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And we’re off…

I mentioned in my last post that I’ll be taking a break from the blog for a couple of weeks. Having now firmly pritt-sticked my new running goal in place, I’ll look to reflect on this over my short absent period and look at how I can embed the learning from my last race into this new goal (basically a bit of revision from my notes to myself posts 1 – 4 ).

Exciting times as we head into the dark, damp, dreary period of winter training. Let’s get going… in a couple of weeks of course!

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back soon for more of the same, and of course will look forward to reading what everyone else has been up to too.

Challenge Anneka

Following my last post, this one was going to be titled “for the habitual voyeur” and then the next one next week would be called “of what is known as…”, with a theme of Parkrun throughout the three. Setting this out earlier in the week, “Confidence is a preference” is absolutely fine for a post title, but I now have buyer’s remorse and can’t go ahead with this weeks proposed title, fearing it infers I’m some kind of regular Peeping Tom.

Moving on then, Parkrun. It’s not about you joggers who go round and round and round… well, actually, it really is. 

The Parkrun I’m talking about is a couple of laps of the local park and my personal best of 21 minutes and 40 seconds means I need some serious split times of 4 minutes and 20 seconds just to break even. 

This needs some proper thinking then. 

My last running goal was a new years resolution thing, so will look at breaking my old Parkrun record at some point in the new year. I reckon I’ll need at least an eight week training period running up to the race, built on the back of some baseline fitness. 

You’d think I would have that baseline fitness already, having come off the back of that 10km race not long ago. While I’ve not been out running much and have been enjoying the less healthy side of food and drink recently, I’m sure I’m still reasonably fit. However, I will be taking a planned break from the blog and from running for a couple of weeks, so will likely have to rebuild from that point. 

No problem there, I just have a timing thing to work out – the beauty of Parkrun is that it’s weekly, so completely flexible how I aim for it. 

When I’m back and running, there will be around eight weeks to Christmas. This gives an opportunity to hit the Christmas Eve Parkrun. More likely, I’ll look to start training proper in the new year and an eight week training plan to take me to March-ish. 

Which means an eight week period between now and Christmas to get that baseline fitness back up ahead of the festive cheese-eating season! 

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!

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. 

Notes to myself (part 1)

As I come into the last week or so of training for my 10k race, it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far and how I’ve approached my training schedule.

It was pointed out to me recently (right here on this blog), that if I succeed in beating a twelve year old personal best time this year, I will also succeed in setting a new target to challenge a future version of me. So this post, and continued over the next few, is intended to document some lessons I’ve picked up so I can review again in the future. 

In short, these are notes to my future self, open to all. We can laugh at that future self right now, reading this with ambition of setting new records. You’re too old, find something else to do, you’re not beating this years’ time, ha ha ha!

A brief disclaimer here – I write this to document some things I’ve picked up this year in my training that may be of use to others too. I have only tested my approaches out on me, it might not be appropriate for you or fit with your personal training needs. However, I’m always happy to talk through my experience if it’s of any help to anyone.

In no particular order (except perhaps for number 10), my top ten training tips from 2022!

Lesson 1: The befores and afters 

I wrote about dynamic stretching a few weeks ago. Along with the steady build up of runs and drills before setting out on the actual run, I feel I’ve had a lot of success with my warm up routine this year.

At the end of every run I’ve done some static stretching and drunk a protein shake which I feel has helped my recovery. While I can’t quantify improvement these changes have made over previous years, I have felt confident in my ability to run and recover in good time, so recommend this approach for future years.

Lesson 2: The breath of life

I wrote about my struggle with breathing form and reasoned that a large percentage of what was stopping me going further, faster, harder, was a combination of willpower and bringing oxygen into my body. 

Both these things can be worked on. For breathing, I’ve been doing regular breathing exercises. Perhaps this could come under cross-training (spoiler alert: number 4 on the list!)? Not sure about that, but ensuring correct diaphragmatic breathing whilst cross-training would be the important thing to note. 

I have underestimated how to get more oxygen into myself throughout years of training and something I’ll need to consistently work on. The lack of oxygen seems to hit me a lot earlier on a run than the point my muscles give up on me. This is an area in need of further research, future me take note!

Taste pace

The biggest learning from my race last week was one of pacing. There is something nice about being scooped up by the pack and spirited along for the first km or two of a race, however, this for me came at a cost: I hit a wall at the halfway point and struggled to keep any pace at all until the finish. 

Is it a problem? I still got a personal best time for the distance, maybe the first half was where my energy was best targeted?

I doubt it. It felt unmanaged and uncomfortable for a large period of the race, and in the end I was glad it was over. I guess being glad it’s over is a fundamental part of any race, but this felt wrong. 

Looking at the splits, the first half was consistent, just over 4:30 each km lap. The final one was about ten seconds quicker, so will ignore that one. Laps six to nine averaged at around thirteen seconds slower than the first five. Even with the faster lap ten, the back five km was on average nine seconds slower than the front five. 

To tackle this, I’ve been looking at my previous form for the upcoming race. I’ve mentioned before that it’s hilly, so there’s a natural rhythm of fast and slow sections, but as each km isn’t uniform uphill or downhill, it can be tricky to pace – but pace it we must, or suffer the same fate as last week!

Looking at last year’s splits, I can weight each km and target the pace for each to meet my goal – it’s all relative innit. If I’m aiming at 46 minutes (or possibly a shade under), then I now know my target splits. I’m guessing the way to store and recall these is the age old write-on-the-back-of-your-hand and hope they don’t rub off halfway round the course.

Interestingly, there’s a feature on Garmin where you can plot a course and say whether you want to go faster or slower up the hills. I’ve also done this for the race route and the calculated splits are pretty much exactly the same as my version. Looks like there might actually be some sense in my calculations.

So the theory is there, all I have to do is go out and run it!  

The road to recovery

Every race I’ve ever entered and run has meant the end of a period of training. At that point I get crisps back in my life. The race is a means to an end. Until next time, I’m done.

In my previous post this week I talked about the 10km race I entered last minute at the weekend. How spontaneous! However, this wasn’t a finish point but an interim thing – a race before the big race in a couple of weeks time.

Mentally this became a bit of a challenge – after the race I had a few beers and a big chicken kebab. A couple of days later I met up with some friends after work, and again had a few well earned beers in the pub. Beer gets you three times – once with the extra calories while drinking it; once with unavoidable salty snacks; and thirdly the next day – porridge is out, bacon sandwiches are in!

I’ve never done a recovery run. Every run I’ve ever done is designed to get me towards the cliff edge of my goal – always, always a race. This time round, given the nature of my recent race, I set out to do a recovery run. Something different, something new; keeping it fresh.

It became immediately clear that I don’t know what a recovery run is. 

First of all, four days had already passed before I went out on my recovery run (this is the beers fault again, that’s the fourth time it got me!), so not much of a leg shaker, more a run after a few days rest. 

I also didn’t understand the sort of pace I should be running. My 10k result was a little over 46 minutes, which puts my pace at around 4:38/km. My recover run was 7kms at 5 min/km pace. Is that right? In hindsight it felt too quick, too much strain on recently strained muscles. 

That pace/distance had been my plan before I set off, and once I was out and running I couldn’t hold back so just kept going with it. I had a big protein shake when I got home and a bath to relax the muscles, so think I got away with it. 

Reading up a little on active recovery I should’ve gone out for a much shorter distance, at a much slower pace, and a time much much closer to the race I’d run. Maybe I’ll try again after the main race in a few weeks, or maybe that will be the cliff edge it normally is. Either way, at least I can have crisps again!

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