Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Reflections on 2019: Dreams, Goals and Injury

Goals (and Dreams)

This year I set myself 2 goals:

A marathon PB and a 1st club standard.

I achieved one of them.

A dream came true when I ran the London Marathon, loving every minute of it (despite prior nerves that it might just all be too much).

The plan thereafter had been to recover and then have a strong Autumn season, hopefully chasing down the coveted club standard. Sadly it didn’t happen due to injury, but I did have a rather awesome summer prior to that running the Fife Coastal Path.

We managed a few hills together (and Bruce did quite a few solo) before embarking on the West Highland Way as a wee ‘rest’ in October.

Injuries

Finally after a few months of very little or no running (a whole 10 weeks off) I had my own Christmas miracle in the form of a cortisone injection and, touch wood, will continue running pain free into the new year. I’m four runs in and it’s feeling good so far.

New Goals

There’s a lot of fitness to build back up. For now, I’m loving being able to run once again and enjoying it for what it is. My GFA for London 2020 has been deferred and my goal is to get back to consistent mileage before targeting times.

First up, my parkrun goals: 200 separate volunteer days and 200 parkruns; in that order.

Happy New Year

Here’s hoping that 2020 brings you the opportunity to pursue you dreams and just enough challenge to keep it interesting!

The Final 16

Well, that’s it, the final long run done – all 16 miles of it. I’ve stuck to the plan and have resisted the temptation to go further, despite my fellow marathon runners and clubmates posting runs on Strava of 18 miles upwards which freaks me out a little – will I just stop at 17 miles? However, as stated at the beginning of this ‘project’, in order to evaluate the efficacy of the plan I have to put my trust in it and follow it as far as possible.

To date, that has meant a total of 665 miles in training, averaging 47.5 miles per week over a 14 week block of training. I’ve hit my training paces and have only missed a couple of sessions, one for an unscheduled day off and the others for hill walking. Although my heart rate may not have hit the highs it would have done in running, my legs certainly got a good workout on the hills. I was very aware of this on return home when my planned tempo (2 x 5 miles with 1 mile recovery) went pear shaped, ending with 1 block of 4 miles at tempo, a sore stomach and a shuffle home! However, over 90% of the schedule has been completed and that should hopefully be enough to see me through the marathon.

This week has been more positive. With some easy running, I’ve also happily completed the strength session (3 x 2 miles) and long tempo (10 miles). Today’s 16 miles was a particular joy (genuinely), running in the company of Campbell – a long term run chum who’s also running London – and Kevin, Metro clubmate who’s going from strength to strength at present. Having run on my own quite a bit recently it was good to chat my way through the miles. Around 10 miles I commented that I wasn’t convinced I had another 16 miles in me if this was race day; then weirdly, at the right side of 13 miles I felt strong again, thinking, yes, I could go on. Hopefully I’ll experience more of the latter feeling on marathon day!

So, into the final two weeks. I’ve got some easy miles this week, a short speed session of 800s – Eek! Thankfully there are only 6 of them! – and a short tempo. Race week is where I’m going to deviate from the plan again but just a little … I’m scheduled to run on Friday and Saturday before the Sunday marathon. However, work and flight schedules will make the Friday run challenging, and I’ve never run the day before any other marathon; I’m also required to find my way across London to register at the Expo, so have decided I’ll have a few days off prior to the main event.

Now it’s just a matter of staying injury free, in good physical health, and mentally sane! As my friend Wendy always tells me, it’s only running! All being well I’ll see you on the other side!

Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

Supporting the ‘Friends of Orchard Brae’ when I run the London Marathon, I’d come to the conclusion that I should do something to earn my money. It’s all well and good asking people to sponsor you, but, at the end of the day when running is something that you love and enjoy, why should people sponsor you for it, unless of course the charity is particularly dear to them. So, the Fun Run was conceived as an ideal opportunity to both publicise the cause and provide some fun on a Tuesday evening.

After much deliberation, I decided to run around Seaton Park in Aberdeen. The easy option would have been to use Hazlehead Park or Aberdeen Beach as both have established 5k routes through parkrun. However, they’re free and can be run on any given Saturday, so this needed to be something a little different. Planning in earnest began earlier in the year, initially establishing the course: https://www.plotaroute.com/route/770863

Having trialled it myself on a number of occasions, I concluded that while not the easiest of runs, it suited the bill with a little bit of everything: some pavement, a challenging incline or two, some good trails, a wee bit of mud, and some lovely scenery in and around the park.

Aberdeen parkrun retreat every Saturday post-run to the Brig O’Don Restaurant on King Street, where we are warmly welcomed (https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/aberdeenshire/brig-odon/). I was therefore delighted when Aidan, the General Manager, said he’d be happy not only to host us post-event for food or drinks, but would also be willing to set aside an area for registration. I cannot thank him enough for his support and relaxed attitude throughout proceedings, even with my vague ideas of numbers!

A Facebook event was created, word was put out to all the local running clubs, and it was then a case of hoping people would turn up and support us. A bit like parkrun, interest crept up slowly with an increasing number of people stating ‘Going’ on the event page. In my dreams, I hoped we might reach 100 runners.

On the day itself, I met with friends, Rosey and Cynthia, to mark the course. I really appreciated having extra eyes on the course as up until this point I was the only one privy to knowledge of where we were going! Chalking out the route we put arrows at any point where there was potential for people to take an accidental detour, also marking the marshal points in the hope that everyone would then comfortably find their stations. It was only on explaining the route to the marshals that I realised the plotted route and the actual route were two different things as I’d inadvertently changed the finish in Seaton Park. Thankfully nobody had studied the course in great detail, and the potential front runners were advised to follow the chalk. Ultimately, being billed as 5k (ish) any deviance from exact measurement would be excused, and it turned out the course was more accurate than I’d anticipated!

Arriving back at the Brig O’Don we found some other volunteers already in situ. Metro Aberdeen stalwarts, Jackie Stewart and Peter Jennings, were settled at the Registration table, Jane was all set to marshal, and others dropped in quickly afterwards.

With registration running for just over an hour things started calmly with a few folks trickling in. Before long, the area was becoming increasingly crowded, and I was grateful to Jane and Bryan for providing a welcoming party, handing out registration forms, pens and instructions, in order to keep everything moving along smoothly. I was astounded by the number of people showing up, and particularly touched when someone appeared with a small donation from a chap who was standing outside enjoying the ‘fresh air’ before his meal. The charity buckets were dotted around for donations as entry was free, donations welcome if people wished, and the homemade fudge sold quickly as always.

Ready for the deluge of runners: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run Registration at Brig O’Don Restaurant

Marshals set off for their points in dribs and drabs, and before long it was time to gather the runners together and head along to the park. Jackie knew a safe route, round the back of the Brig O’Don, rather than across Lidl’s car park or down King Street as I’d have gone, and led the way like the Pied Piper, while I flapped about looking for my clipboard! It turned up in one of the boxes at the start, thankfully, as it had the race briefing notes, vital in ensuring that all points of my risk assessment were covered, hopefully averting potential issues along the way!

Awaiting the call to the start: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

There were only a couple of latecomers – phew! – managing to pick up numbers in the park which was a relief. It was a great sight to see so many people standing on the start line supporting us. Briefing done, they were off!

With military precision, Jackie then set up the finish funnel. Having marshalled at the Metro Beach 10k I’m aware that this is a job best left to the expert, so stood back and let him to do his thing, advising others to do likewise! Meanwhile, the runners were storming around the perimeter of the park.

The joy of volunteering at a 5k run is that you don’t have to wait too long for the first finishers to return, and sure enough, before long we had Michael Barker crossing the line. He was shortly followed by Mark McDonald and Jordan Cruickshank, our first Junior finisher. Heading up the field for the ladies were Louise Provan, Kirsten Sharpe and Charlotte Stirton. Very best of luck to Charlotte as she jets off to Paris to run the marathon this weekend!

Our winners received prizes from DW Fitness, Aberdeen, and we’re very grateful to Michael and Kim from DW for coming along to support us. They kindly supplied water for our finishers and ran a competition to win a month’s free membership. True stars! Congratulations to Shona Clarke, the winner of the draw.

DW Fitness Aberdeen with Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run Prizewinners

Rosey handed out spot prizes for various runners throughout the field having kindly donated lots of Easter chocolate goodies, and there were also a few bottles handed out. GEF (Gathimba Edwards Foundation) donated a goody bag – always good when charities can support one another.

It was wonderful to stand back and watch the event unfolding, seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they crossed the finish line. We had runners and walkers of all abilities, capturing the ethos of the event, having fun and enjoying themselves. Feedback on the course was much appreciated, and I was heartened to hear that everyone had enjoyed it, even the muddy bits! It was amusing to see the difference in people – someone suggested that Derek may have sat down in the mud, such was the state of his legs having just ploughed through it, while others have yet to learn to fully embrace the dubs – you know who you are!

Being a fine night, people were not in any great hurry to rush away and it was heartening to see our final finishers receive as much of a cheer as those at the sharp end. Such is the nature of the running community: if ever you’ve wanted to give it a go, please be assured that this is the way of events such as parkrun every weekend. Everyone is welcome!

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All participants returned (136 of them counted out and counted back in by Peter) and safely escorted around the route by Cynthia, our tail walker with the tail, we reconvened at the Brig O’Don, slightly less in number. Refuelling complete, I was later supported in the final count by Carolyn, and I’m delighted to announce that due to the generosity of our participants we made £1188-24 for the Friends of Orchard Brae. An overwhelming amount, I’m deeply humbled by the support shown for our school community. This total will be further added to thanks to the efforts of a few other individuals who have created their own fundraising pages for the event, and will make a big difference to the pupils supported by Orchard Brae.

Thanks again to everyone involved, especially our volunteers – Peter, Jackie, Bruce, Bryan, Jane, Caroline, Lisa, Alison, Esther, Rosey, Russell, Izzie, Kevin & Carolyn. You were all wonderful!

Volunteers at the Finish: Friends of Orchard Brae Fun Run

Any further donations can be made at: https://wonderful.org/fundraiser/clarerussellslondonmarathonfundraiser-4d93e905

For more information on the work of Orchard Brae please visit: https://orchardbrae.aberdeen.sch.uk

Toughing it out

Today was the first run of the plan where I’ve really felt I’ve struggled to hit and maintain the pace required. All things considered I guess this isn’t that bad – after all, I’m now onto the eighth consecutive week of training and last week was one of the highest mileage weeks in some time; last time I hit this mileage was probably June when I was training for Fort William Marathon.

Today’s session was an SOS, Something of Substance, and totalled 10 miles. Two easy miles to warm up the weary legs – cumulative fatigue, I’m starting to feel you! Then two sets of three miles at faster than marathon pace with one mile recovery between, followed by a one mile cool down.

I realised on reflection that what got me more than anything was probably starting my speed work on an incline. Not a large incline, but just enough to notice it in the legs.

Enough said. Miles banked. Mountain of food consumed. Rest day tomorrow before the next SOS session on Thursday. This weekend’s race could be interesting! Watch this space …

Marathon Training is Underway with the Hanson Method

Marathon training is now underway for London. After much deliberation, browsing of plans and reading reviews and blogs, I have opted to shake things up a little. I was a bit disappointed in my last marathon attempt, Fort William, finding myself a few minutes slower than the year before despite having completed a longer marathon training period. This may have been due to a lack of base training prior to commencing the plan, but regardless, I felt the need to do something different this time around. I’ve therefore opted to go with the Hanson Marathon Method instead:

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The key difference between this plan and anything I’ve done before is that the long run tops out at 16 miles. There is lots of explanation in the book as to why this is, backed up by solid research, but the simple way of describing it is that the consistent volume of running throughout the week leads to cumulative fatigue and the body therefore gets used to running on tired legs, particularly on the long run. Thus, the 16 miles should be more like the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.

Having read a few posts in the LHR Running Community group on Facebook it appears that many runners do well off these plans. There are some that add a few miles onto their long runs in order to still their mind, not quite trusting that the plan will work its magic. Personally, I love a plan and will therefore commit to it and do as it says, barring illness or injury, otherwise I won’t know if it’s worked for me. My thinking is that if I’m going to fail dismally and end up walking for miles, where better to do it than London! I’ll be guaranteed to have people to chat to; the only downside, as described by a running buddy who had a howler of a race here, is that you also have to endure 10 miles of people encouraging you with shouts of, “you can do it!” while knowing that in actual fact you can’t! At least not today. NB: the experience of aforementioned friend was not in any way related to Hanson!

The first three weeks of training have gone well. I’ve been running 6 days a week with Pilates on my rest day. I have to say I’m quite enjoying knowing that I go for a run without having to think about weather etc; consistency is key and this is what I have to do. I’ve been slowly building up the mileage, starting with 41 miles in the first week, so far managing to hit my target paces. Another key feature of the plan is that you run the easy runs at a very comfortable pace, with three ‘SOS’ (Something of Substance) runs a week that include the long run. This means having to rein yourself in on shorter runs, but I’m led to believe that as time goes on you truly are grateful for the opportunity to run slowly.

I was extremely glad of the company of my Sunday running buddies from Metro today. The weather this morning was foul, at least when looking out the window, with rain and high winds. Thankfully, the rain of last night had cleared the ice from our regular forest trails, so we managed to seek sanctuary in the woods, enjoying shelter from the winds to quite some degree, and only once really getting the benefit of the stormy weather as the sleet pelted straight into our faces at the top of Kings Hill. Considering the time we were out for this was pretty good going!

Delighted to have banked the miles, today’s character building long run ended with coffee and chat; always a delight to warm up in the cosy cafe. Thanks run chums – I really do appreciate you!