DNF (Did not finish!)

Well given that my last two posts described running personal bests it seems only fair that this one should describe total failure. I’ve had two months of overeating and minimal exercise so you reap what you sow. I’ve been volunteering at my beloved Edinburgh parkrun but last Saturday their volunteer rota was full so I thought I would check out the new parkrun on the block – Portobello parkrun just over 6 miles from home. I told myself I would run it gently as I am out of condition. It is a scenic parkrun – three laps of a pretty park with pond,river and nice views of Arthur’s Seat – the hill that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. It was a pleasant morning with a gentle breeze. There was a happy relaxed atmosphere pre-race with lots of visiting runners who were in Edinburgh for the popular Edinburgh Marathon Festival. What could possibly go wrong?

Well quite a lot if you were stupid me. I went off far too fast and even though I knew I was going too fast I kept chasing people instead of dropping back. As we approached the end of the first lap the famous running quote from George Sheehan came into my head : “Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants to quit.” Now as most runners will know this happens at least once every time you run and part of learning to run is saying “no” to that voice. But to my shame I gave in and pulled up after one lap. So an inglorious dnf (did not finish) for me and lots of negative thoughts afterwards.

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Progress Report

I took a lot of confidence from my time in the Alloa Half Marathon. Not only was it a huge personal best but it showed me that I can run at a faster pace over a longer distance than I believed possible. Now, as regular readers will know, the ten week training programme for the half marathon was in fact a sprat to catch a mackerel. By building strength, fitness, endurance and speed I hoped it would, when transferred to a much shorter distance of 5k, give me the long held dream of running a 5k under 20 minutes. So after Alloa I had an easy run on Wednesday last week followed by interval training on Thursday. I rested on Friday, stuffed myself with carbs and told myself that I was going to have a really good effort at achieving my dream at Edinburgh parkrun last Saturday.

Saturday dawned dry and bright. There was an 8mph easterly wind so the first 2k would be into the wind but crucially it would be behind us on the way back. Having had 120+ failed attempts at running under 20 minutes I not only know the course inside out but also the times I need at each stage to achieve the goal. At 1k I was 5 seconds behind target. At 2k I was 7 seconds behind target but on the plus side I had been running into the wind and I still felt fairly strong. At 3k I was close to target and at 4k I was two seconds ahead. I mentally took stock. I needed to run the last k in 3 minutes 41 seconds. I needed to be at the trees in 18 minutes 45 seconds. I made that my target and tried to maintain a good pace. I reached the trees at 18 minutes 40 seconds – five seconds ahead. All I needed to do was keep going. I tried to kick but it wasn’t quite there. In desperation I counted breaths. Soon I could see the finish flags and dug deep one last time. As I crossed the line I looked at my watch and saw 19 minutes 55 seconds. I’m not sure I was ever so happy to see that time. Here’s a blurred photo of me almost at the finishing line. Apologies for the pink shirt. Alloa Half Marathon were clearly catering for the female runner when they chose the shirt colour this year.
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My finishing time was later confirmed as 19 minutes 54 seconds. I am so happy and not a little relieved! Two running personal bests in a week seems a pretty good reason to take a break from running for a while. Doubtless in due course there will be a new challenge. I’ll let you know.

Edinburgh parkrun on Valentines Day

I hadn’t run competitively since October last year so an outing at Edinburgh parkrun last Saturday was eagerly anticipated. My half marathon training had been going so well that I fancied seeing where I was in terms of pace at 5k. The weather forecast was decent so everything seemed well placed for a successful run. As we lined up the only recognition of it being Valentine’s Day was the announcement that one of the runners was getting married later in the day. As the applause for the condemned man died down, a wag beside me shouted out : “Keep running mate – as fast as you can!”

Now if you’ve any familiarity with running and runners’ blogs then you’ll know that despite my pre-race optimism, you can take nothing for granted when you’re running. The first problem on Saturday was that it was damp overhead and wet on the running surface. Secondly a nasty 8mph easterly wind had decided to make a rare appearance. That meant running into the wind for the first half. My third difficulty was that I had forgotten how physically hard running a 5k at top pace actually feels. On the plus side I kept going and despite low periods during the race never contemplated giving up. The final result was 20 minutes 40 seconds – 39 seconds slower than my personal best and 41 seconds outside the time I desperately want to run. Only two of the five kilometres were run at the required pace and the middle three of 4:16; 4:16 and 4:14 were way slower than the required pace.

However I’m not too discouraged. I’ve only been training for six weeks and I will get stronger and hopefully faster. The half marathon training continues to go really well and I think my first goal is to run a decent half marathon three weeks on Sunday. Then I can worry about the 5k after that!

Halfway there!

I’m now more than halfway through the training schedule for the Alloa Half Marathon. And it is going ridiculously well. I’m running great times, feeling strong and I feel that I have better fitness than I’ve had for a long time. I actually wish the race was this weekend because I almost feel I’ve peaked already.

So why are things so good? Could it be the fact that I’ve been doing my interval training on hills rather than the flat for the first time ever? Regular readers know how I liken intervals to torture but equally they are the one thing that improves your running times more than anything else. So here is the route I’m doing the intervals on.

I start by running up a hill.

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This leads to another hill!

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And once you’re on a hill you might as well keep going uphill

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Eventually you reach the top and turn right
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The bad news is that you are still going uphill for 100 metres
Then you run across a bridge which has the old railway line down below it
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This takes you to the start of a level section
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Which in turns leads to glorious downhill (you’ve earned it!)
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And you keep going down
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Another turn and the incline is still in your favour!
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In fact you’ve lost so much height that you’re now under the old railway which you were above. The bridge is the railway bridge
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You go under the bridge avoiding cars if possible and the finish is at the right turn near the top of the picture
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You walk back to the start (2 minutes) then repeat another four times aiming to run each interval slightly quicker than the one before.

Things are so good that I’m thinking of running Edinburgh parkrun 5k on Saturday to get an idea of where I am in terms of speed. I’ll keep you posted!

Two runs achieved!

I waited 12 days from the last aborted run and tried a very gentle and untimed 5k on Saturday. This was make or break really because if the injury recurred on a short gentle run after almost 2 weeks rest then I was in big trouble in terms of a March half marathon. The good news is that no twinges were experienced either then or today when I ran six miles timed but at slowish pace. So I can start training properly for the half marathon without having missed too much of the programme.

Today was an interesting day to run. It was the sort of morning that I can best describe through invoking the gorgeous black labrador that I take for walks. If I had taken him for a walk this morning he would have got outside his house, stood still and looked around him at the wind, rain and temperature. He would then have looked me straight in the eye and said (he doesn’t need words) “If you think I’m leaving my nice warm bed to go out in this weather then you can think again pal!” But these are the conditions that you need to train in because (heaven forbid) it could be like that on race day. And if it isn’t then you are still prepared. I had one small mishap during the run where rather than run through a huge puddle I veered up the hilly verge to avoid it. It was basically a mud slide under a light covering of grass and I felt my legs go from under me like a deer on ice. Fortunately the ground was soft and only pride was hurt. Next time I’ll do what you should always do and run straight through it. The only time this doesn’t work is when there’s an alligator under the water.

Half year report

“Could do better!”

I used to hate it when I got those words on school reports even though it was sometimes true. And certainly my running report for the first half of 2014 would have to read the same.

I started the year with the sole aim of breaking 20 minutes for 5k and my best time this year is 25 seconds outside that. It is disappointing to say the least. And the worst thing is that I don’t know what is wrong other than that age is catching up on me! It is the school holidays now and I haven’t been training properly for a month. I’m going to restart training after the holidays and have another push in August, September when running conditions are often favourable. I’ve been enjoying volunteering at parkrun and I’ve acted as pacer a couple of times which is both enjoyable and fulfilling as you see others strive for and reach their personal goals.

More generally here in Scotland people are getting excited about two things. Firstly the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow starting on 23 July and secondly the referendum on 18 September when the question will be “Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?” Not an easy question to answer when people I admire and respect greatly are lined up on opposite sides of the argument.

A parkrun pb for Padster* (name changed to protect identity)

I think I told you that I had a house guest over Easter. Here he is.
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He really is the nicest dog and I was secretly hoping (albeit not very confidently) that his owners would forget that I had him. A training run with Padster didn’t go particularly well as I told you last time but I know that he has run the parkrun 5k in the past so decided to give it a go. Edinburgh parkrun has a rule that runners with dogs start at the back so once I was changed and ready opposite the start I tried to get Padster to move to the back of the field. But he wasn’t for moving. He’s an intelligent dog but clearly didn’t agree with the rule about dogs starting at the back. Just as I thought our trip had been in vain the runners set off and he was haring off like a greyhound after a rabbit. Now this was embarrassing for two reasons. One we clearly weren’t at the back of the field and two the combination of speeding dog, long attached lead and yours truly in a mass of runners could only lead to one thing – a calamitous pile-up in front of the race director and volunteers. A lifetime parkrun ban flashed before my eyes. Somehow I reigned him in and we diverted as far right as I could without taking out the bemused volunteers.
Let’s be kind and just say that from there on Padster had forgotten how to pace himself for 5k. If he had kept up his initial pace it would have been an outright pb for yours truly but of course he slowed and would actually have stopped at another few points if I hadn’t kept tugging him on. We finished in 23 minutes 3 seconds which I reckon is a pb for Padster. He gave me a dirty look when we finally finished and flopped to the ground for a rest.

So another week and no pb for me. Desperate times call for desperate remedies so I’m now going to try the one thing I haven’t properly done – a strict diet to facilitate weight loss. It will be painful and I’ll be even grumpier than usual. But I have to try it. Any secrets of dieting success that you can pass on?