Monday, 23 January 2012

Rethinking The Running

Life is busy at the moment, with lots going on at work, and at home, and a big chunk of my time at the moment revolves around my half-marathon training.

Considering how scared I was about this, it seems to be going fairly smoothly at the moment (which is a relief since I'm only in Week 5 of 12!), but it has high-lighted a number of things I've never really had to think about before.

Rethinking the Route

My past running hasn't required that many longer routes of me, so I've either been able to get away with running shorter routes in the evenings during the week- runs round the harbour, or back in the Malvern days, my local and well-lit neighbourhood - or get my longer runs in on the weekend during daylight hours.  I've never really had to consider therefore whether a route is safe to run.  After all, Malvern so sleepy it doesn't exactly have dodgy areas - the biggest problem on non-streetlit sections of road is probably tripping over a sheep in the dark!

Here in Bristol, on the current training plan, my runs are pretty much all 40 mins or more, and mostly in the dark, and suddenly I have to more careful.  There's areas I don't know, areas I don't know and know I don't want to know, and areas that just plain creep me out.  But I need routes that are 4 miles or more to run, and preferably not up the giant hill that runs across one side of the city from where I am currently.

Up until 2 weeks ago, my usual run was an extension of my standard harbour circuit, and I just followed a lot of what I would have run last year in the spring daylight.  That involved running alongside the river for a short way, past a derelict warehouse and over a disused railway bridge which is completely unlit, and finally through an underpass section to get back on the road.  I'd never realised before how creepy it is not being able to see who else is around in the shadows, but I'm a big girl and not scared of a few shadows (well, not enough to admit it and find another route). 

Something happened then though that really made me think: we received a notification email at work to alert us that a young woman had been sexually assaulted by 4 youths on that railway bridge at 3.30pm on Friday afternoon.  Yeah - awful isn't it?  It wouldn't even have been dark at the time, but it is isolated.  That poor, poor girl. 

The railway bridge actually forms part of the local Sustrans bike path network, and is actually quite heavily used by local cyclists as well as walkers and runners, but if you hit it when no-one's there it feels like the arse-end of the world.  I ran it one more time after I saw that notification, and it freaked me out - I suddenly became aware of just how alone solo runners are at night.  After all, I've already been running for 20 mins or so by then, and while I can keep plodding on through the rest of my run, I think I'd struggle to sprint away from an attacker. 

I am not a victim.  It's not really in my vocabulary.  I understand that there are a few times in life, where there are circumstances we can't avoid, that might make a victim of us, but I can damn well do my best to not make it easy.  Since then, I've taken to running a bit further along the river, so I can stay on the well-lit streets and use the road bridge instead.  Much safer, much less creepy.  I'm definitely taking into consideration where my routes take me now.

Rethinking the Rest and Relaxation

One thing that I've always found I struggle with a little bit with training for anything is the aching muscles and residual tightness.  I don't know if this is something particular to me and my old back injuries, but I'm prone to tight hamstrings and a sore lower back if I'm not careful.  I always stretch after a run, but I've started finding that my usual static stretches aren't hitting the spot and aren't going deep enough.

The solution has turned out to be courtesy of yoga.  I was doing a forward bend after one run at the beginning of last week, and thinking how nice it felt in multiple tight spots, and that led me to thinking Downward Dog would probably be good too.  It was only a short leap from there to try out an experimental Sun Salutation sequence to see if it would help.  One pass to each side, and it felt good - the poses get right into multiple tight areas and stretch them in different ways to any static stretch, so I've started incorporating it as a regular thing after my normal stretches, and it really seems to help.

I've also been meaning to get back into my weekly Body Balance classes, which I've somehow not been back to since Christmas.  I was organised enough last night to pack my bag, so I made it to the class this lunchtime, and good God I've got some tight niggly spots!!!  Not having been for over month I've also definitely lost some range of motion on some joints, so it will be interesting to see if I regain that over the next couple of weeks.

Rethinking the Routine

So far, I've stuck to the training schedule pretty damn well - in 5 weeks I've only dropped 3 short runs.  The first two were dropped deliberately because they were very short interval runs in the first 2 weeks of training, and I honestly didn't see the point in getting changed and running for just 15-20 mins.  Other than that, I've been really good about doing all of them .... until last week.Work and social committments somehow conspired to get in the way and I allowed them to. 

I think the reason I've found the schedule easy to stick to so far is because I've been disciplined about when I run - if the timetable said Tuesday and Thursday, I went Tuesday and Thursday.  Last week, my regular Tuesday night cinema "club" with friends kicked back in though, and Thursday was the AGM for the Surf Club so I needed to be there at 7.30pm instead of the usual 9ish.  Combined with working longer hours at the office, I let myself drift a bit, and ended up dropping the shortest run for the week (which might just have been the interval run again ... ahem).  On the other hand, I really enjoy getting runs ticked off and done - so much so that I got home (late) from work on Friday at 7.30pm and decided to go straight out and get my weekend long run done and dusted, so I could enjoy my weekend.

There's an easy solution to this I realise - I just move my two scheduled week day runs forward a day each to my quiet evenings in the week.  Simple!  I can then have a regular night to run that doesn't clash with my regular social engagements.  It also means that I have a rest day on Thursday, meaning if I want to get my long weekend run done early on a Friday again I can, and I can run it on fresh legs too.

Friday's run was both good and bad.  Good because I wanted to do it, even though it had been a long day.  Good because I managed 65 mins steady without stopping, which was 5.5 miles.  Bad because my right foot was still aching a bit, and right at the end my left one got in on the act too.  Bad because I felt a bit low on energy the whole way.  Good because when I logged my run afterwards, I'd actually increased my pace on all my previous "long" runs.

I'm still slow at the moment - Friday's run was at 12.02 min / mile.  My times are very slowly improving, and my shorter runs are quicker, but even allowing for a little more improvement in my pace over the remainder of training, I think I'm looking at 2hr 30min half-marathon.  Respectable but slow.  However, I was never in this for the speed, and I'm sure I will by no means be last.  This was only ever about completing it.

What worries me more is the foot pain.  I have many more miles of training to get through, and I really don't want to develop either an injury, or something that creates an aversion to running for me.  Even a little niggling pain is off-putting if you know it's coming.  With that in mind, I finally managed to get up to the running shop yesterday afternoon and get new trainers fitted.  They were lovely, spending a good 30 mins with me and discussing my custom insoles and my options.  The good news is that the lady I saw thought that my foot pain might be due to the lack of cushioning in my very knackered trainers, rather than anything more serious.

I went to Moti in Bristol, and they have all sorts of tecnological goodies on offer, including video gait analysis on the treadmill, with side-by-side comparison of how you run in different shoes.  Despite my custom insoles, they've put me in supportive trainers, rather than neutral, as the two seem to work well together, but I did get complimented on the fact I run with my mid-foot not my heel, especially since I've re-trained myself from being a heel-striker!  I have some very white Asics Gels to try.  I like'd Moti as they tell you to come back if they're not right after a couple of runs and they'll re-analyse! 

I'm hoping to try the new shoes out tonight for a nice easy 40 min run.  Fingers crossed they'll be comfortable, and there'll be less achy foot.

And just to stop ourselves getting too serious about our training / fitness (me - half-marathon, her - triathlon training), Hannah's talked me into entering this:  The Banzai Charge.    It's in September, and it's 8 miles of ludicrous hills, mud, bog, tarzan swings, more mud, more hills, river crossings, rope-assisted hill climbs, more hills, cargo netting, more mud, a 10m hill slide into hay bales assisted by washing-up liquid for added speed, more hills and a giant wall to climb over at the end.  Oh yes - and you wear your race number on a Japanese bandana on your forehead.

How can you take yourself too seriously after that???

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