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.

Alloa Half Marathon race report

If you live in Scotland and ever want to run a half marathon then Alloa would be a good place to start. It’s well-organised; not too big; well signposted, marshalled and provisioned; not too hilly and quite scenic in places.
I ran it two years ago so knew exactly what I was facing. There is a sameness about the event which adds to its appeal. The runners are started by the same elderly mayoress who is still being entrusted with the starting pistol although it is now clearly firing blanks. I’m not sure if her hearing is all there because the mc counted us down to zero and it was several seconds later before she managed to raise the gun and fire it. By this time the leaders were halfway to the first corner.
Here’s a photo of me trying to cut a corner not long after the start. I’m the one approaching the corner on the pavement in the yellow shirt.
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Beforehand I had been aiming at 7 minute 15 second miles but the first one went fairly comfortably in 7:04. I’m also caught on camera not long after the first mile.
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My second mile was far too quick (6:45) so I told myself to slow down. However I was still feeling strong and confident. I missed the mile 3 sign but at four miles I was just under 28 minutes – again faster than I had planned. I decided to go with the pace as long as I was comfortable with it. There was a guy in a grey shirt who had been in front of me for ages who seemed to be running a pace so I decided to try and keep him in view. The field was spreading out by now but I was still in a group when caught around the four mile point.
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Just after five miles we turned the Alva corner onto the long straight stretch we would run for another 4 and a half miles. The slight breeze we had been running into was now behind us which was a great feeling. I checked my watch at 6 miles : 41 minutes 40 seconds. When this registered I had some serious thinking to do. My 10k personal best is 44 minutes 20 seconds and I had just run close to 10k in under 42 minutes. This was not necessarily a good thing in a 13 mile race! My fear was that I couldn’t possibly continue this pace for another 7 miles and more worryingly that I was likely to break down completely. However the negative feelings were soon replaced by more positive ones. I could afford to slow down a bit as the race went on and still run a good overall time. I was still feeling pretty strong and I was in a steady group that were helping each other along. Not many people were overtaking or dropping back. I decided to go with the pace as long as I could. When we briefly turned off for a short loop to complete the distance I saw a couple of guys who I know are much faster than I am. The fact that I was so near them after 7 miles was good for morale. At 8 miles I was still on 7 minute miles. Approaching 9 miles some of our group had gone on and others had dropped back leaving me a bit isolated. My early pace was beginning to catch up with me.
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There was however a girl not far behind who would go past me fairly soon afterwards.
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I think you can tell from these photos that I was beginning to struggle by this point. My 9 mile time was slightly under 63 minutes and I started making adjustments in my head. With just over 4 miles including a brute of a hill to go I could afford to run 8 minute miles and still finish close to a dream finish time of 1 hour 35 minutes. Two years ago I had been on course for a 1:38 finish but slowed in the last mile finishing in 1:39:58. I don’t know if you have ever tried doing mental calculations when running and tired but it must have taken me almost half a mile to work out that simple sum. Clearly things were on the slide. I tried to prepare myself for the notorious Menstrie hill. If you wanted to put a dirty big hill in a half marathon at the most psychologically challenging place then where the Alloa one occurs is pretty close to it. It’s far enough in to make sure you’re exhausted by that stage and yet it’s not near enough the finish to mean the race is over when you get to the top of it. I laboured up it saying “Embrace the hill” through gritted teeth. I kept running and to my surprise only one person overtook me. At the top of the hill we passed the 11 mile marker. There was one more incline and this marked the low point of the race for me. I tried to tell myself that from the top of the incline it was downhill to the finish. My legs, however, just wanted to give up. My speed slowed and try as I might my legs just wouldn’t respond. From here to the finish was pretty horrible. The one encouragement was that at 12 miles I clocked my time at 1:25:14. This meant a sub 1:35 finish was inevitable as long as I didn’t break down. There was frustration that just when I should have been accelerating towards the finish – as some sensible paced runners were – I was actually slowing. After what seemed like an eternity the 13 mile sign came into view. I couldn’t wait and glanced at my watch. It was 1:31 something. I couldn’t make the figure out but it was still encouraging as I felt that I was slowing completely. I turned the final corner and still had nothing left. I staggered the final few metres.
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My head is wrong; my arms are wrong but somehow I made it accross the line in a new personal best time of 1 hour 33 minutes and 8 seconds.

Mission Accomplished

Just a quick note to say that I completed the Alloa Half Marathon yesterday in excellent running conditions. I was fortunate enough to run a personal best too. Report to follow but in the meantime here’s a photo showing how wrecked I was at the finish.
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It’s actually a good photo to illustrate how not to run!

All set for Alloa

After an easy 20 minute jog this morning I’ve completed the 10 week training programme for the Alloa Half Marathon on Sunday. Physically I feel in good shape. I feel the familiar mixture of anticipation and anxiety as the day approaches! A little anxiety is good; it prevents over-confidence and the day I approach a physical challenge without it, I shall know that it is time to stop. The next two days are about getting mentally strong and then going out and running to the very best of my ability on Sunday morning.

Two years ago I ran a fraction under 1 hour 40 minutes. I’d like to beat that time if possible. One bonus is that the weather forecast is for an easterly wind which would mean having the wind behind us on the long four mile stretch. That would be wonderful if it is accurate.

All good

No injuries, good health and running programme going very well. What more could you ask for?
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I never thought I would say this but I am really looking forward to running a half marathon a week on Sunday.
My running programme is now in the taper (reduction) So just as I’m raring to go, wanting to run every day I have to hold myself back and not run. It’s like locking up a dog for a week then opening the door. Or telling the student revising for their finals to take the week before the exams off from studying. It seems wrong but strangely it works. I only have short easy runs left. And then a week on Sunday all that pent up energy and strength can be unleashed on the 13.1 miles around Alloa.

Well that’s the theory anyway!

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!

Proper preparation

It’s a long time since I had a proper job but deep in the mists of time I recall a mantra at work along the lines of “proper preparation prevents poor performance” Or was it “proper planning ..”? Well all the planning and preparation in the world didn’t prevent a few calamitous work performances by yours truly but you can apply the mantra to running and it rings truer.

I’ve decided to liken my preparation for the Alloa Half Marathon to a military campaign which I’m going to fight on four fronts. Firstly and most importantly the running programme. Secondly diet. Thirdly exercises to strengthen muscles. And last but not least mental confidence.

So how is it going?

The running itself is great. No sign of the injury recurring. I feel comfortable and the programme I’m following is challenging but possible. It includes two long runs a week so as the distance builds it will be a challenge fitting the second long run into my weekly schedule. The Sunday morning long runs make me think I’m preparing for a marathon but I reassure my tired legs that it is only a half this time round.

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Diet is okay but not prefect. Several scones, Aberdeen butteries and sweet desserts have crept past security but I’ve lost my Christmas weight and have not totally lost control. No alcohol until March!

I’ve fallen short on muscle training, stretching, fitness training and strength endurance. I need to build this up. It is not my favourite thing and I avoid gyms like the plague but I need to do more.

Lastly mental confidence. It is too early to pysche myself up for the actual race but I’m building confidence in my running. I’m very happy about that because it is not a natural strength. Each completed run is a step nearer achieving a good performance and hopefully a personal best on 15 March.