Race Report: The Great Cumbrian Run 2014

It’s the morning after and I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself. And for good reason. Yesterday I ran the best half marathon I’ve run for quite a while, despite running it over quite a challenging course.

In May, when I ran the EMF Half in Edinburgh – it was billed as one of the fastest half marathons in the UK. It was mostly downhill or flat and so I was looking forward to beating my PB of 2:22 achieved at the 2012 Great North Run. In reality I had a hard race, buffeted by head-on winds as I ran along the promenade that formed most of the route and psychologically hampered by the two way running lanes of the last three miles. I crossed the line in a disappointing 2:34. I buoyed myself by reminding my running ego that I had been injured for most of the preceding six months and that any finish was good, but I was embittered that I’d effectively squandered a chance to better that PB.

Training continued through what was one of the hottest summers on record, with almost constant great sunbathing weather and high humidity, with me having to resort to splitting long runs so that I could benefit from the cooler mornings and evenings. Training became inventive, with treadmill runs under electric fans – trying to make them as cool as possible. I stuck to a beginner’s programme in the belief that it was that which had helped me to my best finish and also that over-training could have contributed to my injury last year. I needed to start again.

My August half at Fleetwood was my biggest disaster yet, with me falling foul of two asthma attacks as I ran in high humidity and soaring temperatures. At least I finished.

So this, the Great Cumbrian Run, was my last chance for this year to prove to myself that I am worthy of the title ‘runner’. No big deal then.

I was cautiously optimistic in the weeks leading up to the event. Once the weather had started to cool down I no longer found the humidity a problem and I was no longer struggling to catch my breath. My last long, long runs of 12 and 14 miles were textbook, with no problems. Last Monday’s 5 miler was a breeze. I felt strong and comfortable. However, in the back of my mind, I felt sure some disaster would strike. Imagine how carefully I ran my last trail run, judging every loose stone as a possible source of injury! No wonder it was slow! I couldn’t even bring myself to run the trail on Friday, choosing the treadmill instead. I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not good at carb-loading prior to an event. I tend to eat carbohydrate rich foods anyway, so I just eat fairly normally leading up to an event. My last evening meal was a thrown together Linda McCartney Mozzarella Burger, a few chips and a massive salad, hardly designed to channel my inner Paula Radcliffe. My breakfast was better, it made up for everything, consisting of porridge, banana and acacia honey. That was rocket fuel. Paula would have approved, I’m sure.

We arrived at Carlisle at 8:45, parked up a good walk from the start and finish, and we went to the castle to collect my number and timing chip. It’s a great idea, starting the race from inside Carlisle Castle. There is no better feeling than running down the cobbles that have passed from Scottish to English ownership many times in their life, into Carlisle’s pedestrianised city centre past hundreds of supporters. Considering I’d signed up on New Year’s Day my number was still 634; it’s a popular race. I spotted numbers beyond 1400, so I’m guessing there were around 1500 competitors on the day.

Ready for action! Waiting for the off at the castle.
Ready for action! Waiting for the off at the castle.

IMG_3645Inside the castle’s quadrangle there were the usual line of unisex portaloos, possibly 20 of them lined up along one wall. It meant only a very short wait for toilets at any point in the lead up to the off. I went twice. You can never be too sure.

There was the usual warm up which about half the runners joined in with and the rest, like me, just did their own thing. It started to look like an outing of the Ministry of Silly Walks. John Cleese would be proud.

The route, through Carlisle city centre, out on the London Road and then through the villages of Cumwhinton, Wetheral, Scotby and Botcherby before heading home.
The route, through Carlisle city centre, out on the London Road and then through the villages of Cumwhinton, Wetheral, Scotby and Botcherby before heading home.

At 10.04 I crossed the line, keeping well back out of the way! My race strategy was just to run steady, keeping to a 4:1 run:walk ratio. I was on for 11 minute/mile pace and I knew, from experience, that I’d start faster than that and would speed up and slow down during the race, hills dependent! I tried not to worry, but wanted to try and keep my overall pace around 11 minutes per mile. My Garmin was set up so that I could see my average pace, my mileage and my time and then I locked it so that I couldn’t turn it on/off accidentally! I know myself too well. My pace was being aided by Jeff Galloway’s LoLo beat-synched music in his Half Marathon app I’d used throughout my training. I’d spent the evening before choosing my music carefully, with plenty of rock classics such as Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ and Bryan Adams ‘Run to You’ – I think you get the idea. There were some odd choices in there as well, a few Glam Rock classics to make me smile and OK Go’s ‘Here it Comes Again’ so that I could do the hand movements and cheer myself up mid run. The most important thing was though that every song I chose would be sped up or slowed down slightly so that the beat coincided with my foot fall. It is a perfect way to run, in my opinion, and has helped me learn how to pace myself.

I hit 3 miles at 31:27. Having got there mostly on the climb, I was happy at that. However I knew that after this point I would be climbing hard for some time. I wasn’t wrong and I was devastated when I realised that the one hill I’d remembered wasn’t one hill at all, it was a succession of hills between Carleton and Wetheral. Despite that I managed to hit 6 miles in 64 minutes. My quads were starting to ache a bit, but I felt good and the rest of the route would now take us mainly downhill.

Look at those hills!
Look at those hills!

At this point last year I was in dire straits, struggling with foot, knee and hip pain. This year I was running well and I felt as if I was just in over-taking mode, passing people I’d lost sight of earlier. This is one of the biggest advantages of run:walk – those walk breaks re-engergise you. I tried hard to only walk when I was told to, although a few climbs had us all walking up them!

After crossing the M6 for the second time I looked at my Garmin, surprised to see that we were at 9 miles. I was tired on hills, but I was running well on the flat, sometimes ignoring the call for a walk break and running on. The last two miles weren’t easy, but they were a lot easier than last year and I started to overtake a lot of tiring runners I’d been yo-yoing with for the last few miles. As I came out of Rickerby Park I knew I needed to lift my pace a bit if I was going to get close to my personal best. I passed two runners who were getting medical attention, one looked as if she’d simply conked out and another who had clearly fallen on uneven paving slabs and split the skin on his cheekbone. I was pleased to see him heading for the finish as I left the finish area – I’d have done the same.

I found running through Bitts Park a bit of a nightmare, mostly because of the runners who had finished and were leaving along the same route we were still running on with all of their families. We didn’t need much room, but I would have appreciated a cordoned off passage for us, clear of strollers! As I neared the end of the path a council van pulled up in front of me and someone opened the passenger door, completely obstructing my way! I could not believe it and I swore loudly as I passed the driver’s open window. The very last thing you want, having run 13 miles, is to have to dodge and weave your way to the finish line!

I did though and entered Sheepmount Stadium with my best half time of the year beckoning me to the finish line. I crossed it comfortably in 2:24. I was relieved and ultimately very pleased with myself. When I met up with my hubbie, having collected my lovely medal and almost empty goodie bag (honestly, if someone had just handed me the juice I’d have been less disappointed. A bag ‘full’ of leaflets was a bit of a let down) he remarked that I wasn’t even red in the face and that he’d watched me run across the bridge with ease. He even went as far as to wonder if I could have run it faster. Brave man.

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Post run I had learnt from bad experience and asked hubbie to bring some sustenance with him (I’m so pleased that didn’t rely on the contents of my goodie bag!) and so had a soya milkshake and some biscuits as I walked back to the car, quite slowly! Once home we had some cheesy beans on toast and I enjoyed a hot bubble bath, followed by the welcome application of BioFreeze gel. I was good to go. We celebrated at the local pub with several pints of real ale and the company of friends. After trying to watch TV we both ended up tucked up in bed at about half 9!

Worth it, just for that lovely medal!
Worth it, just for that lovely medal!

This morning there is a little stiffness in muscles, but not much and that will soon wear off. My shoulders are aching more than anything, but I have a full body scrub and a facial booked at my local salon in a couple of hours. What could be better? Considering the hilly nature of the route I’m really pleased with my time. I came home feeling that I’d done the best I could and still got within 2 minutes of my personal best on any half marathon route. I feel that a rest before picking up my training for my last planned race of the season would be appropriate.

Now, if I could just conquer those hills at the Jedburgh 10k at the end of the month…

My 3 Rs: Recovery, Reassessment and Reinvigoration.

After almost two weeks of enduring a cold and struggling to do much more than get through a day’s work, I’m ready to start running again.

At least I think I am!

I’m actually sitting here changed and ready to run, waiting on my iPhone charging before I head off…to the bottom of the garden and my treadmill. My cold is still firmly lodged on my chest and it’s causing me to cough, which of course affects my breathing. I frightened myself a week past Sunday when I ran the Fleetwood Half – I really shouldn’t have run feeling the way I did. But I did.

I’m heading out to the treadmill so that I am in control of the distance, the speed and the location. I’m trying to be sensible!

I’ve looked at my running programme and I’ve decided to follow the finisher’s plan again. I’m not in the right place (yet) to look at improving. So far every half I’ve done since doing the Great North Run in 2012 has been worse. I just want to finish one around the 2:20-2:24 mark. I’ve not been far away, but far enough to make me feel as if I’ve been running backwards for a while. And I realise that there are valid excuses for this; valid excuses don’t make me feel any better.

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The cunning plan.

So my plan looks a bit like this! Long runs of 4, 12.5, 4, 14 and 5 miles before my race, all at 2:30/1 ratios and 11 min/mile pace hopefully giving me a 2:24 race time.

I’m trying to lose a bit of weight so I’m watching my calorie intake and portion size and plotting these on the My Fitness Pal app. If I lost a stone I think I’d be happier as well as lighter. I don’t look in the mirror wishing I was a stone lighter, I look OK, but I feel as if I’m ‘hauling ass’ at the moment. I’m naturally heavy. I don’t look my weight, I don’t think. People are generally surprised to hear how heavy I am and I realise that I am probably more muscly than a lot of the people who are surprised.

I know I need to tone my core; I do keep going on about that! I will try. No promises on that!

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Lastly I am going to restart the Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge in an effort to loosen myself up. It was working, but I had to stop. I will try and fit in the 15 – 20 minutes a day!

See you later!

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Heading down to the gym, on a perfect running day – sacrilegious!

A self-affirming 6.5 easy miles

Sunday saw the first real increase in mileage since I restarted my training following injury.  It was a lovely day, a truly lovely day.  The sun was shining, there was just a gentle breeze and it was a cool 5ºC. I decided to head down along the shore road, despite the fact that it was just 6 ½ miles and that I could have done a loop of my favourite route. Truth is, I expected (bearing in mind that it’s been a very wet winter) that the route would be flooded in at least a couple of places and I really didn’t fancy paddling this close to the birth of my new running shoes! They deserve to stay reasonably clean for a few more weeks, at least!

An idea of the amount of water we're coping with - this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!
An idea of the amount of water we’re coping with – this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!

I’m also just training for a finish; I’m not trying to get a PB. I have had a string of rotten half marathons, because of injury, weather and both, and I just need to finish comfortably this time and then build on that. An easy run along the shore road was what I needed, all I needed.

Jeff Galloway was in my head, as ever. His app gives me reassurance and guidance. I’m getting better at using it, altering my pace and walk/run ratios as I need. I also took time to look around me and enjoy my lovely day. I met a couple of friends who watched me run off and come back again, grass in hand. I do love horses!

My new neigh-bours!
My new neigh-bours! Groan!

I ran the first 3 miles reasonably well. It is still taking me that length of time to get into the rhythm of running. After 3 miles I’m more relaxed, possibly not as fast, but happier. I think forced inactivity has just put me out of step with my running spirit and it’ll take me a while to find it again.

I ran the 6.5 miles at between 11 and 12 min mile pace. Not fast, not far, but fine.

Since then I’ve been reading my running mags avidly. One of them has suggested using meditation and self-affirmation as a way of boosting self-confidence. This is a great idea for me because I do tend to doubt myself, especially on long runs. I tried it last night and I’m going to add this to my training programme. Basically I relax each muscle group from my feet up, then imagine myself walking down a staircase to a lovely familiar place and when there I tell myself that I am a good runner, repeatedly. When I’m ready to finish I count myself from three to one and open my eyes. I’m happy to give this a go and I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences with self-affirmation.

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Last news from me for this week is that I’ve decided to fundraise again this year. I’m booked into three half marathons, almost 40 miles of racing on top of many more miles of training and a couple of 10ks thrown in for good measure – I think if I could raise a bit of cash for a worthy charity that would be great. I decided on Diabetes UK  in memory of Tina, my friend who passed away recently. Tina had Type 1 Diabetes and to raise money in her memory would be a fitting tribute. Diabetes UK were delighted for the support and have already sent out a fundraising pack, including a smart technical running vest. As I have already secured my places in the three races I don’t have to raise a certain amount for them, but I would like to raise at least £200.

If you would like to help please click on the banner to go to my JustGiving page or follow the text donation instructions. Thank you!

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Click to donate via my JustGiving page

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2014 – Bring It On

As the first day of 2014 it’s a very dull, rainy and windy one. Which is a terrible shame. I had high hopes last night in the local pub of doing fantastic things today. However I’ve long since found that plans made in the pub, Guinness in hand, are often poorly done. Instead I have cooked a hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie and started planning my race calendar. If you want my gluten free vegetarian recipe, please ask. It is delicious, even served with aging Brussel Sprouts.

After much deliberation and despite concerns about training inflicting further pain, I’ve picked three half marathons for 2014. I’ve chosen, and for very different reasons, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival Half,the Fleetwood Half Marathon and the Great Cumbrian Run.

2014 Races

The Edinburgh Half is part of a bigger running festival which also includes a 5k, 10k, a full marathon and a Team Relay (amongst other things). Last year I did the Rock’n’Roll Half in Edinburgh. It was a terrible weekend and I struggled in vain to better my GNR time on the day in gale force conditions. This year the organisers have decided to move the event to the end of June, possibly in an attempt to avoid bad weather (although as this is Scotland that mightn’t be possible!) This year, however, I thought I’d treat myself to a more PB friendly course and do it a month earlier when the weather might be a little cooler. I’ve gone the whole hog and booked the caravan into Silverknowes and bought us Park and Ride bus tickets to get us to and from the start and finish.

The Fleetwood Half Marathon takes place on the weekend after my 50th birthday so it will be my first of my fifth decade. Really I should be looking at lovely hotels and booking myself a pre and post race massage, but I’m guessing I’ll be checking out the local campsites and settling for a brisk rub down with a fluffy towel. This is known as racing on a tight budget! I don’t know much about this race at all.

Last year, in great pain, I completed the Great Cumbrian Run. This year I’m determined that my 13.1 miles won’t be as uncomfortable. It was nice to do a local half marathon (most of the local ones seem to take place on a Saturday and I have a gallery to keep open) and take in places I’d visited before in less arduous conditions. I’d like to run through the villages with more of a smile than a grimace! So that was on my ‘To Do Again’ list.

I’ve got a few other shorter races on my list – Kilomathon 13.1k, X Borders Challenge 10k (Gretna to Carlisle), Gallovidan 10k (Dumfries), Jedburgh 10k – but I haven’t entered any of those as yet. I think if I concentrate on completing three half marathons without huge problems that will be enough.

Goals

On my Daily Mile profile there is a section entitled ‘Goals’. Last year it said something like ‘To run a 5k in less than 30 minutes, a 10k in less than 60 minutes and to PB my half time”; this year it says simply

“To run my own race and not care what anyone thinks!”

That’s the only resolution I’m making, the only goal I’m setting. I’ve spent far too long worrying about what others say and think. This year I intend hold my head high and do my own thing, at my own pace.

 

The Other Half

That’s it – 13 miles done. Well actually that’s 22.69 km done, which is, according to my conversion app, 14.1 miles. Yaay, go me. That’ll be why it seemed to take so long!

My foot is officially killing me. I really struggled through that last session, still running for 7 minutes and taking 40 second walk breaks. It meant that although I was running for longer I could run a little slower. I still maintained 10:36 pace, which is faster than my best half marathon pace by far.

I will now rest up. I’ve stretched, dinner is cooking and I hear a bath calling my name. A wine bottle also seems to be trying to attract my attention, so I must see what it wants!

Inspiration

I often get inspiration from reading articles in magazines, from reading books and blogs, usually all written by ‘real’ people. When I say ‘real’ what I mean is people who don’t have 24 hour gym membership, a personal trainer and no need to do anything else. People, like me, who have a life beyond running, but to whom running is an important factor.

I’ve just finished catching up with a particularly inspirational blog, written by a chap who often takes time to come here and encourage me. Take a look at OldRunningFox’s blog – Gordon is in his 80s and didn’t start running until he was older than I am now. His race times are amazing and I’ll be lucky to even come close to some, but, inspired by them, I will try!

In reading Gordon’s latest few entries I suddenly realised that I have a place nearby for practising intervals. I’m not yet sure how long it is, definitely 200m at least, and it’s not totally flat, but near enough. It’s a road, but a rarely used one. The most I see on a run is maybe a tractor, just one, or maybe a Land Rover. Just farm traffic going between fields. It’s two miles from home, so a decent warm up run there and cool down run back. If time is short I can drive and park up in a gateway.

After my 10k race on Sunday I start my half marathon training again. And this time I will faithfully do my intervals. I want to get faster, even if it’s by seconds. I’ll reserve the treadmill for absolute necessity only and concentrate on getting my little legs rotating a little faster!

Find Gordon’s blog at http://oldrunningfox.blogspot.co.uk/ – I rarely recommend a blog, so please check it out and prove my conviction!

The Almosts and the Nearlys

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For the last two weeks, this has been my running track. As you will have gleaned from my last post, we were holidaying in the north of Scotland in the Sutherland town of Brora. It’s a beautiful part of the world and this holiday we were blessed with fantastic Mediterranean-like weather. We were camping just the other side of the dunes from this wonderful beach which was exactly two miles long from end to end (actually it would have been slightly longer, but at the far north end you had to pick your way through rocks, so it wasn’t worth trying to include that in running mileage.)

Depending on the heat and my mood I would run between 2 and 4 miles every other day and walk the same every day. Despite the excess holiday eating and drinking, I’ve put on no weight. It’s all good and I actually also have a bit of a tan, as much of a tan as a lass with celtic colouring can amass!

I’m home and back to earth a bit this week. On Monday I set off a little bit too late in the morning to get a comfortable run in before the heat started to build up. I had been messing about with miles and app settings whilst on holiday and was expecting a 6 mile run, but ended up doing a 5k ‘race’ with a warm up, so about 3.5 miles, instead.

I didn’t really think about which route to take and found myself running along towards the shore, which is relatively flattish. My beach running legs felt pretty good and the warm up, once my initial asthma shock had subsided, was fine. I reset my Garmin and gave the 5k my best shot. I did the first mile in 9:17 and I’m pretty chuffed with that, but in truth I was struggling to breathe properly. I think I need to run a mile before I can properly breathe, so trying to exert myself before that is probably a no-brainer.

As I started the second mile it became apparent that it was getting very warm, very quickly, and that I was running on a road with no shade and in full glare of a very angry sun! I tired very quickly and the second mile came in at 10:32.

I realised that despite this I was very close to getting a sub-30 minute 5k time, so I tried my hardest in the last mile. I think at this point I probably needed some support, someone there egging me on and I probably would have done it, but as it is I did the last mile in 9:51 and finished my 5k in 30:54.

In the circumstances I’m not displeased with this. I haven’t done much speed work lately and I’m obviously capable of slightly better than this on a cooler day, so with some groundwork I’m not far away from getting under my target. I’m off to do some speedwork this morning, but just on the local playing field because it’s quite a journey to the nearest track and I guess I have to compromise.

Compromise is a big word in our house at the moment. It’s become the subject of some conversations revolving around what we want and actually what we can presently manage to have. In order to be a successful teacher, artist, wife and mother I have to make compromises and often it’s my running that gets compromised. If the difference between running and not running means running on a playing field instead of the ‘local’ running track 10 miles away, then I run on the grass and grin and bear it. I have to.

Yesterday, free from gym membership (I struggle to justify the cost, but I’m starting to realise the benefits of a air-conditioned gym this weather!) I worked out on our decking, using my makeshift gym equipment. As I’ve mentioned before I am desperate to strengthen a somewhat pathetic core, but I have neck problems when I do regular crunches, regardless of how I approach them. My neck soon goes into spasm and I end up spending an additional £25 at the chiropractors getting fixed! I’ve been gathering some exercises, mostly from my running magazines, working on cross-training and core conditioning.

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Armed with a kettle bell, a gym mat and two tins from my larder (chopped tomatoes and mushroom soup, to be precise) I did two lots of 15 reps of squat jumps, superman stretches, back lunges with rotation (weighted), single leg running arms (weighted) and toe taps. I couldn’t do the resistance band exercise I wanted to because some bugger has nicked my resistance band! I’ll look for that for next time! I also did 1 minute of kettlebell exercises, working my cardio as well as strength building (figure of eights, single arm shoulder press, single arm swing, single arm row, single leg bend). I found the exercises where I had to balance on one leg and complete the movement really difficult and at the end the sweat was dripping off me! I still need to find more exercises to exercise my core without having to lift my head, so that’s a priority.

On Sunday I have my next race, the X Border 10k, which starts at Gretna and takes us along the M6 service road to Kingstown in Carlisle. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve even prepared myself for being last across the line, although my semi silent coach assures me that I won’t be!  I’m not sure how well I will do. My 10k pace doesn’t seem to have increased much, but it’s not decreased either. I have no expectations of the course because I’ve never run it before, so I’m just going along and will do what I can. I might surprise myself and knock a few seconds off my road 62 minute 10k time! That would be lovely.

dual-offerAfter that I start my half marathon training again in readiness for the Great Cumbrian Run in October. Again it’s not a race I’ve done before, so we’ll just go and see what my little legs and podgy body can do. Who knows, by then I could have transformed into a racing whippet.