I’ve had a big race this week, the weather has been vile and I’ve been battling child germs. All par for the course training for a spring marathon!
So, like a good 80% of the people I spoke to last week, I had a cold. If you read last week’s blog, this is hardly a surprise give the night I spent trying to sleep next to my germ-ridden smallest child. Bless him. But still….. The thing about colds, is they can make you feel really crap, yet you can’t really complain, because everyone gets colds, and it is only a cold. That’s what my eldest son tells me, as I’m snivelling into a tissue for the umpteenth time and I hear him cheerfully parroting my own words back to me. That’ll teach me to be an unsympathetic mother.
But motherhood and general life doesn’t stop just because you have your face in a box of tissues. Neither, it seems, does marathon training. My symptoms were all “above the neck” (anything below the neck, such as a chesty cough, or fever and rest really is best) so I decided to crack on with those midweek miles, albeit with slightly less gusto and enthusiasm than my non-coldy self would have done.
Those midweek runs felt physically harder and I did have to wipe my nose on my sleeve a few times (gross, but I’d run out of tissues, so what’s a girl to do?!) but still, miles in the bank nonetheless.
I chalked up a fair few more miles on Sunday when I took part in my local half marathon, the Surrey Half. This was my first race of 2019 and, like the 10k time trial I ran last week, I was really using it as an objective benchmark of how my training is progressing. Which sounds very official, but what I’m saying is, I wanted to check whether am I getting faster/more able to cope with the distance. Or not. Eeek. No pressure then.
I must admit, after my week of sneezing and feeling like my eyes might at any time fall out of my head (there I go again, moaning about “just a cold”), I wasn’t massively optimistic. My expectations were lowered further when my phone cheerfully beeped with a Met Office weather warning – for gale force winds. Aargh.
Nevertheless, I trotted down to the station on Sunday morning meeting my friend on the way. It’s always good to have a buddy to chat to before the race, even if you aren’t actually going to run together, especially if you get pre-race nerves (as I do) and your way of dealing with the nerves is to talk. A LOT. So, if you’re like me you probably need a friend who is willing to be tolerant of your endless musings about whether or not to go to the loo AGAIN or whether you actually needed more layers or if it really all was a bad idea after all, whilst nodding sympathetically.
I digress, anyway, they weren’t wrong about the flipping weather! I’ve never run in a wind like it! I can’t actually recall whether it was ever behind us and working in our favour (it probably was and I’m just being negative). Despite the best efforts of the organisers, who really couldn’t have done any more, the course was littered with bits of tree and at one point a tree had actually fallen onto the course and one of the race team was holding it up out of the way for the runners to pass, which was altogether rather heroic of him!
Someone asked me today “what do you think about when you’re running a half marathon, isn’t it boring?”. This is actually a really good question, as it’s quite a long time to be alone with your thoughts, isn’t it? I don’t run with headphones when I race, as I like to soak up a bit of the atmosphere (to be honest, it’s 50:50 whether I train whilst listening to anything when I’m not racing, but that’s another post for another day!).
I think that I can split my thoughts into two broad categories. Those that focus inwardly on how I’m feeling and those which are focused outwardly (basically me trying to distract myself and think about anything but running!).
However tempting the distraction technique is, it can be hugely useful to try to tune in to how my body is feeling. Is the pace OK? Do I feel a dip in energy which might mean I need to take some extra fuel on board? I’ll talk about how I fuel for a long run in a future post, but really I hope not to get to the point of feeling like I need to refuel, as that’s a sign I’ve probably left it too late! I also trying to work out whether anything is feeling particularly sore (again, hopefully not!) or if I’m holding any tension in my body that I can release. I know that sometimes I tend to clench my jaw or tense up my right shoulder, which is just a waste of energy and makes the run seem much harder than it is, so I try to consciously breathe into it and let it go. I’m also reading a book on running technique at the moment which has made me aware of the importance of cadence (basically, how many steps you take in a minute) and how taking more steps has the potential to make you run faster. So (and this is a new one for me), I might have a think about how fast my legs are turning over and whether I’m starting to plod as this is also a bit of an energy drain. Finally, I’ll think about my posture, pulling up out of my hips, engaging my core and running that bit taller (well, that’s the plan, I might well be running like the Hunchback of Notre Dame to anyone watching!).
So, when I’m not thinking about these things, I’ll literally distract myself from what I’m doing. This is harder than it seems as my mind will often wander back to something race-related (like working out what I need my future mile splits to be in order to come in at a certain time, which is always a good way of my brain becoming the ultimate panic merchant and telling me that I need to speed up. OR ELSE). Sometimes, I’ll pick a runner a little bit in front of me who looks like they might be running at the pace I want to achieve, and focus on keeping up with them. I tell myself, “all I have to do is stay with them, and they’ll bring me in”. I’ve learnt over the years that sometimes this can backfire massively when said person suddenly takes on the gait of Mo Farah in the last half mile, leaving me spluttering in their wake. Often I’ll think about the finish, think about my kids and (hopefully) making them proud or, my personal fave, think about what I’m going to eat later on or how good a hot shower and a cup of tea will feel when I’m back at home!
Anyway, back to Sunday. We got to 11 miles and although I felt tired, I also felt a little rush of elation as I worked out that I had probably done enough to hit my target time of under 1 hour 40 minutes. Unless I literally had a power failure and started to walk. Hang on, says my brain. What if I did start to walk? Perhaps I should just stop and walk? Seriously, this is an actual thought, generated by my brain just moments after it says “yay! You’re doing amazingly – you’re going to make your time!”. I do not know what happens to my mind and the games it plays with me sometimes.
By the time the finishing clock was in view, it was counting upwards towards 1:39. I was astonished. I knew then, if I could give it a last burst of speed, I could do 1:38-something! And I did. 1:38:20 was my official time, which far exceeded my expectations (I thought getting under 1:40 would be pushing it). I’m delighted, and it’s only just sinking in. It’s a huge bolster to my marathon training confidence when I really needed it after a tough week.
Unfortunately, there is little time to rest as week 6 looks like the toughest yet, with a fairly hideous hill session planned for Tuesday and my longest run of the plan so far (14 miles) scheduled for next weekend. Oh and more rubbish weather. Joy.