Friday, 23 September 2011

Comfort and inspiration

This time Sunday I will hopefully have finished the Berlin marathon!  I've been taking it easy this week in terms of exercise (wish I could say the same on work front, seem to have to work equivalent of 5 extra days to take 3 days out).

A few odds and ends to tidy up today, but I was keen to get out to see the Hiroshi Sugamoto exhibition at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art before it closes on Sunday.  I went to the main building first, only to discover that the Sugimoto exhibition was over the road at what used to be called the Dean Gallery.  Still, was interested to look at the Tony Cragg exhibition that was on at the main site. (I've got an annual 'Friend membership' so get free entry into all the exhibitions).  As it turns out, I probably enjoyed this one more.  And a good warm up for the trip to Germany as Tony Cragg is Director at a Dusseldorf modern art gallery and has been working out of Germany for 30-40 years.

I know modern art isn't for everyone, but I find as I get older I like it more and more.  There was something about the smoothness of his sculptures, and the way they blend man-made and natural form in a very fluid way that's just very pleasing and easy on the eye.  The pictures don't do it justice, you really should go and take a look if you like sculpture or modern art.

After a bite of lunch in the superb cafe (I had a mug of sweet potato, coconut and chickpea soup together with a ham, cheddar, cherry tomato, rocket and caramelised onion ciabatta sandwich. Yum. But no cake on this occasion... Unusual...), I went over the road to the old Dean to look at the Sugimoto.

Loved his Lightning Fields pictures too.  Again that intriguing blend of natural forms and shapes with scientific, man-made materials.  Very nice to look at and very evocative.  Obviously not as obvious and prescriptive as your older art, but equally beautiful to look at.  As Sugimoto puts it in the notes at the exhibition, "Both art and science sprang from observing the natural world."

It was pretty sunny as I headed back to pick up my car and I wandered about the landform for 5 or 10 minutes, which has been joined on the lawn by some of the Cragg sculptures.  Several groups out enjoying the art and the sunshine, nice to see.  The shapely weeds in the water of the landform could easily have been taken out of either the Tony Cragg or the Hiroshi Sugimoto shows.

Sadly lots of things still to do and I came home and headed out for a gentle 20-minute run.  Last one before I line up at the start line for Berlin marathon on Sunday...  Not 100% peak fitness but chiropractor seems to have successfully sorted me so I'll be able to run without pain - at the start line anyway!  I take comfort in the fact that I'm lucky to be able to do it, I'm getting to go to Berlin and I can just enjoy the experience! I also take comfort in any useful positive messages that I might see around about me - like this one from the modern art gallery earlier today...


Monday, 19 September 2011

Last one

Less than one week to go until Berlin marathon now. Eeek.

Things have been less than ideal the past couple of weeks.  After the 21-miler to North Berwick 2 weeks back, my lower back and pelvis/hips seized up and I started getting a few issues.  I had to take the next week off from running, or any exercise for that matter.

Shona was working the following weekend, so I wasn't able to do a weekend long run but I had planned to do 12-14 miles on the Monday.  It didn't feel like a good idea, so I gave it a miss.  Went to the gym and just did 30 minutes on the stationary bike.  (Although I did crank through the gears to make it pretty challenging!)  I cycled to and from work on Wednesday, and managed a 3-mile run on Friday evening.  Not 100% comfortable, but no major issues either.

Then, yesterday (Sunday) was supposed to be the last weekend long run before the main event on Sunday.  Met a few Portobello RC colleagues and the plan was to run 10 miles.  My hip/pelvis was feeling a bit strange on the right side, but nothing too painful.  However, within the first couple of miles it gave way two or three times.  Difficult thing to describe - not painful, my leg just gave way at the hip when my foot struck the ground.  And although not painful, not a pleasant feeling either!  So I cut the run short and just did 6 miles in total.

I didn't actually have any major problems on the way back, but it just isn't that enjoyable running when you have this fear in your mind that something might happen.  And it's still not quite right today.

The training for this marathon has had some major ups and downs.  Some days I remember that there were points over the winter where I feared I might not be able to do distance running any more.  And there have been weeks where I was amazed because of what I'd managed to achieve.

I don't know how I'll feel on race day - whether I'll be delighted to have made it to the start line, relieved that I'll be able to take a break afterwards, or just nervous about what the next 26.2 miles will be like - whether I'll be able to run it all or whether injury will strike after a few miles and I'll just have to run/walk the rest as best I can.  The injury troubles have really sapped my confidence and although I'll never say never, I'm pretty sure at this stage that this will be my last marathon.

It's possible that if I take a year or two out my body will recover completely and I'll be able to slowly rebuild my fitness and my confidence so that I'm ready to try and do it again.  But at this stage, it's just been too much of a chore!  I'm extremely grateful I've been able to do the 6 marathons I've done already, and I'm looking forward to doing my first one overseas in Berlin.  More than that, I've raised over £5000 for charity through running marathons (about £6,500 if you include Gift Aid), and that's not to be sniffed at.

I'm not one of these small, skinny types though and my body seems to have decided it's had a good run but it's not such a big fan of these long distance road races! I can't pretend it's easy to balance training, work and the needs of my young family (including Zoe's hopefully promising sporting career!!) either.  So I shall have to be more creative with fundraising, and my fitness, in future I think.

Anyway, sorry for a slightly self-pitying blog post.  I'm actually not downhearted. A good thing to quit on my own terms I think, rather than what it might have been a year or so ago.  Here's hoping my chiropractor can work some magic this week to make it as comfortable as possible for me on Sunday and I'm determined to do my best to enjoy the whole occasion as much as I can either way.  I'll have bloody well earned that medal anyway!!  And a currywurst and a wheat beer to follow I think...

Monday, 5 September 2011

Edinburgh to North Berwick

There's a few of us from Portobello Running Club who'll be running the Berlin marathon this year - so Jenni decided to make an event of our final long training run.  We arranged to meet at Portobello Running Club for 9am on Sunday morning and run 20 miles to North Berwick.  Once we arrived there we'd do our best to make ourselves vaguely fresh and respectable in the public toilets in town before going for lunch at Buttercup Cafe on the High Street.

We were inordinately lucky with the weather; one of the many days of summer that we'd missed earlier this year was graciously dispensed to us in our time of need. Better late than never, I say.  The first few miles were a bit quicker than I'd have liked (I had my cautious head on, having not run this far in a long time. I've run 16-17 miles 2 or 3 times this year, and haven't run as far as 20 miles since Edinburgh marathon in May 2010.  Most of my fellow runners have managed many more than this!)  I felt pretty good though, it was nice to be running in company (including one unexpected, bare-chested, bare-footed extra who joined us for several miles.  Not sure if it was early or late for him. Fairly confident he was not what one would describe as normal though. More explanation - and another perspective on our long run - in Mary's excellent blog here)

A couple of our number stopped at Musselburgh quay toilets for a pit stop, and Peter and I were anxious not to leave any of the ladies with the young chap who seemed to be a few sandwiches short of the full picnic, so we waited back and let the larger group press on ahead.  Then Mary, Caroline and I ran most of the next section along to Port Seton together, still at a reasonable pace.  Peter and Richard managed to shake the hanger-on by following the bumpier back road.

We were brilliantly supported on our run, by Jenni's mum - who had filled her car boot with still water and sweets! - and also by Ricky and Willie from the club who'd decided to cycle to North Berwick and back, joining us for lunch mid-way.  Can't thank them all enough for the encouragement and help along the way, absolutely brilliant.

The next section was slower, but some of the nicest running.  After the pavement ran out we went off road and followed the trail past Longniddry Bents and through the trees as we got nearer to Aberlady.  I've been keen to explore this section of the route after seeing photos of it in Mary's blog one time, and it was great to add this variety to the route and learn about another beautiful bit of trail to run on near Edinburgh.  

We rejoined the road route again at Aberlady, knowing that the toughest part of the run was still to come. I was still feeling OK, but given my legs had been tired from Wednesday night training when I started running at 9am, I knew I was going to find it increasingly difficult as time wore on!  About 7.5 miles still to go to North Berwick once we got out of Aberlady, and this included the toughest bits, the climb up into Gullane and some fairly dull stretches of undulating road around Dirleton.

Nothing for it but to just plod along the road for the last section.  Managed OK up the hill to Gullane, but a wee stumble as I went back on to the pavement after the hill was a message that I was definitely tiring now. At this stage I was running with Mary and I told her she should carry on at her own pace as I wanted to stop to take some gel and wasn't confident I'd be able to keep running all the way to North Berwick.  I didn't really mind if I ended up run-walking the last few miles, it was all about time on my feet for me, and just getting the distance done, but I didn't want to hold anyone else up.  In the event, I managed to run it all, but can't say it was my quickest few miles ever! When I got to the turning for Dirleton I waited for Caroline to make sure she knew the right way to go.  She was flagging a bit and given I've done this run a few times before over the years, it seemed appropriate to offer some encouragement - it would help to take my mind off my own worries..!  First sight of North Berwick Law at this point too, which is always welcome.

Ricky and Willie were waiting for us in Dirleton for one last lot of extra water (it was really pretty hot at this stage) and some much appreciated moral support.

There really is nothing you can do on the final road stretch between Dirleton and North Berwick except keep putting one foot in front of the other.  It's long, straight road and there ain't much going on except tree roots to avoid tripping over at regular points along the pavement.  But we did it, kept the pace going and before we knew it, we were going through North Berwick and onto the green where the other runners who'd already finished were waiting with a smile and a cheer.  Peter popped up a few minutes later having done the longer route along the front between Aberlady and North Berwick (on top of an extra 3 miles before we even started) looking remarkably fresh.

Lunch in the Buttercup Cafe was perfect, a great way to round off one of the most sociable and enjoyable long training runs I've ever done.

I'm happy to say that except for a bit of muscle soreness and some stiff knees and hips (which I think is fair enough after running 20.45 miles!), everything fells pretty tip-top today.

It would maybe have been nice to stay in North Berwick for the afternoon - the beach was looking lovely - but we had a prior engagement at the Porty Village Show to help Ian with the races there. So drove straight back and enjoyed letting the rest of the family take their turn at running instead!  I'll take a couple of days off now, then just try to keep things ticking over for the next few weeks.  Roll on Berlin!


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Training peak

Still no injury issues as marathon training peaks! I've been trying to keep the training levels up, while also not risking potential injury by overdoing it (and of course, dealing with the ever-present work-life balance issues too).

We were down in the New Forest at the weekend to celebrate my parents 40th wedding anniversary (Well done Mum and Dad!) so I fit in a 14-mile run on Friday morning before we flew down. Went well, and it took me just under 2 hours.  I massively over-ate on Saturday on the day of the ruby wedding celebrations, but I did get a little exercise, going swimming with the kids in the afternoon.  On Sunday morning Shona and I got up at 7am to do a 5 mile run before breakfast... We know how to have a good time!

We then followed that up with an unexpectedly long walk with the kids, my sister and her family, my Mum and my Aunty.  Probably would have taken not much more than an hour if it had just been the adults but having to coax the kids along too it was nearer two hours.  Rewarded ourselves with excellent pub lunch at the end.

Then back to Edinburgh Sunday evening and have only managed to fit in a 5-mile cycle home from work one day before today.

But tonight, Wednesday, was club training night, and once again, it was brutal..!

We started with a couple of relay races (with a small hill thrown in for good measure) to get us warmed up, and then on to 20 x 1 min fast. 1 minute recovery between each of the first 10 reps, then on to 30 seconds recovery between each rep for the last 10.  Short stuff isn't really my thing and my hamstrings in particular were screaming a bit... But it's all good training and hopefully it will pay off in the long run.

So, next up I'll do a bit of cycling over next couple of days, then I'm doing my longest run before Berlin on Sunday.  A group of us are running from Edinburgh to North Berwick (20 miles) on Sunday morning - 3 weeks before race day.

After that, the long runs reduce in length, and the aim is to maintain fitness levels but also let your legs recover so they're ready for the big one when it comes... For me, on the one hand I'd ideally like to have done a bit more training, a couple more long runs nearer 20 miles, but I can also tell my legs are ready for a bit of a rest.  I won't give in to the temptation to do another really long one 2 weeks before the race, but I also don't want to sit idle for 3 weeks - don't think I'm fit enough to do that and not pay the price in Berlin.  So I'll probably want to do a 14-16 mile run a week or so after this weekend's 20-miler and then taper more after that.

But it's getting close now!

On a final note, I am once again completely humbled by the generosity of friends who've supported me with my training effort and donated to my justgiving pages for Care International and Sick Kids Friends Foundation.  It really makes it all worthwhile and I'm incredibly grateful.  Thank you!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Join our club

Club training tonight. For those of you who don't already know, I'm a member of Portobello Running Club ; the finest, funnest running club in this part of the world.

Tonight's training session was only the 2nd one I've made this year (haven't been fit enough most of the time) and it was pretty brutal! We did 8 lots of 5 minutes fast, 3 minutes slow.  Because it was built around time rather than distance, each person will have covered a different total distance within the time. I covered a little over 8 miles. The rain meant some of the ground was pretty boggy and there was one slightly uphill and very wet section that really sapped the legs each time.  There's something quite exhilirating and cathartic about flogging your guts out like that in a hard session in the rain, and it's definitely one of the things I missed most while I was injured.  (Club training, not the rain. No opportunity to miss the rain in Scotland...)

Anyway, here's a few things I've been reminded of since returning to running club training:

  1. It's amazing how much you can still do in terms of speedwork when your legs are already tired from the rest of your training.
  2. It's amazing how much sweat you can produce in a one-hour session. Basically right to the bottom hem of your t-shirt. Eeeuuggh.
  3. You can push yourself much harder in group training than you do on your own.
  4. It's *much* more enjoyable to do speedwork and long runs with other people.
  5. There's a huge amount of experience and knowledge to be shared between runners. You'll be surprised who else has been through similar injuries, or has similar aspirations or challenges.
  6. Club runners are warm and supportive people who will always tell you you look strong and are running well even when it's not true! 
  7. It's nice to be congratulated by colleagues at the end of a tough session whether you were really doing well or not...
If you've been running for a bit and you're not sure whether or not joining a club is a good thing, DO IT. It'll help you improve as a runner, and you'll enjoy it too.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A good training week

Still no trouble to report, and - although this has massive potential to be "famous last words", everything is coming together nicely with training for Berlin.

Last Sunday I did the Scottish Gas 10K.  Not the bonniest race, but I was delighted to run 45.47.  Still several minutes short of my best, but a massive 6 minutes quicker than the last couple of 10Ks I've done, so a good confidence boost and confirmation of current progress.  I followed that up with a 14 mile run after work on Monday, basically out of Lothian Road to the canal, along it until the Garmin said 7 miles, then back again... Cycled to and from work another day, and ran in on Thursday (glad it was just running in, got soaked through and would not have enjoyed pulling those damp clothes on again at the end of the day).

Chiropractor on Friday and no real problems detected, just minor adjustments.  So Saturday the plan was to do parkrun and then join a couple of others from the running club to run back home from Cramond.  Ruth had mapped out a route to help us avoid the dull stretch along the front past Granton and Newhaven (nice in parts, but pretty monotonous for long stretches).  We went along to end of prom at Cramond, cut up through Granton and on to cycle path near Crewe Toll.  Then back along cycle track to the Shore at Leith, through Leith Links, and then up past the cat and dogs home and along Porty Prom.  Ruth and Jenni were heading on to Musselburgh, but I turned at Milton Road, up to Brunstane Road, along Argyle Crescent, over the A1 and back past the golf course and Figgate Park to my front door.

It was pretty warm and so it took most of the rest of the day for my body temperature and hydration levels to get back to somewhere near normal, but all in all meant I'd run a little short of 17 miles, including a 5K race at the start that equalled my best time this year.  Pretty happy with that.

Next week's planned training includes a gym trip on Monday, cycle on Tuesday, running club training on Wednesday, cycle Friday, the Haddington half marathon on Saturday and a 6-8 mile run on Sunday.  Hopefully I'll be able to report another good training week next Sunday...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Interlude, then reprise

Right, so where am I at? Recently back from a fabulous holiday to Portugal with the family (immediate family and also more removed - cousin's wedding while were out there). I ate too much, had a few late nights where I drank too much, and spent a fair bit of time sitting around in the sun.

However, I did also fit in a couple of runs, a bike ride (you can hire them for free in Cascais), some swimming and a few strolls. Plus the thing that made me sweat most - giving Zoe a shoulder carry up to the Moorish Castle at Sintra. (Worth it, it was stunning. By the way, I'm not sure when, despite regular threats, we will decide Zoe actually *is* too old to be carried...)

Had a great weekend on return to Edinburgh too. Saturday started with a season's best at Parkrun. Still nearly two minutes short of my all time PB, but very pleased to have things moving in the right direction again. And always good to see my running colleagues - and make some plans for a Sunday run too.... More on that later. Anyway, the sun was shining so the family decided to go for a picnic lunch after. We headed to Harlaw reservoir in the Pentlands and sat waterside for lunch. Quite a few people had the same idea and some were even swimming in the reservoir, although personally I didn't think it was *that* warm. Then had a lovely short walk round the reservoir with the littl'uns. Zoe and Gregor were inspired to shake off their usual negativity towards anything that might constitute hard work - and even became mildly enthusiastic as we talked to them about the different trees and flowers around the reservoir and in nearby Harlaw Wildlife Garden.

Took advantage of being out Balerno way to quickly visit Malleny Garden (NTS) too, which was looking fine in the summer sunshine. Not sure what the other older visitors who were relaxing on the benches there made of our two running around and shouting, but hopefully we weren't too disruptive...

(Pictures at foot of blog post are from Harlaw and Malleny.)

Saturday evening passed without incident, and I downed a huge plate of pasta in prep for Sunday's effort. Regular readers will know it has been a long comeback from injury for me, but that I'm still committed to doing the Berlin marathon at the end of September. This means I'm having to increase my mileage, and especially the length of my weekly long runs. The furthest I'd managed before Sunday was 13 miles, so I wanted to increase to 14+. Bert had advertised a '16mile+' Sunday run on the club website's bulletin board and I figured that it would be good to have some company. Even if I couldn't manage the full distance I could just turn at 7 miles and come back the same way so I had company for some of the run.

We met at the Commonwealth Pool (currently closed) at 9am and the route was explained. Turned out the planned route was actually more like 18+ so no way I was ready for the full route, but there were options to cut it short.

We headed down past Cameron Toll, then onto quiet roads and tracks along through Hermitage of Braid and over to Colinton. Joined the Water of Leith path heading for Balerno - and could have turned back there for a 12-mile route. Instead, stuck with the main group until 7.5 miles had gone by and then Andrew and I turned back. Instead of going back the same way, we took the path for Slateford and on to the canal path back to Bruntsfield. Through Bruntsfield links and the Meadows and back to the Commonwealth pool. All in all, about 14.5 miles on a very nice route (we really are extremely lucky with the variety of trails and paths we have in and around Edinburgh), in about 2 hours. I'm VERY pleased with that. It was hard work, especially the last couple of miles. Faster than I've been used to on my solo long runs and obviously that wee bit longer again, but a good confidence builder and most importantly, no ill effects after. That's the best I've managed since June 2010.

Plan for this week is to cycle to work once or twice and to hopefully make club training for the first time in over a year on Wednesday.... Then Scottish Gas 10K on Sunday, plus hopefully a few more miles afterwards (Shona's working Saturday so I have to get the miles in on Sunday). I'm ever more optimistic about Berlin, which can only be a good thing.