Category Archives: Running

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon 2017 – Race Recap

2017-07-14 19.26.51

At 9am on 15th July, there was nothing left to feel anxious about. I was dressed in the appropriate clothing. I had stretched and taken painkillers. Two nights of sleep deprivation were fading into forgetting. The lava field rose above the crowd of brightly-coloured waterproofed runners. Off to the side, the ground steamed where I knew hot springs were descending to mix with the cooler water of a stream. It began to rain just a little. There was nothing left to worry about, nothing to do except line up and wait for the whistle. And run. 

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon was to be my first ultra-distance race. Billed as a total distance of 55km (though more realistically 53km) through semi-challenging Icelandic highland terrain, six or seven river crossings, two endless dusty windy plains, and volcanic ground on either side, it was the perfect combination of a race testing enough to stretch myself beyond a marathon without totally consuming my social life or superseding my anxiety thresholds. And it turned out that I was indeed stronger than I thought, and had a lot more to give, even when it felt hard and painful. 

Race Recap – it’s a long one! 

2017-07-15 04.30.39

The race actually began at 4:30am, boarding the bus from Reykjavik. The firm but kind Icelanders running the race checked our wristbands to make sure we were on the right bus for our predicted finish time of around 8 hours. I had packed a neck pillow, which felt indulgent, but I really needed the extra two hours of bumpy sleep that I managed to snatch. At 7:30am we pulled up at a hostel, where breakfast was available for us. Without knowing how long we would be there, we rather foolishly queued for the toilet before getting food, meaning that I was stuffing porridge into my cheeks and making sandwiches as we were hurried out. 

Properly awake now after some essential coffee, I was pleasantly reminded of the familiar sights of the mountains and volcanoes surrounding the start of the race at Landmannalaugur. As we rolled into the campsite, the traditional array of souped-up jeeps and camping vans lined the perimeter, while tents surrounded the inner huts, held down by rocks instead of pegs as the ground is often too firm to hold them. We made quick use of the bathrooms, deposited our main bags in the bus to be taken to the finish, and after some stretching got swiftly into our corral. Having read a few race reviews online, I knew that there was likely to be a queue to get up the short hill which led onto the lava field, so Laura and I got to the front of the corral pretty quickly. A short amount of hanging around, and we were suddenly going, gently moving over the easy paths and then fast-hiking up the lava hill. 

2017-07-15 09.21.07

Once on top of the lava field, the running could start. Fairly level for the first kilometre, the race route then starts going swiftly uphill in the toughest part of the course – at least, if you don’t like hills. Surprisingly, although I live in a very flat city, I love going uphill, and really enjoy the pressure to push myself to the top. As we ascended, the rhyolite mountains on either side gave us fantastic backdrops of red, orange, blue, green, yellow and white. 

2017-07-15 09.53.21

2017-07-15 11.44.23

Steep climb completed, the going got more tricky underfoot with long slushy snowfields that proved awkward and energy-sapping, although to my mindset, they fell into the category of “hills I must defeat”… so mentally it didn’t feel too bad. Having hiked this trail twice before, I wasn’t expecting this much snow, and the obsidian fields that I have learned to expect before approaching Hrafntinnusker were invisible. At this point the wind became much stronger and brought hail, snow and sleet with it.

First checkpoint

We passed the first checkpoint at approximately 1hr 30mins, our goal time, despite all the snow and weather. (This race famously has strict cut off times at 4hrs and 6hrs and many of the field did not make it in time). From this point, the rain kept up reasonably regularly, blowing into our legs and soaking my bottom half. I was running in thick long leggings that had kept me incredibly warm on a recent training session in Norway, but this rain really got into my bones and made my lower legs heavy and stiff. 

2017-07-15 10.33.43-1

And yet, the snowfields continued to be exciting and interesting to cross, even though they turned the legs to jelly. My favourite regular snowfield is one that remains all year round and is wonderfully patterned by dirt and glacial blue reflections. It was strange to find it on the trail so quickly – even though we had walked most of the uphills, running was clearly much quicker than hiking the trail with a large rucksack…

As the route climbed again, we reached a wide ridge and turned directly into a headwind. The rain had stopped and we started to descend, gradually and then swiftly. The course marshals had warned about the difficulty of this section, indicating it would be slippy underfoot and that we should even police each other about not going to fast (!). In the end, the path down seemed fine, and we dropped out of the weather cloud into gentle sunshine to our first river crossing. At mid-calf height, this was not one to be concerned about. 

Reaching Alftavatn, second checkpoint, not feeling great

Here, on the flattest part of the course, I started to struggle. At not even halfway, and nursing a hamstring tear on my left side, I was finding the flat running really tough. My taper had been an enforced three-week ban on running, except for a 0.8 mile limp around my local park. At this point, the stress of not having made the halfway mark, feeling tired and lacklustre, and with rising pain, made me stressed and unhappy.

Laura, thankfully, responded to my request to “just talk at me” by regaling me with stories about near vertical races near where she lives, and how she occasionally runs into Norwegian ultra runner Stian Andermund-Vik in the mountains (Stian recently came second to Killian Jornet in the Mont Blanc Marathon). Buoyed by the distraction, I managed my pain, and after some flat coca cola, pretzels, stretching and some painkillers at the second checkpoint, I was ready to go on.

2017-07-15 12.54.16

The sun came out and we wound our way through some of the prettiest parts of the course. Alftavatn sits on the edge of a large lake and the mountains here are deep black, footed with vibrant green. The wind was light, and the running felt easy, and even our times were on track.

Crossing rivers

About halfway into the race, we tackled the largest river crossing of the trail. Having done this twice before whilst walking, I knew what to expect, and wasn’t too phased by it. The support crew were also amazing – one of them stood directly in the water to hold a guide rope for us sugar-depleted runners, and there were plenty of others on hand in case of accidents. It seemed as if the best way was not to overthink it and just plunge in – the same could be said of the whole race, really. The swift shock of the cold water felt phenomenally good, and buoyed us up for the next part. 

Later in the race, some concerned hikers expressed shock at me running straight through a shallow river – “But your legs, won’t they remain wet?” they asked, as they dodged the water by balancing themselves and their large packs on rocks. I did feel a tad smug as I shrugged off their concerns – but honestly, it just felt better to get wet, and then drain and dry off naturally. 

2017-07-15 13.31.22

At this point in the race, you can opt to stop and change into gear that you have in your drop bag. Some people even change shoes! However, Laura and I were not feeling uncomfortable, so we agreed that, since we both had clean dry socks in our race packs, we would continue on to Emstrur before changing. I also knew that the next part of the course would be mentally and physically challenging, and I was keen not to waste any time. With two long, exposed stretches of plain, and a 20mph headwind coming at us strong, we would need to work hard to ensure we didn’t miss the cut off times.

2017-07-15 13.35.40

The endless, dusty, windy plain

At this point, Laura and I pursued different tactics to get us through. She opted for music, whilst I put my head down and counted steps, occasionally chatting to people, but mostly focusing on passing. There was a bit of a race dance taking place, as I overtook and then got overtaken by the same group of runners again and again.

The pass started to rise and get narrower, and looking at my watch, I was distressed to find that we were behind our planned times. We had wanted to arrive at Emstrur with a comfortable 50 mins to spare, but this was looking more like 20-30 mins to spare. At this point, I was desperate not to DNF so I spoke to Laura and we agreed that we would both keep pushing for the next 5 miles at our own pace, and that we would meet up again at Emstrur. Mentally I just needed not to stop, to continue at a pace that I knew worked for me.

Making the final cut off – Emstrur in 5hrs 30 mins!

The second plain arrived, and with it, two or three mini hills, each one not revealing the expected sight of hut roofs beneath… at least until I saw one of the race buses gloomily parked on a promontory and knew that the cut off point could not be far. With 30 minutes to spare, I sang happily to myself as I descended that hill right into the waiting checkpoint. “I’m so happy to be here!” I cried, to which the charming marshal replied, “It’s very good to see you too.”

2017-07-15 14.53.32

2017-07-15 14.58.21

Home stretch

Now it was certain that we would finish the race. I changed my socks, refuelled, and then headed off for the final 10+ miles. We took it easy to begin with, walking through the green and black landscape, but a nice steep descent beneath a glacier got the legs moving again. A calm, windless valley followed, and then another short sharp climb. The final sections of the race were gently undulating, across a steppe-like landscape, with grasses and distant volcanoes. Our final climb at the 44km mark was a long slog but at this point I felt balanced and meditative, as if I could keep going and going. With our final long descent we could see the last river crossing and the sight of Thorsmörk (Thor’s Forest) on the other side. 

2017-07-15 15.33.26

The final few miles through the forest were charming to experience but longer than I remembered, and I was very thankful to hear the loudspeaker calling out names through the trees. We turned the corner in the evening sunshine and ran across the finish line hand in hand, crying and laughing. They even called out our names individually. 8 hours, 22 minutes of movement, and the race was complete. 

Post race

To begin with, I couldn’t stop crying. The emotional weight I had been carrying throughout training had been lifted. I had done what I had never thought I could manage – run an ultra marathon, run close to 35 miles. I – who was never sporty at school and who struggled for years with running – could do this. Laura had to keep convincing the marshals that they were happy tears! Finally I pulled myself together and went off to get changed and fed. The buffet put on by the race organisers was delicious, even though I found real food a touch challenging at this point. Without any energy to look around at Húsadalur (a shame, as it is a stunning place), we boarded the race bus back to Reykjavik, exhausted and happy. 

I wore:

  • Inov8 leggings
  • Inov8 merino socks (untested before race but fantastic!)
  • Salomon S-Lab Speed trail shoes
  • Inov8 gaiters
  • Icebreaker long sleeve top
  • OMM Kamleika waterproof jacket
  • Kari Traa head buff
  • Buff
  • Combination of fingerless gloves and wool mittens (purchased in the Icelandic Hand Knitting Association shop)
  • Sweaty Betty peaked cap
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest (men’s)
  • Cheap vest top (unbranded)
  • Sports bra (unbranded – elastic crop top style)

I ate:

  • Dried meats (biltong, Norwegian sausage)
  • Nakd energy bars
  • Kendal mint cake
  • SIS gels
  • Mule bar salted caramel gels
  • Bounty bar
  • Pretzels
  • Salt pills
  • Painkillers

I drank:

  • Water
  • Rehydration tablets
  • Flat coca cola
  • Half pint of beer (right at the end!)

Would I do it again? 

For now, I think I’m done with the Laugavegur trail for the time being. It’s been amazing to walk it twice and then run it, but I need a new challenge. 🙂

2017-07-15 17.18.26-1

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Adventures, marathon, Reviews, Running

London Marathon with a Pacemaker

11024768_10101311937034830_3032196856208258696_n

Me and my brother at the start of Edinburgh marathon in 2015

I’m not running London Marathon this year (one of the many who didn’t get a place) but my brother is. Not only that, but he’s also running it with a pacemaker – a battery heart – owing to a rare heart condition he had when he was 12. He’s already raised over £5,000 for the British Heart Foundation, but the donations keep coming – click here if you’d like to give.

My brother’s story…

“I am raising money for the British Heart Foundation who have worked tirelessly to halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory disease in the U.K. Quite simply, I would not be alive today without the research and development of the BHF.

When I was just 12 years old, I was diagnosed with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome, a rare type of heart disease that is best described as having an accessory pathway in the heart. The additional pathway caused my heart to “short circuit” and beat erratically, at times in excess of 320BPM. At the time, it was curable with an operation called an ablation; but because the technology wasn’t as sophisticated then as it is now, the operation was unsuccessful and I was left with complete heart block. The doctors felt the best solution was to input a Cardiac Pacemaker, which is exactly what they did. I was one of the youngest children in the U.K. to have a Pacemaker.

Now in my twenties, I am on my second Pacemaker and it’s ticking along nicely. This year I’m running the London Marathon, with a target time of 3 hours 5 minutes. In fact, I’m aiming to set a world record as fastest person to run the London Marathon with a Pacemaker. I have applied to Guinness World Records and if they approve my claim I will update this page so your donation can also be a part of history….

As you can imagine, this charity is incredibly close to my heart. Thanks to the BHF, the technology I needed to keep me going as a young athletic child was available to me, and their research and expertise continues to help thousands of people to live healthy and fulfilling lives. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that the BHF can create new treatments and discover new cures. £25 could pay for an hour of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so please give what you can to help me hit my target.

Thank you so much for reading and please give generously to a great charity!”

We made some banners for him and we’ll be there cheering along on Sunday!

IMG_0010

 

Leave a comment

Filed under London, marathon, Running

Race recap (long overdue): Reykjavik Marathon 2016

So a little while (in August. Wow.) ago I ran my second marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. This was to date the most enjoyable race I’ve done though I did not smash my PB of 3 hrs 49 mins achieved in Edinburgh in 2015. In the end, that didn’t matter one bit, and has helped my mindset to improve around times and races and the pressure I put on myself to finish in good time is slightly lessened as a result. This is quite a long race recap so settle in!

Pre-race organisation

I flew into Reykjavik the day before the marathon, arriving mid afternoon. I deliberately avoided the early morning cheap Easyjet flight as I knew I wanted to be well rested. Two friends and I rented an Air Bnb which meant that we could buy and cook our own food – very welcome in advance of a marathon abroad.

However I was slightly too relaxed about getting to the race Expo, located in the large sports complex a couple of miles east of the city centre. If you’re staying in the campsite or big youth hostel it’s super convenient, but for me, at the opposite end of the city, getting there required a taxi ride.

I’m not going to whine about the cost of this trip – but suffice to say, it was expensive. Iceland is normally quite a pricey place to visit and Brexit has pushed the pound right down. Things that cost £5 in 2012 now cost £7. So taking taxis was far from idea!

Race morning

2016-08-20-08-22-08We could not have had better weather! 17 degrees celsius, beautiful sunshine and absolutely no wind. This never happens in Iceland! It was almost too warm for some people. There were a stream of runners walking down to the start line which was easy to find and not very crowded. This is a small race, and so they allow the marathoners, half marathoners and 10K runners to start together, meaning the atmosphere for the first 10K is really energising.

Having my support crew of two in tow was a new experience for me and one that I loved. To have someone to laugh with at the start line was a really positive experience for me. 

2016-08-20-08-33-46-copy

The only critique of the start was that the timing pens were not clearly marked. Pacers carried balloons with times written on them, but it was confusing for a first timer here what they referred to and I worried I was in the wrong pen / place. I should have just relaxed, as things made much more sense later.

During the race

The first 10K were incredible. So many Icelanders came out of their houses to cheer, and it was clear that many runners were personally recognised by family and friends. This made for a very happy and relaxed atmosphere – there were few clock watchers here. A series of live bands played a good range of music – traditional stuff and covers – and many people handed out cupcakes, sweets and drinks. The aid stations were well set up using cups of water rather than bottles (and the cups did make it slippy underfoot). Most stations had a mix of energy drink and water. The food offer was limited though – mostly just bananas which I don’t like – so I carried my own gels for the whole race.

Note to runners going abroad for marathons: I recommend carrying your gels for the race in your carry on plastic bag – just in case your hold luggage gets lost and you need your race fuel to be just right!

2016-08-19-11-40-28-2

To begin with the streets were quite crowded with runners, though nothing too difficult to navigate, but this quickly thinned out once the 10K runners peeled away. At half time, the field really thinned out as the majority went on to complete the half marathon. The rest of us turned left to finish the full 42km by heading south of the city. This was probably the prettiest part of the race. As we headed south and then west again, we were running through suburban Reykjavik, filled with interesting architecture, and lit up in splendid sunshine. We then ran south of the domestic airport, which serves flights to other parts of the country, and ran alongside the sea for ages. An arctic tern flew beside me, and the sunshine was warm on my legs and shoulders.

2016-08-20-08-33-49

2016-08-20-10-27-57

I was glad to have my own hydration pack with me (I wasn’t sure if I would need it, having not used one in Edinburgh) but the combination of only cups to drink from, and a lack of water stations for the second half of the race meant that I was really relieved to have my own water supply. In fact I even had to top it up at the penultimate aid station as I’d run out. This obviously lost me some time, but hey, did I mention the arctic tern?!

Also, though the field was much slimmer and supporters were fewer, there were still fantastic people cheering us on, smiling and clapping. Favourite Iceland expressions of encouragement include:

“You are good!” (succinct and to the point)

“Keep up!” (I think this would be better as “keep it up” as it sounded a bit like they were chiding my speed!).

The other runners were also super friendly and I chatted to a number of different people around the course. Towards the end, we were right out on the grassy headlands to the west of Reykjavik – I would never have visited these without this race – and stopping briefly because of some pain in my leg, I was encouraged by a Dutch girl who told me to start again and that she would help me back. I was grateful to Aukje as she saw that I really needed a kick up the backside to get running again!

As the race came to a close, I was a little perturbed to see that roads had been reopened, even with tons of runners coming in on the 5 hour mark. This meant you had to dodge traffic a bit – hardly ideal when you’re knackered.

The final few kilometres were tough, especially as you’re running along the sea front on the north side this time, and you can see runners streaming ahead of you for a mile or two, but no finish line. However, as we approached the looming darkness of the opera house, I heard someone say it was just around the corner. My favourite song came on in my headphones and I pummelled my way to a sprint finish with a huge smile on my face.

2016-08-20-11-31-36

For the supporters

The experience for those watching the race was immeasurably better because of the good weather. The course is also set up in such a way that spectator spots are a short walk from each other but well distributed across the race. My friends were able to see me off, cheer me at 10 miles and 15 miles, and watch me cross the finish without too much hassle.

Post race

The medal and the T-shirts we were given were pretty standard – nothing too special. Post race food was below average though – a kind of hotdog was the only food on offer, which was not what I wanted at all! However, we did get a free ticket to the thermal baths in the city which was definitely put to good use at Vesterbaerlaug. I even got to spend a few minutes in the same hot tub as Björk!

The night after the marathon is Reykjavik’s culture night – a music-filled street party where everyone turns up in their traditional sweaters and drinks and watches fireworks. We found a great little bar called Vinyl who had a fantastic live DJ outside, and started dancing. We began as three, but ended as a street party of 40+ people dancing away. I seemed to have tons of energy despite the marathon and got very tipsy on one delicious Icelandic beer.

2016-08-22-08-36-51-12016-08-20-15-51-042016-08-20-22-06-20-copy2016-08-20-22-56-11-copy

I ran in…

  • Cheap Sportsdirect vest top (unbranded)
  • Sports bra (unbranded – elastic crop top style)
  • Sweaty Betty marathon shorts
  • Sweaty Betty technical socks (highly recommended)
  • Asics Gel Lyte 33.3 trainers (no longer made)
  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest with platypus hydration system

I ate…

  • 4x SIS gels (lemon and mint are a new favourite)
  • Cliff Bloks

I drank…

  • water

Would I do it again?

I’m heading back to Iceland for a different run next year – but I’d never say no to more street dancing in Reykjavik (look at those jazz hands)!

14203623_10157635647280725_1762305384_o

2 Comments

Filed under Adventures, marathon, Running

Oh dear…

Oh dear… what a difference a day makes.

Everyone I know and love is still processing the intense upheaval, betrayal, bafflement, anger, incredulity and realisation caused by the controversial in/out referendum, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, has seen the people of my country vote 52% to leave the European Union. Gulp.

I’ve been glued to the news ever since, ashamed by our government’s inability to address a much longer standing problem, horrified at those who have gambled with the lives of thousands to gain a leg-up for themselves in Westminster, and saddened by the vitriolic abuse from leavers and remainers, and from a minority against people of different cultures and countries. We were never meant to be like this.

What to say in the face of all this? The storm is barely quieting down. The economy continues to flounder. The future looks uncertain at best, catastrophic at worst. This article from Medium writer Jeff Lynn captures fluently the wish to stand together and lead the UK (such as it is) into a brighter future, while at the same time speaking some key truths about the nature of our union with the EU that I wish fervently had been part of the playing field before people took a vote. It’s a must-read, a welcome break from the quite frankly scary reporting happening on the Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and Daily Mail sites. 

And running? I’ve been trying to move my body and get out there, trying to re-set the tenor of my days through exercise and focus. But it’s hardly working. I went for a great off-road run on Sunday through Epping – intense mud underfoot – and found myself running through every emotional spectrum: pure joy at flying downhill, followed by anger when running back up, and tears when on the flat. This morning I managed a quick 6-miler before work with some of the best times I’ve done recently in the first three miles, but halfway through I started to flag, to give up. My heart just wasn’t in it. I managed to finish pretty strongly, pulling my legs through their treacly feeling.

And that’s how it feels to be a remain voter in Britain right now: halfway between despondent and hopeful, halfway between resignation and fear. I guess the only way is up, but what road we will take is a mystery to me.

2016-06-26 18.08.50

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, London, marathon, Running

Finally… running for the run

Finally!!! I ran a long run that didn’t feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest or my thighs or my shoulder. I’ve been waiting for this moment all through training for Marathon No. 2, and it’s taken a little while to feel good.  

After a week of squally wet weather and irritably low temperatures (England, you really can’t do summer), last Sunday was actually pretty hot. I actually loathe running in heat. I perform on average 20-30 second worse per mile, my stomach rebels because of the extra fluids I’m drinking, I feel like I need more gels, and it just feels haaaaard. The only thing that’s nice is the immediate aftermath, which can usually be characterised as lying horizontally in grass with beer and a lot of bread.

Sunday began brightly, and initially the temperatures looked as if they were going to peak over 20ºC, but thankfully the clouds came back and the day cooled down into the afternoon. I set off at around 3pm and decided I’d do an urban run for a change. Usually I trot off down the canals or head to Epping Forest, Wanstead Flats or the Isle of Dogs for my long runs, but this time I thought I’d correct the shameful fact that I’d lived in London for nearly 7 years and had only once run in Hyde Park.

I set off westwards, winding my way through Finsbury Park down to Kings Cross before dropping down onto a familiar cycle cut-through past UCL and into Marylebone. I came across two street festivals going on – Cally Festival, on Caledonian Road, where I witnessed an adult dance group moving to Benjamin Britten’s Sea Interludes; and then the Marylebone Summer Fayre, featuring salsa dance from London Salsa. Each time I took a moment to stop, stretch and enjoy what I was seeing. The endorphins were pumping so hard that I cried a bit with the Sea Interludes (it is some of my favourite music – listen here), and couldn’t help dancing discretely to the salsa.  

2016-06-19 16.18.46 2016-06-19 15.42.53

Then on around Hyde Park, through tourists and joggers and kids on bicycles and scooters. A trio of boys were racing up the Broad Walk and that made me smile. Everyone seemed very happy to be out even in the cloudy warm weather.

From there I headed south through Chelsea navigating the lovely red-brick Victorian streets, dodging overgrown roses and small dogs. When I reached the Thames, I crossed Albert Bridge, which I’ve never set foot on before, and then explored Battersea Park a bit – also a new haunt. The area around Battersea Power Station meant the river path was interrupted by private developments and building works, and I had to head into Vauxhall via Nine Elms Road – an unpleasant trafficky mess but made slightly more interesting by the presence of the new Covent Garden Market and new skyscrapers. I don’t like the look of most new developments but at least the visuals on the hoardings give me something to focus on (and get angry about).

I was feeling the distance by this point, but as soon as I hit the river path at Lambeth and Westminster, my energy levels perked up. Running past the Houses of Parliament at such a politically sensitive time felt tremendously uplifting (VOTE REMAIN!), and I picked up the pace for the home stretch back to the Southbank Centre and Waterloo Bridge. At this point the music from all the street performers gave me an extra boost, as did crowd dodging. I sometimes feel a bit self conscious with my running rucksack on (I’ve got a Scott Jurek Ultimate Direction) as more than a couple of people have commented that it looks like a suicide bomber vest. But by the time I got onto Waterloo Bridge I couldn’t care less. The wind was blowing hard, music was filling my ears and I was grinning madly at my personal finish line. (Speaking of which, wouldn’t it be amazing to finish a race crossing Waterloo Bridge going south, with the iMax and Southbank Centre and National Theatre in view?!)

As I pulled up on the Strand I realised  Runkeeper had paused  four miles back, which was a bit annoying, but I knew I’d covered approximately 15 miles in no more than 2.5 hours, including stops and street-party watching. And it had felt really, really good.

Yesterday I read a piece in an old Runner’s World (February 2016) about the psychology of celebrating success vs. striving to do better. “You need to shift from outcome-oriented thinking to mastery-oriented thinking” – in other words, run for the run, not the time. My speed might not have been race pace throughout. But the reason it felt so good was that I ran it for the experience – seeing new places, stopping to take in the atmosphere, crossing a new bridge, and finishing in a place I love.

[RW mentioned keeping race diaries as part of the article. Do you do this? This is my first attempt at writing down a long run. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember even 2 days afterwards!]

Leave a comment

Filed under London, marathon, Running

Second Marathon: Losing the Fear, Losing the Plot?

2016-05-30 13.25.20

Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

Oh the perils of running a second long-distance race. Has this happened to anyone else? The first time I do something I’ve not done before, e.g. running a marathon, I prepare like crazy. I’m so scared that I won’t be able to manage it that if anything I over do it. For example, I started training 8 months before the race, I ran 5-6 times a week almost without fail, I cried when I got so busy at work that I couldn’t run, I got my mile-per-minute time below 7:20/7:30 for short excursions and comfortably ran a half marathon at just under an 8-minute-mile clip.

Take two. Reykjavik Marathon 2016, and I’ve kind of been taking it easy. I’m not afraid I won’t finish. I’m hoping to better my time, but I’m not filled with the same kind of dread that really really motivates me. And so I have actually done LESS. Much much much less, and now I’m starting to panic!

This happened to me before when I did half marathon distances – I ran Royal Parks Half in 2009, scored an okay PB of 1hr 57 mins (not so bad for someone who did not think of themselves as a runner at all), and then completely ballsed up the Windsor Half the following year. The course is certainly more undulating at Windsor, and the day was pretty hot, but if I’m honest with myself I just didn’t train enough, because I’d done it before. I lost the fear.

It helps that I wasn’t starting from scratch this time around, and that I’d been running pretty consistently throughout the winter and spring. I’m about 4 kilos lighter and my feet have now fully recovered from lost toenail and blood blister hell. My core strength is better having taken up a package at 1Rebel (I ration my sessions to one per week, and that seems to sort me out). I’ve been trying to run more varied terrain – hills, trails, fun runs – and get lost whilst running. And I’ve flirted with the Maffetone method – sadly having to give up before the benefits could really pay off in order to switch gears for the pacier training the marathon requires of me.

Excuses, excuses. Enough! Begone! Now is the hard graft. Now is the getting up at 6am or earlier for the 5 miles before breakfast, which shouldn’t feel as hard as they currently do. Now’s the time to ramp up from my 14 miler down in Bath over the bank holiday to the steady and exhausting 16, 18, 22 mile weekends ahead. I’ve got about 11 weeks to finesse the raw material of my muscle memory and cardio conditioning. Perhaps the fear of not having trained enough will be sufficient motivation!

Has this happened to you? What do you do people to get through this idiotic barrier? How can I find the fear again?? Help!

(A few pics from the weekend below… amazing bank holiday weather!)

2016-05-30 13.25.14

From Dundas Aqueduct, Bath

2016-05-29 12.48.26

Top of Lansdown Hill, Bath

2016-05-30 15.09.00

Stretching on the steps at home afterwards

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, marathon, Running

Slowly goes the Maffetone

 

snail-race

Image via Island Midwife

I always thought the best way to train was to push the heart beyond its comfort zone on a regular basis because only that way would it get larger and more efficient. So my previous training plans looked largely like this:

Mon: rest day
Tues: easy run
Weds: fartlek
Thurs: hills / strength session
Fri: rest day
Sat: easy run
Sun: long run

And in reality, this kind of system worked for me. I got fitter, I ran faster, and I could fit it in around my daily working life. The short-fast ones on work days, the longer ones at the weekend. And I was really happy with my marathon time. BUT I was still in a lot of pain at the end of the race last year (especially lower back pain… grrr….) and now I’m thinking of stretching myself, I’m wondering how I will ever manage an ultra.

However, I’ve been reading Primal Endurance by Mark Sisson, (prizes for the most off-putting subtitle. It reads: “how to be a fat burning beast”). So I’m experimenting with the 80/20 rule – 80% slow and long, 20% fast, which is almost the inverse of every training rule I’ve followed so far.  I’m running with a heart rate monitor. And I’m not allowing my heart rate to get above 180 MINUS my age. According to Mark, who is influenced by ultra runner coach Phil Maffetone, I need to be running at a speed that pushes my heart rate no higher than 151 beats per minute.

Initially, I thought this sounded decent. Given my low resting heart rate of sub-50 bpm, I thought, “Oh yeah, I’ll be able to run and stay in that general region”. But oh no. Keeping my heartbeat that low makes me sloooooooooow. 11-minute-mile slow. So slow that I have to walk up all stairs I encounter on my run and sometimes even gentle inclines. Like road bridges, famed for their gentle slopes. The other night I ran home along the southbank and there was a race for testicular cancer going on, and I was literally lapped by everyone.

In essence, the Maffetone method is intended to help you build a really strong aerobic base to burn all your body fat, rather than consistently stressing your anaerobic system, which should be reserved for all-out sessions. It’s in line with a lot of the ‘primal’ thinking out there, where humans should only eat meat, fish, fruit, veg, nuts and seeds, and follow imaginative training regimes that suggest you could race your friend to a ‘mammoth leg’ (read a heavy log lying in the field) and then have a game of tag while one of you runs around with the log.

Now I do like the primal way of eating. One summer I took the Whole 30 challenge, which was pretty tough but most certainly worth it, and it changed my eating habits for good. And usually I don’t mind looking stupid when I run. But this slow running? It’s almost boring, and I never thought I’d say that about long distance running. So we shall see what benefits it brings, though I’m aware that with August only 3 months away, speed running is right around the corner. I think I might have to go back to Maffetone in the autumn in preparation for the ultras next year.

What do you think? Could you take the Maffetone test? For 2-3 months, you can test your progress every four weeks by running 5 miles at the heart rate of 180 bpm minus your age. (You can add 5 if you’ve been training regularly for 2 years without injury). Each time you do the test you should see your times (slow though they may be) drop gradually. Crucially you are not supposed to do any training above this heart rate during this period. This, apparently, will build your aerobic base, which will ensure you are, ahem, a fat burning beast. (Or a lazybones. I’m not sure 🙂

 

5 Comments

Filed under London, Running

1Rebel: pretentious but effective

Okay, I’m in love. It’s thrilling, it’s energetic and it’s killing my bank balance. It’s making me develop ABS and CALVES and BICEPS for the first time in my life. No it isn’t what you think… it’s 1Rebel.  

In case you’ve been living under a fitness rock (or perhaps you don’t live in London, which is totally acceptable), then you’ve probably heard of 1Rebel, notorious for being the most pretentious gym around with its oh-so-beautiful Lyrca-clad attendees, its smoothies named for the instructors, and its dark nightclub-esque interior. It’s got all that, sure, but the workouts truly deliver on the promises they makes.

So what makes 1Rebel so good?

– The instructors who steer a fine line between personal shaming and group motivation. This really works for me, but being singled out for burpee technique is not everybody’s favourite way to work out. Different instructors have different styles, and you will always see who is leading the session before you book.

The workouts: these are challenging, full stop. You’ll work with big weights, fast speeds and tough inclines. These routines will leave you so sweaty, but there will be muscles, promise.

– The changing rooms: shiny copper lockers, exposed piping, subway-tiled showers, heated benches, yum yum yum…

– The showers: enough that you rarely have to wait longer than a couple of minutes (at least at St Mary Axe). Occasionally they have problems with the hot water. Very occasionally. 

– The smoothies. Basically a meal-in-a-bottle for when you emerge pink-faced and pulsing with blood from the darkened training room of flashing lights.

– The darkness. I loathe white shiny gyms where it’s really hard to focus. Not 1Rebel. It’s like being in a nightclub in the 90s but the music is faster. (And it’s 7am).

1Rebel offer 3 types of class (and a few combinations of these three) – Reshape, which is HIIT strength/cardio class, Rumble, which is a boxing/cardio class, and Ride, which is spinning with weights. I’ve only tried Reshape as I don’t get on too well with spinning, and I’ve not found a good slot for the boxing yet.  

The catch: it’s probably the most expensive workout experience you’ll find. Yes the towels are included, yes the changing rooms are filled with lovely products (body and face moisturizer, toner, free kirby grips, hair straighteners and dryers etc.), but classes range from £14 to £20 depending on what package you buy.

And how does it fit with the marathon running? Well seeing as Reshape is intense cardio and weights it’s like doing a sprint/hills session and a strength session together. It is fantastic for kickstarting your fitness if you’ve had a few months off, or for topping up once a week or fortnight to complement your other runs. For example, after only four sessions in January, I went for a 4 miler intending to run a slow steady pace and ended up doing incredibly fast bursts of speed from lamp post to lamp post and sustained sprints up Clissold Park hill, running 7.30min/miles for the first time in months. My legs felt stronger, my heart and breathing were working in sync, and I had barely run since last September. 1Rebel paid off.

Verdict: 1Rebel isn’t for the frugal or the faint-hearted, but it’s addictive and the results far exceed expectations.

Leave a comment

Filed under London, Running

Reykjavik Marathon 2016

11024768_10101311937034830_3032196856208258696_n

Happy faces before the race.

Seeing as my last-but-one post was about entering the Edinburgh Marathon, it’s good timing to say that I just entered my second marathon in Reykjavik, Iceland. Yes, it was so much fun the first time around I couldn’t wait to do it again. Let me rephrase: it was so much fun BUT I needed to recover for about 8 months before I could even consider signing up for another one.

It helped that Edinburgh went really well. I made a time that I really wasn’t expecting for my first marathon – 3hrs 49mins – and I didn’t get injured during training. I also had a lot of support from colleagues and friends both during training and financially. Even better, I ran the race with my brother for the British Heart Foundation, and he ran it with a PACEMAKER. Not one of those people who keep the pace. I mean a battery-powered heart. My brother is in his twenties now; he was 12 when he had the pacemaker fitted, so this was a major achievement by anyone’s standards, and he even completed in the absurdly fast time of 3hrs 22mins.

My favourite bit of the marathon (apart from the end, of course)? There’s a bit when the course double backs and the outgoing runners (me) overlap with the returning runners (everyone faster than me) and literally just at that moment, my brother and I saw each other and gave each other a massive high-five. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see him, all the endorphins came together at once to give me a crazy high.  

I was so excited I signed up immediately for the Oxford half marathon in October: easy, I thought. But this was not so. Work and life conspired against me, and I just kept putting things in my diary in place of running, so I pulled out (annoying: no refund, and no deferral to the following year). Since then I’ve been ticking over with short runs here and there, but it’s been known that whole weeks have gone by without me getting my trainers off the shelf and onto the pavements.

2016 marks a big birthday for me, and in order to help celebrate, I hatched this crazy plan to run the Berlin Marathon, which falls directly on the day. What luck, I thought! But a politely-worded German email received back in October informed me that I didn’t make the ballot. Seeing as I suck at asking people for money when it comes to personal things, I didn’t want to enter as a charity runner, and the hotel-affiliated options were just on the other side of comfortable in terms of my comprehension. Do they guarantee entry or not? WHY DOES IT NOT SAY THIS CLEARLY ANYWHERE? (Can anyone help me out here?)

So after scouring Europe for marathons on 25th September (Moscow marathon anyone?), I decided that more than running on my actual birthday, I wanted to do a lovely race and have some friends come and cheer me on. And then I realised I wanted to go back to Iceland, maybe walk the Laugavegur trail again, and (best of all) soak my aching legs and back in the amaaaaazing hot springs. So I entered the Reykjavik marathon this week and I am excited.

[Update: actually, just discovered the Loch Ness Marathon. Affordable, reasonably close, beautiful, on my birthday… Wonders – could I seriously manage two marathons this year with a gap of five weeks? Hmmm.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Running

Running (and) Museums

No, sadly not “running museums”, though I hope so one day.

Basically, I took a bit of time away from Mediatrixy and in that time I worked out that the two things I really like talking about are: running and museums.

By which I mean…

Running – all forms of exercise are encompassed here – high intensity training, body weights, sprints and hill work, occasional emotional yoga sessions, etc. But crucially they are all done in the pursuit of running harder, faster, stronger.

Museums – again, all sorts of culture – concerts, installations, interesting parts of my city, browsing the Internet (ahhh), reading, etc. But crucially, all in pursuit of making better exhibitions and experiences for people who visit them.

So with these passions clearly stated, I’m going to start to write here a little bit more about these topics, hopefully connecting with other likeminded people. Because that sounds fun, doesn’t it? 🙂

Leave a comment

Filed under Creative, Life, Museums, Running