A different kind of training – part two

Wow, mountains are really steep! 

I mean, there are steep hills and then there are…mountains! 

I know you are probably now thinking “No shit, genius!” but I haven’t done this for years and I forgot what it was like. I think I got complacent because it’s “only walking”.

But I was as out of breath as anyone climbing Sugar Loaf in Wales this Sunday. 

It was so tall; we were in the middle of a cloud… 

The view from the peak

…an actual cloud, for goodness sake! 

It was cold up there too so thankfully stopping for lunch didn’t last long (thankfully because I left my sandwich in the car). At least I had proper boots this time, North Face and heavily reduced in the January sale. 

I tested their waterproof aspect by trying them on at home and running them under a tap to see whether my socks stayed dry. (Some people seem to think this is odd behaviour but some of the best product reviews I have seen put the manufacturer’s claims under vigorous testing.) 

As a group we did the mountain in four hours. We then got a reality check that one of the peaks with 300m more elevation than that one has to be done in the same timeframe. 

Better keep training! 

Today’s lesson: mountains are really tall. Next time: lakes are really wet and marathons are really far. 

ps. Doesn’t this just look like something out of Game of Thrones? Really cool! 

A different kind of training

One of the things I have agreed to take part in during 2018 is The Three Peaks Challenge. This involves climbing the tallest mountains in England (Scafell Pike), Scotland (Ben Nevis) and Wales (Snowdon). 

But here’s the kicker: you have to do it all in twenty four hours. 

Why would anyone want to do this? I don’t know. I’m too young for a mid-life crisis, too old for a quarter life crisis (yeah, seriously, that’s a thing now). Maybe just plain stupidity…

“…sign me up”, I said. 

And so it was that I found myself a few weeks back heading out in totally inappropriate footwear on the one and only day of 2017 when we got any real snow. Needless to say my non-waterproof trail shoes (not even boots) got soaked. 

I had been shopping for boots the week before but got stingey at the last minute and decided “one more pay cheque first”. (I tend to do that: put off buying things I need when I see the cost of them. After a year of living in my current (unfurnished) house, I still don’t own a bed frame (the mattress is the important bit after all, isn’t it? Who needs to be raised off the floor?) 

Nevertheless, the walk was only six miles, and I really had no choice but to suck it up. 

We went along a section of the Ridgeway in Berkshire. It looks a bit like this, not a mountain, but still undulating: 

The original plan was to climb a proper mountain in Wales but the conditions were too severe, both for driving that far, and for climbing. 

We did make snowmen though: 

(Mine is the one on the right, with a face that looks as if it had been modelled on a Slipknot mask.) 

A quick trip to a pub in the village of  Goring with an open fire completed the day:

Mid-week run

Today’s session was another chilled out run with RB2 (running buddy number 2) and it was very welcome since I skipped the gym yesterday after a tiring day at work. (RB1 is still around and is doing the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon with me.) 

I say it was chilled because my music, which normally involves an incredibly loud hour-long onslaught on my eardrums, was replaced with an (at times breathless) conversation.

We kept up a moderate pace over 4.6km, and ran up a gentle hill twice, over two loops. 

It was pitch black and we probably needed head torches in places where the street lighting wasn’t quite enough to show up the roots growing through the pavement, but I am very self-conscious about looking like a fool. On the bright side though (pun intended) we got to see a cool skyline at the top of the hill. 

Getting home, I did a few stretches and some foam rolling, something which is thankfully becoming a habit. But I also did some squats and push-ups; I’m trying to do these after every run so that it becomes routine. I need to get more into strength training and it has to start somewhere. 

Hopefully I will get to the gym tomorrow with GB (gym buddy – I think working for a large corporation has twisted my tiny brain and sent me acronym crazy). 

Today’s run/upcoming 2018 events

In order to understand my approach to running, and some of the decisions I make around it, there’s something you need to know about me: I am an idiot.

To make matters worse, I have a running buddy who is also an idiot.

Now we’ve cleared up that little piece of exposition, we can continue with today’s post…

…I haven’t run any distance longer than 6k since the end of October. On top of that, the outings on those 6k days could be better described as more of a gentle walk-jog than a run; there is no doubt that my fitness and endurance have dropped.

Fast forward to Christmas and my running buddy asked for race entry to the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon, which takes place on 21st January. I asked him whether he was ready for a half marathon (because I knew he was in a similar position to me with training), and he replied: “I’ll wing it!”

Cool, I thought, I didn’t realise “winging it” was a legitimate half marathon strategy. I’ll do that too! So I promptly signed up as well.

The week before Christmas I decided that if I started picking up the distance gradually, I could maybe pull it off with five weeks of practice runs and a one week taper to ease off. But, as anyone who’s ever tried to sustain any kind of fitness program for any length of time knows, life often gets in the way unexpectedly.

And that’s exactly what happened to me. I promptly got sick with a virus the week before Christmas. It only really lasted a few days (Monday through to Wednesday) but hung around for days afterwards. I braved a run on Sunday (Christmas Eve) and found that I was very out of breath, struggling through a 5k.

I did another small run on Boxing Day but didn’t bother again until New Year’s Eve because I was partaking in seasonal festivities. So essentially, two weeks were lost.

I have been picking up the smaller distances again this last week, and pushed for a 7k yesterday but today I needed to get a long run in.

The goal was 12k.

I set out before breakfast as my motivation was very low and I didn’t want to delay for anything as I was afraid I would give up and not bother at the slightest excuse.

As it’s a Sunday, “before breakfast” meant 9am – let’s not get too over excited!

To my great surprise, considering how reluctant I was to get out the door, it was quite enjoyable! I was slow (1hr20), and felt tired by the end, but I think both of those things are to be expected with no fuel in the tank.

I set out with gentle music, a playlist I started putting together last night called “chilled synth running” (very eighties influenced and very different from my Zombies, Run! playlist).

There was a lot of sun for a winter’s day as well. (The featured image at the top of the post is a photo I took by the river.) The paths were muddy and trying to navigate some of the flooded parts probably slowed my time down even further, but all I was really after today was the distance because I currently have no confidence in my ability to complete 21k in two week’s time.

I also kept stopping to take photos.

Someone fly-tipped a bunch of pallets and a sofa, and I thought that would make a cool shot as well:

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I should have the foundation to run 18k next weekend now. The trouble is, this is where it starts to get complicated: I am due to climb a mountain in Wales next Sunday as part of the training for the Three Peaks Challenge in May, so I will have to get my long run in on Friday somehow; I don’t want to be having two challenging days back to back if I can help it.

But this is how it’s going to be for the next few months – trying to balance two different sets of training, so I may as well get used to it!

 

 

 

 

 

Minimalist Shoes – first outing

Two posts back, I spoke about my new minimalist running shoes. That was in early December.

Then work got busy, Christmas and New Year’s happened, and I sunk back into the ease of existing routines, which means using my old, comfortable, shoes.

My first run of this year caked my normal shoes in mud, however, and I needed to pack something respectable for the gym in a hurry, so I saw it as an opportunity to grab the “barefoot” trainers.

I warmed up on the cross trainer (elliptical machine) where I thought my footwear wouldn’t make a difference because I wasn’t actually striking the ground. (Ten minutes, burning just over a hundred calories, according to the display.)

And then I moved to the treadmill.

Article after article has warned me about the perils of trying to do too much, too soon, so I kept it to strictly ten minutes. But I certainly noticed a difference in that short time. You really do feel every heel strike more keenly, and long dormant muscle groups really do start to wake up as you adjust. I did a few minutes at a fast walking pace, then some more at a gentle jog, then back to power walking.

After ten minutes, I stuck to my commitment to take it easy and switched to the bike.

I think it might be too early to say what effect this will have on my training but so far so good, even if it does feel strange to jog in them.

Successes in 2017

I said I would post more often, and not leave it another several weeks again.  But then it was all work-stress, preparation for Christmas, getting sick, etc. etc.

I haven’t even run in my new minimalist shoes. (I know!) When you’re busy, it’s just easier to stick with what you know, I suppose, and what I know is shuffling along in the same old shoes, with the same old gait.

At least it’s better than not running at all though.

One thing I did do is pick all my medals up from a pile on the floor (where they had been languishing) and start to show them the respect they deserve by displaying them properly. The medals you see in the photo represent competitive races I’ve completed, and in one case, a race I dropped out of.

Training often encourages a tendency to always be looking forward to the next thing, which is good, and at the moment would be the Farnborough Winter Half Marathon for me.

But sometimes it’s  good to take the time to celebrate previous achievements.

This rack of medals represents how far my running has come in 2017, since I began training for the Reading Half Marathon, as most of the medals were acquired this year.

Left to right, we have:

  • Dash in the Dark – this was a really well organised, 10k, around the woods, with a lot of neon bling on display from the competitors and the organisers. (I did sport a few glow sticks myself). I really enjoyed this event and there was something really special about following the trail of glow sticks around a moonlit woods. This medal was particularly cool because it lets you know that you entered the event during its very first year. (Long may it continue…)
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(Yes, that is tinsel around the medal rack.)
  • The Rutherford Appleton 10k (last year’s event)
  • The Hurt (2015 event)
  • The Henley 10k (2015 event – this was held on the same day in October as the Rutherford 10k, which I entered instead in 2016 and 2017)
  • Windsor 15k (the red and white medal) – this was three loops of Dorney Lake, a man-made lake, built for rowing. It wasn’t particularly scenic but I quite like events that do circuits because it helps me to pace myself effectively. It was also an unusual distance and slotted in quite nicely as an intermediate step before the Reading Half. The 15k distance wasn’t the only event being held on the day, although all of the distances focused on doing loops around the lake (you guessed it – each loop itself was roughly 5k)
  • The Brixton 10k – this was a great event – two loops around the park in London. Lil’ sis’ and I signed up at the last minute so that we could visit our brother in Herne Hill for the weekend without sacrificing a weekend training run. I have to admit, it’s one of the most colourful medals I’ve been awarded though.

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Minimalist Shoes

Two years ago, I hadn’t heard of the barefoot running craze. Every article about running that I read seemed to have the same piece of advice: get a decent pair of shoes. If you have to economise, make sure that it isn’t on your shoes.

I eventually got my gait analysed and bought a heavily padded pair of trainers, the ones they recommended in the shop, which were designed to offer lots of support to the arches in my feet.

It turns out that this might not have been a great move!

Over time, I have been seeing more and more articles about “barefoot running”, a catch-all term that seems to cover people literally going barefoot, or runners who have chosen to wear minimalist shoes. (The concept of a barefoot shoe is a work of marketing genius!) There’s a brilliant piece on it in The Runner’s World New Complete Guide To Running and it features heavily in Running With The Kenyans.

There are also two bloggers right here on WordPress who are advocates and whose opinions I respect: irunelite and the runninger

I know I am a bit behind the times on this one but I have finally decided to at least give minimalist soles a try. The idea behind them is that too much cushioning desensitizes the huge number of nerve endings in the feet. And feedback from the nervous system is what your brain needs to subconsciously adjust your gait as you run. Heel striking is apparently just too painful to sustain without thick soles to absorb the shock to the joints.

Advocates claim that by removing the thick layer of padding between your foot and the ground, your body will naturally adjust your running style, making you faster, and possibly less injury prone – if done in the right way. (It will greatly increase your chances of injury if done in the wrong way!)

This seems to make sense but true barefoot is just a step too far for me; I have all the common concerns you would expect: broken glass, dogshit, etc.

So this won’t be happening!

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Instead, I have opted for a pair of minimalist shoes from a brand called Vivo Barefoot. These shoes have ultra-thin soles and no drop between the height of the heel and the toe (the drop on most running shoes is well over a centimetre to a centimetre and a half, further encouraging heel striking).

I have also gone for a discreet style so that I can walk around in them to start off with. I am planning a very gradual adjustment period.

Here’s what the unboxing looked like:

As is often quoted, every individual runner is an experiment of one, so wish me luck with this experiment!

(ps. I have taken a bit of a break from posting for the last few weeks. That is because I have been focusing all my time behind a keyboard on NaNoWriMo – the write-a-novel-in-a-month challenge! I will be back on it in future weeks.)

My top five running tees

#1 & #2

Reading Half Marathon technical tee and finisher’s tee

Signing up for this race really made me get serious about running (well, as serious as someone calling themself The Half Arsed Runner can get anyway). The distance was daunting but I had so much encouragement to enter from my Running Buddy. He wasn’t wrong either. It was a great race!

#3

Parkrun tee

Park run is a great thing, fully in-keeping with the ethos of this blog: laid-back, encouraging, open to all and free. It takes place up and down the UK and is a weekly chip-timed 5k run every Saturday.

I bought the tee to support the event.

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#4 

The South Downs Marathon finisher’s tee

You can read the story behind this one here. This was the glorious failure that made me start the blog.

#5 

Zombies, Run! app merchandise 

There could only really be one number five.

Yes, I bought the T-shirt. What of it?? Nerdy and proud!

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Honourable mention: the photo that accompanies this post – my bro bought this blood soaked wonder for me along with my Zombies, Run! race 

A Halloween Fun Run

A while back, I set myself the challenge of running 100k by the end of October (not all in one go). The project is called Running Down Dementia. The idea is to raise £100 for Alzheimer’s research and run 100k.

Anyway, I got complacent and just a little bit lazy about tracking all my mileage, especially since the website widget didn’t seem to work. (I think they have fixed that now.) So I’ve had to run my arse off over the last week or so.

I ended up on 95k by the weekend and thought a Halloween 5k fun run would be a good way to finish up the challenge.

This race was held in Thames Valley Park, Reading, and I think the organisers put a lot of effort into making it a great event. See just one small part of the display below (a carved pumpkin in a rowing boat):

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And the sea of Halloween pirates below (pun intended):

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It all kicked off at 8pm, to the sounds of sea shanties and Irish jigs being blasted through the speakers, and followed a course through the woods.

Night running can be a really unique experience, especially on a clear night, with the moon visible through the silhouetted trees.

There was another nice touch to be had around the 4k mark- a band of drummers in a clearing. Think intro to Michael Jackson’s “They don’t really care about us”.

I have a new running buddy who ran the race with me but he has issues with his knees so has to take it easy. Nevertheless, we came in at 33:14, and that was only his third run since we’ve been training together.

Upon crossing the finish line, we received one of the funnest running packs ever: chocolate coins, jellies, and a fiddle toy. (I would definitely recommend bringing kids to this and letting them do the 2k fun run.)

I finished the event with a tasty post-race cup of pumpkin soup.

Running as a release

This is a response to today’s word prompt: gratitude

By shuffling my way through lots of miles, over a period of a couple of years, I have gotten myself to the point where I can comfortably run a 5k or a 10k and find it a joy instead of a chore. It still takes effort when I’m trying to go fast but I can jog along non-stop quite easily.

This allows me a release when times get stressful. Between my job; my landlord; living in a spiritually and morally bankrupt society; anxiety about the coming zombie apocalypse and worrying about my image on Facebook, stress is never in short supply! (Some of those were jokes but I won’t tell you which ones!)

There’s just something about leaving the house (going into the scary real world where everything is offline) and engaging in physical exertion that hits the re-set button and takes me out of my own head.

I live in Berkshire, near the Thames Path, and I get to run alongside some fantastic greenery. (The featured photo is my favourite taken whilst running and shows Caversham weir at sunrise.)

I am grateful that I have the money to buy decent running shoes and enter events. I am grateful for having the physical ability to be able to run, and I try not to take that for granted. I am grateful for the support of friends and family, and for the people who read this blog.

If you are reading this and thinking about starting running, I hope this post will give you that last push that you need. You will feel better and you will meet supportive people. You will lose weight and get fitter. You will be able to blast music through your headphones and get an endorphine high.

There is literally nothing not to like!

And finally, if you want to run but you haven’t exercised in years and you’re terrified of trying, please consider reading this post.