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:// 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...