Learning to love winter running

Bobble hats and hot chocolates make the freezing runs worth it!

I have a real love/hate relationship with winter in England. The days are shorter, it’s dark and cold and wet, and generally unpleasant! Truth be told, 9 times out of 10 I’d rather be at home in my pjs watching something on Netflix 😉

But there are also some really great aspects to keeping your training going through the winter – not least because you’ll enjoy the benefits in your spring races!

Here are 5 things that have been getting me out the door lately.

1 – It’s dark!

Whilst it’s a bit annoying having to avoid my off-road routes in the evenings, I can take comfort in the fact that nobody can see how red and sweaty and gross I get (I’ve actually had people ask me if I’m ok when I’m recovering from a big hill…) and I also get to wear my head torch! SO MUCH FUN.

2 – It’s cold!

Yep, I’m definitely a cold weather runner. Warm summer days are great, but my pace goes out the window and I really struggle. I’ll admit that I hate the first few minutes when it’s frosty outside, but I seem to always improve my speed in the cold, and it’s also an excuse to buy wear more layers!

3 – New Year’s Resolutions

So I’ve not set any resolutions of my own, but lots of my friends have. Luckily for me, most of them are fitness/diet/health related, which makes it far easier to persuade them to run with me 😀 Win/win!

4 – Brownie points

Cold, wet, windy miles count double, right? 😉 Either way, you can’t help but feel pretty smug running past all the pedestrians in your capris whilst they’re bundled up in coats, scarves and hats and muttering about how crazy you are. Or is that just me?

5 – All the treats!

I may or may not regularly bribe myself to run. Or, yknow, use my run as an excuse to treat myself! Coffee, a long hot shower, throwing on the onesie – they’re all brilliant after a freezing cold or drizzly run! 😀

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What motivates you to train at this time of year?

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5 excuses I’ve used for not running recently – and why they’re rubbish!

My parents really know how to pose for a photo… 😀

Dude, where has this year gone!? How is it December? How is it CHRISTMAS next week?!

The past few months have flown by. I’ve been to Devon for some family time; to Nottingham to see some Uni friends; James and I went into London to see the Christmas lights and markets; I’ve been out and about to meetings and work events…

It’s been manic, and I’ve reached the point where running has slowly but steadily been nudged out of my schedule. Fail.

Next weekend, my marathon training plan will officially start (you didn’t think I’d defer Dublin and not have another one in the pipeline, did you!?) and I’m determined to finally get that sub-5. I’m also working towards a very (!) optimistic sub-2 half, which my little brother is helping me to prepare for. He’s even going to pace me on the day, so I really have no option but to make it happen! Gulp! (I mean, I can’t let him get a better time than me all the glory, right!?) 😀

I’ve decided that it’s time to ‘fess up to my rubbish excuses, and get myself back into a proper routine. Here are the five I use most, along with some counter-arguments that I need to use more! Who’s with me??

1. I don’t have time.

Uuugh, this old chestnut. Back in October, my daily commute went from 20 minutes each way to 1h20 each way. This means I now get up at 6h45 and get home between 6 and 7, and my days suddenly feel extreeemely short. But if there’s anything I’ve learnt over the years, it’s that there’s always a way to fit exercise into a work day – I just need to commit myself! Whether that’s getting up 30 minutes earlier (doable!), making the most of my lunch break or skipping an episode on Netflix in the evening, I definitely have time.

2. I’m tired.

With a longer commute, lots going on at work, busy weekends and preparing for Christmas, my energy levels are pretty low. But ironically, whilst running is the last thing I feel like doing, I’m guaranteed to feel better for it – more energised, more positive, and more productive. The tricky bit is just getting myself out the door!

3. I don’t have my kit.

Back when I was training for Barcelona, on busy days I would make sure that I had my running/gym gear with me from the minute I left the house in the morning. This meant that no matter how hectic the day got (having to be in the office early, last-minute meetings scheduled over lunch, finishing late), I knew that I could fit in some sort of workout at some point around my other commitments. Since the office move, I haven’t packed my gym kit into the car ONCE, always telling myself I’d just ‘run when I get home’. Famous last words…

4. There’s no shower/lockers/changing facilities.

The office move didn’t just mean a longer commute – it meant switching from a tiny office with a dozen people to a huge open-plan office with over a hundred (most of whom I don’t know, and wandering past them in sweaty lycra isn’t the best first impression!). Stupidly, I immediately used it as a reason to not work out at lunch – something that I used to LOVE doing. But I’ve hunted around and found a gym half a mile from the office, which means that showers and changing facilities are sorted! 😉

5. I’ve lost my fitness and it’s hard.

This is a vicious circle, and I’m sure we’ve all been there. You skip a couple of runs, and suddenly it’s been 2 weeks and you’ve not laced up your trainers once. Then you go out and try and run your usual pace, but it feels way harder than you remember. You don’t enjoy the run, and put it off for another 2 weeks – at which point it’s going to be EVEN HARDER. You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson by now – consistency (regardless of the distance or pace) is key!

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Are you finding it hard to keep yourself motivated? What are your excuses, and how do you get yourself out there?

Dublin Marathon: Decision Time

box-hill-walk

Gorgeous views from Box Hill last weekend!

I’ve drafted and re-drafted this post sooo many times, and then I dithered over whether or not I should even publish it. But here it is.

I have a habit of setting big goals, and putting quite a bit of pressure on myself to meet them. And I’m pretty hard on myself when things don’t go to plan.

So this decision was really hard.

A few weeks into my Dublin Marathon plan, I caught a nasty cold and was out of action for a couple of weeks. When I finally got back into my running shoes, things just… didn’t feel quite right. My breathing wouldn’t settle, my legs were heavy, and even the shorter ‘easy’ runs felt like a struggle.

I hate to say it, but I kind of fell out of love with running.

I blamed it on taking a break, I blamed it on the freakishly hot weather we’ve had, I blamed it on work… But what I eventually realised was that for whatever reason, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.

I feel a bit crap admitting it, if I’m honest!

The thing is, when it comes to marathon training, it’s not enough to just tick off the sessions on your plan. As the long runs get longer, it’s that mental drive that will keep you going – pure stubbornness and determination. And somewhere along the line, I lost mine.

I love running. I love races, and I love big city marathons. Standing at the starting line of an event I always get butterflies, and crossing the finish line is the best feeling EVER.

But I think I need to listen to my body, and accept that maybe 2 marathons (plus that little hike across Exmoor…) are enough for me this year.

So I’ve decided to DNS Dublin, and postpone my sub-5 marathon attempt to 2017. I’m going to work towards a spring race, which means training will start again a little later this year.

I feel like a bit of a failure for giving up. But I’m not going to stop training completely – I’m going to get back into parkrun; I’m going to work on my swimming; I’ll be exploring more walk routes in the Surrey Hills (suggestions or company are both welcome!), and I’ll of course be spending some quality time with friends and family.

It’s time to take some of the pressure off, and get back into running for FUN, not for finish times.

Next month I’ll be heading down to Devon to join my lovely parents for the Great West Run. It’ll be my Dad’s first race since his accident last year, and I’m really looking forward to running it with him.

Dublin, I’ll see you next year.

Have you ever DNS’d or postponed a big race?

Handy tips for goal-setting and staying motivated!

This weekend was a bit of a special one, as Dad laced up his running shoes and joined me for his first run since his heart operation last year. We headed out into the cold and the drizzle (standard Devon) on Sunday afternoon, and managed a whole mile – up a couple of nasty hills, too! And all after a hilly 3.5-mile country walk the day before. What a legend! We’re already planning some autumn races, and Dad’s got some ambitious time goals – which my brother (bit of a fitness guru!) will be helping him to train for.

My parents have always inspired me to dream big and push myself, and seeing how far my Dad has come in the past few months really shows just how much you can achieve if you’re determined enough.

Devon Walk and Run with Dad

My lovely Dad – and a successful mile 1! Onwards and upwards from here!

It brought to mind a motivational talk I attended last month, which was all about goal setting and motivational techniques. Pretty fitting for a marathon runner, eh? 😉

The speaker – Marcus Child – raised some very interesting points, so I thought I’d share a couple with you. If you’ve got a goal or an aspiration in mind, or want a little inspiration, read on!

When you’re working towards something for weeks, months, even years on end, it’s easy to lose sight of where you’re going. For me, it’s marathon training – months of solo runs in the cold and the dark, and constant thoughts of ‘why are you doing this to yourself again!?’

To keep yourself on track over a long period of time, it’s important to keep your goal in the front of your mind. To remember why you’re doing what you’re doing – what you want to achieve, and why you want to achieve it. And the best way to do that is to visualise it.

In order to achieve big, scary goals, you need to convince yourself that you CAN. This is where visualisation comes in. But what does that really mean?

We were advised to do more than just picture ourselves achieving our goals. We were told to see it, hear it, and feel it, as if it’s already happened. To tap in to all of those senses and paint a vivid picture in our mind.

Take a marathon, for example. See the finish line, the crowds, the smiling faces of your supporters, the timing mat. Hear them cheering you to the finish, hear the commentator over the loudspeakers, and think about how it’ll feel when that medal is slipped over your head. Feel the satisfying ache in your legs, your heart pounding, the salt on your face. And if you’ve got a time goal in mind, what will that clock display as you cross the line? How will you feel when you stop your watch and catch your breath, and know that you’ve DONE it?

Remind yourself of that goal before you go to sleep. Wake up to that image each morning. Put a picture on your wall, write your goal on a post-it note and stick it above your bed, or on your fridge – wherever you’ll see it. Tell yourself you CAN, and imagine that you already have. Secure that image in your mind, and replay it over and over, as if it’s a memory.

Maintaining that purpose, that vision, that mental image over time is crucial. And whilst it can be difficult, a very simple piece of advice we were given is this:

Sleep on it.

How many times have you heard that little nugget of wisdom over the years?

But there’s a definite theory behind it, and it’s based on your ‘left’ and ‘right’ brain. As the speaker put it, your left brain asks the questions, and your right brain finds the answers.

How many times have you tried to work out a solution to a problem, only for the answer to come to you as you’re drifting off or waking up? When do you feel most inspired? For most, it’s when you’re not actively thinking about something. Drifting off to sleep, standing in the shower, running or cycling or driving or ironing…

And what do all of these situations have in common? Answer: The ‘right’ (subconscious) brain is fired up.

Based on this left/right brain theory, if you set your intention(s) before bed, your brain will then secure that image in your subconscious. By the time race day rolls round (if it’s a race you’re aiming for!), you might still feel a bit nervous, but you’ll also feel a little bit more confident, capable, and excited. (Hopefully!)

We all live under our capacity, which means we never know what we’re capable of until we push ourselves. Dare to dream big.

In the words of Nelson Mandela:

It always seems impossible until it’s done

So go do it.

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My big scary goal is to run a marathon in every country in Europe. (Gulp!)

What’s yours?

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Do you have any big goals on the horizon? How are you keeping yourself motivated?

If you like the ideas in this post, be sure to check out Marcus Child’s website – and download some of his MP3s! He presents it all far better than I do, and will have you fired up in no time!

The dangers of comparing yourself to others

20 Mile Training Run

The big 2-0!

If you’ve been following me on social media (or reading the blog!) you’ll know that I ran my first ever 20-mile training run the other week. And I finished that run feeling so excited, proud, and capable. It took me 3h38, and I kept an average pace of 10:54, which puts me right where I want to be with regards to my sub-5 goal for this weekend’s Barcelona marathon (aaargh!!)

Result, right!?

The following weekend, a friend posted her latest training run (for her first marathon, in Rome next month) on Facebook. She ran 20 miles in 3h05, and I suddenly felt a bit rubbish. Suddenly, my 20 miler didn’t feel so good.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy and excited for her. She’s awesome and she’s worked hard to get where she is – I can’t wait to see her smash her goals in Rome!

But the doubts started to creep in. I started to wonder what I was doing. Why, after 3 years of marathon training, am I still chasing a sub-5 when others can go out and hit a crazy fast pace over 20 miles on their first go? Why do I bother? Shouldn’t I be faster than this by now?

Maybe I’m just not built for running. Maybe I’ll never be any good. Maybe I should give up now, and find another sport…

And then I gave myself a stern talking-to. Reminded myself that I’ve worked bloody hard to get to where I am. That 20 miles is EPIC. That I’ve run 2 marathons, which is a huge deal regardless of the time. That I’ve cut my 5k and 10k times down, have pushed on through injury and illness and reached the taper feeling strong and ready to run on Sunday.

Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, there’s a good chance that I won’t hit sub-5 on Sunday, because 26.2 miles is a flipping long way and anything can happen on the day.

But I’ve trained smart. I’ve gotten faster and stronger and I feel like it’s in reach. At Paris marathon last year, that goal ended up being a bit ambitious, but I really believe that I have it in me this time round.

No, it’s not the fastest time in the world. Should I be faster than this after 2 marathons? Will I ever hit those faster times? Who knows?

But also, who cares?

Running makes me happy. It makes me smile. It makes me push myself past my limits and gives me a sense of achievement and strength that nothing else does. It makes me look at my body in a different light – instead of focusing on my size, weight, or shape I can tell myself that my legs are awesome, because they can carry me miles and miles. My body is strong, and can run for hours. It’s done some pretty cool stuff.

There will always be someone faster, stronger, better. But at the end of the day, the only person I’m competing against is myself. And I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else.

So I’m going to stand at the start line on Sunday, and I’m going to soak up the atmosphere and be proud for even getting there. I’m going to make the most of every mile, because I’m able to run and I’m lucky to do something that so many take for granted (including me). I’m going to listen to the crowds and cheer on the other runners and smile the whole way round (well ok, I’m allowed a strop or 2 in the last few miles!) I’m going to explore a new city, grab a few high-fives from my lovely boyfriend, and I’ll cross that finish line.

Regardless of what the clock says, I’ll have run a marathon. And I’ll blooming well be proud of myself.

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Do you compare yourself to others? How do you keep yourself motivated?