Runner’s Knee

runner's knee 460

For as long as I’ve been running, I’ve suffered mildly from runner’s knee. I over-pronate, which means my feet (and knees) fall inward when I run. This creates undue stress on them at times, particularly if running on an uneven surface like my favourite, the towpath by the River Lea. What then happens isn’t pain, but I can feel the quadriceps tendon doing some gymnastics over my patella that neither were designed for, before everything pops back into place. I often experience this while running, and become more mindful about my running form in these moments. Continue reading “Runner’s Knee”

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It’s Not The Destination, It’s The Journey That’s Important

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July 1st 2012 was the date of my first race since the 2007 London Marathon. A difficult recovery after an operation had given me a new found gratefulness for the fact that I am able to put one foot in front of another. I could not have seen then how running would transform my life. It has taken me to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bournemouth and soon Berlin, but the friendships I have made through running will last beyond memory.

Last Sunday, I went back to that Regents Park course and ran 10K 9 minutes faster than that day in 2012, but the first race will always be the most special to me. I keep the race number hanging on a wall in my flat.

In order to see how far you have come, you must remember where you came from.

How I Learned To Love Marathon Training

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Marathon training sucks. There, I’ve said it. You train for 16 weeks to run a race that will take most mortals somewhere between 2 and 6 hours. 2 and 6 hours! Many of us struggle to concentrate on one thing for more than five minutes in this fast-paced, multi-tasking society. Why would you do something repetitively for such a long time? You sacrifice junk food, alcohol and social gatherings in order to bank the miles and ensure race day is an enjoyable experience. On the journey, you may get injured, hopefully not too seriously, or at least miss some training runs due to ill health. It stands to reason that in 16 weeks of regular commitment to exercise, there are going to be some troughs as well as highs. But this time, I think I cracked it. I actually enjoyed the training process, and most of the race itself. Here’s how…

1) Find a good training plan and stick to it. I got my training plan from the Runner’s World website (http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/training/). Hal Higdon also has some good ones over at http://www.halhigdon.com/. Pick one that’s the right level of commitment for you and stick to it. There’s no point picking a 6 day a week training plan if you’ve only been running once a week. Received wisdom seems to be that 3-6  training runs a week is required- with 3 being the minimum: one tempo run at a pace outside your  comfort zone but which you can sustain for the duration; one track or hill session, involving shorter intense bursts interspersed by brief recovery periods; and one long run, in which you gradually increase the mileage each week. I made the mistake of over-training during the build up to Bournemouth.

6 years after my last marathon experience, I chose to run the Bournemouth Marathon because my friends were doing it and because it would allow me to do the bulk of my training over the school summer hoilday (I’m a teacher) when I would have more time to recover. However, I was enjoying my training so much I got carried away, and ended up doing crazy blocks of really intense training back to back (read all about it here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/one-week-to-go/ ). This resulted in my left calf blowing up like a ham five weeks from the race. I was fortunate enough to recover well enough to be able to run, but I’m sure I hit the wall after mile 18 because I had to massively reduce my training load over the last 5 weeks. Consequently, I’m sticking to 4 runs a week for the forseeable future (down from 6) and building more yoga and strength training into my training plan.

2) Set yourself challenging but achievable goals and be easy if you can’t quite reach them. The marathon distance is not a joke. Just completing the distance is a significant achievement in itself. Nevertheless, some of my friends running Bournemouth seemed a little down after the race because they hadn’t quite reached the time they wanted. I felt exactly the same after my previous marathon experience (which you can read about here… https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/my-london-marathon-experience-or-why-i-stopped-running-for-five-years/ ). They really should be incredibly proud of themselves, as it was a tough, hilly course and a very hot day, which makes a huge difference over such a long distance. Factors on race day such as the weather, the elevation on the course, the amount of sleep you got the night before- are all going to affect you.

I was really lucky this time around, in that I’m a much fitter person, and a much better runner, than I was last time I attempted the marathon distance. Unless things went disastrously wrong, I was going to get a PB. But there is an art to not getting too hung up on your time, so I made that my main objective for this race. I was determined to enjoy the scenery, take in what was around me, and smile my way round. Running along the Bournemouth coastline was more beautiful than I had expected, and race day dawned warm and sunny. I’m glad that I got to see Bournemouth at her best, and will definitely be heading back there next summer to chill out on those glorious sandy beaches. Bournemouth Map

3) Get plenty of rest in the run up to the race. Obviously, I had some enforced rest through getting injured, but I also made sure to taper properly in the last 3 weeks. I was very tempted to run a 20 miler at the end of my first week back from injury, but on the advice of my friends and family, I decided not to. A good decision. I also managed to get plenty of long sleeps in during the week of the race, winding down earlier than usual during the week and hitting the hay early. There were some bad germs going around at work, so I made sure I took every precaution possible to avoid catching a cold. I dosed myself up on vitamins and ate as healthily as possible.

I’m glad I’d stocked up on sleep, because the night before the race insomnia struck, caused by the excitement, and perhaps the pressure to do well, in the marathon. I haven’t had this problem with half marathons or 10Ks, but it’s affected me both times I’ve run a marathon. The distance is so much further than what I can comfortably run, so I was anxious to get to sleep, and this of course prevented me from sleeping. In the end, I only managed two hours, in separate 1 hour blocks. In the end, not being able to sleep was a blessing in disguise. I expected my body to hit the wall sooner rather than later, and saw every step I took as a bonus. I was glad to have gotten two hours, rather than none, and I had no qualms in allowing myself to walk from mile 18 onwards.

4) Have a race plan. Mine was to run roughly 7 minute miles for as long as I could, and then to allow myself to walk if I hit the wall. I managed to hit my target pace for 18 miles. There was one really hard uphill mile where I fell behind, but I was able to make the time back up on the downhill on the other side. This plan took all the pressure off me. 7 minute miles were fairly comfortable compared to the pace we often run in Elites at Run Dem Crew. It also meant that when the wheels came off, I’d gotten to mile 18 in such a quick time that even if I walked the rest of the way, it was probable I would still PB. This really freed me up and gave me permission to walk and enjoy the scenery.

I want to stress the fact that us relatively faster runners in Run Dem elites have struggles in races, too. I actually walked several times over the last few miles, and had my first experience of cramp in a race. My heart and lungs were ready to continue, but my legs just didn’t have the strength. It’s something I can work on for the future, and I was happy to accept where I was at on race day. I discovered an unexpected plus side to walking. You get cheered on more vociferously by the supporters along the route, and if you actually start running again, they raise the roof. On discovering this, I may have deliberately slowed down to a walk just to get the cheer when I started running again. The Bournemouth supporters were a lovely, energetic lot, more than happy to high five you as you ran, and I’m grateful to them for helping me to the finish line.

High 5 Asics

5) Enter with friends. Before I joined Run Dem Crew I used to race on my own and it can be very lonely. It’s so much easier to enjoy training and racing when you are doing it with other people.  There’s a real camaraderie from the shared experience of putting the miles in, especially on those long runs. On race day, and in this case over the whole race weekend, my experience was made so much more enjoyable because it was shared. It was great just hanging out with mates, eating good food, exploring Bournemouth and celebrating after the race. It was a happy accident that the course featured a number of double-backs. This meant that we all got to see each other multiple times during the marathon, and helped lift spirits when they were flagging. Double-backs are not great for fast times, but having said that, I’ve set PBs on double-back courses and a friendly face goes a long way when you’re questioning whether you can complete the distance.

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The inaugural Bournemouth Marathon was a really good race. The views along the coast were beautiful, but I’m definitely going to pay more attention to the elevation chart in future, and incorporate more hill training when appropriate.

Bournemouth Elevation

Pete, Tim and I muscled our way to the front of the Orange race pen, which made for an exciting start. We had a great view of the elite runners speeding off into the distance and it felt great leading out thousands of others after the starting gun. That said, the 10am start meant that we were running during the hottest part of the day. I’d favour an 8am start next year to avoid this, with the half marathon starting later.

There were moments when I questioned my sanity as I ran with a parched throat past people enjoying ice-creams and lollies on the seafront. Next time, I’m putting a pound in that little pocket at the back of my running shorts. On the subject of nutrition, after mile 14 I couldn’t stomach any more Clif Shot Bloks, which I was using to top up my energy on the course. Anyone got any recommendations for an alternative? Throughout the race, I kept the notion this was supposed to be fun in the forefront of my mind, and did everything I could to keep it there.

 The medal is a really nice bit of bling. It looks different from all my others, and that’s fitting, since this was an important race for me. 2013-10-06 15.54.40

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 21 minutes, which was 1 hour and 5 minutes faster than my previous marathon PB. I finished hand in hand with a guy called Michael. I’d never met him before the race, but we kept passing each other during the race, and supported each other as if we were old friends. We bonded over those 26.2 miles.

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The amount of training required for a marathon is prohibitive, so I don’t plan on doing another marathon for at least a year. Still, I was able to even up my previous negative marathon experience, and look forward to also doing an ultra some day. In the nearer future, I’m looking forward to running plenty of 10K and half marathon races over the next few months, and will be involved in X-Country for the first time since I was at school. I feel strengthened through the knowledge that I’ve been able to have an enjoyable marathon race.

Here’s to the next one, because over the past few months, I’ve revised my opinion about marathons.

Marathon training rocks. There, I’ve said it. Bournemouth Thumb

 

 

 

One Week To Go

Bournemouth Marathon Picture

One week to go until I run the second marathon of my life. The first was a thoroughly horrible experience. I ran the London Marathon in 2007, and had such a bad time that I didn’t run for another five years afterwards. You can read more about that catalogue of disasters here:

https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/my-london-marathon-experience-or-why-i-stopped-running-for-five-years/

When I came back to running in June of last year, the plan was simply to lose a bit of weight and complete a 10K. I enjoyed that first 10K so much that I signed up for another one, and within a couple of months I’d joined Run Dem Crew and found myself signing up for my first ever half marathon, and my first Bridge the Gap event, in Amsterdam. That run was the first time that I enjoyed a race from start to finish. Charlie Dark, the founder of Run Dem Crew, says that if you put the work in during training, the race itself is a celebration, and I found that to be true in Amsterdam.

Over the next few months, I had a great time running 10Ks and half marathons, and felt like I’d found my natural distances. The half marathon is more than double the 10K distance, but to me it didn’t feel like such a huge step up. The jump from half to marathon, however, is significant, and I’ve discovered during training just how much of a toll it takes on the body.

Towards the end of the winter, some Run Dem friends, Emma and Tim, mentioned they were doing the Bournemouth Marathon, and they encouraged me to enter. My interest was piqued. I began to believe this time I could have a positive marathon experience- one to neutralise the negative one I’ve had previously. The timing was good. With an early October race date, I’d be able to use the extra free time I would have during the summer holiday from teaching to put in all the extra miles. I took the plunge and entered, and soon several other friends did, too.

Received wisdom seems to be that you need about 16 weeks to train for a marathon. I now see I made a mistake in my approach to the first part of this training. I had entered the Down Tow Up Flow half marathon at the end of July, so I spent the first 6 weeks of the training programme following a half marathon plan. I was running about 25-30 miles a week. After running the race, which you can read about here ( https://anotherwisemonkey.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/down-tow-up-flow-half-marathon-race-report/ ) I switched immediately over to week 7 of the 16 week marathon training.

This resulted in a big jump up in the weekly mileage, to just under 50 miles per week. I listened to my body as I increased the mileage, or at least I thought I did, and tried not to overdo it, but I did find myself sometimes doing three intense training days back to back. The elite runs in Run Dem Crew on a Tuesday were coincidentally getting much more intense, as Jeggi began tweaking our training to include longer bursts of running at suicide pace, channelling the sprit of Steve Prefontaine:

Prefontaine

I really need to big up Cory and Jeggi for putting on the fantastic track sessions at Paddington Rec on Tuesdays. Thanks to Charlie for being the inspiration that brings us all together- none of the good experiences with my running family would be possible without him. Also Barbara, from EnergyLabBTS, really helped me develop my running form.

The problem is, when you’re improving every week, it’s very tempting to keep on pushing to the max. One week, I ran suicide pace at Run Dem on Tuesday, then did my long run on the Wednesday, then 9 miles at track on Thursday, followed by the infamous Swain’s Lane of Pain 10 miler on the Saturday. This is a devilish run devised by Barbara Brunner of EnergyLabBTS, which involves running 10 miles down and then back up a diabolically steep hill in Highgate. I actually expected to crock myself that week, and when I didn’t I guess I thought I was invincible.

I was building up the distance on my long runs and everything was going well until the day of my first (and last as it turned out) 20 miler. As I set out that day, my left calf felt a little tight. If there’d been any pain, I’d definitely have stopped immediately, but there wasn’t. It was much more the sort of niggle runners are used to feeling as part of their weekly routine, so I just ran through it. I completed the 20 miles comfortably enough, but afterwards my left calf felt super tight.

The next day, the calf swelled up like a ham, and just like that, I had my first relatively serious running injury. It was a grade one calf strain, but heaven help anyone who gets a grade two or three. It was a pretty scary moment, and I realised that I might not be able to run Bournemouth. I particularly want to thank Manni for his kind words and thoughtful analysis of what had happened when I was feeling anxious about it. I had to drop out of the Run to the Beat half marathon, which was disappointing, but I had a great time cheering on the crew, and was so pleased to see Jeroen, who took my place, set a PB.

Fortunately, a week of complete rest from running, and applying the RICE method of Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, was enough for the swelling to disappear. I spent the next week doing very gentle 20 and 30 minute runs, with days of rest in between, and continued the icing. The last couple of weeks I’ve been able to return to my training plan, but have cut down from 5/6 runs a week to 4. I was tempted to try to make up the missed runs at first, but saw sense after listening to advice from friends and family.

So here I am, one week to go and ready to run my second marathon. I had such a bad experience the first time, and consequently ran so slowly, that as long as the leg holds together, I should be able to run a PB. But the time doesn’t really matter. The important thing will be to enjoy it this time. I’m grateful that I’ll even be there, as things didn’t look good when my calf swelled up.

I’ll be in Bournemouth with good friends and I intend to enjoy every moment. Big up to Tim, Emma, Pistol Pete, Dave Cregan, Nathaniel, Leeanne, Noushi and Ric. Sending love to Azra Zakir, who is one of the strongest women I know, and who would be running Bournemouth with us if cicumstances hadn’t conspired against it. I’m excited to see my friends Tunde and Hope, who live in Bournemouth and who I’ve not seen enough lately.

I want that Amsterdam experience of running with a smile on my face. The hard miles are in the bank, the training is done, and now it’s all about tapering sensibly and getting to the start line feeling good.

As Charlie Dark says, it’s not how fast you go, it’s how you cross the finish line.

Wish us luck, people.