Sunday, 17 February 2013


It isn't easy to find a good domestic half marathon early in the year, so when I noticed the Barcelona Half Marathon on February 17th, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Not only was it an escape from the lovely Scottish winter weather, but an opportunity to see how training had been going, and a chance to see some of the Barcelona marathon course.

Sightseeing - the Arc de Triomf

I felt that I'd been training consistently and making some good progress, but in a way, I was scared to race and put it to the test. If all went well, I felt that I was in shape to run a new PB, but if things went wrong on the day, then would I dent my confidence and feel that all the effort I had put in had been in vain? In a way, I was happier feeling that things were going well, without testing myself and putting a number on it.

An epic trip out there did take the pressure away from the race. Not only was I out on house visits dealing with catheters just a few hours before the flight, but it seemed a long walk from Barcelona airport to the train station and then an even longer walk underground when changing from train to metro. All of this led to a late evening meal and even later night, causing some amusement on Saturday by waking up a good while after the race would start on the following morning. 
Race morning was cooler and damper than expected, but nothing like the weather I'd become used to at home. There were almost 15,000 entrants in the race so start pens were colour-coded, and there was a 2-wave start to ease congestion. Luckily I had an Elite start so could warm up on the course and nip in near the front, but I still found in busy on the wide boulevard. The sheer number of runners shooting off meant that you had to take some of the early corners rather wide (unless you were as speedy as the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, who went on to win in an amazing 60:04) adding slightly to the distance but also making it appear in your race splits as if you hadn't gone off too fast!

Heading down to the Arc de Triomf, I spotted Doug waving a saltire, but also another lady in front that I had been gradually running down. I had no idea where I was in the field, but hoped that it was in the top 10 at least. The lady spotted me and put in a burst to push away - we were on a slightly downhill stretch in front of large crowds, so it was tempting to go with her, but I knew I was running faster than I'd ever run in a half marathon and we hadn't even hit the 10k mark yet, so I managed to be sensible and hold back. 
I soon caught and passed her, and realised with a jolt that a cyclist bearing a "3rd Dona" label was now sticking near me. It also meant that a group of men were keeping pace on my shoulder. At about 15k you can see runners a couple of km ahead of you doubling back on the other side of the dual carriageway, so I spotted the cyclists and then the leading ladies making it look easy. An added bonus is that when I turned back on the far side, I couldn't see any girlie runners close behind, so I hoped to be able to keep my cyclist right to the finish. Now, I know that I have a very sweet tooth, and do love churros (a typically Spanish type of long doughnut) but the smell of them cooking in a van at the side of the course after racing for 17k did turn my stomach. 

Yippee - No 3!
Seeing the sea meant we were almost turning for home, but a sneaky hill at 18k was almost the end of me. I must have looked as if I was flagging at this point as my cyclist started to encourage me (well, I think he did but I cannot be sure due to my scanty knowledge of Spanish). My watch beeped for the 13th time, I turned the corner and spotted a gantry...........yippee.....I was going to make it, and in a faster time than I'd dared hope for.  Florence came back to haunt me, as there were actually several gantries to display sponsors' logos before the actual finish with the clock above it, but some of the men sprinting past me spurred me on to keep pushing and I was rewarded with a "3" card being hung around my neck and a shiny new PB. 

Podium interview

Enjoying the post-race buffet!

I felt like the BFG on the podium next to some amazing runners (Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia won in 67:33 while Josephine Chepkoech of Kenya was second in 68:53), and I'm not sure whether the interviewers got much sense from any of us, but I'm sure I got the most enjoyment out of the post-race buffet.

In speedy company

Dissecting the day later over sangria and seafood (mmmmmmm, I could move to Barcelona), it was great to reflect on the benefits of a sensible pacing technique (my race splits were pretty consistent and I moved steadily up the field over the course - except for a couple of men outsprinting me at the finish) and to reap the rewards from steady consistent training (I've lowered my half marathon PB from 78:08 to 77:02 this year).

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

No More Big Brother.....

Don't get me wrong, I am completely against the use of performance enhancing drugs - I'd like to think that we all compete on a level playing field and success is a reward for hard work, dedication and sacrifice - and so am very much in favour of drug tests, but being part of a national registered testing pool can seriously impact on your life.

After winning a silver medal at the 2011 World 100k championships, I had my first experience of in-competition drugs tests. After running for so many hours, peeing into a cup in front of a witness is not the easiest thing to do (especially as every muscle protests at the thought of you getting up again once you've sat down). There were no prizes for the event, and the medals didn't even have proper ribbons, but it was a world championship event run by the IAAF (the International Amateur Athletics Federation) and so was subject to agreed rules and regulations. It was actually several months after the race that I received notification that I was now to be included on the national anti-doping register.

This is run by WADA ( the World Anti Doping Agency) and is actually more complicated than it the extent that an official had to come up from Birmingham to "train" me in how to use "My Whereabouts". It's easy once you become accustomed to it, but at first takes up a lot of time and worry. "My Whereabouts" is basically an online system into which you have to submit an address for every single day of the week and provide a daily 60minute testing slot between 6am and 11pm (yes, even on weekends).  One training session and venue should be entered for each week (though apparently it's OK to give a venue as "out of the front door and turn left") and if you do not have a race planned for every quarter, there should be a reason.

In my naivete, I thought that by submitting a 60 minute slot, you would be tested in this slot if your name came up, but this is not the case. You can be tested at any time, but it is only if you fail to do a test in your allocated 60 minutes that it counts as a "failed" test. In the time that I've been on the register, I've been tested an average of every few months, but testers have turned up at my front door at 7am on a Sunday morning, at 9:45 pm on a rainy weeknight, and a couple of times at my work. Once a tester has made contact with you, you cannot disappear from their sight......which can cause comedy moments as you ransack the house to locate your passport for proof of ID, or at work when you're in a meeting or about to start surgery.

The difference to "in competition" and "out of competition" testing is in a slight difference in what medications are allowed. It is advisable to check every medication, even something as everyday as a decongestant for a cold (pseudoephedrine is a stimulant found in decongestants), on a database before you take it. The same goes for any drinks, gels or the WADA app on my phone has been very useful. Any medications taken in the past week are declared at the time of a test, and some may require a medical exemption certificate to prove you actually needed to take them.

Now, as I said earlier, I am in favour of testing to keep the sport "clean" but I do find it quite funny, when I realise that many people running faster than me in races have not been subject to the same level of testing as I have. I generally don't go in for all night drinking sessions, but it is quite restricting to have to submit an address of where you are staying ahead of time. For example,  if I visit friends, I have to ask their permission to enter their address details onto the database, and depending on when I nominate my 60minute slot, it means I either have a curfew, or I cannot leave the house before a certain time - not easy if travelling.

This week I received notification that I can now be removed from the National Registered Testing Pool - and it is amazing how liberating it feels. Although I can still be tested at any time (and can be included in the Pool again), I no longer panic when going on holiday, as I was always worried I'd forget to update accommodation details, or forget time zone differences. I can also go away on the spur of the moment, go camping, or choose to stay somewhere just "because" -  but the main bonus for me is that I can return to taking part in overnight and multi-day events, (eg Mountain Marathons) which is where my love for running started!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Less is More.......well for me at least....

......if we're talking about running that is.......if we're talking about cakes and chocolate, I can never get enough!!!

It is interesting to look back on last year, or even a training cycle within the year, and see what worked and what could have worked better. Even though I had suffered with tendonitis in 2011, and not given it the respect it deserved as soon as I felt the initial pain resulting in several weeks of enforced rest from running, I still hadn't really learnt my lesson. I started to get some foot discomfort early on in 2012, but have to admit to putting my head in the sand, ignoring it and carrying on.....and so developed full-blown Plantar Fasciitis, which meant another enforced rest from training and having to pull out of my target races. This time though, I think the frailty of the human body and the reality of the knife-edge we tread between training "niggles" and developing injuries, did start to sink in. Next time I felt foot pain was in a long training run as part of an autumn marathon build-up, and so I visited the physio the very next day for a check ultrasound.  A judicious week away from running meant that the developing tendonitis settled very quickly and I could still make the marathon startline.

Having had the injuries during the year, my training had been more fragmented than it should have been (indeed sometimes it was frankly not possible) and I did not have long to build up in order to run my desired Warsaw marathon. This meant that I had to increase my mileage and running intensity pretty quickly, which in hindsight didn't work that well for me. The race notwithstanding, as anything can happen on the day, and nobody had predicted the strong headwind, I became frustrated with not quite achieving my training goals and just becoming more tired. Having the 50K race so soon after the marathon was another problem, as it was really too soon for me to recover and refocus.

This year has seen me make some changes, which I hope will be of benefit in racing, although that is really a secondary goal, as they have certainly made me feel much happier about my running....and actually enjoy training a lot more!

I am doing a lower mileage, and all my runs have a purpose. That may sound odd, but it means that I don't go for a run without knowing why I'm going...and don't change the reason halfway through. If it's a gentle recovery run, then it will stay as a gentle recovery run whether I feel like I could fly or not; if it's an endurance session, I'll break the session up in my head as I need to so that I can focus all the way through and get on with it without moaning (much); if it's purely for the fun of going out and enjoying the trails, I won't look at a watch and will change the route so that I cannot compare times. I have also realised the necessity of that my favourite past-time of trying and testing the cakes in all the local cafes, or just sitting on the sofa and watching TV.

A "Reformer"

I know that many people cross-train. While I do not doubt that cross-training/gym-work etc has a lot of benefits and really helps many runners, I feel that I do not have enough time to really get into it. Trying to fit training round a busy job and life, I feel that such sessions would be at the expense of runs...and it is the running that I enjoy, and hence why I do it.

On a "Reformer"

I have, however,  swopped a run for a Pilates session every week. Initially I went along to a mat-based Pilates class with Audrey, but when I was over in California on holiday, Clancy took me along to her Pilates session and we used "reformers". These 8 foot long machines are the main pieces of equipment used in Pilates exercise, and have a horizontal carriage that glides forward and backward on rollers. Resistance is provided using springs along with other attachments for a variety of exercises and positions (that is, lying down, seated and standing.) This type of Pilates seemed to suit me much better, as it is designed to restore the natural curves of the spine (and I struggle with an exaggerated lumbar lordosis - curve in the base of my back) and rebalance the muscles around the joints, so I changed classes on my return to Dumfries. Although the instructor still tells me that my core is too weak and my legs are too strong (so they take over doing the work instead of my core), I do feel that I'm gradually improving, and hope it helps my running form....and if nothing else, makes me stretch at least once a week (ie once more than I used to do)!

A snowy off-road run
Another thing I'm trying to do is to look at the bigger picture - by this, I mean not getting bogged down with every run - eg mileage and pace. If I feel a niggle, it is better to take a rest day, or change the terrain of the run, as missing one or two runs won't affect the final goal, but developing an injury could completely jeopardise the whole cycle. The weather in this part of Scotland can be temperamental at this time of year to say the least, and so, although it's important to get out and train even if I'd rather be curled up in front of the fire, it's not worth risking falling over on the snow or ice and damaging myself. Running in snow can be magical and fun, but it can also be hard work, and therefore I can get more out of a short snowy off-road run, than trying to slide around to "get the mileage in" on slushy wet roads.

I'm interested to see the outcome of these changes......but as I said before, at the end of the day, the time I run in a race is just that.....a time, and I almost don't want to race because I don't want to put a figure on it - but I'm loving the process of getting there just now - long may it continue!!