In the words of Ronan Keating “Life is a roller coaster, you just gotta ride it” (don’t laugh it is a great song), well running seems to be a very long and sometimes enormously steep one at that. After an amazing experience at the World Champs in August I felt like my bubble burst and I came back down to earth with an almighty bump. The 12 weeks of intense hard training, the build up to race day, the elation of crossing that line and then…..the little voice says “what do I do now?”
Of course, I was excited to take a break from the training routine, live a ‘normal’ life whatever that is supposed to be. I stayed up late, ate that extra slice of cake that is always winking at you, went shopping and even watched Home and Away each evening at 6pm (not sure if I should mention that but I have anyway). Like any athlete the novelty started to wear thin and I missed the routine and comfort that a training programme brings. So I sat down with Nick and set some new goals, yet there was still something missing and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
Having been lucky enough to study and graduate from Loughborough University I was also surrounded by some of the best athletes and training facilities in the country. Loughborough is my home now and has been for the last 15 years but training had become very predictable and I don’t mean that in a nasty way. If you have ever experienced the track training nights down at the uni, you will know what a great set up it is. Yet someone said to me” it’s insane to do the same thing and expect a different result”. That was it, I needed to shake things up a little, get out of my comfort zone.
I decided to enlist the help of a new coach and get some advice on an S & C programme. I don’t expect a miracle or to see the benefits straight away. I decided to race the Great Scottish Run and then Portsmouth Great South Run as part of my training, blow a few cobwebs away and see where I was at. I didn’t expect to be flying or at my best but to be fair there were some encouraging signs or so I thought. Yet, I received a few comments about my performances that made me feel low at the time but I’m now using as motivation.
I’m surrounded by a great team coach and husband and I believe in the process. I may be on a low right now but my roller coaster is climbing to that next high…..
The training in Font Romeu had gone well I was in one piece and really excited about competing in the World Champs in Moscow. It was time to meet the rest of the team in Sant Cugat near Barcelona which was the base for our official holding camp.
I arrived on the first day with a lot of the sprinters and breakfast seemed to be a showdown between the meat-eaters and the birdseed eating marathon nutter, I mean runner! I have to admit I felt a little out of my comfort zone as the reality of the Championships and the task ahead was finally dawning on me. Unlike my own little world in Font Romeu, there was a nervous tension or was it excitement in the air?
As my marathon build-up was coming together nicely it was all about the recovery and less about the miles. I found some pretty nice coffee shops to pass away the afternoon. In the mornings I would head out for a run on the trails enjoying the sunshine.
However, my time in San Cugat was soon over and it was time to pack my bags yet again. I like to keep an open mind when travelling, as experiencing another culture is a good thing right? Yet I couldn’t help feeling a little apprehensive about visiting Moscow. Being a languages teacher I can get by in most European countries but Russian really did test my linguistic skills. Of course it didn’t help that most people I met were not the friendliest however, I wouldn’t want to stereo-type everyone who lives in Moscow!
As the first day of the champs and of course race day approached the temperature appeared to be creeping into the 30s. It might not have been such an issue had the race not been scheduled for a 2pm start. Requests from athletes and medical staff were turned down to change the start time. Rumour has it that Japanese TV paid a lot of money to have the race shown at prime time in Japan. Good job I had prepared as much as possible but the thought of starting a marathon in 30 degree heat still wasn’t that appealing!
Race day arrived and it felt a little strange without the early start. The day grew hotter as I waited for the race to arrive. I decided not to warm up at all before the start except to do a stride on the track beforehand. The first 5k would be my warm up as I predicted a slow early pace given the conditions. Staying hydrated, keeping my core body temperature cool and running my own race would be the key today.
There was no shade and no relief from the sun beating down. I’ve never been so pleased to see a sponge and a bottle of water. It was going to be a long day at the office, survival of the toughest. My shoes slowly become soaked and every step gave a squelching noise but worse still I could feel the blisters forming on my feet until they popped and rubbed some more. My race number was slicing the skin on my stomach with each stride. As the race progressed there were several athletes either zig-zagging across the road or stopped on the roadside. I was told at one of the last drinks stations I was inside the top 20. I just had to keep ticking of the kilometre markers, put one foot in front of the other, the time was irrelevant. The last 300m was inside the stadium and a huge boost to moral. The finish was in sight.
I felt like (and looked like) I had gone into battle today but I came out victorious!
After a successful training camp in Font Romeu in April I was looking forward to some track races before getting down to some marathon training in preparation for Moscow. I have raced very sparingly this year so I was definitely a little race rusty when I hit the track at the Manchester BMC at the end of May. Although it was a solid performance over 5000m I knew there was a lot more in the tank but didn’t race tactically well.
I then headed to Bulgaria for the European Cup 10,000m. Again I was left feeling I hadn’t quite fulfilled my own expectations. Much to the protest of most teams the women’s race was ran at 5pm in hot sunny conditions and they even forgot the water station! My time may not have been what I was hoping for but, on a positive note, I led the women’s team home to the team silver medal, every cloud…
It was then time to start adding some marathon specific prep to my track fitness. Training for my first major summer championships is pretty exciting.
At the beginning of July I headed for the mountain air of Font Romeu. For me the terrain is perfect for preparing the legs and the mind for the challenges of a marathon. It is also one of my favourite places to focus and prepare for a race as there isn’t much to do except eat, sleep, run and watch the Tour de France! As a big Tour de France fan I was lucky to watch stage 8 roadside as it passed through the Pyrenees not far from Font Romeu. It was great to give Froomedog a cheer, who of course went on to win the yellow jersey in Paris.
Training so far has gone well but I owe a lot to the amazing support team around me; Nick as my personal pace maker, chef and mentor, “Clitherbot” as my partner in crime (and training) and physio Andy Walling keeping me in one piece. Although I’m not sure Andy deserves a mention here as he is spreading rumours that I look like Cyril Sneer from The Racoons when I am in pain in the Physio room. If you are lucky enough to remember watching it on children’s BBC then you will know where I am coming from!
So with some great tempos and workouts under my belt it is time to taper and let my body recover for the race in Moscow. Ice baths, rest and almond croissants should do the trick. Next week I have the final leg of my marathon journey as I head to Barcelona for the holding camp before flying to Moscow. I really am living my dream.
I am so excited that I’ve finally made my first major summer Championships. It is not only the best reward for the hard work but a chance to give something back to all those that continue to support and believe in you when the chips are down. Without meaning to sound soppy I owe a massive thank you to Nick who is not only my husband but also coach, pace-maker, mentor, manager, PA, masseuse (on a rare occasion) chef and of course a shoulder to cry on. My aim for the last few years is to make a major summer championships. I came so close to gaining selection for the 2010 Commonwealths over 10,000m but agonisingly missed the time by 3 seconds, which isn’t much over that distance!
It is a big relief to gain selection early as it means you can focus on preparing for the championships. The marathon takes 3 months of very specific preparation once you reach peak fitness, so there is a lot of work to be done before August but I’m really looking forward to it. The move up to the marathon seemed like a logical progression. In my early athletic career many of my major successes were on the cross country. As I moved through the distances on the track (from 3k steeplechase, to 5000m and then to 10,000m) I slowly but surely reached the same level of success I’d seen on the mud. Then, after a really pleasing Half Marathon debut in April 2011 I felt like I wanted to have a go at the marathon. For those of you who have completed a marathon you will know what I mean when I say it is the most satisfying feeling and such a buzz to run a marathon. For those of you who don’t you are missing out!!
So after getting the nod for selection I headed out to Font Romeu for a four week training block with the British Athletics Camp all thanks to London Marathon who fund these camps. It is a great opportunity to train and learn from other athletes as well as the chance to really focus on training and recovering in between workouts. I’m really looking forward to when Helen (Clitheroe) arrives next Monday for some running banter. For those of you don’t know Helen has a wicked sense of humour with a very good knack of turning everything into a pun.
Whilst here in Font Romeu I hope to work on some shorter speedier sessions as I hope to do a few shorter races over 5/10k on my return in May. Over the last few seasons I have slightly neglected my speed over these shorter distances due to a combination of injuries and periods of marathon specific preparation. Once those races are done it will all be about focusing specifically on Moscow and being in the best shape possible to run well there.
So it was back to Berlin last Sunday for a run out over the Half Marathon distance, it was here I made my debut over the distance in 2011. I was hoping to eclipse my PB set two years ago although when I landed in snowy conditions on Friday I wasn’t filled with much hope. However, the sun came out on Sunday morning and we were blessed with some “almost” spring-like weather and a PB performance I did.
The race also marked a very important re-match between Nick (the hubby) and myself over half marathon. In this very race two years ago I dropped Nick at 18k and finished a minute ahead of him. The 2011 Half Marathon Power of 10 rankings will be a one to show the grand-kids and let’s just say it has been a bit of a thorn in Nick’s side ever since. Nick likes to tell everyone he had trained hard the day before but I put it down to being better than him on the day. Although it has been great to have him help out on some of my long tempos it has also improved his endurance and it isn’t so easy to drop him these days as Sunday proved. I look forward to the day when I can wipe that smug grin off his face again, not that we our overly competitive in our house!
Some High 5 action with the ‘pacemaker’ aka Mr Samuels
The first 10k was into wind and a chilly wind at that, unfortunately Nick needs to eat a few more pies before he can offer me some decent shelter but at least I had someone to chase. We went through 10k in 34.16 and I was feeling pretty strong. The support was great as was the entertainment on the side of the road. The kilometre markers were coming around fast and before I knew it I hit the last 95m. It was always going to be difficult to out sprint Nick a 1500m man but I was determined to beat other guys in our group.
The marathon in September highlighted some key weaknesses, particularly in my hamstring which can be unpredictable and hampered my training before Christmas. Since January I have been able to put some base work in and, although I feel strong, I don’t seem to have another gear right now. I feel encouraged by my performance in Berlin as it shows that things are heading in the right direction but I now aim to put some speed back into the legs. I’m still working hard on the strength and conditioning which will hopefully allow me to now do more quality work heading into the track season….I can’t wait to get stuck in and “back on track”!
It has been a while but I finally have something to shout about – another medal at the National XC, this time silver! My last competitive outing was over the marathon distance in September in Berlin. Whilst I was really pleased to run a good time I felt like I had a grey cloud hanging over my head. As I highlighted in my previous blog, my marathon build-up was not without problems. After a well needed rest it was time to face my sciatica and hamstring problems.
The run up to Christmas was difficult. I decided to go back and do some supply teaching to take my mind off running but I only managed to pick up every illness going including the flu 4 days before Christmas. All the stopping and starting wasn’t good for the leg/back or my mood. I was miserable.
What better way to kick start 2013 and my comeback but to head out to the Rift Valley. With the backing of Virgin London Marathon I was given the opportunity to train with the best in the sunshine. In Iten, Kenya you are surrounded by inspiration and given the medical support to put you on the right track. With the help of Duncan Mason @athletematters and Hannah Griffiths I was finally able to string some good training together. For the first time in 4 months I felt like a proper athlete again. It was also an ideal opportunity to work on a good daily S & C programme.
My first aim of the year was compete at the National XC at Sunderland, not quite home turf but close enough. Training was going well and I was adapting back into my routine in Loughborough but nothing would prepare me for the brutal conditions at Herrington Park. I’ve never been a fan of the cold I’m definitely a fair weather athlete. So with 40 minutes to go before the start of the women’s race I was in a tent with both feet wedged between two hot water bottles. I stood on the start line with as many layers as I could wear – arm warmers, longsleeve, T-shirt and my vest on top. Survival of the warmest and the toughest but I felt lucky – lucky to be on that start line and racing again. This is what all the training is for.
It was a great testing course but I think the conditions were definitely more challenging for me. My feet were painfully cold and getting worse as the race progressed. The freezing muddy slop reaching my face! My reward a super, sparkling silver medal. Bronze last year, maybe next year…
Well they say every cloud has a silver lining. The injury problems definitely highlighted the importance to stay on top of the stretching and work on that core! It is all worthwhile when a plan comes together.
Setting an alarm for 4.45am to eat breakfast with your eyes shut just seems a weird way to wake up and start a Sunday morning but that’s what marathon runners do and it is oddly satisfying. At 7.45am we took a stroll to the start area from the hotel through the Tiergarten Park. Berlin is an amazing place with so much going on. I did my year out in Germany for my uni course so it is always good to come back.
The weather was perfect with the sun shining and very little wind. Today was also exciting because Nick was also running the race with me and secretly I wanted to test him out.
The atmosphere at the start was great and there were some great tunes playing. I found myself standing at the front of 40000 people ready to run 26.2 miles. Although I was really nervous I wanted to enjoy this moment, this is what all that hard training was for and I had made it to the start line. All I had to do now was to run the best I could. A couple of days before the race I read a great quote on the Runners Centre FB page which really stuck in my head:
“The human body is capable of amazing physical deeds. If we could just free ourselves from our perceived limitations and tap into our internal fire, the possibilities are endless.”
I had worked a lot on my mental preparation going into this race. Having to pull out of the race in the later stages was a very realistic scenario if my leg was playing up but one I would not let myself think about. I tried to focus on the process and not the outcome, getting to the next drinks station was the only thought in my head. Speaking of drinks stations, it was a good job I had my race head on, I ended up in a few scuffs with a couple of blokes trying to get to my drink.
Anna Hahner, a new talented German marathon runner was looking to run sub 2.30 and had a few pace makers lined up to take her through each point in the race on pace. This was ideal as I planned to go with this group as long as possible. As I passed through each drinks station and the crowds shouted encouragement I felt more at ease that I was going to do this. My legs didn’t feel fantastic today but I wasn’t having a bad day either. We reached half way in 74.22 and I felt comfortable.
With 14k to go my leg was tightening up and I was slipping off the back of Anna’s group. I had to start digging deep and remind myself of the quote. I was ready for this and determined to fight to the line. Nick was running a great race and on this occasion I was unable to run him into the ground. In fact, he was annoyingly very relaxed the whole way with enough energy to shout at me for the last 2k. This time I didn’t tell him where to go but used it to fire me up! As we came through the Brandenburg Gate the finish line was in sight…. and the clock! I had to push this last 150m to break 2.31.
It is always a fantastic feeling to run a personal best but also a relief that you completed the course as there are so many things that can go wrong even when you are 100% fit and healthy. So to all those marathon runners who ran – you achieved something amazing today! On reflection I am very happy with the performance and I know there is a lot of room for improvement. I’m looking forward to some down time to rest and recover and then planning the next target.
Disappointingly I didn’t do much dancing at the after party nor did I get to go on a beer bike (too tired to pedal) but I did get a picture with Geoffrey Mutai enjoying a glass of red wine.
After an enjoyable debut in London in April I decided I wanted to target an Autumn Marathon. The Berlin Marathon would be my new goal. I started with my ‘what went well’ and ‘what to improve’ list from my previous build up and from there my coach and I put the programme together to get me to Berlin. I try not to leave any stone unturned and I am always open to trying new things.
I decided that throughout this build-up I would include some lower leg strength and conditioning sessions to ensure my legs were as strong as possible for the pounding on the roads. I hit the gym at least twice a week sometimes 3 depending on how tired my legs were. I always try to remain flexible and read the signs when my body needs more rest. A day off running or adapting the workouts can make the difference and avoid overtraining or injury. Easier said than done!
At the beginning of July I headed out to the sunny peaks of Font Romeu. I spent 4 weeks at altitude to gain some base fitness and get the legs conditioned to running some miles without the specific tempos and speed work sessions. Firstly, I wanted to escape the wet summer in the UK but it is also very easy to get myself into a focused mind set in this sort of environment. It is all about eating, sleeping, running and reading. I recommend reading books by Charlie Spedding and Ryan Hall, they are brilliant for inspiration!
I have used Font Romeu to prepare for races before but this time round I was finding the running a little more difficult having not ran much before I arrived. Maybe it is all in the mind but I have great belief that training at altitude and the right training programme will make me stronger and fitter. By the end of the 4 weeks breathing in the skinny air I was feeling fitter. With the base phase complete and some fitness there I headed back to Loughborough for the specific workouts.
Nick finished his track season early and became my training partner for the last 6 weeks of the build-up, it was great to have him pushing me although as you can imagine there were some heated arguments on and off the track! My first tempo went well although nothing that suggested I would run a fast time. I had good and bad days like we all do. When I had a bad day I tried to keep a perspective on things, each workout is one step in the process towards my goal. I was ticking the boxes and waiting for everything to click into place. Three weeks out I did my final long tempo run of 25k and got the confidence boast I needed. I was running 5 seconds per mile quicker than 2 weeks before. I was so excited for Berlin. Everything was finally coming together.
That was until I started suffering from a ‘dodgy’ left leg. At first the pain wasn’t too bad and would come on during a tempo run towards the end. My mind wanted to run faster but my leg didn’t want to. I tried mixing cross training with running but the pain was getting worse. Apparently sciatica is a common complaint amongst marathon runners. As I started my taper period I was limited to once a day running and running at tempo pace was out of the question. I decided to have an epidural to get me through the race. I needed to feel as comfortable as possible going into the race although I wasn’t going to be pain free.
It was touch and go whether to pull out of Berlin but when you train for 3 months you want to get out and race. It was not an option. I knew my preparation up until the taper had gone well, the work was done. It was time to test the mettle.