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Confidence is a preference…

If you look back over my recent posts you’ll have seen my yearning to go back to running for fun, going back to a time when I can run with music blasting in my ears, without a care for pace, distance, or direction. 

Regretfully, this doesn’t appear to be the case in reality. There are two things going on here:

  1. I haven’t been for a single run “for fun” since I completed my target 10km race a couple of weeks ago
  2. There are a series of photos taken of me a few hundred metres from the end of that race, and in those pictures I am smiling; possibly even grinning.  

Point two here is interesting – the race was fun! The race was hard, but I was enjoying it. I had no music on, I cared a lot about my pace and where I was, I was focussed on getting that time. 

While I would like to go back to running for the sake of running (and I really do), I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a good boot up the bum in the form of a goal to get me there. 

This week I’ve been thinking about what that goal could be, what is a realistic goal that is going to inspire me as much as the 12 year old 10km pb challenge has done?

To answer that, I looked up some of my old records. And one stood out. 

Parkrun. I haven’t been to Parkrun for a long time (I think I wrote about this previously, life is different for me on Saturday mornings these days), but when I last did, I set a time. A good time. Possibly too good of a time. 

Ten years ago I ran the 5km race in 21 minutes and 40 seconds. It feels like a pace far above what I could hope to achieve now. But it is there isn’t it; it’s a goal. I’ve just beaten a twelve year old record for my 10km time, so why not this. 

Sounds like it’s time to start a meticulously detailed training plan again – perfect!

The return of Seville rights

After the excitement of Sunday, it’s time to think about where we go from here: my main goal is now complete, so where does runanother find its next challenge? 

Actually, now is not quite the time to explore what happens next, now is the time to consume all the things I’d cut out over the pst few months in the name of fitness. I’m not advocating unhealthy living or overeating, just adding back in some of the things that are good in life.

Which brings us on to marmalade. I’m not sure there’s any better way to consume bagfuls of sugar than with this magical orange spread, ladled onto thickly sliced, heavily buttered toast. What better way to start the day, that and a cup of tea, and, if you’re extra specially lucky, back to bed for a bit. No such chance for me.

Aside from a renewed non-oaty breakfast diet, there must be other things to focus on now. One of these is with Garmin, and the much-loved App store. At the start of the week I managed to release a new app for Garmin watches (free, of course), under my runanother account.

My main aim for developing Garmin apps was always to look at how data can help in training. How looking differently at data can be used to provide an insight that will help the running (hopefully wider fitness too) community. 

My first app was to dip my toe into the Garmin development world, and was a relative success. The app was a watch face called Rotorua and has been downloaded over 2000 times and had several positive reviews against it.

This time, I feel I have wandered off the right path. I set off looking at steps data, but have somehow created an app (another watch face) that takes the past 7 days of activity data and turns it into morse code. With seven days, there are 128 combinations of dots and dashes, so 128 different words generated. There are four lines of data, so over 260 million different four word phrases that it can generate. 

With this much data and possibility it’s no wonder I got sidetracked. I completed testing and released it through the Garmin approval process, and is now available on Garmin Connect IQ. If you are interested, it is called Morse!

I’ve promised myself that the next app with use fitness data in a more constructive way. 

So have I answered the question of what I do next? Not really, but as long as there’s a pot of marmalade in the fridge I’ll be happy for the short term. 

The real answer to this is in the strap line of this blog, and what I’ll be focussing on: run another mile, run another race, run another bath!

And the results are in…

The race is run, the results are in. The months of training, improvement, learning, bodily abuse (forcing myself to eat healthily and cut down on alcohol are bodily abuse, right?) are at an end. The goal was to beat a personal best time for an organised 10km race I run every year, a pb that has stood since the first time I ran it twelve years ago. And today was the day of the race.

So what happened? Did I manage it? Well, yes, yes I did. And not only by a second or two, I managed to chop off a full minute and fifteen seconds! My finish time was a shade under 45:30, far beyond my expectations at the outset. The ghost of twelve years is no more, here’s to the future ghost of 2022!

Obviously I was pleased with my performance, and lucky that everything came right on the day. Indulge me as I take us through some of the highlights.

The journey there was uneventful, parking no problem, registration took seconds. The weather was perfect: cool but sunny, breezy but not windy. No immediate concerns from the off.

All my thinking leading up to this had been around ensuring my pacing was correct. A few weeks ago I ran a 10km race but I went off too quickly and suffered in the second half, so didn’t want to repeat that. I’d already worked out my target splits based on last years race – it’s a hilly course so some kilometres are naturally slower than others. 

Before I headed out to the start, I sat in my car and jotted the target times on the back of my hand. This is something I hadn’t practised in my training, how hard could it be? Very hard, apparently. My pen was a bit rubbish and it ended up taking me ages. Next time, get a decent pen and maybe write the times on my hand before leaving the house!

At the start of the race I lined up somewhere between the 40 and 50 minute markers; these were a bit close together for my liking and I felt a bit contained with the other runners. When we set off I ran within the pack but found some space for my stride, it wasn’t long before we naturally stretched out and I had a good amount of personal space for the majority of the race. I managed to keep the right pace I’d planned and as the pack thinned I could focus on the times I wanted to run. The third km was a slower target pace, and I felt good dropping down and letting people overtake me, maybe I’d get them at the end!

Through all ten kilometres I kept to my pacing strategy, feeling relaxed and comfortable as I went. Sticking to a target pace isn’t that straightforward and I came in a few seconds under target each kilometre. By the time I came to the 8km marker I knew I was well under my target time, I just needed to keep the consistency to the end. The ninth kilometre was hilly, but I dug deep and hit that target too, and as I came through the final half kilometre the course levelled and dropped down the other side, leading to a fast finish in front of a reasonable sized and kindly vocal crowd. 

It was exhausting but felt extremely good. Once I caught my breath I saw and spoke to a few of the runners I’d been running alongside throughout the race. One of them told me he was running twenty miles today, the 10k run we’d just completed was just a short part of that. And he beat me. I decided not to talk to him any more!

This was a massive personal achievement that has been in the making since I finished the same race twelve months ago. I knew it was possible with the right levels of training, and have come out with (let’s face it) a new target to beat next year. And how do I feel about that?

Bring it on! 

Notes to myself (part 4)

The final part of a four-part series of my top ten training tips I’ve picked up this year. 

Part one can be found here. Part two here. Part three here.

Lesson 9: Workout/life balance

The balance of training and everything else in life is more important than anything. And the key word there is balance. Running is great for having a positive effect on mental health, but that can’t be at the expense of neglecting other areas of life. 

This year one of my friends got married after a two year covid induced delay to the proceedings. I went on his stag do and the wedding was a wonderful few days stay away. Both of these events created rich memories for me, but the training plan was completely shot for a while after both.

So the training plan has to reflect that. I’ve said my training focus is always around a specific race. The learning here is not to programme hard up to it, but put flexibility for things like this to happen. Accept that an overall two week period could be lost, so build that in. What does recovery look like? How do I rebuild after a break? Adaptability is the key.

Lesson 10: Write about it!

The worst part of running outside of running is washing your training gear. Running kit stinks! The best part of running outside of running has been writing about it. 

Community is so important and I count myself lucky to have a wonderful local community. Running communities, particularly free ones like Parkrun, are great institutions that couldn’t operate without the network of dedicated volunteers to help organise and mange them. This year I’ve also now taken  the opportunity to be part of an online community and I’ve enjoyed every minute of that engagement.

The process of writing is mentally stimulating and cathartic; the process of publishing is exciting: I generally schedule my posts and forget about them when the scheduled time passes and then scramble to do a last second final final final proof before it’s committed to the vast internet vault. I find that this approach injects a delightful adrenaline boost into the publishing cycle.

I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s experiences and some amazing efforts far beyond what I could ever do. I’ve offered my personal advice to the community and taken advice back, everything is about learning and sharing, and there’s something wonderful about that. 

To everyone who has given this blog their time and thought, I thank you. In the grand scheme of the world these musings are of minor importance, but your interaction with me has kept me going and given me positivity where I might previously have given up some time ago.  

Thanks again for reading. My next post will be Sunday and the day of the big race where we’ll find out how far I’ve really come on my training journey. Wish me luck!

Notes to myself (part 3)

Part three of a four-part series of my top ten training tips I’ve picked up this year. 

Part one can be found here. Part two here.

Lesson 6: Active recovery 

The least said about this the better. I’ve never done a recovery run – I’ve written about doing a recovery run, but if you’ve read the post we can all agree I still haven’t done one. 

This is a gap in my training. Perhaps it’s not a big gap, I don’t know. Maybe it’s an important part of training. At the moment I am not confident in running more than three times a week. This is all about avoiding injury through over-training. I should explore how active recovery can help me with this, both through increasing my training levels and building that confidence back up.

Lesson 7: Focus on the basics

Running form is vital for efficiency and the avoidance of injures. Running form is the first thing out of the window when the going gets tough. 

Mentally focussing on form isn’t easy, but is part of the basics to get right. Similar to breathing (lesson 2), we all need to breath, but do we breath correctly?

This year I’ve looked at foot strike pattern and ground reaction force, vertical oscillation, stride patterns, posture, and my overall running cycle and it has all helped me to focus on what I want to do. Every detail is part of the goal to beat my previous best time around a specific 10km course. Every detail is making me a better runner.

It’s also over-thinking things, and I’ve said I want to get back to the free-spirited running with music playing, tuning out to the world once the race is done. But let’s focus on that race first…! Details, details, details!

Lesson 8: Go long or go home

Long runs are a staple of training plans. They build up time on your feet and are a great marker of progress as watch the additional miles build up over the weeks. 

I have a psychological barrier around the maximum distance I’ll go. I mainly run 10km and half marathon races, so my training plans are in accordance. I’ve run long distances running up to a half marathon, but leading up to the 10km this month, I’ve only managed to run for an hour – getting up to around 12.5km.

It would be good to focus on longer incremental distances at a slower consistent pace, whilst using other runs to build up different parts of my training programme. I think my problem is that I get impatient with slower speeds, so this combines well with lesson 3 – be consistent before being fast. 

Not something I’ve managed this year, but something to consider as part of my training arsenal in the future.

Notes to myself (part 2)

Part two of a four-part series of my top ten training tips I’ve picked up this year. Part one can be found here.

Lesson 3: Be consistent before being fast

I’ve found pacing has played a big part in my training. This came about through trialing the Garmin coach on my watch and while the training plan didn’t work out for me for a number of reasons, the way effort was controlled through pace stuck with me.

The learning around pace is to set a target for a run and stick to that. Increment up slowly over the weeks, don’t try to go quickly quickly. I have a tendency to set out at a chosen pace, but then feel good on the day and go a lot faster, quickly wearing myself out. My advice to future me is if this happens, recognise how I feel, complete the run as planned, register how I feel at the end and amend the training plan accordingly. 

Stick to the plan and adjust based on reflection, not on a whim halfway round the park!  

Lesson 4: Cross training

Cross training is great to include in the training plan, but I found I was struggling to see how it was improving my running. My focus was on form and the different running patterns I was eager to progress. 

My bike was always promised a service but never got one when we had the perfect summer for regular bike rides. Fixing this up to a roadworthy condition should’ve been a no-brainer.

I started strength exercises early on in my training and would have liked to keep this up. I focussed on specific muscle areas, particularly in my legs and core. This is certainly beneficial to the overall training, but only through perseverance. 

Lesson 5: Combination runs

This is summarised in my connection perfection post; something completely new to me and ultimately something I wasn’t able to explore fully. If there’s one thing to take away from this year, it’s to be more liberal when designing a training plan. 

Never again should I mark off the runs in a week with such definite labels as ‘long run’, ‘tempo run’, ‘hills’, ‘strides’; from now on it’s all about the combo. A tempo will not be a tempo unless it is preceded by a hill repeat. A long run is no longer a long run without a fartlek section.  

Whatever the combinations, the goal is variety. Variety for better fitness. Variety for more enjoyment. 

There’s no race like home

This weekend I had an improvised addition to my training programme. I have my “official” 10k race upcoming in a few weeks, the one I’ve been training for over the past few months. Training has been going fairly well to plan – the occasional deviation here and there due to other life events and occasion, but largely on track.

This week there was a local 10k race starting and finishing close to my house. I’d seen the hospitality tents, barriers, and finish line all being set up but didn’t think too much about it. It was only when I was chatting to a friend who had entered the 10k for the following day that I was tempted to look it up. And to some surprise, there were places left. 

After an hour or two or internal debate, I registered for the race, and the next morning I was picking up my number, ready for the off. 

This was not part of the plan. Not sure what the plan was now, but it wasn’t run my target distance as fast as I could.

Part of my thinking for running this race was that it’d give me a good idea of my fitness levels, with the advantage that it was a relatively flat course. My pb for the 10k is the hilly race I have upcoming so was confident I could get my fastest time.

In the end, I went round quickly, comfortably beating my previous best by nearly a minute – around 46 minutes. It was hard work though, and I’d clearly gone off too quickly as my splits showed a dramatic slowing of my pace around the halfway point. I managed to recover, and the final 1km was my fastest, as it should be running to the finish in front of a small crowd of well-wishers. 

Overall it was a good experience, but I’m not convinced how much it gave me in my overall training, aside from a reality check. I’m not going to smash my course pb in a few weeks time as I’d secretly hoped, but I think I’m in the right ball park to shave something off it. Two and a half weeks to go…!   

Don’t get X, get X

There was a glorious moment several years ago in my running career when I realised that to maintain my fitness I didn’t have to exclusively go out running. And better than that, doing different activities means different muscles are exercised which is generally a positive thing for running too. A welcome to the world of cross-training.

The problem I’ve found with cross-training is that I run out of calendar time. My goals over the years have always been directly linked to a particular race, and usually a targeted finish time for that race. As it gets closer to the race date I tend to reign in the cross-training and focus on running only, as if every final mile of tarmac run will shave seconds off my final time.

This is a shame as different activities keep things interesting. I’ve done several different activities for cross-training but have most consistently come back to cycling. To be clear, not lycra-clad, ultra-light road bike cycling, no triple figure distances sought out on a damp Saturday morning; I prefer to take my bike out and go exploring through the wilderness. Handily, there’s a good amount of countryside and overgrown footpaths nearby, and I count myself lucky to have such an amount of rich ground to traverse.

My bike is a heavy mountain bike I’ve had for over ten years. I’ve barely had to do anything with it, apart from the odd spray of WD40, so probably needs a bit of a service. No matter through, it has kept going, and kept me going through the years, and between us we have uncovered much undiscovered local territory.

The bike will handle anything, but I prefer the fair weather – I don’t mind a bit of rain, but would rather be out in the sunshine, hacking through some backwoods and overgrown trails, half unsure of my legal grounds for being on that particular piece of land. Any problems I can always feign ignorance – ‘is this the footpath that goes to Sprattlingborough?’. 

This type of exploratory cycling has additional benefits for running: it gives a great insight into potential new running routes and is ideal for scouting out the best hills for bolting up and down. Running will be my main goto fitness routine, hopefully for many years to come, but there is something about running that means there is never an option to stop, once you’re off you’re off. Maybe it’s the way I set out to achieve a target time in the first place, maybe it’s a concern about cramping up if I stop. And this is where cycling wins out – what better thing to emerge from an uncharted piece of woodland into a village, complete with a welcoming pub. Even in the height of training season it would seem churlish not to stop in for a quick pint!

Music of the moocher, music of the fast

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain

Bob Marley – Trenchtown Rock

Music and running go together like peaches and tin openers. Summer and wasps. Music can lift your feet, make them lighter, push you faster, further, or lost into another world. Music, like a certain carbonated caffeine drink, can give you wings.

I used to listen to music whenever I went out running, but always got confused by the heavy gasping sound that I could only hear between tracks. It turns out that I was quite vocal in my wheezing for breath throughout my run, I just couldn’t hear it over the music. So that explains the funny looks I was getting as I ran past other people out for a quiet walk.

While I needed to learn to run a bit quieter, there was no question of taking off the headphones (wired in those days), music was as essential as running shoes.

But just as some people run barefoot, I found that I wasn’t allowed to wear headphones in my first race, and there became the schism between wanting to run with music on, and wanting to run well in races.

I tend to listen to fast, loud music when I’m running – something that will put an oomph in my stride. I tried listening to podcasts but found I kept having to rewind them as I forgot to listen properly. This is a great part of running, when your mind can wander off and the whole thing becomes effortless. Something that music seems to magically induce.

But as I’ve written before, this mental wandering is not good for training, or more specifically, it is not conducive to following a strict training pattern. Tempo runs become tiptoe runs, strides become joyrides, the pace drops off unnoticed until the end and the lap times are in.

But that’s when running is most fun, lost in the moment, running for the love of running. And that’s where I’d like to get back to. Every run I’ve done this year has been without headphones, without music pumping me up, keeping me going. But as soon as the race is done in a few weeks then it’s back to the ear buds and back to running simply for the running…

… but only for a bit. There’s always another race, another training opportunity just round the corner, and I’ll surely be back in full force to take it on. In silence of course!

The ghost of fitness past

With the years piling on, it feels I’m more susceptible to injury. I have a 10k race in a few weeks and my goal is to get a personal best for it. My record is a little under 47 minutes which I set it the first time I ran it, twelve years ago. That race, that younger version of myself turned up in a pair of trainers and a football training top after only doing a handful of warm up runs in the previous few weeks.

Who would’ve thought that chipper, sprightly young chap, skipping up hills, smiling with the other runners, would turn into my arch-nemesis. The person I’ve set out to destroy! Well, not destroy per se, I don’t want to create an inescapable time loop and be forever trapped within the grandfather paradox, ripping apart the entirety of space time and obliterating our dimension forever. It’s just that me’s time I’d like to destroy.

Time paradoxes aside then, what did my former self have that I don’t? Relative youth brings relative resilience – I recall regularly heading out on a run after only a couple of quad stretches and be generally ok the next day or two.

Running now takes a bit more prep to get into. I’ve discovered dynamic stretching and have been doing that every run this year. I go through a couple of moves to progressively warm up the muscles in my legs and hips and then when I leave the house I walk for a bit before breaking into a run.

Walk! I can imagine the younger self laughing at that. Bit of a waste of time walking isn’t it? If you go out for a run for an hour it should take an hour. Not an hour and twenty minutes because you need a walk before and after.

But it helps. As does gradually building up the heart rate through some light jogging and different drills, after about 5-10 minutes I’m good to go.

At the end I stop where I’m finished and walk back home to cool down. My former being wouldn’t appreciate this either, runs start and finish at your front door, and not a centimetre before!

So far I’ve been injury free (apart from a couple of niggles along the way that cleared through rest and some lighter training) and without wanting to jinx anything I feel in good shape for the upcoming race. The real question is whether I’ve achieved the right levels of fitness to finally beat that sinister being, that evil genius, that ghost of races past, that… me!

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