Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Race Day...some reflections!

 It was all over in the blink of an eye. Not literally, otherwise I would be a world record holder. Looking back on Sunday, a couple of days later, each section of the run almost feels like some part of a surreal dream. I'm going to try to capture what went on on #GNRVirtual day first, and finish off the blog with some reflections on the past 6 months and what I have learnt throughout. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the world, but learning to run through this has been, well, let's just use 'interesting'.

So Sunday, Great North Run Day...in a way. I had long since got my head around the cancellation of the race, and reconciled this with the plan I had for a Ribble Valley route. My initial idea was to get up into the hills and really challenge myself, but when I looked at the actual GNR route, it bears no relation to Pendle Hill. Anyone who has driven, cycled or walked from Pendleton to Sabden up past The Ski Club will know that taking that route would be madness. I wanted a comparable route to the GNR, not a punishment! I settled on a route that would constantly undulate, some steep climbs, some nice flat sections and even one or two gentle downward inclines. It needed to be a peaceful route. I am still making every effort to maintain social distancing and therefore heading into the countryside was a priority for me. Part of the joy in running is the solitude, a big part to be honest, so a jaunt towards the Trough of Bowland was in order. I am conscious that people who do not live round here (hello to the Argentinian readers by the way) will not know any of these places, but for fellow Lancastrians, some familiar names help to put this into a context. So... Billington, Whalley, Barrow, Clitheroe, Edisford Bridge, out towards Bashall, back towards Chaigley, head back to Whalley via Mitton. The main loop itself is around 20k, so I had to put some extra little sections in (more of that later). 

The morning arrived and the weather forecast was excellent. I was not going to use the ViRace App, but go with Fitbit and Bluetooth on trainers for timings, splits etc. My routines don't change on a long run like this. Well hydrated for 2-3 days beforehand, loads of energy drinks (Science In Sport Electrolytes - not Red Bull or Monster!) and plenty of lean proteins and carbs. On the morning of the run, I don't overeat. A single protein flapjack (I like Pro2Go, although Graze also do some excellent ones), a strong coffee and the secret magic ingredient just before setting off. A 250mg caffeine pill so stave off any muscle fatigue. Managed to allow time for plenty of core work to protect and strengthen my weak areas and by 8.10am, I am ready to go. This morning the stretching was doubly important. Not only was I running further than ever before, but over the past couple of weeks, some tightness in the left calf and hamstring had been apparent and in recent runs, I had also had some twinges in my lower back. These are all connected, so making sure the preparation was right is really important. 


So how did it go? Well...let's start with good news, my initial pace was good, nothing was hurting and as I hit the 1 km mark, the time seemed about right. The first km has more down than up, so anything below 4:30 is fine and on Sunday this was 4:15. That was when the first strange thing happened. I had no energy and my legs felt like they didn't want to move. No panic, I've got 4 gels with me, maybe I'm not as hydrated as I should be. I tell myself to crack on, and keep running at this point, as I didn't want to waste a gel so early on, but a couple of minutes later, I succumbed. 7 minutes in and I've had the isotonic gel I was planning on consuming at the 3k mark. Not to worry, if I leave a decent gap after this one, it'll be fine. So the gel consumed, I get into what feels like a good rhythm and after about 4km, I'm feeling pretty strong. A glance at the watch tells me my time is decent and as I hit the 5k mark, I look to see the time that has elapsed. At under 23 and a half minutes, I am concerned that I am going too fast and won't be able to maintain this. I go back to March, when I first started this adventure, and 5k was taking me over half an hour. The other little voice in my head is telling me to speed up, keep going, run at this pace and I'll be done in 1:40, even allowing for some tailing off at the end.

At heart, I am a competitive soul, so I tell myself to keep going at the pace I am going and see where it takes me. The pace is maintained into Clitheroe, turn left past Holmes Mill and head towards the Level Crossing. As I said earlier, I knew I had some distance to make up, so decided that going into the park in the castle grounds and going through and back would add around 600m (and is flat) so quickly did this, consumed the second gel (caffeine one) and got onto the main road towards Edisford. At the point of running past Roefield Leisure Centre, I have covered just over 8.5k and time looks good. I'm too tired to do the maths but it was around 40/41 minutes from memory. 

From here on in, the run is pure countryside, so no pavements, hopefully no cars and no other people around apart from the odd cyclist (that is not to say all cyclists are odd). The next 2k is hard - not too steep, but generally uphill, this is a long stretch towards Bashall. It feels longer than it is - no landmarks, nothing to pass and I feel like I am walking. This is definitely slower than when I ran this route 2 weeks ago. As Bashall Barn appears on my right, this is a pretty big point, my watch vibrates, 10k done. 47 minutes. 47 minutes? That's my fastest ever 10k. This is the point at which I hit 'the wall'. This is such a psychological point, but I knew that I had a tricky couple of km coming up, I have set off too fast, I'm utterly exhausted and, unlike on a normal run, there is no get out clause. I can't just stop, walk for a bit, get a lift home. There's no option but to carry on. In my pocket I have got 2 gels, one more of each type, and a chocolate protein bar. That's no use as the sun is out now, it's hot and I am thirsty. Eating this would not work at all. I have, however, for the first time, brought another bag with me, containing two strong painkillers (in case of the back/glute issues flaring) and another caffeine tablet. I've never taken two before, rarely do  I bother with any, but on this occasion, I wonder is it worth a try? I have it in my hand and it looks huge. My mouth is dry and I'm not convinced it can be swallowed without water (which of course, I do not have). While having this internal monologue, I decide to give it a whirl, pop the tablet in and (eventually) it slips down my throat. I can't say whether or not it helped because the next 3 to 4 km are nothing but a hazy memory. I remember it was hot, there were lots of cyclists out and every time I found some shade, I ran in that for some respite. It was probably only about 15 Degrees but there was no breeze at all. Next thing I remember is turning left towards Mitton, done around 15k by now and as my mental capacity diminished throughout the run, have no idea what kind of time I am going to finish in. I felt ok again, and was running around 5:00 for each km. This felt ok, one more gel...kick of caffeine and carbohydrate and that should see me through. 

What I had not allowed for in this case was that as I ran past Mitton Hall, with just over 4k to go, that mentally, I was done. Suddenly my legs would not move, my quads began to feel like they were burning and both hamstrings tightened. What made this worse is that I knew I could take a short cut and get home in less than 3k from here, but I needed the extra distance. I needed around 400m extra so even the full loop wasn't going to be enough. What is there left to do at this stage? Just run. Slowly. I slowed the pace right down and as I ran parallel to Calderstones Park, I actually felt like I was going backwards. I know this is all psychological as I ran 19k 2 weeks ago with no real issues, but I really struggled to get over this. Gradually I ate up the distance and as I headed into Whallley, I was 1 km from home, but still had 1.6k to run, so a left turn back towards Clitheroe for a while, turn round and run back - should be enough. This was another turning point, although energy levels were low, I knew now I had this covered. All I had now was the spectre of Whalley Road towards Billington ahead of me. When planning such a route, leaving a long steep hill to finish probably wasn't wise, and as I crawled towards the final turn, took one last glance at my watch to check the distance - I'm still short! Only one thing to do...carry on up the hill for a while longer, turn round and then back down the hill. I haven't mentioned time for a while - by the time I had reached 15k, I had stopped caring about that, so hadn't looked at the time, just the distance. I would love to say I sprinted to the end, arms aloft, celebrating, but it was definitely a stagger. 



So what was the time? Well. I'll start with targets. I always have 3... 1) Absolute minimum expectation - for today this was 2 hours, still way better than I would have expected a few months ago 2) 1:50 - This is the target I shared with friends - what I may realistically expect to attain 3) Aspirational target - just me, nobody else finds out this target. Today it was 1:45, which is bang on 5:00 per km. 



I am absolutely thrilled, amazed, shocked and many other adjectives to think that I could do this (although this was, to use my own words, never about the time)  I have learnt so much, not only the science behind running, but about what we are capable of, about how to push limits without taking risks. Most importantly, the core reason that I took on this challenge was to make a difference. I am going to do the Great North Run for real next year, once my feet have had a good rest, and will continue to do all I can to raise much needed funds for my chosen charity Shelter. So far, through kindness and the generosity of many, between us all, we have raised approximately £2000 when Gift Aid is built into the calculations. If you wish to support this and make a donation, please click the link below, share as widely as you can via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platforms that you use!

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/graemeLucas1

Thanks for reading, supporting, encouraging and donating. The kindness of others has really helped to motivate me to do this. :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Finishing Line is in sight

 The end is now in sight! As mentioned in the previous entry, I'm now in the position where, to quote a wise man, I 'won't get any fitter, but can still get injured'. With 2 weeks to go, I have completed one last long run and have no plans to run anywhere near that distance (just short of 19k) between now and the day of the #GNRVirtual

So how did it go? An early start meant the sun was up, but it was cool. There was a slight breeze - so conditions were pretty much perfect. The route planned was, by the standards round here, pretty flat and was a route I had done a couple of times in Late May/Early June. Last time out, I completed this course in 1:48, and average KPM of around 5:30. Targets are important to me and really help while I am running, checking my watch occasionally helps me to retain focus and positivity. It also serves to give me the occasional kick up the backside that I might need to ensure that my pace doesn't drop too much in the middle section. In cricket terms, my running often mirrors a One Day International - starts off quickly, finishes well, but the middle overs can be a bit of a plod. This is something that is regularly seen in my splits. All too often the first km and the last km are the fastest ones, with those just coming up to half way usually the slowest, whatever the distance. The watch helps me to keep an eye on this, even though the readings are not quite as accurate in hilly areas. Back to targets... 1) Maintain improvements to cadence. On shorter runs I am up to 170 SPM, but on a run this long, last time was 160. I need to do better in this regard, and be up around 165 - ideally a bit higher. 2) Time targets - below 1:45 is an absolute must and my real aim would be to go below 1:40 - hopefully down towards 1:37/1:38. That is getting closer to the 5:00 per km mark, which I seem to be able to do on runs that are up to 12/14 km. 3) Don't hurt myself - push but don't strain.

So, targets set, processes followed - warm up done, all seems in my favour. There's just one slight issue - a  tightness in my groin running down the back of my right leg. It isn't stretching out and all I can hope is that when I set off, it will ease. Off we go...the customary quick start sees the first km covered in 4:12 and we are through Whalley in a decent time. At this point, there is no sign of any pain from anywhere, which is an unexpected bonus. Up hill now as I go through Barrow towards Clitheroe and as I turn onto the main road into Clitheroe, the time is indicating below 20 minutes - just over 4km covered, so a solid start. Feeling good at this point, the next stretch is long and straight, some undulations, a mix of up and down, but nothing too hard. I turn down Greenacre Street and pass Holmes Mill - 32 minutes on the timer and still going well after 6.3KM. Still feeling full of energy and pain free. I'm actually enjoying it! Usually I am only aware of enjoyment after the run ends..this is a new feeling. Of course, at this point, something is about to go awry, isn't it? What will it be? A fall? An injury? A sudden urge to go to the toilet? Or... a train. Yes - a train. Looking up, the level crossing comes down and the traffic is building up. Maybe by the time I reach the crossing, the train will have passed...but no, it hadn't, so a quick diversion into the park at the Castle Grounds is all I can do. It slows me down, but not by much, a 100m or so in and out, quick turn round and off I go again. Of course, this has a bit of an impact on how far I have run by the time I am at certain landmarks, so calculations of how close I am to previous times are inaccurate. In a strange way, this helped as I think over then next 3/4KM, the running improves massively from the previous time out. Past Edisford Bridge and up to the dreaded climb to Bashall Barn. Today I didn't feel myself slowing down too much at this stage (looking at the splits when home, these 2km were done in around 5:15 each, was nearly 6:00 last time) and as I hit the 10k, just over 48 minutes were on the clock. A decent start - time to keep it up. After another km or so, I felt my pace drop and needed to kick on - gave myself a talking to and upped the pace. The sun was fully out now, with nowhere to hide here, but once I turn back towards Whalley, there are trees and the shade was welcomed. 

The rest of the run is a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember hitting 16KM in around 1:19 and feeling ok, but once I hit 17KM, my tight groin started to ache, this was definitely tightening up now. At the end of this route, there are 3 possible ways to go - one will take me to the full 21KM, 1 will take me to 19.5KM and the other option... I've never done, so I don't know how far it will be. Truth be known, I have gone far enough, so I take option 3 (shortest route!) as injury prevention. When I arrive back and log the run, the Bluetooth measures the run as 18.8KM, my watch measures it as 19KM, so I settle for the shorter of the two distances and what does the time say?




I can't quite believe this time! Less than 5:00 per KM on this distance goes way above what I expected or even hoped. The increased cadence has made the difference, and the pace of the run is pretty consistent throughout. The uphill drag to Bashall Barn is the slowest part, but it's uphill for some distance, so it will be. Last image here is the splits. First 5KM and last 5KM. This is what I am most pleased with. My groin was tightening, but the pace was pretty much maintained from start to finish.



So what now? A few days rest - hopefully a couple of gym sessions and light running for the next couple of weeks. I'm considering a couple of 1 hour runs, try to maintain that 5:00 per KM pace and then by 13th September, I can get this virtual race run and give my body a real break!



Friday, August 28, 2020

TWO WEEKS TO GO...what have I learnt?

I haven't updated the blog so much in recent weeks - apologies for that, but... there hasn't been much to report really! I have carried on training, built in plenty of rest, and been considering a few issues to do with nutrition in readiness for 13th September - the big day!

So what have I been up to? Just mixing it up, some timed runs, some longer runs and some sprints. I am injury free and feel in decent shape right now, so the focus now has to be on 'ticking over' and getting more miles in my legs without risking injury. Now seems like a decent time to go in reflective mode once more and to think about what I have learnt over these past 5 months.

1) We are all capable of getting better at what we do quickly when we put our minds to it.


This is the importance of Positive Mindset. I make no apologies for emphasising this first. Back in March, I set off for my first 5k. It took nearly 31 minutes - over 6 minutes per km and my target had been 30 minutes. I looked at that and set a goal of 25 minutes, which I hit within a month and last time I did that run it was 22 minutes. A massive improvement from the start, but what was different? Sure - fitness gets better, but it gets better quickly. Above that, telling myself that I can do this, keeping on going up hill rather than slowing down to little more than a walk and not making excuses has been the key aspect. Setting targets for myself every run has also helped. Achievable targets that mean that previous runs are bettered, but not by so much that I give up part way through. Here's an example...recently I have been running time, so giving myself a time to run as far as I can. At the point at which I reach the halfway point of the time, I turn around and run home. Can I make it back before the time elapses and how far can I go? Each time, the aim has been simple...go further than before and make it home more quickly. 45 minutes, 50 minutes and an hour are the main ones here. Yesterday was a 45 minute run - the flattest one I could find. Objective? Go for 45 minutes maximum, get home before the clock ticks over and do more than 9km. Why more than 9km? Simple...that's how far I got last time on that run. Anything below 5:00 per km is fine with me on any run over 5k, the further below the better.

Here is the summary - and the reason for the improvement is cadence. Previous runs of this length had a cadence (steps per minute) of 166 - so 6 steps per minute more makes all the difference. This was probably my favourite run yet - 4:45 per km over this distance is decent going for an old duffer like me!


2) The first 2/3km still hurts

Weird this, it matters not a jot how much stretching, warming up I do, I hit 1.5km and my breathing goes funny and my thighs start to burn. This is when I go for the pocket, take out a gel and consume. Within 5 minutes, I am pain free and breathing settles down. Having the gel before setting off has no impact. I suspect it's my body simply getting used to the increased heart rate. My resting pulse is below 50 (usually 47/48) so getting up to 170/180 is a big increase.

3) Eating more food is a good thing!

It took nearly four months of training for me to work out why some days I ran like a 70 year old. Friends will be shocked to read that insufficient food intake has been an issue. What I know know is that preparation for longer runs should start a couple of days beforehand. The official term seems to be ‘carb loading’ but to me it’s more a case of eating loads, especially the evening before a morning run. I have also discovered that hydration is important and an electrolyte drink prior to bed helps both to hydrate and to add the zinc etc that the body will need. I’ll not go as far as to say it negates the effects of alcohol, not drinking before a run is always the best advice, but... well... let’s not dwell on that!

Last week I went out for a run after an evening meal of 3 bean chilli burrito and the previous night had been an Indian takeaway with a mountain of rice. Energy levels were higher than ever. The only possible down side to this approach is that fundamental issue of if you eat it, you have to use it or weight gain will no doubt take place. Like most people of a certain age, weight gain happens more easily for me than weight loss, so I can’t adopt the eat as much as I want approach for ever!

So what now?

16 days to go... a long run tomorrow (19k) should give me an indication of the time I should expect to achieve. I’m going to go off at a 4.45/4.50 Per km pace and see how long I can maintain this for. If I can get as far as 12/13k at that pace then ease off a bit, I should hit my target time overall. What’s my target time? Well... I have two. One none negotiable and one optimistic! Let’s see how tomorrow goes and review from there.

Thanks for sticking with it until the end. If you enjoy this and would like to contribute to Shelter, the donation page can be found here:



 




Monday, August 10, 2020

A month to go...

As the title says, a month to go and my training plan has completely gone out of the window! I knew in all honesty that drawing up something as rigid as that would not work. The trouble is, to echo the message from a very old entry...I know my own body and there are times when a short run doesn't really cut it. Equally, there are times when I am too busy with other things to do the longer runs. What I also realised is that when the weather is hot, a long run can only be done early morning. I have to say, first thing in the morning is my favourite time to run. There are fewer people around, which helps with social distancing, it is cooler and then I have the rest of the day to work, or relax if I am on leave, as I was last week.

A week off was something to be enjoyed and gave me an opportunity to get out for a couple of longer runs - I decided to do a couple of 16k runs last week, both different routes, both with challenge and hills involved. The first one is the one I have done a few times, previously my best time was 1:23 - which I had got down from a previous 1:32. My hope for this was to hit 1:20 - a solid 5:00 per km over a long run would make me feel I was on the right track. 


The map my run website has this measured as 15.6 km, whereas the Bluetooth in my trainers and Fitbit measure just over 16 km, so it's near enough. I'm not a professional athlete, just an old guy trying to get a bit better at running, so in reality, I'm not that bothered! Anyway, I know this run well and I know the first 6 km are difficult and pretty constant in the incline, so that's ok. The danger there is that I run this section slowly as I know there's some good downhill to come between km 6 and 8, but I then am in a rut and cannot accelerate. This run I will remember as the first long run where, however tired I became, at no point did I hit the 'I can't do this' wall that is my usual barrier. I felt good, ran ok - nothing earth shattering, but made it home in 1:21 - a bit slower than I had hoped but nonetheless, pretty pleased.

What I am also noticing now is that following such a long run, my body feels ok afterwards. Initially, running these distances (actually running any distance), made me hurt for days. I recall the day after the first time I had done this run, I could barely walk for 2 days! Now, I am ok afterwards and, apart from a bit of muscle fatigue, the next day feels fine. So I make the decision that definitely another 16k is on the cards a couple of days later, so I plan a route. Well, I plan a couple of routes in honesty. Plan A is full on torture, Plan B is 75% torture. Both involve Pendle Hill and sharp climbing and the decision of which route to take would be taken at the 8km mark, which is the point in the run where I have climbed 250m and the decision is either to keep on heading up for another km, or turn round (cattle grid near The Wellsprings if you want to google the images to see how high it looks!), head back down towards Clitheroe and have a run along the cycle path and back that way. Of course, there are positives of both. If I carry on, I know that  after the Nick O' Pendle, there  is a very steep downhill section where I can really accelerate, but this brings into play the risk of damaging something. I am also wary that I have still got a dodgy calf and decide at this point, to take the slightly easier option. I know. Cop out. Anyone who has been up there, even in a car, will have felt the pull, so I'm calling myself sensible not soft. I turned round, 8km under the belt and headed back down Pendle Hill, a lovely run and the sun had just come out. At least on this occasion, I had not opted for the black long-sleeved compression top! As I reached the A59 (newish mini-roundabout, just east of Clitheroe), a seemingly innocent roadsign got into my head and gave me some torture. All the sign noted  on a right turn was 'SKIPTON'. Don't get me wrong, I like Skipton, but the thought that this is being indicated on the road sign, on its own, spooked me a bit, I have to confess. It's Yorkshire...that means I must be miles and miles from home. I'm not going to be able to get back - I've underestimated the distances involved (etc) I also had a problem crossing the road due to the amount of traffic, so this added a couple of minutes to the time. After this, I started running again, and got a decent rhythm going for the rest of the run. This was always going to be slower than the other route, however, and I made it home in 1:23:36 - which I was pleased with overall, especially considering the amount of climb, through Wiswell, on to  Pendleton and then up the hill.




So now...a few days rest, see what happens and with less than 5 weeks to go, I have probably 12 training runs left before running 21km for the first time. I think the next couple of weeks, I'll do a couple more 16k along with some 1 hour runs - see if I can get beyond 12km in an hour. I doubt it very much, but it won't be through lack of trying! 


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Is your run going ahead? Plans...

I haven’t updated the blog for a while, and the reason for this is that I wanted clarity on the current situation and some future plans prior to publishing again. Later on in the blog, I will update on some recent runs, injury scares, along with the usual stuff about the difficulties of running up hills no doubt, we shall see.

So, by now, everyone is aware that the official Great North Run 2020 has been cancelled. In the current climate, this has to be the correct decision. A lot of people seem to have forgotten we are in the middle of a global pandemic and complacency around social distancing is kicking in. Wearing face coverings in shops has just become mandatory, and every other part of East Lancashire to the one in which I live has had restrictions placed upon them. We’re back to not being allowed to visit the homes and gardens of family and friends. That said, going to the pub is still allowed, so those calling it a local lockdown are well off beam. Anyway, I digress. The run is cancelled, and as I wrote at the time, it was always my intention to  run a half marathon on the day (Sunday 13th September) and I have a route planned. This was an individual decision and not connected to Great Run or my friends at Shelter. This has all been planned for some time, so isn’t really news. However, my entry will be official as the GNR people are working on a virtual run, follow the #greatnorthrunreimagined hashtag to see more.. seemingly there will be thousands of others going off on a solo long run on that day as well.

 For anyone who hasn’t seen my route, it is pictured below. 



It’s an interesting route and hopefully on a Sunday morning, the roads will be quiet enough for me to get round without having to stop for traffic at any point. Most of the hilly sections are early on, and from about 11km onwards, I will be in the beautiful Ribble Valley countryside. This week, I have had a conversation with the running events co-ordination team and, thanks to all the kindness and donations received so far, they have agreed to simply ‘roll over’ my 2020 GNR to the 2021 GNR. This is great news for me as the issue the charity has is that they are really struggling for cash flow and having new runners next year would support them more in gaining a higher level of income. As things stand, the generosity of my friends and family has gained Shelter around £1100 and for this,  they are extremely grateful. The benefit of this for me is that my donation page, which can be found  at https://Https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/graemeLucas1 will simply roll over to next year and will 
remain open. I won’t therefore be under pressure to raise a certain amount of money to give to Shelter 
as more than enough is already in there to cover the requirements of the charity (although it goes without saying, any donations made will be warmly received!) So great news! I’m doing my first half marathon 6 weeks today and the actual Great North Run in 58 weeks time! Massive thanks to everyone who hasn’t contributed to enable this to happen. 

What else have I been up to? Best place to keep up to date is Instagram (GreatNorthRunGraeme) as I tend to put pictures up after most runs. Main issue I have currently is stepping up the training as there is a real weakness in my left calf. Currently I cannot really sprint as a consequence of this, which feels like a muscular issue about half way up the calf. I don’t feel it when I am running generally but I get spasms in it every now and again, when sitting down sometimes, occasionally when walking, but if I try to run at anything like a sprint, it does feel like a muscle tear in waiting. With 6 weeks to go, this is causing me two problems. 1) Anxiety - every time I go out to run, I am nervous and edgy. I have now done three runs since resting this for a week, and yesterday managed 16k with no issues, so hopefully this anxiety will begin to recede from here 2) Times. This is having a big impact on my 
times and/or distance run in a set time. As an example, the first km this week has been done in 4:56 
and 4:52. I had this down to 4:30 consistently prior to the injury (4:08 once!). For me a fast start is important, if I start slowly, I never manage to speed up, whereas if I start at a decent pace, I tend to maintain it pretty well. This could make a 5 or 10 minute difference to my half marathon time if I don’t get it sorted.

Anyway, as mentioned earlier, I’ve done a few runs of late and seem to be settling on a pace of around 5:00 per km on runs up to 12k, but a touch slower on the longer distances. Timed runs have been enjoyable, a simple premise of setting myself a time, running in one direction for just over half of the time, then turning round and trying to get home within the target time. I did one of these earlier in the week, and allowed an hour. As always, I did the uphill thing first, and ran up through Langho and Wilpshire. Got almost as far as Wiltshire Golf Club in 30:30 and turned round. I should be able to get home within the time as it’s largely downhill that way. Trouble is, after 6k uphill, and a raft of wine floating around, my poor old legs were weary! Given the anxiety around my calf, I am also 
trying to stay at a consistent pace. Struggling covers it... however, eventually, I found an extra gear 
and made it home within the allotted time! 



As you can see, I worked hard for an hour and made 12k (just). I have put the diagram of the terrain on to show how challenging that run is! Most important thing here really is that I had no after effects of the run, and everything feels ok. Well, by ok, what I really mean is no worse! That means a longer run is next up...




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Risk/Reward...

One of the difficult balancing acts that I am trying to maintain, and I am guessing this is the same for anyone who runs, is around the whole 'how hard can I push?' issue. From the outset, my aim was simple...be fit enough to run a half marathon - the time is irrelevant. Obviously, I would aim to go well and not simply hobble round in 3 hours but nonetheless, I remember saying to myself 'anything under 2 1/2 hours is fine'. Since then, my competitive spirit has kicked in and every time I run, I am aiming to go either faster or further.

There must come a point, and I have touched on this before, where my body physically cannot go faster, or further, without risking everything by putting undue pressure on. This is what I am struggling with at the moment - I have the training plan and am trying different runs, simply to stop me from doing the same stuff but pushing too hard and, to quote a friend, 'doing myself a mischief'. For instance, I have a 7k run scheduled for this week, but I know if I do the same 7k that I have done in the past, I will be pushing hard, just to shave a few seconds off the 'Personal Best'. I have used inverted commas as for most of this process, every run has been my best...not because I am ace...but because it's the first time I have done the run! So what is wrong with this approach? A number of things:

1) My age... I don't like to hide behind this as an excuse, but it is there in reality. I'm not 25 anymore. Come to think of it, I'm not 35 either...or even 45! Do I really need at my age to be pushing myself just to say I ran 7k 3 seconds faster than I did a few weeks previously? Really? Can I not just enjoy it? (In case you were wondering, the answers to those questions are YES, YES and NO)
2) Injury record - I think it is pretty well documented that I have had my fair share of injuries over the years...and there are still weaknesses in the areas that I have needed treatment for this year. I am still doing my physio exercises to prevent issues in various limbs and muscles, and cannot afford any major setbacks. One muscle tear at this stage would absolutely ruin 4 months of hard work and I am trying everything in my power to avoid this.

It is taking all the above into account that I have settled on doing a number of 'timed runs' lately. This consists of me running in one direction for a set amount of time, turning round and trying to get home in a time less than I got there in...testing stamina and finishing, rather than 'How quickly can I do 10k?' An example of this is my latest run...I'll explain how it works. My plan was for a 45 minute run. In that time, running at a steady 5 minute per kilometre pace, I would hope to run around 9k. Not pushing...definitely not pushing...Steady away, hit the 23 minute mark, turn round and go home. If I'm not back in 45 minutes, I have failed! So - some competitive element, but not trying to break myself (although in reality...I am still thinking 'Can I cover 10k in the time?')

The morning was cool and fresh and there was no wind of any note (stop sniggering...)  so I went through the usual routines, got well hydrated and stretched. Overnight, I had felt a couple of twinges in my left calf, so was a little bit edgy about this. With this in mind, I used my calf roller to try and relax the muscle along with some extra stretches. I will see how it goes. Once outside, I flicked the watch timer on and sprinted off along the road. I think I had got about 50 metres when a familiar feeling hit home. The feeling that all sports people have felt - one that has happened to me on football and cricket pitches countless times...the feeling of a muscle that is stretched so tight, it is about to go 'PING'. My worst nightmare...now in the normal world of sensible people, what would be the correct course of action to take? Of course...sack it off, go home. Ice, elevation, stretches and maybe a walk later in the day.

My decision was an easy one - do what I always do...crack on. I know that people will be reading this now and thinking 'muppet' (or worse) but the reality was I decided to slow down a touch, see how it went and after 1 or 2 km, if it was problematic, go home. I always set off at a rate of knots and have recently been covering the first km in really quick times - but today isn't a race, so I decided to slow down. I knew this was the case as the first time checkpoint was about 1:03, and recently I have been doing this in 55/56 seconds. Good...sensible me...and I noticed that while I was taking it steady, with good cadence (170 PPM, short strides) the discomfort subsided. So I carried on...checking off the landmarks and for once, being PLEASED that I am slower than previous runs. As I reached the 2.5km mark, which is for the mathematicians reading this, the halfway point of my favoured 5k run, I was on about 12 minutes 10 seconds, which is a good 30 seconds slower than when I am pushing, and at this point it was decided - crack on with the original plan and up through Langho I went. There was just one moment of hesitation - as I reached The Royal Taj (cracking restaurant!), should I turn left and head up Whinney Lane, get back in the hills and then down from York to Painter Wood? Dodgy calf firmly in mind, I soon put that idea away and carried on. The next km is always the slowest of this particular route - up past St Mary's School and Church is deceptively steep and I did feel that I was actually going so slowly, I wondered if I was walking! That said, the times seemed consistent and I was feeling ok, so I ploughed on into Wilpshire. Just as I reached the old Carr Hall Garden Centre, I noted that the watch was saying 23 minutes - time to turn around and head home. The race was on...there in 23, could I make it home in 22? Well...to be fair, on the way there, I have climbed 115m and descended 21m, so on the way back, it's this in reverse. I know if I can get two or three sub 5 minute kms in, I'll get there and can do this without pushing too hard.

I made it home in 44:14 - so 45 seconds to spare - a total of 9 km, with an average pace of 4:55, which I am happy with, considering my calf was playing up. Fastest km was 4:26 - so nearly 20 seconds slower than when I am pushing. Using technology for analysis is great, so when I look at the last 2km, completed in 9:38, compared to my first 2km, in 9:44, it is clear that I was taking things very steady today - only 6 seconds faster - for a downhill run? In fairness, there are undulations, but overall, it's up there and down home! Next time I do this challenge, I think...as I had 45 seconds to spare, I should run for 23:30 and try to get home within 45 minutes. You never know, I might even get to the magical 10k mark!








Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Two months to go...Training Plans...

With less than two months to go until 'The Great North Run Reimagined', I decided it was probably time to bite the bullet and develop some form of training plan. Right back in March, when I set out on this adventure, I read a great deal and the common advice was 'do a training plan'. I really didn't want to go down that route and have such constraints put upon me. As stated in an earlier entry, I know my own body and was not prepared to work in a way that made me feel like I 'had to' run if I needed rest. However, over the last few weeks, with a combination of poor weather, work, tiredness and out and out laziness, most of my running has been short distances. At one point, 4 consecutive runs were 5k. Not belittling the 5k run as it is great for building lung capacity and speed, but just doing this isn't going to help me do my first ever half-marathon in September.

I decided that I needed to get over this and start to step up the distances...as well as seeing if I can now up the regularity of the runs. Thus far, 2 runs per week has been my general pattern and is usually one short (5/7km) and one longer (12-19km). Occasionally I have been tempted to do two longer runs to beat the previous time, but following these, I have needed longer recovery. When I look at my own discipline, it is waning slightly, so at this point, I sat down to draw up a training plan. One that would give me some flexibility, to stop me getting bored, bogged down and doing the 'same old'. What I could not do is put days of the week against runs - too many variables, so I have done the below table as a guide. I am now onto week 2 and have already changed from the plan. You will see on w/b 13th July that a 10k is in the plan. In the original, it was 7k...but I set off and just felt good, so I ran further! (more of that later). Hopefully this will give me enough structure and enough miles in my legs to finish my route in a reasonable time on 13th September but gives me enough freedom to choose, to swap things around and to change things up or down if I feel it isn't quite working.


Week
Midweek 1
Midweek 2
Weekend
6th July
40 minutes 
40 minutes (Harder route)
 WEEKEND OFF
13th July
10k (Wiswell)

12k (Hills)
20th July
5k
1 hour timed
7k
27th July
45 minutes
2 miles - SPRINT
16k - Normal
3rd August
2 miles
16k (Pendle)
5k
10th August
45 minutes
5k
90 minutes
17th August
7k
45 minutes
12k (Hills)
24th August
5k
19k (Bashall)
45 minutes
31st August
7k
12k (hills)

7th September
45 minutes
7k
THE RUN!!!

The Great North Run Reimagined...

As soon as the official run was cancelled, I started looking at options. There was no way I was doing all this training for nothing. Too many people (THANK YOU!) have given me words of encouragement and have donated to Shelter for me to just say 'oh  well, there's always next year'. The Great Run organiser have also decided to carry on with the 'reimagined' theme and I will learn more about this in early August. From a running point of view, living in Ribble Valley brings challenges - in the form of hills largely - getting into the middle of nowhere and maintaining social distancing is less of a challenge, and for me (I don't know if this is typical or not...) I get really irked if I have to stop to cross a road (it interrupts stride pattern and breathing) so planning a route with the fewest possible road crossings was important to me. What else did I want? Some challenge...not too flat, but hills at the beginning, I wanted some countryside. Nothing beats running on quiet country lanes. I also wanted a loop - to start and finish in the same place with the smallest amount of repetition. The final decision rested with familiarity. One of the routes I looked at would be a brand new route...in a different direction to where I usually run, but one that could only be a the full half marathon and no shorter alternative I could use as a trial. With all of that in mind, the following route has been chosen:



Here we go... Billington into Whalley, up to Wiswell, back down into Barrow, into Clitheroe, down past Edisford Bridge, up to Bashall Barn, then back towards Whalley through Mitton. It's a fantastic route with challenges galore! As you can see - over the first couple of km, there is a 120m climb, which is the highest point of the run. From there, it isn't exactly what you would call flat, but any climbs and descents are relatively short. Looking at the bottom picture, the worst part is going to be the climb just after 15km and of course, the final pull at the end! For those who know the route, the uphill sections that you can see are firstly, from Whalley to Wiswell (at the beginning), then up through Barrow towards Clitheroe, with a couple of steep ones - one around 10km, which is near Edisford Bridge and then again after 15km, which is near The Aspinall Arms in Mitton. As it is a loop, the ascents and descents are equal, so it seems a fair route to challenge myself with.

So what have I been doing to prepare... a few little runs, nothing major so far. Last week I did 2 x 40 minute runs where the challenge was run for 22 minutes, then turn round and try to get home within the 40 minute limit. I didn't manage on either occasion, but in 41 minutes (roughly), I managed between 8.3 and 8.6 km. The highlight of these runs was running my fastest ever km - 4:09 for the first km of the run. If you look at the picture above, it is the same first km - starting with a sharp uphill, then equally sharp downhill. I looked at that and thought to myself that I will probably never better that!

Run 3 was an early morning run - cool, cloudy and a light breeze. Perfect conditions and I decided to follow a similar route to last week, but to run for 23 minutes and try to get back in 45! See how far I could go in that time. Anything over 9km would be just fine. I set off quickly and felt good, all the old injuries causing zero problems, which is always encouraging. Up the hill into Wiswell and towards Pendleton. There are some HUGE properties up there! One of the weird things on that route is that is all feels uphill, with a few flatter bits once you are through Wiswell and heading for Pendleton. Nothing strange there, until you turn round and come back...and it all feels uphill again! Anyway, I get further than last time and am just short of Pendleton at about 23:15 and I turn round for home. Recently, I have adjusted the stride length on my watch and it now gives an accurate picture of the distance covered (splits not really as it works on cadence and doesn't calculate differentials in stride pattern - it would if connected to a phone...) so I am looking towards 46/47 minutes if I make it home in a similar time. Difficulty is, the last section covered was steeply descending, so as I turn round I am faced with a sharp incline for about 400m, which is a bit brutal. Once back in Wiswell, there is a lovely long downhill section down to the main road and I get to that in a reasonable time. 2km from home...7.5km done, 37 minutes on the clock. At this point, I make the call that once on the home straight, I will continue up past where I normally turn for home and run another 250m or so, to bank a 10k, rather than a 9.6k run! Problem there is the road is steep and pulling up there is always hard work (look at the last section of the half marathon diagram...it's that 'up' bit but for some reason I voluntarily extended it!)

Anyway...I made it back in one piece and in a time of 48:04 - 10k at an average pace of 4:48. Fastest km = 4:08 - faster than last time and a slowest km of 5:20, which is ok on the climb...for me anyway.

So onto weekend and according to the training plan, I have a 12k run planned. We'll see...

Monday, July 6, 2020

A wet week...

Not much to report this week - training has been utterly minimal due to the weather. Many runners I know tell me that rain is their preferred weather condition. All I can say here is it isn't mine. Twice in the last week I have set off in wet conditions, got fed up and just done short runs as a result.

On Wednesday, I did have a good run - setting off, it was (as always) raining, but very fine, there was little or no wind and the plan was the standard early morning 5k. I had recently done this in 23:06 - so going under 23:00 was the aim. Definitely possible - conditions in my favour and feeling good this morning. Well hydrated - caffeine gel in my pocket ready to kickstart me at the half way point and a 'plan' (if you can call it that) to set off as fast as possible and try to take a good 30 seconds off the first 2k. If I can do that - 22:45 is definitely achievable. Given that the last 2 km is generally downhill, energy should still be ok and let's see!

Setting off involves routines...stretches until my joints stop cracking, a few bonus calf stretches once outside and then set off...sprint the first 100m or so and then settle into a rhythm. If you have read previous entries, you will know that the run to the top of the road is about 300m and is up a pretty steep climb (8-10%). Recent runs I have been hitting the bend at the top at around 1:00 - which has been good improvement and as I slow down to negotiate the sharp right turn (wet underfoot as well), I look at the watch, which is showing 55 seconds - it is these moments that give the boost required to keep going. Feeling good now, I settle into a decent stride pattern, telling myself to do shorter, faster paces. As I hit the familiar landmarks, I keep glancing at the time - Village Store - around 4:30, obelisk 6:30... what? 6:30? It's normally over 7 minutes to here...what is happening? Am I actually running pretty quickly (this landmark is, in old money, a mile). Buoyed by this, I carry on up the next bit, up the hill, and up to the turnaround point - Last time (23:06 overall) I reached this in around 12 minutes - just over. This time, the watch is telling me 11:30 roughly. I know the wind is now blowing today, so no assistance down the hill today. Time to turn round and see what happens.

The rest of the run is pretty much uneventful - seemed to be going ok, but no more watch glances - just keep going, keep running and one final push downhill at a decent rate sees me home...22:!5!!! A new Personal Best (and one I don't think I will ever beat!) and here we have the splits - interesting reading! (If you like looking at graphs)



Looking at this, it is easy to see where I made the inroads... 17 seconds off each of the first 2km is where the progress came - 4:23 for that first km I find the biggest shock. When I started running in March, this km always took me well over 5:30 and often 6 minutes - the decision to try to start faster is definitely making a difference. 

The rest of the week was so wet, it was hard to face going out - I managed to get out on Saturday with the aim of a longer run, but after 15 minutes, I was soaked the skin and feeling cold and miserable - with two months to go, there is no point training when I don't have to and resenting this, so I don't feel too disappointed.

So what next? As I type, Great North Run has obviously been cancelled and the organisers are working on #GreatNorthRunReimagined - which means on the day, I will still run a half marathon, but this will be a solo run rather than with 50,000 others! I have now planned and settled on my route (more on that next week!!!), so from here on in, all the plans will go towards doing this in the best time possible and also to try and raise more vital funds for Shelter, my chosen charity. If you are enjoying the blog, and want to help out, please consider paying a visit to my donation page, which can be found at the link below:


Alternatively - give my Instagram a follow www.instagram.com/greatnorthrungraeme

Thanks...

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Maintaining Distance...

Today's blog has a double meaning...obviously, with our version of lockdown (ie, not really lockdown!) easing, and more shops open, people working, out and about, selecting a time to run is proving more and more difficult. I am extremely cautious around social distancing, not just for my health, but for the benefit of family and friends. The thought of me picking up the disease, being fine, but passing it on to people who may not be fills me with dread. Regular readers will recall that at the peak of the restrictions, there were occasions when I have run straight down the middle of the road to avoid potential meeting with people.

I gave myself a weekend off running last weekend - a number of reasons, but mainly because my body was telling me to do so. Work is busy, mentally exhausting, so some time at home to relax, switch off and do next to nothing was high on my agenda. Various body parts that are always liable to breakdown (back, ankle, achilles, knee) were all starting to feel like a break, so a break they had. Of course, having done so, by Tuesday evening, I am getting paranoid about losing fitness so in the early evening, decide to set off for a run - a 'there and back' to Pendleton (about 10.6km - target time 50 minutes). Did the usual set up, stretch, hydrate, gel...and off. Full pelt up the road, usual routines...Ankle? Fine. Achilles? Fine. Knee? Fine. Groin? Fine. Hip? Fine. Glute? Fine. Back? Fine. By the time all this  is done, I am at the top of the road, 300m (ish) done - uphill, breathing hard and ready for the run down into Whalley centre. This is where the problems started - people...everywhere! Ahead of me, two people side by side - it's rush hour so traffic is mad, running on the road not an option. Find a gap, cross road and down we go. Phew...carry on. However, as I reached the bridge, a problem. A family of 4 crossing the road with a dog...blocking the entire pavement and on the other side of the road...more people - and a road full of cars. Only one option for me here. Stop and wait.

I hate stopping when out running - I lose all rhythm and as the first km is where I generally sort out breathing and stride patterns, am starting from scratch. Once they crossed, I started again and carried on into the village. Another three road crosses for social distancing later, and a group of 3 girls side by side not stopping, two roads to cross normally that have required me to stop, I have steam coming out of my ears, I am agitated and fed up. There are too many people out and about for me to do this run. Don't get me wrong, I am not blaming the other people - I blame me. Firstly, I know that coming out at around 5.30 to run a route that requires me to run through the village centre is lunacy. Secondly, I also know that most people would just suck it up, walk to the other end of the village and start the run once in a quieter place. Not me - I turn round and go home. As I walk back, I consider a run up Painter Wood towards York (not that one!) and then a sprint down the hill... but I'm not in the right place mentally to do this. So I go home...have a bit of time messing about with a 'natural vector for the virus' and vow to do the run in the morning. In reality, I know this won't happen - I have a meeting at 9.00 so need to be back home, showered and ready before then. Which won't happen.

I think that's why I  couldn't sleep last night - got to get up early, got to run, got to maintain fitness and speed. All these thoughts running through my head and by the time I am up and had a coffee, there's only time for 5k...it's the hottest day of the year so far and already 22C when I set off. Big voice in my head... TODAY IS NOT A DAY FOR CHASING PERSONAL BESTS... But of course...bigger voice in head YOU'RE LAZY...NEED TO PUT A GOOD TIME IN TO MAKE UP FOR NOT RUNNING ENOUGH LATELY!!! So I decided that based on my last run of the same route (23:52), the key to reducing the time was to do two things. 1) Push harder on the second km (uphill) and also to aim for 4:30 for each of the last 2km. If I could do this, I had a chance of breaking 23 minutes for the first time. I started ok - everything felt good, and the pace felt ok - after 1km, I am on 4:42...3 seconds slower than last time, but still feeling ok as now is the accelerate time...but it's hot and I am struggling to make headway...2km - 9:35 - just one second better...but by 3km I am bang on the same time as last week. At least I am consistent! Only one thing left to do and that is to absolutely go for it over the last two km. Maintain cadence, lengthen stride and see what happens. Of course, by now I am sweltering and don't look at the clock once until I get home. When I do, I am pleased to see that last weeks time of 23:52 is no longer my best for that run...two fast last kms see me home...


For some bizarre reason, my trainers have measured the distance as exactly 5km, not the 5.07km from last week...but it is the same run - 37 seconds faster and in the heat. I now feel capable of going under 23 minutes for this... 

Being honest, it's a timely boost for me because I know the heat played a part but despite this, the last 2k were completed in under 9 minutes (8:55). The weekend off has done me some good I think, I need to get a longer run done again soon - got to maintain distance in every sense. 



Monday, June 15, 2020

GREAT NORTH RUN - POSTPONED! :-(

COVID 19 has undoubtedly had an enormous negative impact upon all of our lives and continues to do so. Over the past few months, we have stayed at home, protected the NHS and saved lives. Now we are alert... We have learned new phrases - imagine a time when we didn't use the phrase social distancing! Whilst easing the lockdown is now a priority for the Government, The Great North Run has been (using the words of the organisers) CANCELLED...

The first I heard of this was when I got an e-mail from the charity I am supporting, Shelter. They e-mailed to say that more information would follow but my entry would be rolled over to 2021 should I wish to do this. I had been anticipating this eventuality, but when the news was confirmed, I did feel really deflated. Deflated, not upset, not angry, not frustrated, annoyed or anything else, just deflated. As I type, I can now put this down to two main issues:

1) Personal sense of achievement. For the past three months, I have gone from being a complete novice, a non-runner, to where I am now, which is that of an ok-ish runner who was on target to complete his first ever half marathon in a semi-reasonable time. From the first 5k, when I only just made it home and failed to hit my 30:00 target to Saturday - 16 k in 1:22. This has been 3 months where I have worked hard,  gone out training when I really didn't want to do so and put myself through the mill. Why? Simple - to make a difference. So many people making so many kind donations to the cause, positive words. Advice and support from people who have done what I am doing themselves. All of those things and more meant I have been incredibly well-motivated and was really building towards a sense of personal achievement. Like most people, I work hardest and most positively when there is a clear goal in mind.

2)  More importantly - I chose to run to support Shelter - I have done this for reasons outlined elsewhere in the blog and this is a charity that really needs our support. As the country begins to recover from the COVID Outbreak, this will be a key time for organisations like Shelter to provide the care and support for families, especially those who are at risk. Given that we know the economy will take an enormous hit, we are looking at entering a deep recession, Shelter will be needed more than ever. My aim is to carry on running for Shelter - regardless of the Great North Run taking place or not. If you can spare a small amount of money, please consider making a donation through my giving page: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/graemeLucas1

So what now?

Hippo time has gone and we're back onto a positive mindset now.

Firstly - the race has not been cancelled - merely postponed by a year! I will be 48 by then, not 47...so why can I not stay motivated for another 15 months. I am led to believe that my charity place will remain open for 2021, so mind and body willing, aim to compete in this.

Secondly - I have a 20k run that I do round here that I could easily extend to a full half marathon...a couple of extra turns and I am there. It is steep, hilly and hellish...but therein lies a challenge. On the day when the GNR should have taken place, it is my intention to go out and run an alternative version, 'The Ribble Valley Run' - not quite as snappy...but that's life!  As a bit of an afterthought, maybe instead of a known route, I should work out a brand new run, one I have never run before to try and recreate the unknown aspect of doing the GNR. Not sure I will be able to recreate streets lined with support, people cheering and a nice silver blanket thrown over me at the end but... who knows? All I will say now is WATCH THIS SPACE... Suggestions are always welcomed -   I want to start (and preferably finish) at home so please... could any suggested routes could start in the Whalley area? Thanks.

This isn't the end of the running, isn't the end of the adventure...just means I have longer to wait - and in the grand scheme of things, there are more pressing issues than whether I can run 13.1 miles with 50,000 other people. In the words of Johnny Logan, what's another year? (Slightly obscure Eurovision Song Contest music reference for the pleasure of Simon Ditchfield - and before you ask, Simon...1980)

Thanks once more for all the support I have had so far and hope to continue to have. I will keep working hard and doing all I can. #Togetherwecanmakeadifference


A week is a long time in training...

I didn’t add anything to this blog last weekend, and for good reason. I ran on Sunday morning and it was a failure, a disastrous run in many ways and the harsh voice of the inner critic was very real, telling me that was it, I’d hit the wall, peaked too soon, not as fit as you thought, etc etc. You get the picture and I didn't want to write about it. I’m not going to dwell on this, but a bit of background is needed.

I’d decided to give myself a Saturday morning off and enjoy a lazy morning at home with my family, which meant a run on Sunday. Now I like routines, but moving from Saturday to Sunday couldn’t make that much difference could it? I had decided a short run only as the weekend started early on Friday night and we had a few drinks Saturday as well (I know...) Anyway, onto the standard 7k loop...and a target of beating the PB by smashing up the hills and hitting the first 4K hard. Started off well, body felt good, no pains, aches or potential injuries. In fact everything was fine until I consumed the gel half way up into Wiswell, as normal...it just didn’t settle well and although after 4K I was flying, I really did struggle thereafter and was a couple of minutes slower than previous runs. Sunday runs...maybe not for me!

If you fall off a bike, you should get back on immediately, so the saying goes, which is what I did. Wednesday morning, early morning...no wind, cool, dry and since Sunday, I had been hydrating properly and was well prepared. This was the chance to set a new PB and prove to myself that there was still some improvement in me. I took the same approach, as fast as possible to start, and covered the first km in 4:25, by my standards very fast...then up past Oakhill and a glance at the watch as I approached the main road gave me a boost. Below 10 minutes for the first time, but then...disaster. It’s not even 8 am, but the traffic on the main road is awful! I have to stop, wait, look both ways and, following the green cross code, walk across the road sensibly. Problem now is that, having gone through the difficult first 2k and just got myself breathing properly, I have to do it all again, and this time, uphill! I have paused my watch, but there’s no hiding place from the official timer, which is the Bluetooth in my shoes! We will see what impact this has later...and I won’t know until then. Onwards and upwards...into Wiswell and through the other side... 15 minutes, now a km downhill...enjoy it, lengthening stride and kick on. Time is good and I am on track to beat my previous best of 34:13, but will the extra 30 seconds at the main road prove costly? As I hit each mini landmark, I feel the time is good and when I hit home, a glance at the watch shows a time of 33:29, but that’s not the official time, so I have to wait...


33:46! Great news, back on track...and an average pace of 4:49, which is really pleasing for me. With this under my belt, all being well, I will have a longer run on Saturday morning. Splits show decent pace up the hill as well (KM 2 and 3...with a 20 second or so stop on KM 3 for road crossing!)



So where to go and what to do? I fancy doing a run I have done before, but not for a while and then I can see if improvements have been sustained. I also want something reasonably flat - not that this exists in Ribble Valley, but in the end settled for this one:



The map website says 15.78 km - so with social distancing veering and road crossing, that covers 16k - ten miles (Trainers say 16.1 km) It's not flat and as you can see from the picture, elevation over the first few km is pretty steep. I have done this run twice, but not for a while, and my last run here took me 1:32 - so the obvious aim here is that I have to go below 1:30, but I have another target in mind - 1:25. From memory, I had a few issues on this run last time and was really slow at times, ran out of energy, so realistically I am hoping I can take 7 minutes off that previous time. It's a stretch, but I think I can probably just about do it.

The difficulty with doing a run that I haven't done for a while is remembering where I was at previous time points last time - I have only one definite point, which is just past The Bonny Inn in Salesbury. Last time, I hit 45 minutes. That's really the only indicator I have but my theory is if I set off quickly, I'll then drop back onto the same pace as last time and will be fine. All the usual routines followed, hydrated and energised, I set off. Bearing in mind the first 6k of this run is pretty much all uphill, going off at a decent speed is going to be a challenge, but as I hit 3k, I am under 15 minutes, possibly too quick and I may well pay for that later. On return home, looking at the splits, the first km is 4:47, whereas in this direction previously, I have been looking more like 6 minutes, so yes - a fast start. The good news is conditions were good, warm but not hot. No wind, no downpours and, as it was pretty early, very quiet out and about. As I said, I had no clue about how fast this run was until a point which is not far off half way, but after 3km, with more climbing to do, my legs ask me to slow down. Well, they don't ask - they more, well, just do exactly that. Muscles in my upper thigh start to feel weary and I'm wondering now if the fast start was a good idea. The good news is that I know that soon enough, I turn down towards Salesbury and get a nice (but short) downhill section to recover some energy and from there I can get back on to running at a decent pace. As I pass the landmark that was 45 minutes last time, I take a quick glance at the watch - 39:20 - nearly 6 minutes faster - that's over a distance of about 7.6km so a decent run so far and a decent time. This gives me a lift and running down from there to Longsight Road I am confident now that this will be a decent time. Energy levels are back up again, not a sign of any aches and pains. I'm now hot (sun has come out) and thirsty, but that's ok. The difficulty with this run I think is that once down onto the A59, the road towards Northcote is long, has more climbs than I anticipate and has few landmarks...I can count them, Yu (Chinese Restaurant) aside, the next mark of note is Langho FC on the right, and looking at the times on the watch, I am on this stretch for 20 minutes. 

What I am finding is that long, straight stretches where there is no sign of change are the points in runs when my energy dips, and the internal struggles begin... I don't think it is boredom that is the enemy. I have said that before and I am certain this is the case. It reminds me of when I used to drive to Lancaster every day for work. Had it all been motorway, it would have seemed longer, but breaking things down into chunks makes things feel less mundane, and ticking landmarks off on the way gives us a more rapid sense of progress. This road does not do this...it's just long. As I hit the 10k mark somewhere just over 50 minutes, it's time for the secret weapon. Caffeine gel! I know that 75g of caffeine and 40g of carbohydrate is enough to last for 6km, it's now a question of trying to maintain something like a decent pace. Nothing can stop me...well, when I say nothing, what I mean is nothing apart from irritating sock issues. For some reason, after about an hour's running, my sock on my left foot seems to have moved and has a bobble that has gathered by my toes and is really uncomfortable. This is increasingly annoying and I take the decision that I have to stop and fix it. Stopping mid-run presents 2 main problems for me:

1) Starting again is hard...legs and lungs.
2) Time - my trainers time will keep on ticking and I might not hit the target I set

But stop I must, or my left foot will just be one massive blister later. I find a farm, lean on the gatepost, shoe and sock off, readjust as best as I can. The sock is soaked through, which makes this slightly lengthier than I hoped, and there is already a delightful blister formed on the end of the toe next to my big toe...such fun! Anyway, off we go again, back into a decent (ish) rhythm and let's see where this gets me. This section of the run was slow, it felt slow and as I went, had no idea of how the time would look at the end. With no landmarks, or memories of how the last run compared, I was completely in the dark! Eventually, I reached 'the roundabout' by Northcote and was on around 1:08 - from here it's around 3k to home, with undulations and a few steepish downhill sections, I  reckon 15-17 minutes from here. No more clock watching - focus on getting decent rhythm and let's see if I can shift a bit faster on the downward bits. I get a decent finish and once inside, sync the trainers and watch to find...
Now obviously, I have to be delighted with this overall, as I am well within my target time - at 1:20, I would be running 8 minute miles, which again would be another huge improvement for me. What I now know I need to work on is pacing myself properly - if I can set off a touch slower, but not much, could I then maintain a faster pace between km 10 and 14 (which were all close to 5:30 - too slow)? Or should I keep on setting off fast and just get fitter? Last time I started slowly on a long run, I still ran out of steam. Do I need to look again at nutrition? I used 1200 calories during this run, so maybe that's something I now need to look at again. Lots to think about...lots to ponder, but overall a good week following last Sunday's nightmare!

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