Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Pre-race Preparation......

Everybody prepares for a race in their own individual way, but generally this is just a variation on a theme to make sure you arrive on the startline feeling fresh, rested, prepared and ready to run as well as you can.

A track-trot in race kit!
Relative to many comparable runners, I am not an especially high mileage person, so "tapering" can seem a little odd. I run because I love it, not because I "have to", and so the last week or so has been strange. Spring has finally arrived on Scotland, and so the early blossom is out, as are the bluebells, daffodils and wild garlic, and everything looks fresh and green. This is one of the best times of year for just taking yourself off to the trails and country roads and simply running, while surrounding yourself with nature. It has been hard to resist, especially in the glorious sunshine, but I'm hoping it lasts for another few weeks and that we haven't had our summer in the same week as our spring!

I have done a few things to keep ticking over and prepare myself as well as I can........which included going for a run in my race day kit. There's nothing more likely to cure you of the embarrassment of wearing running knickers than wearing them on a track shared with runners 30 years younger than yourself! Still, it's important to make sure you identify any potential chafing spots ahead of race day.

Running in the sun

With clubmates/colleagues
I also had a good fast run with many of my clubmates on a beautiful warm sunny day........so hopefully the sun and the warmth in South Africa won't be a total shock to the system (though we did also have hail and frost last week).

I have learnt a bit more about EFT (Emotional Freedom Training)and trying to rid yourself of negative thoughts and vibes, many of which have been ingrained in your psyche since childhood.

A minor stressor was being asked (2 days before flying) for a "clearance letter from my Federation" which sounded rather like something out of Star Trek. Luckily, English bank holiday notwithstanding, UK Athletics were able to come up with the goods in time for me.

Another good thing to fill my time with was a trip to see a friend, ostensibly for a cheeky legrub before flying.....but as usual, it ended up as a gossip catch-up, which wasn't a bad thing as it made me forget the upcoming trip. I visited the beautician to sort my "race face".......as you cannot have your mascara running when you sweat, now can you ladies?.....actually, I just treated myself to a nice relaxing head massage.

Finally, all I have left to do is get through another full day at work before driving up to the airport. A friend did offer to drive me there, but I felt it was important to have the time to myself to switch off, sing loudly (and badly) along with the radio, and just be alone as it does get a bit busy once you start travelling; meeting up with people, going to the expo to register, attending the press conference and generally catching up with friends from all over the world. 

As a footnote.....bearing in mind my love for food and drink, I'm looking forward to ice cream with Dan in Dubai and then wine with Dave in Durban. 

Oh yes, and then there's a day of running in the sun........

Monday, 20 May 2013


Ahhhh.......eating and drinking......2 of my very favourite things!!
And 2 activities that I think a lot of runners obsess over and have many hang-ups about.

A cup of molten chocolate....bliss!
Everybody is different, both in their basal metabolic rate, and in the food they like to eat, but I am a firm believer in that the body will tell you what it needs and you shouldn't deprive it.
Ok, so I'm not a super-light, super-streamlined, super-speedy track runner.......but I have sufficent stores to sustain my running over the distances that I enjoy. Using Comrades as an example - when you arrive in South Africa people look at you and make judgements based on your physique; I was told that I should be able to run it OK as I "wasn't as skinny as some girls". It is noticeable that in distance races such as Comrades or 100Ks (and I base this on observations both as a runner and as the medical support) that those runners who do not fuel adequately as they go along, soon find themselves fading even if they started out really strongly. If you get your nutrition and hydration right, you often find yourself finishing well ahead of runners that on paper should be well up the road.
You gotta love a free post-race buffet

I was lucky enough to listen to a talk by a dietician at one of the Scottish Hill Squad away days. Interestingly, she told all of the hill runners that they needed to eat more every single day. She guessed that this might concern some of them, but reassured them that as they were training regularly, the vital extra calories would actually help build muscle and strength rather than being laid down as fat. A few of my other running friends have also found that when they increase their intake, they perform better and some actually lost some weight, counterintuitive though that may seem. I know that after a long run (and sometimes for the next couple of days) I feel as if I can never satisfy my appetite, and so eat constantly, yet I don't seem to get any heavier.

2 breakfasts pre-race is better than one!

When in Lanzarote, I certainly took advantage of the "all you can eat" buffets at breakfast and dinner, yet did some of my best training there, so it cannot have done any harm, and probably did me some good!

Seafood and Sangria!!

Interestingly, if I think back to 2 specific races when I felt I didn't perform very well, both involved problems with my nutrition beforehand.... whether it was a long time spent travelling, missing out on regular mealtimes, or whether it was the fact that certain race organisers forgot to provide any carbs in the vegetarian meals the day before the race!
Basically, I've learnt to listen to my body, and not worry about what people think of the amount that I eat as it has always served me well. In fact, when away at my last two international races, the only people that eat more were the super-speedy Kenyans, so if it works for them......

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Do As I Say, Not As I Do......

.......and I say that 3 races in a week is too many!!

Each race did have a purpose though, which is why I did them all. The first was my club hill race championships  - which was great for the sociable nature of the post run chat both out at the hill and back at the club over pizza in the bar. The second was the Scottish National 5K championships, which was a distance completely out of my comfort zone for racing, and so was a totally new challenge for me. The final race was the Lillaebelt Half Marathon in Denmark, which I was running in a Scottish vest as part of an invited team.

With my clubmate Jim after the 5K

The 5K championships were midweek in Edinburgh, so I had to rejig work slightly  (ie I started surgery at 7am) in order to be able to make the race. The plan was to drive up via Glasgow to pick up my friend, but unfortunately she had a last minute hold up at work and couldn't make the race....so I ended up giving 3 others a lift across.
I have to admit that I did not enjoy any part of that 5K......it was certainly an experience to be running on the limit of my lactate threshold for the whole of a race.....and it would definitely be better run with fresh legs. There was quite a lot of drama within the race itself, and I don't just mean people dropping out. The course narrowed significantly within the first Km, up to the turn....and I found myself almost stopping dead at the pinch points as I was held up by several men who sprinted off at top speed and then slowed significantly after about 400m (though it probably gave me a vital chance to catch my breath). Although the race was significantly shorter than anything I usually run, it felt like I was never going to make it to the finish line. I was quite disappointed with my run......both my time and position....but on reviewing the results, I consoled myself that although I'm no speedster, I had held my own and been faster than the marathoners.

The star of the show for me (apart from Elspeth who won the ladies' race in a faster time than her track 5000m PB) was definitely Fiona Matheson (again). Fiona was even more caught up in the early race congestion, to the extent that she tripped up and fell over. Luckily nobody crashed into or kicked her and she managed to get up and continue running. Afterwards, she said that she was so glad that she didn't look down and see her bleeding arm or leg or she might not have carried on, but instead she just pelted on round the course to work her way back up to an amazing 3rd place in 17:02.......who knows how quickly she might have run without that upset??!! To completely round off my day, I had a nightmare trip home - after dropping the guys back home in Glasgow, I was on the wrong end of  a random decision to close the motorway for night roadworks, and so I ended up detouring round the countryside, and got home about midnight!

This is the second year that Scottish Athletics have sent a team of runners over to Denmark to take part in the Lillaebelt Half Marathon, though English Athletics have been sending runners for several years. Fiona wasn't sure how she'd feel after the "excitement" of Wednesday night, but as I headed for Glasgow airport after work on Friday, she texted me to say that she was "good to go" - great news! We met up with Scott McDonald at the gate before boarding, and then with our other teammate Andy Douglas down in Stansted, as we had to change from Easyjet to Ryanair.

Fi showing off the double bed!

We were picked up at Billund and driven to Middelfart, eventually arriving well after midnight. Fiona and I heard squeals of dismay from the lads as they entered their room and found that there was only a double bed there, but then Fi was equally disappointed to find no kettle in our room for a nighttime cuppa.

Novel spelling!

We had to wake the lads up for breakfast the next morning, but then headed down to pick up our race numbers (and the t-shirts I managed to procure). Unfortunately (just for a change) my name had been spelt incorrectly on my bib, and they only had 4 bibs printed with Scottish flags on them, so it was either have the correct spelling on a plain bib, the missing letter added in with a felt tip, or just wrong with the wrong name. I went for the latter option - it wasn't as if it was the first time, and it certainly won't be the last!!!

After some "relaxation" time, we headed back down to the start around 1pm. A quick warm-up later (warm being the operative word, as it was 18 degrees and the wind had really picked up) and we headed  to the front of the 11,000-strong field. I vaguely understood the Danish countdown and we were off, round the twisty streets through town.

Team Scotland
In the second mile I found myself being pushed wider and wider across the road by Kim, one of the English runners (who I'd actually raced at Lochaber) and when I looked down at my garmin, we were running a faster pace than when I'd run my half marathon PB earlier in the year. I decided to be sensible and back off the pace, but unfortunately it meant that I then ran the whole of the rest of the race running entirely on my own (though that does seem to be the norm for me in races these days). For the next 6 miles, I could see Fi and Kim working together (taking turns to lead, though apparently never exchanging a word) into the wind about 300m ahead of me, but I couldn't drive myself to catch up to them. I didn't really notice a tail wind when we had first run across the long road bridge, but there was certainly a strong headwind as we returned.

The route
Not only had we just climbed up a slope from shore level but as I rounded the corner onto the bridge, I felt like I'd just run into a wall. There was no-one around to shelter behind so I just had to get my head down and push on into what felt like a gale. My stomach had been playing up with some dodgy cramps for the past few miles, but it was such a relief to see portaloos as soon as I turned away from the bridge, though I found it almost impossible to get back into my stride later. The last few miles felt like a nightmare long run rather than a race, but I was so glad to head into the final straight. I'm told that I looked strong coming into the finish, but that was probably just the relief at knowing the gut torture would soon finish. I had taken so long to run the race that the prize giving was already in full-swing, but it was quite inspiring to be running down the finishing straight hearing them announce Scott's 3rd place (in only his 2nd half marathon)!!

Making friends with the hotel frog

5am at the airport
Putting the run to one side (as I don't like to dwell on a poor performance - and we all have them - as soon as the sun has gone down on it), the rest of the day was really fun.......blagging 4 race jackets, enjoying some good chat on a cool down jog, a nice meal, and fun team banter in the bar afterwards. The race director came and joined us for a drink, so we all thanked him for inviting us over.....and he promised to look into the final results (some ladies' numbers had been sold on to male runners, so affecting female positions) as well as explaining his plans for next year's race, which seemed to involve having a beach (with beach volleyball games going on) at the side of the route!
Looking back, it was a great weekend - spent with good company, making new friends, eating Danish pastries and getting race experience in another country!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Fun in the Hills

Marathon completed….what now?
Time for fun – so for me that involves relaxing, eating, drinking, catching up with friends, and on this occasion….playing in the hills!

The first weekend after Lochaber, I headed down to Wales to catch up with my friend John, who was over from Ireland getting some climbing in. He was preparing for assessments which (in part) involves teaching novice rock climbers and getting them up some rock faces.  It has been years since I donned my harness and shoes, and so I was the perfect guinea pig.
Cwm Idwal
 Saturday in Capel Curig was beautiful and sunny so we headed off to the Idwal Slabs (Cwm Idwal) in the Ogden valley. A brisk walk in to the base of the slab took us away from the sun and next to some snow, but we could see a couple of other pairs of climbers already on the face. I debated whether I would actually be able to squeeze my feet into my climbing shoes (they were tight in Australia when I wore them with no socks, and the cold was definitely making thick socks a requisite), so John suggested I start in my inov8s and carry my shoes up with me to change into between pitches if necessary.

John sorting out the gear
It seemed easy to start off with, though I wasn’t very confident without my climbing shoes on, but John encouraged me to trust my feet and push up even when I was using tiny little ledges with half a toe on them. I dredged up a memory of being told that it was all about the legs pushing up and not using your arms to pull, and got back into the flow of it. Between pitches, I found it interesting to hear how people would be taught to set up belays and started to find myself looking for good positions if I had to do that.
Idwal Slabs

As we moved further up the rock, the sun seemed to tease us mercilessly……we would be about to move into a sunny patch, but then the route would veer away again, so my hands did get rather cold. Still, I really enjoyed it and it was fun to be out doing a different type of sport. Several pitches later we were at the top of the climb and then had some short-rope scrambling to do to the top, and again down the neighbouring gully to descend.

Finally we found a patch of sun, and I was allowed to sit down and eat. Almost a personal record for the length of time without food, but I hadn’t even noticed as I was too busy concentrating on both the climb and the amazing views. Full marks to my “instructor” as I never once doubted my safety or that I would make it up OK.

This weekend involved hills in a different way, as it was our club “hill race championship”. We have usually incorporated this into a proper hill race, but this year it was decided to use a local hill for the competition. This is less of an actual hill race, as it is short, and much of it is on forest roads, but means that more people come and have a go, rather than it just being the hillrunners.

Drawing the lads out!

Lotus Hill is only a few miles from Dumfries, and reaches a height of 321m. I have run a club race on it before and so knew the course was only about 3.5miles long, with 2 miles of that being on forestry roads, so I thought I’d go and join in, without having to worry too much about causing myself an injury and affecting upcoming events.

It was a drizzly dreary day and rather chilly, and so full body cover was tempting. However I knew that the offroad section would be ankle deep bog, meaning we’d end up filthy so I opted for shorts in the end….brrrr!
Over the summit..
The lads seemed to be running along together quite comfortably with no-one wanting to push the pace on (saving themselves to battle it out on the hill) so I had to run round them to get up a good pace on the opening forest road. This pushed a couple of them on and the group then stretched out, with a few moving ahead. Unfortunately the course was wrongly marked and marshalled so we had an extra mile to run – some on a step uphill part of the forestry road, and some through grass and bog as we descended back to the original course. Having thought it would just be a short run with only one section where I’d take it easy to avoid ankle twists, I had a bit of a sense of humour failure about the detour and so decided to power walk some of the hill.

Seriously? White off-road shoes??

Giving myself a stern lecture I started to run again and caught the man in front by the summit, which was in open moorland. That was my goal achieved, as I knew everyone would power past on the downhill – men seem much better about disengaging brains and going for it on downhill technical sections, whereas women worry about damaging themselves. Back to a forest trail, and I knew it was only a mile to the finish with the worst of the mud over and done with. I could hear my clubmate breathing heavily right behind me, and so I decided that if he was going to get past me in that final mile then I’d make him work for it. I managed to keep away from him and was actually glad of the challenge to push me all the way back.

Great to catch up with everyone afterwards over flapjack and water in the carpark, and then pizza and drinks back at the club!
What a lovely couple of weekends!