Now what? We were out in the sticks and hadn’t a clue which way we should go. Then, as if the fairy of the forest had waved her magic wand, another runner came over the brow of the hill.  He turned out to be a friend of a friend.  Of course he didn’t recognise me as the person stood in front of him was stipped of make-up and had her hair hidden under a hat.  He’d only met me once and I had make up on then.  When I told him who I was, I could see him trying to match the runner before him with the person he’d met before.  I’m not convinced he managed it!

But, the good news was he knew where The Cricketers was and he’d take us too it.  Result.  We found out he was on a training run too as he was running the Edinburgh marathon this year in May. After chit chatting for about half a mile, he turned off and went on his way and we on ours. Although I didn’t recognise the road, I knew we were going in the right direction.

We ran on and had decided we’d make up the rest of the run if Alan didn’t turn up, but not long after that, he did. His puncture had taken him a lot longer to mend as he hadn’t brought his glasses with him (who would?) and he couldn’t find the hole in the inner tube.  The first thing we did was grab our drinks and had a guzzle.

So far the route had been a bit of a switchback, up and down hills and at half way (9 miles) I felt fine.  It’s scary how quickly things can change when you run.  At 13 miles, my left calf started to whisper in my ear: ‘Hello up there. I’m feeling very tight. I’m going to ache a bit so you hear me.’ I heard it loud and clear. Memories of a calf pull came flooding back where I’d ignored the ache, which ended with the muscle literally twanging into a spasm.  It put me out of running for about a month and I didn’t want that to happen now so close to Brighton. I tried running so that my heel hit the floor first to try and stretch it out.  That didn’t make the ache go so I had to stop and stretch it. That eased it a bit, but not much.  I cursed myself for not wearing legwarmers.  I didn’t realise how icy the wind was when I left the house and I’m convinced that, along with the hills, this caused my calf to hurt.  Then I had a brainwave.  I grabbed my snood out of the rucksack and wound it around my calf under my running tights.  It looked like I had a deformed leg, but what the heck.  I set off again tentatively but it seemed to do the trick and kept my calf warm. 

For the rest of the run, I knew that I was on the edge of injury. The place all runners dread: the injury danger zone.  My muscle could spasm at any moment. Should I stop and walk the final five miles, which would mess up my training and possibly Sandra’s if she felt she had to walk too? Or would that be worse than to keep the muscle moving? I decided to keep going but felt the soreness in my calf in every step. Would it be the next one when my muscle finally gave up the ghost?

Thankfully, it didn’t happen.  I managed to limp home with everything still intact. Very sore, but untwanged.

Once I got home, I got in a hot bath and felt the tension disappear from my leg.  Then, with no one home to massage my calves for me, I put a massage pad on them. When you think ‘massage’, you normally think ‘pleasure’.  That’s not the case when you massage a sore muscle.  It’s down right painful.  I grimaced through the whole 15 minutes of ‘pleasure’.

So, from now on, I’m going to be wearing those leg warmers even if the weather looks to be tropical.  Or I may get a pair of those sexy (?) running socks that Paula Radcliffe wears.  Those see-through white ones, or how about black? Yes, I know I’ll look daft, but I’d feel even dafter to get this far and then relent to the highway danger zone.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The good, the bad and the darn right ugly!

Miles run this week:  33
I’m going to skip ‘highlight of the week’ because there’s only one story here – the Bramley 20 mile road race. My longest run in my life. Ever. Oh boy.  Where to start?  Let’s start with the history I’d heard about Bramley a couple of years ago, when my brain was closed to any thought of running a marathon. You’ll have seen my friend Sandra in an earlier blog.  She told me of the nightmare that is Bramley when she trained for the London marathon in 2009. She told me how hard it was to start the second loop when the people who were running the 10 mile route were finishing around you.  She told me about the hill at mile 8 and 18. How she couldn’t remember the last few miles as they were so traumatic. How she cried at the end.  And she’s a tough Scottish cookie (or should that be oatcake?) who I see, on a weekly basis, keep on going when I’m gasping for air behind her.

So you’ll believe me when I say my hands were trembling slightly when I put my application for the run in the postbox back in December. I even more scared when I got the information through showing that there were in fact two hills, not one, at miles 6 and 8 then 16 and 18. And the wording on the on the race profile said ‘not precisely to scale’. Gulp. You can see the diagrams below of the route profile from the race information I was sent. How many hills can you see?  Now look at the race profile from my iPhone app. Notice any differences? For the record, there are four hills that you 'feel'.  The longest one is at six miles (then 16), but the steepest is at 8 (then18) with a couple of smaller ones after that. Believe me, you feel every ant hill after 15 miles.
The official race profile
My miCoach iPhone app race profile
I was nervous, but not as bad as usual, which is surprising given this would be the longest distance I’d ever run.  I just kept telling myself that all I needed to do was finish, no matter how long it took me. The weather was ideal: no wind, about 6 degrees and damp, but not raining. We met up with the other Andover Roadrunners and stood chatting for about an hour and a half in a school hall where the air was thick with the smell of Deep Heat or muscle rub. Our watering eyes took our minds off the waiting.  And then there were the loos.  If I said ‘holes in the ground with a screen’ that would just about describe them.  There’s no getting away from it - they whiffed. And you always want to squeeze that last drop out, so you end up braving them at least twice. After no time at all, it was time to line up at the start. By then I just wanted to get it over with. Live the nightmare then go home to a lovely chicken casserole simmering away in the oven after a nice hot soak. I did ask myself more than once why was I doing this?  Why?
About 50m from the start.  Notice all the smiling faces!
Sandra and I agreed to stay together for the first 10 miles and after that do our own thing.  So, off we went at a nice steady pace.  I took in what I could see of the lovely countryside as most of the hedges were taller than me. It’s a bit of a cattle market at the start of races.  Everyone’s bunched up with people in front of you that are running at a slower pace, who you want to over take. Then there are people behind you that are trying to overtake you. And then it thins out as everyone finds their pace.  You start to enjoy it a bit until you come across runners that annoy you.  Now I’m putting this grumpiness down to my age or the fact my mind and body are out of their comfort zones, because I do get annoyed at almost anything when I’m running.  Things like the two women who were talking very loudly to one another about the last year’s marathon. And how they could’ve knocked milliseconds off their time if only they’d put their hair in a ponytail instead of leaving it loose.  You know, the stuff you really don’t want to hear about when you’re trying to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  And then there was the man with a squeaky trainer, the woman running with what could only have been a pocket full of marbles, and the woman whose water bottle holder ties banged against it with every step.  Thankfully, none of them were the exact pace as me so I either passed them or they passed me.

Even though I was mentally prepared for it, the first hill at six miles was a bit of a shock.  It was long (about 800m) but it wasn’t too steep. And being from Andover (almost as hilly as Scotland) it didn’t phase me.  That’s not to say it wasn’t tough, but I kept plodding on up it where others were wheezing for breath and stopping. At the top, I rewarded myself with a jelly baby.  A very hard jelly baby as it’d been in my running pouch for months, maybe years.  The good thing about that was it lasted ages. What I didn’t know until I got home and looked in the mirror was that it turned my lips blue!

That was the first hill out of the way.  Just one more on this loop to go.  Wrong.  I’d been lied to.  As you saw from the diagrams above, there were four hills that I counted, the last one being the steepest, but it was quite short. An oxygen tank at the top would’ve been welcome especially on the second loop. Once I got past the eight mile marker, I was coming towards the start where there were more people cheering everyone on. This was a big lift, but this also meant the psychological hurdle of running through the start to begin the second loop was looming. At that point I started to wonder if I’d get lapped by the fast runners on their second loop.  Thankfully I wasn’t lapped.  That would have crushed me.

10 miles done. 10 miles to do.

By now, Sandra had started to go on ahead and I felt pretty positive as I knew it was all downhill, so to speak, from now on. It was tough though as there wasn’t many runners around now and I was on my own quite a bit.  So no annoying runners to feed my mental rants.

Throughout the race, I walked fast at the water stations because I can’t run and drink.  It looks like I’m entering a wet t-shirt competition if I try. And then you get into the realms of jogger’s nipple and we don’t want to go there now do we? Good. The cadets handing out the water were fantastic and made me grin from ear to ear when they serenaded us at mile 15 with ‘Oh, runners we love you!’ in a football chant sort of way. They’d had a lull in thirsty runners so were pleased to see us hobbling around the corner to their water station.

I had an energy gel here and if you’ve never had one, they’re like having a mouthful of cold, sweet slime.  Yep, disgusting. I gulped down water to wash it down fast. It takes about 20 minutes for the energy to kick in, but I didn’t notice a thing.  From 15 miles onwards, my legs ached like they’ve never ached before. My Mum used to tell me it was ‘growing pains’ when I was young, but at 5 feet 2, I know now she was telling fibs. I felt like I was dragging a couple of tree trunks around with me.  I’ve never had achy legs when I’m running before.  Afterwards yes, but not during. And I had the hills to come. 

By this time, I wasn’t the only one starting to suffer. Quite a few runners walked up the hill at 16 miles. I got myself up that hill by trying to remember the ‘I love to run because’ poem I blogged about before.  I couldn’t remember it all so I started to make up some of my own up.  I was getting desperate near the top and started saying daft things like, ‘I like to run because I have a nice hot bath afterwards’.  Anything that came into my head I hooked onto ‘I like to run because…..’ and with that tactic, I managed to plod past all the walking runners and reach the top. 

Here I had my second (mummified) jelly baby. It was hard to eat, not because of it’s solidified state, but because I was trying to breathe too.  So I ended up chewing it like a cowboy chews his ‘baccy; out of the side of my mouth. Still my legs ached. My mind wandered and thoughts of whether I should sue the energy get company for false promises crossed my mind. I then latched on to the fact that I was almost at 17.5 miles, which I’d run the week before. Once I got to there, there was only another two and a half miles to go.  Not even once around the block for me.  That helped me as I passed lots of runners in all sorts of positions stretching out their legs, trying to loosen them up so they could make it to the end. I went through the 18 mile marker.  Now I was in unknown territory. Anything now was further than I’d ever run before.  At this point I knew I couldn’t stop as I’d never get started again so I kept on going trying to remember what was around the next corner.  Was it the finish line? Please let it be the finish line.

All around the course the race photographers were taking photos of you.  You didn’t know they were there until you were alongside them, which was too late for you to attempt to look as if you were having fun.  With their huge zoom lenses, they’d taken your picture when you were 100m away. They’d already captured your agony, not your forced smile.

The last thing you’re thinking about at 19 miles is smiling for a photographer.  This can clearly be seen from the awful pictures taken of me.  I look like I’m dying. My achy legs are etched on my face. And no, I’m not going to tell you where you can see them.  I’m not photogenic at the best of times and after 19 miles of hard slog, it really isn’t pretty. Take my word for it.

Blanking out the fact that I’d probably just had the worst photo ever taken of me, I started to hear the cheer of the crowds at the finish line. What a relief that was.  A fellow Andover Roadrunner shouted my name about 50m from the finish, which was a huge boost.  From energy sources buried deep within my muscles, I started to run faster.  I just wanted to get this over and done with.  I started to pump my arms. I focused on that digital clock above the finish line.  I told myself I wasn’t going to let it click over to the next minute.  I grimaced with every stride as I propelled myself to the finish. 

I’d done it. My legs knew I’d done it too and seized up.  I walked like a wooden robot to the railings outside the school to stretch my aching legs out.  Boy did that hurt.  They were so tight I thought they’d snap. Finally, I stood up to walk over to collect my goody bag.  Now you may not know this but the older you get, the more noises you make when you do any kind of movement.  Getting up from a chair, sitting down in a chair.  Reaching over to get something, or putting something down.  The amount of grunting and groaning in that finish area was deafening.  And so was the pride of all the runners who’d run their race.

So after running 20 miles, how do I feel about running 26 miles? As long as I have bullet hard jelly babies as rewards, Ibrobruphen to stop my legs aching, and most importantly the support of the crowd for the last six miles, bring it on.