Benefits of taking running less seriously….

It’s a bit of a long title but it really sums up what I have been thinking about running for a while.

I’ve been guilty in the past of taking my new (not so new now) love of running a tad too seriously, key signs were probably …upset if I missed a run, couldn’t achieve a target pace/distance on a training run, very serious face on race pics, feeling I’m not ready for the race which I’ve trained really hard for, missing a PB/PR in a race and probably the most important- missing a scheduled race which I’ve trained hard for due to injury or other stuff in my life.

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                                                                      Serious face race pic ….

It’s taken me a while to realise but all of the above is just not that important. Yep, it really isn’t! It’s not the end of the world if my well planned out running calendar or goals don’t work out or all the hours training don’t give the result I want . Running is not my job- it’s a hobby, I’m no where near an elite & even after meeting elite runners, some of them seem to take it less seriously than I have done ….(& I know I’m not the only runner guilty of this).

This doesn’t mean I don’t value my running any less than before, I still put 100% into training and racing but its now with a better perspective . Being able to run (& also swim/be active) is a blessing, I can’t tell you how many times I seem to see reminders of this while I’m training . Also, taking it too seriously seems to take the fun out of it for me. Some of my most enjoyable races have been chatting to other runners and helping them  especially in the last 500m.

So running , just getting out there and hopefully to keep running for quite a few years is my aim. There is loads of time to beat PB’s, do all the races I want to do  (even though I’m well and truly in the masters section ), there really is no rush. Realising this is so liberating and just makes running much more fun …….& that’s the benefit of putting a hobby into perspective and taking it less seriously .

 

Swimming and my 1st ocean swim race

While running is my 1st choice and love of exercise I would definitely say my 2nd choice is swimming. I don’t train in the same way as my running i.e. I don’t take it too seriously, I don’t push and I don’t swim to a schedule. I really just use it as recovery from running and it has sort of replaced yoga classes as my way of balancing out my body from running. I’ve been doing this consistently for over 14 months and found it really ticks the boxes of what I want from it. I usually swim in the ocean in the summer and in the pool in the winter covering 1.5- 2k per swim usually x 2/3 per week…. depending on my training schedule with running. I much prefer ocean swimming; I love seeing the schools of fish and even the other creatures …. Just not the stingers! I have also become less squeamish with the jellyfish and don’t freak out if anything touches my leg/arms, which is handy 🙂 Maybe running through spider webs sometimes on my trail runs helps and has knocked a bit of the princess out of me.

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…..where I usually swim …. safely behind the shark net! 

While I don’t swim competitively and I’m quite happy to just plod along in the water I have been thinking about getting involved in squad training or coaching just to improve my technique and hopefully be a bit faster in the water. Last time I had swimming lessons I was about 8 … so that’s nearly 40 years ago ….yep, I’m THAT old! So, as I’ve done absolutely none of that over summer (as I had planned to do) I certainly wasn’t ready for my 1st ever swim race.

So, why did I enter a race which I had done zero training for? Well, I was on a forced recovery week with my run training due to landing accidentally on a sharp stone directly under my big toe….ouch!!!!  It was painful at the time but as a true runner I dismissed it and carried on, I felt ok the rest of the day, but as the night progressed it became quite painful. I went to my wonderful sports doctor to get it checked out and he told me to have a few days rest. Luckily I had my swimming which would give my toe a break and as it had still been super hot, it was more swimming weather than running weather to be honest.

I wasn’t even aware of the event and found out while chatting to another swimmer before my swim a couple of days before the race. While swimming and thinking about running, which after only a few days I was really missing I started to consider it. It seemed like a good idea to take my mind of not running. So, before I thought about it too much and was sensible I decided to go ahead and enter. Immediately after I did, I thought … WHAT HAVE I DONE??? As I mentioned earlier I wasn’t exactly prepared, but I knew I could swim the distance, my longest distance last year was 4k and I regularly swam the 1.5/2K and more in the ocean and pool, so I would just treat it as a normal swim but with lots of other swimmers.

Race day came around quickly which I guess after only booking it 2days before it would. This meant not much time to worry /obsess about the details such as how do these races actually work? How are they timed? And would I get my goggles kicked off by another swimmer? What happens at the start and the finish, etc… I had never even watched an ocean swim race live so I really had no idea. I don’t know if I had seen a race before if I would have been more or less apprehensive.

So I got up the usual 5am pre-race time and headed to the beach, which I must say felt a bit odd. I’ve done a couple of run races near the beach but it still felt very different- maybe wearing a swimming costume rather than run gear was the reason . I picked up my race pack, which included  a swimming cap  and timing wrist strap I had to wear  and prepared myself for the race. There were a lot of serious swimmers, swimming clubs and a few triathletes picking up their packs, fortunately it was super friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which really helped.

I headed to the beach to listen to the race briefing, which was quite quiet at 1st, but it soon filled up with lots of swimmers. …There were over a 1,000 swimmers predicted to swim so my concerns about it being really crowded seemed justified. The race briefing commenced, which I must say was hard to hear in parts due the helicopter flying above (checking for sharks, yep, sharks!!!!). The briefing finished and we headed down the beach to the start line.

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….the finish of the race before all the swimmers arrived..

To my relief we started in waves according to our predicted time. All the super fast ones headed off and eventually my wave started. The horn was blown and we set off. As I started to swim my timing band started falling off my wrist. I really don’t think my wrists are that small but I when I put it on I had loads of it velcro tape left and there wasn’t much left to anchor it on with. I paddled for a bit and managed to get a bit more secure on my wrist. Not a great start!

I finally started to swim. I relaxed into my swim and enjoyed the clear ocean waters. The water was beautiful even with the wind in the wrong direction ! …. I was hoping not to have the extra resistance, but you can’t choose the weather. I also usually swim in deeper water, which I could of still done but I didn’t want to swim too far out and add more distance to my swim, in hindsight it probably wouldn’t have made much difference.

It was all going ok and then I noticed a swimmer quite close to me, which was really unnecessary as there was loads of space in the swim area. I looked up and heading towards me – unbelievable, I told him to move..such a waste of  my energy ! And then I noticed he was doing backstroke!  This happened a couple of more times and finally I got away from him. I guess it’s all in the experience of racing,  and probably a bit like runners in the really big races who suddenly stop to grab a cup of water (my pet peeve).

I finally swam to the finish with no further hiccups and swam under the timing chip banner – which I forgot to tap and had to go back to do! And that was it! …..My 1st ocean swim race. Overall I enjoyed it and was glad I did it, It wasn’t too strenuous but enough for a workout. What surprised me was how different it was from a running race. I’ve always enjoyed racing and judging when I can really go for the sprint at the end. In swimming this is harder to do, as you don’t have full view all the time as you do in running, but I’m sure after a few more races it would be something I could learn to do more successfully.

My first thought after was I don’t think I want to do that again, but by the time I drove home and reflected on it I completely changed my mind. I learnt so much and with a bit of actual swim training this year I’m sure I would improve.

How Maffetone training made me into a “better” runner….

As I start my 2nd year of Maffetone based training and a new season I think how this type of training has made me into a “better” runner. The definition of a “better” runner can be interpreted in many ways. For lots of runners this can be faster, stronger, which has always been my goal, however Maffetone training has enabled me to have a healthier approach to running, physically and beyond.

I first heard about Maffetone training from my coach and promptly bought “The Big Book of Endurance Training & Racing” by Dr. Phil Maffetone, I wanted to grasp the whole concept, so getting the book seemed pretty logical. The book (which is rather large!) covers the A-Z of Maffetone training and it’s a book, which quickly becomes an essential tool for following Maffetone based training. There are also lots of great resources and in-depth articles on his website http://philmaffetone.com, so if you can’t get the book the website is worth a stop over.

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Without going into great detail of what the training actually involves, as the blog post is more about the impact on my running, I’ll briefly explain what it all about. Maffetone relies on training to your target aerobic heart rate – the 180 formula (its all in the book and on his website), this in turn enables you to build a safe and solid aerobic base over a period of time-you will need to be patient at first. This is combined with a holistic approach to your training such as considering diet, rest, reducing stress and basically listening to your body. I also listened to lots of podcasts; there are some great ones on http://www.enduranceplanet.com. It’s not a new concept and has been around for nearly 30 years. I’m no expert on maffetone training and still have lots to learn, which through new articles and podcasts I’m able to do so.

Maffetone training isn’t for everyone, I’ve heard various feedback from other runners, some runners love the training and have seen amazing progress, while others have commented on it being boring and hard to stick to. Personally, it works for me; the holistic approach really resonates with me. Eating healthy, avoiding refined carbohydrates has always helped my running, but it is just more than that, ensuring you have enough rest, reducing stress, increasing your fat burning , listening to your body are just some of things addressed in the training. It’s also not been boring for me, my training sessions are quite varied thanks to a great coach, the training weeks speed by and before I know it, its race day. But probably the most surprising thing is how Maffetone training has also helped my ideas about running, and I guess this is what the post is all about.

Before Maffetone training my aim was always to be able run faster, which not being a natural speedster I was more than often disappointed at my pace. But by focusing on my heart rate rather than my pace I gradually took the focus away from my pace and just concentrated running in my aerobic zone, which was much more enjoyable for me, I also recovered better, especially from long runs which helped my training enormously. Over the course of last year my pace improved at my maff pace (I still have a long way to go) and I ran my fastest mile, 4k race, ½ marathon and completed my longest distance to date. But apart from the great results, I have also become much more at peace with my running ability, Its not always about speed, being healthy, staying injury free, enjoyment of running, being able to raise money and awareness for charity are just, if not more important for me.

In summary the greatest impact Maffetone training has had on my running is helping my enjoy my running more. It has taken the pressure away of me trying to improve my pace all the time and enjoy running for what it is, a natural activity which we are meant to do.

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6 inch marathon….

IMG_8608.JPG                            Pic from of the course from one of my recon runs 

If anyone would have told me at the start of the year that I would have done an Ultra marathon by the end of it I  wouldn’t have believed them.

It all started when I just looking around at races online and noticed this one. It looked absolutely terrifying and way beyond what I could ever attempt to do,  46+K of  hot, hilly trails . I’d never ran over 21.2k and with the prospect of heat, hills and trails it seemed super tough for a runner of my ability and experience. So, being sensible I decided to volunteer to help out on race day . That way I could check out the course, see what type of runners enter it and learn enough to maybe do it the following year, I also thought it was sold out.

After all,  this was my “year of halfs ” (marathons), where I hoping to build more stamina in running and finally get a sub2. I was planning (with the help of a fantastic coach) on 3 races with my 2nd one being my “A” race, the other 2 just really for experience – I hadn’t raced the distance for about 3 years so  I thought it was good plan. I did my 1st race with no expectations as this was  my 1st one  and on a hilly course. I couldn’t believe it as I got my sub2! Apart from achieving my goal I ran exceptionally well and literally recovered straight away. My sister met me at the finish and told me I looked so fresh it was like I’d never raced.

IMG_4083                1st half mara of the year At the 18k mar, feeling strong and relaxed 

With a bit more confidence I started to train for my “A” race. Training was going well and then I found out from a guy at parkrun that there was still spots available for the 6inch mara. I looked at it again online and thought maybe I should have a go and it doesn’t matter if I’m last, just as long as I finish – this was totally for fun, experience and to see how I felt finally running longer distances. Also,  with it being a bit longer than a full marathon and on a trail  I wouldn’t feel pressured to reach a specific time –  the aim was just to finish and have fun. So I entered!

Training was on track and after a bit of trepidation of finally running over 30K and working out my fuel I started to relax and believe I could finish the race. However, towards the end of the training I got a couple of nasty blisters which caused me quite a bit of stress. Luckily I found http://www.blisterprevention.com.au and this helped me enormously.  I was hoping to train more on the race course but the blisters were really bothering me and I wanted to stay on my regular running route  until they healed. They finally healed and with a couple of longer runs to do I was able to try the course out.

My 1st recon run was from the start of the race as I wanted to tackle the “horror hill” at the start. Apart from getting lost a couple of times, my run went  well, and then I tripped on the trail while heading back to my car. I wasn’t injured but it really shook my confidence. The tracks I had been training on were mostly wider and not so rocky. I did another couple of ones to restore my confidence , which they did ….sort of.

IMG_8607                                      lots of small, single tracks along the course

IMG_8606                                       Nice wide tracks, which is what I prefer 

The day finally came of the race, and after a few days of feeling very excited to very nervous (and checking the weather constantly) I was ready.

The race started super early and I was lucky enough not to have to drive there myself. I checked in and got to the start -there was a howling wind and it was freezing, which I knew would change to the dreaded heat.

Before I knew it we were off! I took it easy on the  massive hill as it was so long and I didn’t want to burn myself out . My  very vague plan was just to take it aid station by aid station (23k & 36k) and finally get to the finish. The 1st section was messy in parts and I found I had to hop a lot, just making sure I didn’t trip early on. I chatted to another runner who had fell and he told me about his friend who had broken his ribs on the course the year earlier – I was being very careful! I finally got to the road we had to cross and it was nice to see non-runners. The next section was also rocky in parts but as I got closer to the 1st aid station, the paths started to widen and I was running on gravel roads which is what I’m more used too. I started to run faster and overtook quite a few other runners. At this point I realised I was going to able to complete it. I got to the 1st aid station and felt great – I was in very high spirits. I then got to the pea gravel and the big long hill in the middle , the ks felt like they were ticking along quite fast and I was relaxed and having fun.

I was getting closer to the 2nd aid station, knowing that the short steep climb was getting close … I later found out this hill is fondly named “the escalator” due to the steepness. I was still feeling quite good and couldn’t wait to see my husband who was meeting me there. I had told him to be prepared in case I looked terrible and to try and push me if I wanted to stop-I was far from stopping!

I then got to the steep climb. I had studied this on the map several times and knowing the terrain of the area  I had an inkling it would  look like it did. Going up was fine, It was coming down that terrified me and after 34k and being up since 2am I wasn’t exactly fresh. I have always had a fear of falling and heights and the rocks,gravel and boulders just looked like an accident waiting to happen for me. I had encountered bits like this on bush walks years ago and I was terrified then.  I got to the aid station, saw my husband which was just fantastic and thought , ok I just have to do it …take it slowly and I’ll be fine. Luckily I was and I couldn’t believe I got down in one piece …I did it!  However, I think the extra stress tired me out. I knew I just had another 12k to go so it wasn’t too bad. But after a few K I fell not once but twice! I wasn’t badly injured but as I fell my head  hit a rock and it shook me up a bit.  It wasn’t serious , but I wasn’t taking any chances . I stuck with a bunch of runners as I didn’t want to be on my own in case I had any after effects . The ground was still rocky in bits, and with my legs tired I just had to take it easy to the finish, which I did.

I got to the finish finally and to my surprise there was a medal, I’m not really a collector of  race bling, not quite sure what do with it ! My wonderful husband handed me my recovery drink and I went to the st. Johns Ambulance to get checked out and patched up.

IMG_8878                                     Pic at the finish getting my finishers medal 

Overall I had a great race, the steep hill didn’t do me any favours but I conquered it which was a huge achievement for me. Would I do it again ? Yes, but  there are so many other races I’d like to do before, if I did I would train more on the course and gain extra confidence on the trails 1st. One thing I learnt is I’m much tougher than I thought I was and its much better to have a go than not at all.

IMG_8885                                                               The bling!!! 

A big thanks to  Rodrigo Freeman www.braziliangunner.blogspot.co.uk  for his patience  and experience in  coaching me, and the support of my amazing husband, family and friends.