Friday, 27 January 2012

Bye bye parakeets, hola Canaries

Both my readers will have noticed I’ve been away. Away from the internet that is, but not away from running. And as any Eastenders scriptwriter knows, there’s nothing like a bit of suspense to crank up your followers, and hopefully also my sponsorship total. 
So while I have been away from scribbling, I’ve still been notching up the miles. In fact I’ve been finishing most runs exhilarated, as if I’ve achieving something.
My cousin’s stepfather is a veteran marathoner. He lives in Finland, a land hardly known for it’s temperate weather. yet he’s never done the London marathon. Why? He doesn’t want to train in the winter. Granted, the London winter has nothing on a Finnish one, but the dark, dank February days recently threatened to cramp my style.
Loving running in London in rainy February is a bit like loving your partner after they’ve put on four stone (no, I don’t mean you). Ought to be doable but must try harder. So much as I love our great city, I’ve went for Plan B and am running for a week in Gran Canaria
What’s not to like? Four hour Easy Jet flight. No time difference. Sun, sea and some great potential training runs.
It seems I’m in good company and have met some others training for the 2012 London Marathon on the stunning coastal route that runs from San Augustin to Playa del Ingis. 

San Augustin

This morning as on every other morning since arriving, I joined the other joggers and runners. We’re a disparate group, mostly (I’m guessing) late 40s and up, lots of Germans and Brits breaking a sweat, and trying out broken Spanish. 
As quite a few of my support crew are here with me, I’ve been able to train without buggy or dog for the first time. Which means I have been able to use my arms. What a difference an arm or two make. 
Those visualisation experiments have paid off. I’ve stopped stopping, which is great. Still slow, but keep telling myself it isn’t about speed, it’s about stamina.
One thing that has helped my stamina enormously have been the excellent AudioFuel Long Run training programmes. If you’re not yet familiar with audiofuel, check out their new range of training programmes, Run Faster, coached by 4 times world Ironman champion Chrissie Wellington. She runs a 2:44 marathon. After a 3.8k swim & 180k ride. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Birth of the cool

Long run this morning. Sixty minutes, no stopping. Actually that's a lie. Three stops, two were traffic lights, one was picking up dog poo. There you have it. I'm a good citizen, and a runner.

I wasn't always a runner, and on some days it's debatable whether or not I am, but today I surely was. I know this because other runners gave me that nod. It's a very specific nod, the brief twitch of acknowledgement from a passing jogger, but once you've had it, you never miss it again.

It was getting that nod from fellow runners a few years ago that helped me know I'd made it into the club. More than completing my first 5km race (women's breakfast run around central London, took me nearly an hour, I had yet to discover hydration or training plans), more than getting my medal for the ADRA half marathon in Auckland, yes a brief flick of the head from a runner coming the other way across the Millennium Bridge at the Tate Modern end in 2008, that's when I knew I was on my way to being cool.

There have always been teenagers who start smoking because they want to be cool. They splutter and practice and cough and it seems unlikely they will ever manage to speak and smoke, but somehow - sadly - they pull it off. We have something in common, me and the teenage wannabes. Like them, I longed to join oh-so-cool ranks that seemed closed to me. I wanted to be one of those people who bounded out onto the pavements in the mornings, moved fast and fluid through new and familiar neighbourhood, took part in races, glowed with life and energy. And in my quest, I've done more than my share of spluttering, gasping for breath, lungs burning, wondering how on earth people can do this and talk, and now, I'm in the "hello other runner" nonchalant nodding brigade. Hooray.

I've yet to master lithe and fluid movement, but am very happy at keeping going for sixty minutes today.

There were several tricks that helped me, all of which I recommend:

1. Know the route.
I don't know why this matters, but it does. Something about passing familiar streets and knowing how far I was from my destination carried me forward.

2. 160 bpm
All the music I ran to today was 160 bpm. Some Latin, some electronica, some stuff I'm not cool enough to know the name of. Letting my feet literally move to the beat kept me moving at a slow enough pace to last the hour.

3. Slow down
A seasoned marathoner told me last week that elite athletes avoid injury by building breaks into their long training runs. It makes sense, and every fifteen minutes today, I slowed right down, to almost, but not quite walking pace.

4. Take the dog
If you don't have a dog, borrow a fit one.
Dogs are great motivators, and cheaper than personal trainers.
Although they know a lot less about recovery, they seem to have hydration nailed.

5.Run where there are other runners
This gives you a chance to feel part of the club, and can motivate you to keep going.

 My plan is to increase the weekly long run by ten minutes every week. Long runs, we're told, are for stamina, endurance, efficiency and confidence, and maybe, just maybe, they help build a bit of cool.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Running interruptus

There’s a disconnect between how I would like to run and what happens when I go out to train. Take today. Was out for an hour. Ought to be pleased with that. But I’m not. Here’s why. When I ran I kept stopping. This isn’t unusual, I do it all the time. Occasionally for good reason, usually picking up doggie doo, but more often than not for no good reason at all.  It’s annoying me. My legs don’t hurt, nor has my breath run out. There’s just a sudden loss of oomph, and I’ve stopped. But why does it happen? And what can be done about it?
On the rare occasions I’ve run with someone else, I don’t usually stop unless they are fitter than me and I can’t keep up. And in the handful of short distance races I’ve taken part in to date, I haven’t stopped either. Slowed down, yes. Trundled along, yes. Shuffled uphill, yes. But all out stopping seems to be something saved for solo training runs. 

My favourite Nike advert

So I’m thinking of doing a little experiment. I suspect my random stopping has something to do with stamina, so am going to run more slowly, and why I get to the point I feel like stopping, I just won’t stop. 
The second part of my plan is to start some visualisation exercises. Before all the purists jump in, yes, I ought to control for variables, but time is running out.
Wikipedia tells me that in one of the most well-known studies on Creative Visualization in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of athletes competing in the Olympics in terms of their training schedules:
  • Group 1 did 100% physical training;
  • Group 2 undertook 75% physical training with 25% mental training;
  • Group 3 had a schedule comprising 50% physical training with 50% mental training;
  • Group 4 combined 25% physical training with 75% mental training.
My instinct says two things. Firstly that if I was a betting girl, my money would be on the Group 2 performers, and secondly if I had to pick a Group to be in, it would be Group 4 every time. 
Luckily I am not a betting girl, as Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental training, came up trumps and performed the best. The Soviets claimed to have discovered that mental images can act as a prelude to muscular impulses. As far as I can ascertain, and I’d love to be corrected, nobody since has replicated the results, but hey, I’m game. 
My best hope is that committing to training and visualising myself running without stopping, and crossing the finish line knowing I’ve done my best run, is not only going to fix my running interruptus, but also kick things up a notch. 
Watch this pace.
In my mind’s eye, I will be crossing the finish line while doing training runs. Imagining the excitement, relief and sense of achievement I will feel as I cross that line.

How will it feel to complete the Virgin 2012 London Marathon?

These are the questions I’ll be using to help me visualise:
What does it feel like to cross the finishing line?
What can I hear?
What smells am I aware of?
What can I see?
What does my skin feel like?
How does my mouth feel?
Who can I see at the finish line?
Who will be texting to congratulate me?
What sorts of emotions will be going through me as I cross the finish line?
Whether it gets me into the top performing Group 4 or not remains to be seen, or until then, visualised. 
If all the talk about placing bets has got you jangling your change, you can sponsor me here if you haven't already.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Can't see the city for the trees

Ran early today, enjoying the feeling of sneaking in some exercise before many people are up for the weekend. For the first time in a long time, I ran without music, audiobooks or podcasts.
What did I notice? I was anticipating and looking forward to writing about the colours of the sky, and how it changed from rusty brown to baby blue, or observing some slices of city life not usually seen. Perhaps shift workers going off duty, or watching cafes and stations slowly coming to life.
But the sky started and stayed a silvery white, Instead of running past, and then penning any scenes that could have come straight from Sukdev Sandu’s beautiful book Night Haunts, I passed a lot of other joggers.
If you aren’t familiar with Sandu’s work, have a look at his book, or at least the accompanying website.
Cleaners, sewers, urban foxes, they’re all there. 

Sandu is a critic writer for the Telegraph. He writes sublimely. Sometimes you have to look hard for motivation on a wintry morning, and for me, this morning I was inspired by his stories and hoping to pass some sights not usually seen.
And then I saw them. Lying on pavements. Propped up by the recycling bins and tumbled into the gutter. In the quiet streets they looked desolate, abandoned. Some lay singly, others in groups, surrounded by needles like passed out addicts in a squat. Discarded Christmas trees. An embarrassment on suburban pavements. 
How quickly this happens, and how sad. The magic, wonder and sparkle, ditched until another year clocks round. I didn’t feel very merry, running (ok, jogging slowly) past used and stripped trees.
The opening chords of January blues were almost audible. No wonder that people have celebrated on Twelfth Night for centuries. Whether with pastries, or farcical cross-dressing plays or the start of Carnival. 

On the way home I had a small epiphany of my own. 
Every time I come back after a run, I feel good.
I've never come back and had that gloomy after Christmas feeling.

For a long time, I’ve felt reliant on music to keep me moving, something interesting to listen to, or some other form of entertainment that is also a distraction or motivation. But running in silence today meant engaging differently with the world around me, and with my own thoughts. 

It's interesting what happens when the music stops.
Seasons pass. Christmas trees fall. But unlike the trees, endorphins are not just for Christmas. Bring ‘em on.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Parakeets and the cure for procrastination

They say fortune favours the brave. It certainly favoured the woman who ventured out in the rain yesterday. 

Today’s run had it all: brilliant blue sky, a bit rural, a bit Downton, and a parakeet.  

Parrots in London, yes really

Today I ran the Tamsin Trail in South West London’s Richmond Park During King Edward's reign (1272-1307) the Richmond Park area was known as the Manor of Sheen, and the name changed to Richmond Park during Henry VIII's reign.

And it’s the park recently made famous by Fenton

If you don’t know it, the Tamsin Trail is a little circuit around this most beautiful of London’s Royal Parks. I say little circuit, but size always depends on your perspective. 

The trail is 11km long with a couple of hills, so perfect for a beginner to do one lap for their long run, and there are some off-route bits that can be added on for the more seasoned marathoners.  
It’s a traffic free route, although the trail is shared with cyclists, and connects park entrances at Richmond Gate, East Sheen Gate, Roehampton Gate, Robin Hood Gate, Kingston Gate and Ham Gate around Richmond Park, 
Richmond Park was originally a deer hunting park

My run today was a typical multitasking session. Get some miles, or in my case kilometres, on the clock, exercise the dog and pushing Baby B past some fabulous sites in the buggy, while listening to something motivating. Today I ditched my tunes for a podcast by writer, speaker and broadcaster Merlin Mann.
Merlin is probably best described as a cool geek. Among other things he writes about life hacks, and I started his podcast wondering if it might be possible to hack a marathon. If I find out, I’ll write about it.
Just when I was wondering about giving up on this running lark, and skiving off for a cappuccino and a bun, I was listening to Merlin talking about what he cleverly calls doing v 1.0. In essence, Merlin’s v1.0 is about getting something tangible out there. It’s surely the ultimate cure for procrastination. “Just get through it the first time,” he says , “you can try that stuff you read about in magazines later.” 
As a first time marathoner - I have run before, but mostly for buses - it really hit a nerve. Just how true this has been of my running. How many times do I avoid going out because my kit isn’t quite right for the weather, or because I’m feeling unfit, or tired because Baby B has been up all night, or unmotivated or just plain lazy. But without a v1.0 run, there’s nothing to improve on. It’s just talk and good intentions. 
So because you can’t build on something you don’t have, I bypassed the tea shop (also the queue was prohibitive, but hey, that’s what happens on a blue sky Bank holiday), and decided to make this The Long Run v1.0. And at the end of today’s run, with Baby B in the bath and the formerly monochrome dog brown with mud, I can think of plenty to build on, but I’m also very happy to have a long run on the chart. 
So go on, get out there, and do a v1.0 run of your own. We can always improve, refine and upgrade later. 
And suddenly I’m thinking of other non-running things I’ve been procrastinating on, and am curious to see if the motivation for running has an overspill effect and gets me back on the proverbial road in other areas. Let’s see.
Now because this is v1.1 of blogging for me, I've been reading up on how to blog for beginners. There's almost as much daunting advice and jargon as there is for first time marathoners. 
What I have been told is that it’s good to blog a top ten, so, these are my top ten reasons to run the Tamsin Trail. V1.0
My Downton moment
  1. Richmond Park is huge, 2360 acres, and incredibly varied, and this trail gives you a sweep of the best bits. It’s the sort of run I can imagine wanting to add extra bits to in future, just to explore. Once my legs are less sore. 
  2. There are cafes. The one I skipped was next to the bike hire place Parkcycle, near Roehampton Gate. That would be a good starting and finishing point. Or you can come over all Downton and have tea in Pembroke Lodge
  3. It’s easy to get to if you don’t have a car. Mortlake, Richmond and Sheen stations are all about a mile away. 
  4. Views. I hate hills but the views on the Tamsin make it worth every effort. You can see over to the South Downs and right across the City of London. There’s even a special bit cut out of a plinth close to Pembroke Lodge that gives the most incredible view of St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s like a secret window in a rural idyll, a reminder that you are actually still in London. 
  5. It’s a truly family friendly circuit. Almost every runner that passed me today was with someone else. Children on scooters, partners on bikes that you can hire at Parkcycle, lots of babies in buggies and dogs. All well behaved and not a Fenton among them. 
  6. There’s a shortcut if you get tired. If the full Tamsin gets too hard, not on you of course, but on any of the family who’ve come for support, there’s a shortcut through the park. If they get tired of walking, you can send the children exploring in the Isabella Plantation 
  7. No cars. The trails are a mix of gravel, paved, and mud.
  8. If you’re feeling keen, you can do some hill training either before your run at Richmond Hill, or do some at the end.
  9. It’s easy on the eye. There’s always something new ahead, and the varied landscape kept me going. Woodland follows grasslands and for much of the hills you’re under a canopy of trees.Several ponds add interest to the flat sections. 
  10.  While the official park brochure talks a lot about the deer and mentions 100 species of wild beetle, I wasn't expecting to see  a mini flock of three green parakeet as I came past Sheen gate. The RSPCA estimates 20,000 wild parrots, including parakeets, are now living in England, with the largest concentration around South West London. There are lots of rumours about where they have come from, including an urban myth about Jimi Hendrix setting a pair free to an alleged mass escape from an import container at Heathrow. Does anyone know the truth of their origin? Answers on a post comment please.