Saturday, 28 January 2012

The last training run

The plan today was to run my final and longest run (40km) using part of the Capital Ring as the Capital Ring is the walking path that the London Ultra will follow. I didn't want to use any of the route so I chose the path nearest to my place: Greenford across to Highgate.

The Capital Ring for you Northerners is described as a "strategic walk". Now that to me sounds like it would be useful for connecting people to amenities. However it's a circular walk that connects you with random places that at times are quite pretty so I'd be tempted to call it a scenic walk. Except it being London, it's as scenic as scenic as can be with an upturned trolley and a dead cat somewhere in your vision.

While the Capital Ring is circular a bit like the M25, it's anything but linear so the route constantly dog legs and goes up hills and past some nice Georgian building or some house where Peter Sellers lived so if you were a Rambler, you could marvel at such stuff. As a runner it means (certainly on the route I did) that you end up changing terrain every 2kms and switchbacking like a rabid dog. Or do they do straight lines? Anyway you get my drift.

So after about 15km on the canal path I turned off for Greenford and immediately found the green signs that mark the Capital Ring. If you're lucky you get a big sign that actually fits some words in. If not, you get a small circle the size of an apple, somewhere at hip level with an arrow at a jaunty angle which you must follow precisely especially when it appears to lead to nowhere. I'm going to sleep tonight with those fluro green discs dancing in front of my closed eyes. My first Capital Ring sign presented two options: Capital Ring and Alternative Route - what a decision already?! I stuck with the main route and find myself heading instantly up Horsenden Hill.

Ah Horsenden Hill - the clue is in the name, and it wasn't that there are horses. It's 279ft higher than I'd like it to be and cut with those crazy steps that don't match anyone's leg gait. I had to walk em.

In writing this blog, I've just learned that this is the hilliest section of the Capital Ring. Bravo me. The little Capital Ring guide also tells me I may have to climb a style. Oh yes I know that now. And what kept me going was that this bit isn't in this year's Ultra and was in last year's and those poor souls would have had to climb these hills about 35km in.

Next hill, Subury. And then another hill! This time Harrow Hill (408ft). I've never been to Harrow before and it was a bit exciting. Fortunately none of the posh privileged brats were about so I could admire the buildings and the number of signs saying "Matron" and feel a bit like I was in Oxford. I might return there one day for a looksee as we don't really have things like that in Australia (old posh schools; I'm sure we've got privileged rich brats now)

Then I got lost. I think this was Lostness No 1 or 2 - and kept running past some old ladies at a bus stop so many times - and I am sure they were commenting that I wasn't dressed for the weather, only it being London, they didn't speak English. The reason I got lost was because I looked at this footpath called Ducker Footpath and laughed as it was clearly a trolley dumping ground. I didn't realise it was actually a footpath till I had run kms away from it and returned, picking through the trolleys and rubbish in the prestigious alley named after Churchill's Swimming Pool. I kid you not.

Next adventure was Fryent Country Park which was determined to suck my shoes into the mud The squelching sounds were great and I skidded along the down hills but the slipping down the uphills was less successful. I had a great laugh and many dogs thought I was weird. I climbed up Barn Hill (282ft) - whoever designed the Capital Ring likes a good view - there was probably a stonking view of Wembley in the mist and some Ramblers told me to stop and admire it but they don't have to work with my quads after a stop so I ran backwards for a bit and said "very pretty" before squelching into mud through my sneakers and into my socks. Mmmm.

Then a bit of running through some suburbs, Brent Reservoir, which I'd walked along before so just wanted to get through it and past some silly girls insisting on playing badminton in the middle of the path. I ask you.

Then you run alongside the Brent River which you can't really admire, not least for the dead cats but the roar of the North Circular around you. Then you get spat into Hampstead Garden Suburb where it's all lots of money and gardeners poking out of manicured hedges when you are peptalking yourself to the next X many kms. Am I the only runner who talks to themselves?

Very quickly I was onto Highgate Wood and I don't think I've ever been so excited to be somewhere I don't actually want to be. I had only 1 km to run and I noticed that what I thought was my station was just outside the park on a hill - so I looped round the park - came out to the station, realised the station wasn't at all where I thought and kept running-waddling to the station where I realised I'd run 41.1km. Well there was only one thing to do. I ran the length of Highgate Underground station carpark a few times and completed a marathon!

What I learned today

I could do with more cardio fitness: swimming during taper fortnight then.
I could do with more trail running experience: next time
I could certainly do with more hill running: will make my last 'little' runs on hills
Running on mud takes some special talent. I don't have it.
Running over trails is certainly the way to make 42kms fly by.
I can stomach 'real food' on my long runs.
I'm not too bad with a map.
I could do with a decent warm up routine before running.
And there are a lot of hills in North London.

What I didn't learn was why I keep getting a stitch at the beginning of my run and how to run uphill on slippery mud.


Today I am willing to sacrifice my toenails. All of them if need be.

Today I will do away with lunch and morning and afternoon tea. I will suck gels from foil, suck in pain, suck ventolin, chew painkillers. I will push through fatigue and dizziness and thirst, and most definitely hamburger cravings.

I will get covered in mud and goosebumps and the salt marks of a long subtle sweat.

I will sing in public and punch the air. I will probably stifle a sob, I might cry and I may even swear.

I will channel the spirit of friends long gone, and shake my fist to the sky for inspiring me to be out here.

Today I will make my mother cry, my father proud. I will run for people who can't and everyone I know icing an injury. Today I will thank my friends and supporters for their faith in me. Today I will honour people who have been tortured and the people who work to support them. I will not let them down.

Today I will push myself harder than I have before: mentally and physically. I will redefine what I know is possible and what I think is impossible. Every label that ever existed, I will have thrown that away today. I'll change what you think about me. And more importantly, I'll change what I think about myself.

Today I will.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Friday night

Carb loading, water drinking, mind focussing.

I've mapped out my run: from my place to Greenford (via the Grand Union Canal) and then following the Capital Ring to Highgate. I've mapped out 42.195kms, though I need only to run 40kms. And a few ultra runners have said 20miles would be just fine.

I've got my run plan, my energy, my mantra. I'm really excited. This will be the last run over 14 miles and it feels like I am one step away from the start line. And, the miracle isn't that I finish, it's that I had the courage to start.

I feel like I 'can do' tomorrow and holding that feeling seems to be the most brilliant thing.

Let's do it.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How long is a piece of string?

So one of the things I hate about running is the maths. There's the miles to kilometre conversion. Then there's the pace maths: 6 minutes per km is what per hour? Is how many kms per minute? What is that in miles? Then there's calculating running time, splits etc.

Anyway this is why I was doing random math on a bar coaster this afternoon.

I had, inspired by @canteenrun, though that I could do a 5:25 finish - but that's one hour and five minutes for every ten kms of distance. Easy peasy for a ten km, but five of them with navigation?!

So I checked the race website and found out that for a woman to finish that time you'd be in the top ten so that's that race time put to bed! Then I saw there were quite a few DNFs and even more DNSs. I vow to not be either of these.

Unfortunately the race forum is down so I had to rely on Runners World - that very cliquely place where someone's always having a rant. And I learned that many many people get lost, that there are hills and you will ultimately get lost and have to jump over a fence. Worse I may have to trust in other people's sense of direction.

So now I am planning to be out there anything from six to eight hours. That's like a working day. A flight to another continent. A birthing labour period.


For those interested in numbers, my longest training run this year to date is 35km at 3:42 averaging at 6:20 pace - and not a negative split. I'll try and run this Sunday's 40km at 6:30 in the first half to see if I can finish stronger...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cheering from the sidelines

I get a tremendous amount of support from the twitter running community, something I've stated on this blog before. I've never been a member of a running club, so I can't compare it. But everyone is really friendly and no one has never annoyed me and you get lots of great running advice, support cheering and everything. All in 140 characters. Tis awesome.

I've had a couple of days off twitter and it's actually been really difficult to get motivation especially when I am this stage of my training (one week till taper). I really miss knowing how many people are out there, getting up early, eating carbs, getting stuck in sports bras, having fun, feeling elated and all the other highs and lows of running.

Anyway I was very grateful that in my twitter exile a friend said they would do a certain amount of exercise at the same point I would do my run, and another is going to run their first 15km the day I run 50km.

Hooray for being all in it together.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Pushing the limits

I am surrounded by running p0rn. There's glass shelves full of trainers in front of me, gels and jelly beans to my left and behind me books on everything from how to get the most out of your heart rate monitor to a guide to races around the world. They could close on the door on me now and this could be all I need in life.

I'm at London's Run and Become to hear from three amazing athletes: Former Great Britain Ultra distance international champion (Adrian) Tarit Stott, multi-day race Abichal Sherrington and hill climb (cycling) champion Tejvan Pettinger. I'm struck by how unusual their names are and while I was previously inclined to think that's a Celtic/Gaelic thing, I found out later that Tejvan is a name given to him by his spiritual teacher, Sri Chiminoy - and that's a link to all three, as well as their amazing achievements. Run and Become was founded by Chiminoy and if I have this the right way round, he was an advocate of achieving spirituality through sport. Those of us on a long hard run can probably relate to that. There's a whole load of blogs and information about him and self transcendence out there; I won't talk about that too much as nicely the Run and Become folk didn't get all hippy on us either! But here's a little way that one of the guys described transcendence:

"when you're in a place where you don't have to deal with things on a day to day basis and became more aware of the core of what you are"

Anyway here's some of the random snippets these guys said that I wanted to share:

On encountering difficulties:
"Each problem you have has a source, find the source and find the solution. If you can't resolve the problem you need to reach a state of mind where you can deal with that problem whatever comes up."
"Have a mantra you can repeat to yourself. Use it to create an anchor point to create stillness so you can overcome the difficulties"

"Find a calm space (inside yourself) to deal with what is happening"

On going faster or harder:
"Keep a silent mind. Don't have any other thoughts. Controlled breathing. Focus your efforts 100% so that everything you are doing is devoted to going faster."

On race preparation:
"Get to the start in the best condition possible, the race will take care of itself."

On focus:
"Don't switch off and forget why you're there. Be in the moment."

On effort:
"Whether we are trying for our first 5km or our first 50km we are all pushing the limits."

On failure:
"There's no such thing as failure, only experience."

And finally
"Without a brain to react to deeper stimulus we are just a bag of bones and muscles. Use the brain"


I have been talking to a few friends about race goals the other day. Maybe it's because I'm very outcome-focussed at work (I've had more than one leaving card signed with the phrase "what's your objective?") or because John Bingham does a good chapter on goals, strategy and tactics.

For new runners, I've always warned against time goals. So you finish a marathon under four hours but injure yourself, is that a goal met? Or you finish really well but in 4:01 and beat yourself up for 61 seconds? That's not me. My goals have been pretty simple: finish the same day I start, with a smile on my face, and injury free. That was my Berlin goal. I didn't have a smile on my face when I finished - so maybe that is why I found myself running Athens one year later!

Now I have run two marathons I have learned a lot about running I feel ready for a time goal. I think this will push me to focus on what usually falls apart between my 20 mile training runs (with good 3 hour finish times) and my actual marathons (with 5 hour finish times!) Also it gives me a pace to focus on for the run. Will I be gutted if I don't make my time? Not really. I will be very concerned mid-race if I don't because it means something has gone wrong! But the goals for London Ultra: to finish the same day I start, to finish strong and injury free, to finish with a smile on my face, to feel like I could not have done any better.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


I was supposed to run 25km today. I was so tired from yesterday I went to bed in the middle of the day feeling hungover. And I wasn't. Pity.

I went trotting off to Hampstead Heath way. I recalled a small sharp hill (Childs Hill) on the way and thought it would be ok to walk it. I was pleasantly surprised that I could run it. But then I couldn't do the next hill very well. By the time I got to the park I had lactic acid burning in my legs and a lot of trails with hills. I tried to turn my run into hill training.

It was really pretty out in the park but there were tonnes of tourists and posh people, not my favourite crowds. So I ended up running out rather quickly and running through Hampstead - between brasseries, Marc Jacob stores and children demanding Carluccios. Hell on earth really.

So I consider today 15km of hills and fartleks. I wasn't knackered and I could have kept running but my calves were killing from the hills and my technique was getting sloppy so I treated myself to an early finish.

I better get better at hills before the Hastings Half which seems to have edged onto my calendar. Apparently it's full of them... I must find out if Hastings also has posh people.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Jog Blog Log

I should get better at "jog, log, blog" as I have seen fellow bloggers call it. So here's a few words about today's run:

32km - though I have a sneaking suspicion that my sports band is out so let's say 30km just in case. 3hr 19 minutes.

Ran in Uxbridge which was all pretty,it being blue cloudless skies streaked with jetstreams and sunny 'where are my sunglasses' shine. As the canal twisted out of the reach of the sun at times, pockets were still literally freezing, with mist hanging just above the water and crunchy grass tinted spearmint with frost. The canal itself was squid ink black, but the lakes were like pewter. And the ducks were having a field day, doing what I heard someone call "duckrobatics" sort of dive bombing the water and pretending to be flying fish.

Oh right the run, note the scenery...

Well I had a stitch for the first ten kms so I cursed like an Australian truck driver while I sorted it out. The next six kms were pretty uneventful. I must have been on autopilot as I don't remember even doing it. At the turnaround point I started making up stories in my head for amusement, I sort of dramatic soap opera where I had secretly had a child (I blame the book I was reading) and this engrossed me for 5km - especially as I had decided to run at a more free pace and less cautiously. At 25km, I actually stopped the clock as 'Doncha' by the PussyCat Dolls (I know, I know) was on my play list, so I did a little dance. This is, you may recall, my little tip for getting the energy levels high again and feeling alive. Yes it's possible with such a cheesy song. At 30km, I felt that an old lady could have overtaken me and god knows what my gait was like. My forefoot strike had flopped into anything that went forward. Those last 2kms were killers.

Somewhere in the run I was also molested by a chocolate labrador who put his nose in places I wouldn't expect on a first date, licked both my legs up and down and then got so excited that he turned in circles for ages. The people with Choc Lab didn't own him and didn't know what to do. I just stood there and took it. Goodness.

I spent a good part an hour on the floor after that, first staring into the distance unable to speak, and then actually trying to stretch.

Issues with the run:
  • Last minute food (or food within the last 2 hours) might be playing up the stitch. Certainly a jam donut should not be an option..
  • Big carb dinner and lunch wasn't enough: think I have to scoff a bit more for the days prior or take some supplements. I can't get enough food and drink in me for the miles I am doing and I've gone from a size 12 to 8 this year so must watch that.
Bring on 20km tomorrow apparently. Wah.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In the footsteps of reindeer

I'm so excited I don't know where to start. I'm excited about writing up my Polar Nights race report because it will be like reliving it and it was simply The Best Fun Ever. I'll take a deep breath, and try and remain calm and keep adjectives to a minimum. But I can't promise anything.

The race: The Polar Nights Half Marathon is a basic half marathon (13.1 miles / 21.0975kms) out and back but it takes place at 3pm when Polar Night sets in, in the town of Tromso, Norway, 400km north of the Arctic Circle. In winter. About 800 people enter the half, 10km and 5km combined.

The concerns:
As I had been logging a few miles for Feb's London Ultra, I was feeling okayish about the distance. I'm not usually one to get too confident about distance - I've made the mistake of not respecting the miles before and I'd rather be over cautious than cocky. But I had dropped a lot of my training while on holiday in Norway (more about that later) so I was worried that I had lost a lot of fitness.

I was also running with a Running Buddy - and we had said we would stick together. I was worried about this as we don't usually run together and we are quite different personalities (ie I am a annoyingly perky thing) so I was a little nervous if this would work.

Finally there was the race surface. We had planned on snow and at least minus 7C but arrived to hard ice and only just below freezing. So there were pockets of black ice, rehardened melted ice and some super polished old ice.

The preparation:
We had brought from the UK some yaktrax for the snow only it wasn't snowing in the lead up so it seemed unlikely we would need them. We were slipping everywhere in the lead up days to the race and I had already fallen in the dark, alone and ignored by a photographer in the near distance at the town of Harstad, hurting my wrist, back and pride. Running Buddy was most anxious about the slipping and doing some permanent injury that might affect our longer race plans. We then bought some spikes in Tromso - easier said than done as they had simply flown off the shelves as foreign runners arrived in Tromso and saw the surface. We tested the spikes for about 5 minutes on hard ice. That evening my knees ached like I had been heel striking in concrete boots and I had to take pain killers for the pain. After a tip from the mighty @ericdol I decided I would run in trainers only: completely grip free. I reckoned I'd prefer a slip injury than knees in pain or worse from wearing spikes on a hard surface. Oh and yes we had asked around, asked other competitors and even the course director and no one was sure what would be the best grip to have for such varied and intermediate conditions. So I figured, whatever makes you feel comfortable would work.

The strategy:
I was put in charge for setting our pace for the first half of the run as I always hate the first half.
Running Buddy was in charge of the second half. This also tempered our tendencies to go stronger in our preferred splits - the focus was on finishing together and safely, not setting a fast time.

The finer details:
The event was superbly organised especially considering they only have two staff members! They had a nice selection of tshirts and a pasta party in an aquarium where you can play with seals and then buy boots made out of them (really). The protein after party boasted all you can eat dry salt cold but when I got there I realised this was more an error in translation. The finish didn't have a clock over it, which gave me a fuzzy "your spirit can't tell the time" glow.

The final moments: (a bit nervous here?!)
We milled around in the town hall prior to the start. There must have been a lot of static electricity around the building as it contained hundreds of lycra layered runners moving around to keep warm. And everyone had different grip: yaktrax, trailshoes, icebugs, no grip, folds - you name it. There was one thing I noticed that made me stand out: I was the only person without a running jacket. I had run in Oslo and Bergen (zero degrees) and got hot in a jacket so decided I would be fine without one, even though I had also left my second buff at home and lost my ear warmers so was down to a single buff looped around my head and neck like a peasant... I thought I would be fine until we headed down to the start and snow flakes started to fall. I dashed back up to get a running jacket and pulled my head dress closer, and swapped from light gloves to a tighter thicker pair.

The clothing:
All in all I wore: two running leggings, merino socks, a long sleeved top, Freedom from Torture's running vest, a lightweight running jacket, running gloves, a buff, and standard underwear. That's it. Hardcore.

The weather:
At the start it was minus 5C (and falling), with light snow, wind at 3mph, and 93% humidity. Perfect conditions.

The race:
We went off by gunshot - that was a surprise - and I took it really cautiously as we got to grips (or not) with the surface. I actually found it quite stable and concentrated on keeping us at a conservative pace - I wanted us to have plenty in the tank for a negative split and strong finish. We ran along the town's equivalent of a High St - Storgata, which was lined with amused shoppers. The roads weren't exactly closed to traffic so those of us at the back had to share the road with a patient bus and a less patient station wagon.

We left the town after less than a kilometre and ducked into the suburbs where there were small inclines, more snow, and cheery young volunteers cheering "hie-ya, hie-ya, hie ya". I had no idea what it meant but like some demented hiphopper, I shouted "hey-yo" back at them. The roads were lined with candles that had been put out every dozen or so metres so there was plenty of route markers.

After a couple of kilometres in the 'burbs the route followed the coast. This was magic as the moon was close to full and was reflected off the snow capped mountains, and the sea. The snow looked littered with diamonds, the sea was opalescent and the mountains looked like they were from a sketchbook. It was a metaphor lover's fantasy.

A moose, from Moose on the Loose was spotted ahead, we gained on him, and gave a cheer as we passed. Despite the grin on his costumed face, the person inside didn't appear to be having a great time.

Outside shops and cruelly, a burger restaurant, there were the odd spectator cheering away; I'd give them a wave and a hey-yo. A cyclist came tearing past shouting things, and I was about to give him a lecture on pavement cycling when I realised that he was part of the race and he realised that we didn't understand a word he said. The 10km racers (who started 15 minutes after us) were now coming through - or at least the very fast ones with snot pouring out of their noses were.

The sea route gave way to the airport, where the first of the half marathoners were on their "back" part of the out and back, looking cold and replete with snotty noses. We ran outside the airport's perimeter fence, in the dark (not terrorist paranoid like the UK), with avgas sitting heavily in the crisp air, and the control tower looming ahead of us, while an aircraft pulled right up alongside us. This was clearly the part of the route where we had to make up a mile, as we had to run right to the end of the airport, only to meet a man sitting inside his car, with a traffic cone lit up and a piece of paper on it saying "turn". We did. It was not the half way point though and so we continued till a similar set up and we realised that we finally on the way back.

My Running Buddy took over pace setting and I realised I felt a bit cold. She started to run ahead and I realised I wasn't moving at the same pace. But I felt good having her in front as it gave me real momentum to catch up and I knew I'd soon get the sugar rush from a gel I'd scoffed at half-way. This is the bit I like, the bit where it gets a little hard and you have to call on something inside you to make it happen. In this case it was really easy - such a beautiful setting and exotic location made it easy to get my energy levels back up in a couple of minutes and the high you get from pulling through that little bit of pain is inspiring too.

From the start, I'd picked a couple of girls like us to run near, and we'd swapped places with them and a lone older woman whose husband kept driving up to surprise us and bring her a drink. At one stage, about 15kms in, I noticed that my Running Buddy was not getting the overtaking speed to pass them at the next opportunity and I realised (amidst me pointing out the snow, and the moon and the sea) that she was in a bit of discomfort. I started to get anxious, because I knew if we slowed down, we were going to get very cold but I also knew that the rest of the race was going to be mental not physical. RB was unable to talk much and I tried to be motivational and say all the right things without sounding like a twat. As our paced slowed, I really started to feel the cold. My fingers were tingling, and no amount of shoving them in my armpit was helping.

At 16kms, we were at the final drink station, and hot Ribena had never tasted so good! RB said she couldn't possibly go any faster despite my desire for a sprint finish towards a hand warmer and I knew that I would need to be as supportive as possible to make sure we got home warm and safe especially as she was finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else than staying upright in the slippery conditions.

As we returned to the suburbs, I cheered on all the volunteers - who must have been out there for
a few hours by now, and called out to a Greek runner just ahead of us and we had some lovely multilingual cheering going on. The final city roads were treacherous, we shared them with more traffic and the roads were icy.

We finished as we had hoped - slip-free and together - and went straight into the Sami recovery tent for a hot sweet drink, an open fire and a cuddle with a reindeer! I was still all twinkly eyed from how beautiful the run was, and annoyingly full of beans, danced around the fire, the start line and literally, on ice. I wanted to do it all over again!

Watch a 2min clip in Norwegian / English for footage.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Keeping cool when challenged

I have run for charity for all of my "big" runs - a big run being one of many miles or much emotional investment. So it was with much pride that I took the start line of the Polar Nights Half Marathon in Tromso wearing the Freedom from Torture running vest (over the top of another layer of clothing!).

I have had a close association with the charity for several years including meeting their clients (beneficaries), people who had come to the UK having been victims of torture. The resilience of their clients is incredible and it's something I keep in mind if I ever find anything in life tough. My challenges in life are small fry.

I'd like to think that it's this perspective that helped me through the Polar Nights Half Marathon, a 21.1km run, in the dark and sub zero temperatures 400km north of the Arctic Circle. When it got a little hard, I was able to check my negative emotions and enjoy everything that I was lucky enough to experience.

And what an experience: the sky shed its twilight hues and moved to moody clouds before darkening to form a backdrop to bashful stars and a brazen full moon. The sea was like a floor of opals, changing color, reflecting the moon, sparkling as we ran alongside it. The street light turned the snow into diamond dazzles and candles were packed into small snow mounds the duration of the route. It was breahtaking - not for the exercise, but for its beauty. And running it felt a celebration of life.

If you'd prefer to celebrate life without running 21.1km then please consider donating the cost of a congratulation pint via my website