2017: The year without a marathon

Enjoying the Devon country lanes…

When I pulled out of Vienna marathon back in the spring, I told myself that it was just a case of life getting in the way of my training, that it was just a temporary blip, that my motivation would come back soon enough. I told myself that I could start over in the summer, make the most of the sunshine, hit some of my time goals and finish with a sub-5 in Berlin to end the year.

But work got busy, that crazy heatwave happened, and somehow my motivation didn’t come back. I was struggling to even finish my 5ks, and my pace plummeted. For the first training cycle ever, I found myself dreading my long runs to the point of making excuses not to do them. And my carefully planned buffer of cut-back weeks dwindled, the mileage stayed low, and I found myself in complete denial of my September marathon as the weeks ticked by.

In theory, at this point I still have 3 more long runs on the schedule. I could still ramp up the mileage and make my way round those 26.2 miles in September. But the tough question I’ve had to ask myself recently is: ‘do you still want this?’

On paper, of course I do. I’ve been SO lucky to secure a Berlin ballot place and I feel awful at the idea of giving that up when there are others out there who would love my spot. I love marathons, I love the satisfaction of hitting those increasingly high miles on my weekend long runs, of feeling my body getting stronger, seeing the shorter runs get faster and faster. I love the atmosphere on race weekend; feeling like a bit of a celebrity wandering round a new city with my race bag, and with my bib and medal on race day.

But right now, at this point in time, I don’t want it enough.

It’s true what they say about 90% of marathon training being in the mind. Since mentally giving up (and that’s exactly what the issue has been) I’ve been struggling with not just motivation, but with the miles. I’ve found myself taking walking breaks on 5k recovery runs, and I’ve been struggling to get my pace back down into the 9s even over that distance. I haven’t been to parkrun all year. I’ve only hit double digits ONCE since my last half marathon back in the spring.

How running SHOULD make you feel.

I know that deep down, I still love the sport. I still want to get my sub-2 half, my sub-5 full, and to push myself on the shorter distances. I want to explore some more off road trails, to try new events and to work harder with my cross training, my running form, and to feel strong again.

In the past I’ve always seen a goal race as a way to motivate myself. Counting down the weeks has got me out the door, and having a plan gives my sessions a purpose, and smaller goals to hit along the way. But this year, for some reason each event I’ve done has only led to increasing worry, anxiety, and a lack of confidence in my fitness, my ability, and my commitment.

I’ve run 3 half marathons this year. Whilst yes, I managed to complete each one, I was left feeling flat at the finish line. I’ve always thought that a DNS was a sign of weakness, of giving up, of laziness… But this year, I’ve learnt that it’s far better for me personally than finishing for the sake of it. It’s not worth pushing through the miles when your heart isn’t in it.

So in short, I’ve decided to DNS Berlin. I’ve also decided that I’m not going to book a spring marathon – or any other races in the meantime – until I can get out of this rut and find that joy again. I need to build back my weekly routine, to finally look forward to those short mid-week runs, the cross-training sessions, and to building my mileage on the trails at the weekends.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of races in my diary next year. I just want to do them justice. And in the meantime, I’m still looking forward to a weekend in Berlin – and I’ll be cheering all of you lovely runners on from the sidelines!

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Have you ever DNS’d a big race? How did you feel?

Dublin Marathon Training: #runnersnotrunning

I have to say, I hate missing sessions on my training plan. For weeks 1 and 2, I ticked them all off – even on the hottest day of the year. But I’ve had a cold for the past week and a bit, so last week – and this week, so far – have seen exactly NO runs.

This is sooo frustrating, as I was just starting to see some real progress! To top it all off, I joined my local tri club last week, and was excited to get some cross-training in, too. However, a tickly cough and a stuffy head aren’t really that great to swim or run with. Boo.

But I wanted to get outside and do something, at least – so on Sunday, James and I decided to catch a train to London and spend the afternoon skating. It wasn’t quite the same as a long run, has to be said, but it was good fun and a pretty good workout – especially given how tense I was! (A master skater, I am not!)

We got the tube to Green Park, and walked across to Hyde Park from there. We passed lots of very tired looking cyclists (unfortunately, the Ride London ballot decided that this wasn’t my year – fingers crossed for next time!) and even saw one rider setting off for a run in his kit! As if 100 miles of cycling wasn’t enough for one day…

We sat on the curb, got our skates on … and then James had to help me up, because face-planting the pavement would have been a rubbish start 😀

Skating in Hyde Park

Step 1: skates on, and managed to stand up – with a little help!

The main goal was for me to learn to control my speed and be able to ‘t-stop’. Up until now, I’ve always just skated into poles/walls/the person I’m skating with, which has worked fine for me 😉 But James wasn’t standing for it, so I had some work to do…

Pokemon Hunting in Hyde Park

James made some new friends at a local PokeStop… 

After a wobbly start, I managed to pick up a little speed and could manoeuvre well enough to avoid the huge crowds of walkers, cyclists, skaters and runners. And then James realised that there were a ton of poke stops and lures about (and a gym), so he picked a route that would periodically take us past them all.

I was having enough trouble keeping myself upright, so my phone stayed in my bag for most of the afternoon. James, however, was multi-tasking like a boss, challenging gyms and catching pokemon and skating circles around me (literally). Sigh.

Skating in Hyde Park 2

The expert vs. the not-so-expert (but I didn’t fall over, at least!)

Hyde Park

Skating selfie! Whilst standing still and holding on to James for dear life…

But I’m pleased to say that I finally got the hang of the whole t-stop thing! I’m still not great at using it to slow myself down, and I’m still working out how to stop at short notice, but I’m hoping that after a few more practice sessions I’ll be able to join the ‘Sunday Stroll‘ – a weekly guided skate around London.

Always good to have something to aim for, right!? 😀

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How did you spend your weekend? Are you training for anything at the moment?

Dublin Marathon Training: Week 2

Oh man, hasn’t the weather been gorgeous lately!? I mean sure, it’s meant that running has been an absolute struggle, but I have to admit that I’ve reeeally been enjoying the non-running bits 😀

Denbies Vineyard

Now this is the sort of British summer I love!

My 5k on Tuesday was AWFUL. It was 30 degrees, I’d cycled to and from work (marginally less sweltering than sitting in the car!) and I really struggled. I think it’s the first time this year that I’ve actually had to take water with me on such a short run! I ended up taking a couple of breaks in the shade to cool down, and actually walked part of mile 3. Honestly, I nearly regretted getting out there at all.

On the flip side, Sunday was my long run day and I managed the whole 8 miles! I even threw the pacing out the window and hit 9:05 for mile 8. In my defense, it was a lovely long downhill, and would have been a shame to waste it… 😀

Dublin Marathon Training Long Run

A horrendous 5k vs a pretty good long run #1!

Whilst 9:05 is a pretty awesome pace for the end of my longest run since April, the plan was 8 ‘easy’ miles, and for good reason! When training for my previous marathons I’ve always set off too fast on my long runs, and faded massively towards the end – I don’t think I’ve ever run a LSR consistently, or managed a negative split over more than about 10k!

With my marathon pace hopefully around the 10:30 mark, I was aiming for a relaxed 10:40-11:00/mile, and ended up with an average of 10:25 – with only 4 out of 8 miles at my planned pace. Ooops. Granted, this isn’t much of an issue over 8 miles, but I definitely need to work on my pacing before I hit the bigger runs…

Dublin Marathon Training Week 2

Thursday’s cycle commute PB, followed 30 minutes later by a negative-split 5k!

I also focused  a lot more on my crosstraining this week, which is something that I kind of neglected when training for Barcelona. I cycled to work twice (14 mile round trip), and on the second day I actually got a PB – 13.5mph! Not hugely fast by most standards, but 1mph faster than usual 😀 It’s all progress!

I even manned up a little and joined the local tri club for a taster session on Friday. An hour of solid front crawl and stroke drills – the DOMS still haven’t gone away! But it turns out that despite sticking to breaststroke for the past year or so, I haven’t lost all of my swimming fitness – or technique! (Just the stamina. Oh my days, I struggled). I can’t wait to join the club properly and work on my swimming and cycling!

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How do you like to cross train? Is anyone doing the Ride100 this weekend?

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Week 2 summary (weeks to Dublin: 14)

Planned sessions: 3 miles easy + strides / 3 miles steady / 8 miles easy

Sessions completed: 3 miles easy (!) / 3 miles progression / 8 miles steady

Cross training: 28 miles cycling, 1 hour swimming

The Exmoor Perambulation 2016!

This year, I headed back down to Devon for another shot at the full-distance Exmoor Perambulation. Given the past few wet and windy years I’m not sure how they managed to get me to sign up again, but I imagine bribery must have been involved somewhere…

The Perambulation is a 31-mile hike around the original boundries of the Exmoor royal forest. The land is largely privately owned now, which means that we had an exclusive opportunity to see areas of Exmoor that aren’t usually open to the public. It’s classed as one of the toughest walks in the Exmoor annual calendar, and it’s easy to see why!

My parents sadly pulled out a few weeks beforehand, but luckily I’d managed to rope in 4 lucky (!) friends to join me for the event, as well as a weekend of good old Devon camping. I warned them continuously about the potential weather conditions, and as we set off to grey skies and a cool breeze, I was glad that I’d packed ALL the layers!

The organisers provide walkers with a set of instructions, which require a compass and an OS map to follow. Given that my Dad has always been the navigator in the past, and my Mum admitted that she pulled out this year because my Dad couldn’t take part and she didn’t trust me not to get us lost in the wilds of Exmoor, I was feeling a little bit nervous. Dragging friends through ice-cold, waist-deep water and mud on a brutal 10k was one thing (#sorrynotsorry), but stranding us all in the middle of nowhere waiting for mountain rescue to find us was a whole different matter!

Luckily, the organisers had equipped all teams with a GPS tracker this year, so we knew they’d find us eventually! Silver linings and all that, right?

Exmoor Perambulation Checkpoint 1

2 miles down, and it’s still dry! We’re not lost! We’ve got this! Wait, I didn’t start my Garmin when we left!

The weather stayed dry, and by the first checkpoint – 2 miles in – we were all feeling pretty chipper. We had set off a little late, which meant that lots of the full distance walkers (you can also do the half) were miles ahead. We would often go hours without seeing anyone else, which was a strange feeling! I also realised 2 miles in that I hadn’t switched my Garmin on, which was a shame, but it found signal pretty quickly and then we were off towards the second checkpoint.

Exmoor Perambulation Hills

Trying to decide whether to climb down sideways…

Early in the first half, we hit the start of the steep climbs. The first half is definitely a lot hillier than the second, with the route taking you down into the valleys and then back up and along the top. Whilst this was pretty tough, our legs were still feeling fresh and the ground was dry, which meant that we didn’t even need walking poles this time round! I couldn’t believe how different the conditions were to previous years. Not that I was complaining!

Exmoor Perambulation Navigating

‘Erm, so we might be on the wrong side of this plantation… Which means doing this steep nasty hill again, but over there…’

Somehow, we only got lost 3 times (not bad for 31 miles!), and managed to work our way back onto the route in time for the checkpoint cutoffs. Phew.

Exmoor Perambulation Stream Crossing

Shoes off – no bridges this time!

Last time we did this walk, the stream we had to wade through was more like a river, and with the shingle bank submerged we had to be pulled out at the other side. This time round, the sun was shining, the water level was nice and low, and we enjoyed a lovely refreshing dip and then a short snack stop on the far side. Glorious.

Exmoor Perambulation Summit of Green Mountain

This is why Green Mountain is worth climbing. Look at those views!

Just before the half way point, we hit the biggest hill on the route, which we’d always referred to as Green Mountain. This short climb is so steep that you have to use your hands – and be extremely careful standing up, so as not to fall backwards!

Exmoor Perambulation Half Way

16 miles down, just 15 more to go!

And then we reached half way! We stopped for sandwiches, had a chat to a couple of the mountain rescue guys, and took a read of the instructions to get an idea of what the route would be throwing at us next. Lots of the second half is on road, which sounds brilliant until you’ve been on the same bit of tarmac for 7 miles. (And this is a road marathoner talking!)

The off-road sections, whilst hilly, are much easier on your legs and feet, and the variety stops you from getting too uncomfortable. After a while on the road, we all stiffened up and slowed down quite a bit. I think next year I’ll ditch the hiking shoes for some lighter running shoes and try and jog that bit!

Exmoor Perambulation Sunny Views

By this point I was regretting not putting sun-cream on before we started!

Thanks to the beautiful sunshine, we got to take in miles of views over the moor. This was awesome because 1) it was stunning, and 2) lots of the route instructions require you to head for the far side of a particular  field, or look out for where the hedges are. When the visibility is low, you’re relying completely on compass bearings and can easily misjudge your position. We actually stuck to the route for the whole of the second half, without getting lost once!

Exmoor Perambulation Checkpoint

Taking a breather at one of the checkpoints…

The volunteers at the checkpoints were absolute heroes. They were friendly, cheerful, and gave us as much advice as they could to set us off in the right direction, warn us of tricky bits, and also gave us an idea of our position relative to the other walkers (the 2 couples who had been behind us towards this point had pulled out, so by the second-to-last checkpoint we were last!) The checkpoints were stocked with plenty of water and juice, so we filled up our bottles, got our cards stamped, and with a hearty ‘good luck’ and ‘well done’, we set off towards the final checkpoint.

The first time I attempted the full distance, we got stopped at the final checkpoint due to dangerous weather conditions – and this happened again to my parents the year after. Luckily, the sun showed no signs of going away, so we were able to set off with plenty of time to spare, and no chances of being stopped.

When we got to the long road section (dubbed the ‘Road to Hell’, given how long and straight and soul-destroying it is), for once I was actually able to see the views! To give you an idea, this is the difference between the first time I did the full, and this time:

Road to Hell - then and now

The ‘Road to Hell’ – then and now!

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty lucky! The sunshine definitely took the edge off, although this stretch got to us all in the end. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get back to the hills and rough, off-road terrain!

Exmoor Perambulation Last Mile

The end is in sight! Heading over the final hill to the finish…

By the time we got to the finish – in 12h50 – we were the last ones by 20 minutes. Only about 30 people had managed to complete the full distance, including the 5 of us!

Exmoor Perambulation Certificate and Homemade Fudge

Our route card and finishers certificate (including a brilliant description of the walk), and the homemade fudge that got us through the first half!

The volunteers (including the mountain rescue guys and a couple of park rangers) were sat outside waiting for us, wrapped up in their jackets, and offered us a big congratulations and a packet of their biscuits to take back to the campsite with us – how lovely!?

They were all so unfailingly cheerful, chatty and SO lovely. I’m sure it was a long, tiring day for them and we were all so grateful to them for the logistical support on the route and the motivation and encouragement they offered us along the way. We gave them our GPS tracker, had a bit of a chat with the guy that wrote the instructions (which were fantastic, and are updated slightly each year with participant feedback), and then hobbled back to the car.

We finished the day tired, aching and sunburnt, but I have to say that this is the best year so far – and I’ve already signed up to do the full with my parents again next year.

Sub-12h00, we’re coming for you!

I’m also happy to report that my friends are all still my friends, despite Green Mountain, the Road to Hell, DOMS and blisters and sunburn. But despite enjoying the day, and feeling super proud to finish, they’ve all refused to ever join me on one of my ‘crazy’ adventures again. (But they’ve not ruled out doing the half another year!)

Fair play – camping and cider and chilling on the beach will do just fine without the added 31-mile hike! 😀

If you get the chance, I would absolutely recommend this event. Sign up, I dare you!

Bluebells in the Chantries Woods

I’ve been itching to go and see the bluebells for a couple of weeks now (I live an exciting life, clearly!). Our neighbour recommended that we go and visit the Chantries Woods, and after looking it up we realised that it’s only a mile or so from our front door – handy! (Also, how have we not been there before now!?)

So this weekend we laced up our walking shoes, and set off for a wander.

Walking in the Chantries Woods

There are miles of footpaths to explore through the Chantries, and the North Downs Way actually goes through some of it, too – so it’s easy to pick up dozens of different routes. I can’t wait to get out there in my trail shoes for some long training runs 😀

Chantries North Downs Way

… Though we discovered at times that some of the footpaths we used weren’t actually on Google maps, so there’s a high chance I’ll get lost… But that’s part of the fun, right? 😉

Chantries Woods Bluebells

I even managed to get James to pose for a photo or two. He caught on pretty quickly, and stopped slowing down to wait for me after a while! And I learned to stop asking him to take my photo unless I wanted to hear him sniggering about how dumb it was 😉 Instagram Husband, he is not!

P.S. LOOOL, you have to watch that video. Absolute genius!

Chantries Bluebells

Isn’t this place stunning though!?

Chantries Woods

As well as the gorgeous woodland, if you fancy a bit of a climb there are some stunning views across the Surrey Hills.

They’re almost as good as the views you get on the Bacchus Half, which I still need to sign up for! (And so do you, if you haven’t already. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have on a run! Here’s last year’s review, if you need any convincing…)

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How was your weekend? Did you get out and enjoy the sunshine? 🙂