The empty tent

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There’s an image in my head that I’ve been struggling to let go off. It’s the one above of the empty green tent belonging to two young climbers from Bradford missing on Ben Nevis since Valentine’s Weekend. Rachel Slater and Tim Newton were experienced climbers but no trace of them has been found despite extensive searches. How must it feel for family and friends as day after day passes without any positive news? The hope they are clinging on to getting more fragile with each passing day.

The weather has not been conducive to running but I’ve been keeping to a regular schedule – aiming for at least 50 miles each month. I’m mixing it up with easy runs, tempo runs, interval training and some new routes – not easy when I think I’ve tried every possible combination in the neighbourhood. Much as I would like to record that I’ve reached my target weight, I still have 1 kilo to lose. This time last year I was training for the Alloa Half Marathon and I miss that sort of focus.

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!

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.

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.

Positive thinking required!

Here are three random things that I have learned in life :
If it sounds too good to be true then trust me it is too good to be true.
Never trust a politician when an election is looming
If a sports tournament is billed as gentle and relaxed then you can be sure that it will be ridiculously cut-throat and over-competitive.

But what about the saying : You can if you think you can. Well there is some truth in that but not the whole truth. My running goal this year is very straightforward. I want to take two measly seconds off my 5k personal best. So why has it not happened already and why is my stupid head trying to tell me that I can’t do it?

I can answer the first question easily. I lost fitness and put weight on over Christmas. Since Christmas the weather has not been conducive to fast running. I haven’t even run a competitive 5k this year. I have been training but I was on holiday last week and I can feel the weight gain round my waist.

So why is my head telling me I can’t do it? Well firstly because I was pretty fit when I set my last pb. I don’t think I’m near that. Secondly breaking 20 minutes is a psychological barrier. It will be very demanding physically and I’m not sure I’m prepared to give that amount of effort and fail again. I’ve been enjoying volunteering at parkrun and to be honest I’ve been turning up so relieved that I don’t actually have to run.

My plan was to lose weight, train hard, wait for a wind-free Saturday then turn up at parkrun and break 20 minutes first attempt. I certainly don’t want to turn up, run flat out and run 20.05. But now I’m thinking I need to do a run just to see where I am in terms of fitness and time. I’m trying to work on upper body strength and to build up the interval training. These are the key things.

The first Saturday I can do run parkrun is a week on Saturday. I might try for that. If I think I can!