Belated new year wishes to you all. It’s been a bit of a damp squib thus far, but after the year that was 2020 I don’t think we could ask for much else! Here’s hoping that with vaccines on the horizon for our most vulnerable, we may be able to celebrate as the year goes on.
Reflections of 2020
I’m trying to start the year with a renewed focus. It was tricky to stay motivated last year with all the planned races disappearing off the calendar one by one. On the upside, we did manage to fit in a couple of great holidays and Bruce compleated the munros.
The virtual London Marathon, sandwiched between, was a relatively impromptu affair but I’m very glad I did it. Having a goal definitely renewed my focus and energy.
Focus on 2021
Looking ahead, it’s unclear at present what the racing year holds. My current ‘big’ goal is the October London Marathon. Whether or not we’ll be in a position to have mass events by then remains to be seen, but training will be done regardless.
Short Term Goals
My short term goal is to develop consistency in training. I have a tendency to go through phases of being very focused versus taking my foot off the gas and coasting. I know that consistency is probably the biggest gain available right now so that’s the priority. Sadly the gyms are closed, the treadmill (which I generally dislike) not an option, so I’m getting runs in where and when I can.
Today saw me complete a very enjoyable 8 miles on Aberdeen beach, as pavements around town were a little icy for my liking. I have in the past shied away from the sand as I don’t like the wet feet associated with the water jumps, but today it felt perfect. Just what was needed!
Let’s see what the year brings! Surely it can only get better. If nothing else, Spring isn’t too far off the horizon now. Stay strong!
I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas, however you chose to spend it. Due to restrictions around social gatherings and travel, we had a Merry Christmas for two. Not quite the same, but we made the most of it, cooking turkey and all the trimmings. I made my special tiramisu trifle (for me as Bruce isn’t a fan of Amaretto) and we enjoyed some smoked salmon, this year in the form of brunch with scrambled eggs after a chilly morning walk.
I think my parents made more of a Christmas effort than we did! Well done Mum and Dad; I wonder if that was due to the novelty of cooking their own Christmas dinner for the first time in many years?
Christmas dinner (Round 2) was delivered to the in-laws – meals on wheels style – then home to relax for the evening.
Today saw a thaw in the icy conditions from yesterday, much to our delight. This permitted summer greens on the golf course (for him) and a good day on the trails for me. Only a few short icy sections, easily avoided, I was very happy to get outside. So happy that I even ran Kingshill, first time in a while.
Cobwebs blown away, Boxing Day dinner beckons. The Prosecco is open – just for me. Merry Christmas one and all!
Yesterday I felt really down! I’d been looking forward to the Christmas break after a long term. Although we’ve been well supported locally, it’s felt harder than normal and certainly more tiring. Doing everything online and not having the same social contact takes it’s toll.
Today, however, was the last day of term and it was a good feeling heading for work, secure in the knowledge that there are now two weeks of rest and recuperation, putting aside the frustration around being back in Tier 3 and thus restricted on many fronts.
Leaving work tonight I went running. I swithered about a headtorch run in the woods but opted to head out the old road towards Kingswells. Just entering the village, I met a lady taking her bin in. She stopped me and said, ‘I know you’re running, but I’d like to gift you this.’
What a lovely gesture of Christmas kindness! Our very own Covid angel who is now home and decorating the Christmas tree. Thank you! Merry Christmas to you all. Celebrate it in whichever way you can.
When I signed up to run the London Marathon virtually I decided against running at ‘home’. The thought of pounding the streets did not appeal, while running my local trails would require multiple loops of the dreaded Kingshill in order to make the distance. I’ve love Aviemore so decided to go there!
Throughout the lead up to race day, the forecast looked bleak. I swithered as to whether I should cancel and run locally, but having frequently biked the trails in Aviemore in years gone by I’m aware of they drain well and made the decision just to go.
Heading to Aviemore was not the most pleasant journey. Driving over the Lecht, there was a significant amount of surface water lying as the rain fell throughout the day; it was a relief to reach our destination.
Aviemore usually has a great buzz about it and it was a sad reflection of current times on Saturday night, the two household rule alongside restricted numbers sucking the life out of the evening, the usual buzz of the Cairngorm Hotel sadly lacking. That said, we were well fed and able to enjoy a nightcap before an early night.
Waking up during the night, I checked my phone a couple of times. Sadly it appeared that conditions were deteriorating rather than improving. Meanwhile Aberdeen looked to be getting better (or at least dryer). Happy for those that were running at home, I began to wish I’d stayed there!
I’d planned to set off around 9 am, so rose at 7 am for breakfast of a bun with banana and nut butter, and a couple of mugs of peppermint tea. Showered and dressed, I laid out another set of running kit in case I chose to stop off for a mid-marathon change, figuring this might be welcome if completely drookit!
Setting off as planned, it was drizzly but not dinging down as forecast. Cloud was hanging very low over the hills. I debated before leaving – jacket, no jacket. Feeling the relative warmth, I concluded it should be left. I knew I’d warm up quickly enough; even a decent jacket leaves you feeling like you’re being boiled in the bag!
If you’ve read previous blogs, you’ll be aware that when we go walking it’s not me that does the planning. In the same way, I had a vague notion of where I might run for my marathon but no definite plan and no real research done. I wouldn’t say this was a regret, but I did get some surprises later.
The Old Logging Way
Starting out, I headed towards the ski road and followed the Old Logging Way, my reasoning being that it would give a little shelter from the drizzle that was later to turn to rain. Along with not planning the route, I’d not planned a pace, deciding I’d just run by feel. I did however have 3 goals in mind:
A) Sub 4 hour marathon
B) Run all the way
C) Finish with something other than a personal worst!
I’ll let you into a secret – I achieved two of the three!
The Old Logging Way passes by Rothiemurchus and then gently meanders up towards Glenmore. The path was mainly dry with the odd puddle, one or two of which slowed me right down as I tried to step through on my heels rather than stomping through and getting wet feet. In my experience wet feet = blisters. Reaching a high point after about 3.5 miles, I decided to about turn rather than going downhill only to have to come back up.
This was so much easier! I hadn’t appreciated the incline until turning back.
Continuing through Aviemore, I headed all the way along the main street until the end of the village, taking up the trail of the Speyside Way. Initially, this was on a single track path, but quickly opened up onto a wide, hard packed track. I’d envisaged this being flat; in effect it was gently undulating and I did groan inwardly (maybe even outwardly) on a couple of occasions as I had to go up yet again.
The plan had been to continue along to Boat of Garten. I’m not sure if I lost the Way, but found myself further on the Red Squirrel Trail after a few miles. This, I believe, did continue to the Boat; however, a couple of huge puddles taking up the width of the fire track presented a challenge, and having tramped over the heather to avoid them I came upon a wee burn that was too big to jump across. The path was covered in water with lots of grass growing under it making it challenging to identify solid ground from grass under water, so at this point I bailed and about turned. I tried heading up the Roe Deer Trail but only made it about 50 metres before meeting yet more muddy puddles. Back to Aviemore it was.
Reaching the village, my Garmin showed I’d covered around 17 miles. In a way this delighted me; however, by this point I was aware of the discrepancy between the London Marathon app and my Garmin, the former being 0.6 miles shy. There was also the thought that nearly 10 miles is still a mighty long way! However, pace was still okay and I continued running by feel.
The Logging Way Revisited
I decided to head out the opposite end of the Speyside Way towards Kincraig. I very quickly realised that this was downhill, at least leaving Aviemore initially – I couldn’t see very far ahead – meaning an uphill finish, so a snap decision was made to stick with what I know and head back onto the Logging Way. This was hard going! Beyond 18 miles, my calves were beginning to tighten and emotions were running high. I did shed a few tears as I ran past the Fish Farm, quickly getting my focus back on the task in hand.
I slogged my way back up the track, slowing to a walk for a few steps on one ascent. Again, further up I walked 40 steps on the return leg before picking up the pace again. I knew I’d meet the 4 hour goal if I could just keep running!
Heading back alongside the road I received a friendly toot as Bruce drove past and this perked me up. The final challenge was having to run past the hotel after the Garmin said I’d finished, to make up the distance for the app to record an official time. While irritated by this, my rational brain countered that a race distance is never quite bang on with the GPS, nor would I have followed the blue line in London, so this extra distance was quite apt.
Finishing was pretty cool! I immediately received a ‘Congratulations’ text from London Marathon and the app registered my official time. That was welcome as there was absolutely no other fanfare.
Thanks to all the lovely people who commented on my run or wished me luck along the way. The kindness of strangers was appreciated. Toots from cars, thumbs up from behind the windows at junctions, all these things encouraged me along the way.
While it was a good experience, I don’t think I’d ever choose to run a solo marathon. It was hard work covering the distance alone with only my own thoughts for company.
I think this is partly what made it such an emotional experience; my thoughts often turned to someone that also loved the trails but sadly is no longer here to run them. I believe this helped me find the strength to go on as it made me realise how fortunate I am.
Today was the last 16 mile run of the plan. This sounds okay, particularly if you’re a Hanson devotee. However, theit’s the second of only two 16 mile runs. I’ve squeezed in a 15 and a 14, but the reality is that the training is not what is should have been. This is the problem with spur of the moment decisions. I’m sure at some point during the virtual race I’ll find myself wishing I’d stuck to my guns regarding deferral!
Reflections on Training
Last marathon block (London 2019), I seriously committed to training, running 750 miles in the build up to the race, and this fared me well. For the virtual attempt this year, my annual mileage has just nudged past this (we’re in September, London 2019 was in April!) with a measly 420 miles in training over the last 14 weeks. Weekly mileage has topped out at 45 mpw with only 5 runs, as opposed to 55 mpw with 6 runs per week. On the upside, I’ve incorporated strength training this cycle and physically feel I’ve benefited from this.
Bottom line, I knew what I was getting into and need to be realistic about what I can achieve.
Fuelling the Long Run
I decided today to run a flatter route for a change, my longer runs usually on the forest trails. I’ve been experimenting with new gels – Huma – having pretty much tried everything else on the market over the years, and figured it might be an idea to stay closer to civilisation in case they didn’t agree with me. As it transpired they did the business with no ill effects. Having taken one before leaving the house, and two more at 30 minutes and an hour respectively, I felt secure enough to leave Duthie Park, where I’d been running laps and suffering the consequences of boredom, to head out the Deeside Line. A fourth gel further out the line saw me consume what should hopefully be enough to get me through the distance in a couple of weeks time.
No sooner had I started out the line than I bumped into the Mackies. The line was busy, lots of walkers and cyclists along the route, quietening down as I moved further out from the park.
Having gone right out to the AWPR, I bumped into another familiar face, enjoying the sunshine and views over the countryside. Having stopped for a blether, I made a mental note that standing still for 5 minutes mid-run does nothing for my legs. It was a real struggle to persuade them to go again!
While beautiful to see some of the trees beginning to change, some autumnal colours in the leaves, I found it a little sad. This year, I’m sure many will agree, feels to quite some extent like it’s been stolen. There have been so many occasions missed and little social contact with family and friends. To realise that, despite the glorious September sunshine, the days will soon draw in as winter approaches is not a positive thought.
However, before any of that, I have a couple of weeks of rest and recuperation to look forward to, with a long weekend thrown in for good measure. Never looking more than a week ahead having chosen my plan, it fills me with joy to realise that the runs this week are predominantly easy miles, even if I do feel like I’m ‘cheating’ by tapering after such a short plan. No amount of hard work now will make the ‘race’ any better; all I can do is trust in the training and hope my body remembers what it needs to do.
So, easy miles, rest, sleep and recovery. Two weeks to go until the virtual marathon. I may even be a tad excited.
The abbreviated training plan is going well thus far – I’ve completed 2 weeks of it – and I have to say that I’m enjoying my renewed focus. Without the luxury of a full 16-18 weeks for training, I sought advice from the group at LHR Running Community, a Facebook group focusing on training the Hanson way. Luke Humphrey (author of the book, Hanson Marathon Method) was kind enough to reply directly to my question of how to proceed with training, suggesting that realistically the aim would be to finish – it’s not going to be a PB run – and I should aim to increase my mileage to 45 miles per week.
Final Surge Training Plan
Next thing to do was find a plan to support this. Since running a successful London Marathon in 2019 off an LHR plan, I decided this was as good a place as any to start. A little more digging online and I came across an 8 week plan on Final Surge.
Not quite sure that at 30 miles per week I’d have described myself as near my peak mileage, but the other bits resonated with me in that I’d been doing regular workouts over a month. Overall, it looked like following this plan would be achievable, completion the goal, and time largely irrelevant. If I am able to walk the day following the marathon that will be an added bonus!
Progress To Date
Last week saw me run a fraction off 39 miles, this week just short of 42. I plan to add a mile onto my easy run tomorrow and make the warm up on my workouts 2 miles, rather than the planned 1, in order to hit 45 miles next week. I’m also continuing to work on strength training with a running focus so hope that this will also help overall.
It’s been suggested that running a virtual marathon will be hard due to the solitary element. I’m hoping it won’t be any worse than the virtual 5k I did back at the end of June where I ended up walking! While I’m sure there will be ups and downs, aside from last weekend when I ran with two friends, I’ve been training alone since lockdown began in March. I won’t have the support to keep pushing through the tough times, but I have developed the mental strength to be in my own head for a prolonged period of time.
One of the main joys I’ve found in solo running is doing it at a time that suits. Today I allowed myself the luxury of a lie in, starting out at the leisurely time of 10:30 am. While this meant I’d missed the opportunity of company it allowed me additional rest and recovery time, vitally important in the throes of solid training.
I ran a steady 14 miles on the local trails. I had contemplated running somewhere flat but couldn’t think of anywhere inspiring to do this, so the usual stomping ground it was. When you stop to look around it’s easy to understand why this is a favourite.
This week holds easy miles, a session of short reps, a tempo run and a 16 mile long run to round it all off. That’s as far ahead as I’m going. One week at a time!
Due to injury at the tail end of the year, I deferred my place in the 2020 London Marathon. Then COVID struck, the marathon was postponed, and a new date set for October 2020. I deferred as I hadn’t planned to run a marathon in 2019.
So, what on earth possessed me, when the e-mail dropped in this week offering a virtual marathon place to think this was a good idea?
Virtual Training Begins
It would be great if it really was virtual training. Sadly it’s not. I now need to do some serious hard work.
I’ve been training regularly for the last 5 weeks with a regular 30 miles per week, having signed up for a virtual training camp online. This was led by 3 amazing coaches (Nikki Humphrey, Melissa Johnson-White and Dani Filipek) and I trained ‘alongside’ a great group of women. It helped me find my mojo, build in some regular strength training, something I tend to neglect, and get back into a regular running routine.
Moving forward, my next steps are to incorporate higher mileage by steadily increasing my runs and adding in some more marathon specific pace workouts, although I don’t intend to target this pace on ‘race’ day.
I don’t have a marathon time target. I’m more thinking of enjoying the training, getting away for a day as I don’t want to run round the local streets and having a great day out somewhere I love, enjoying the challenge for what it is: FUN!
Today I figured I should up the long run and decided to try 15 miles. It went surprisingly well. I enjoyed my run, mainly on the trails and met lots of friendly faces from the local running community.
It might have been a little harder had I not spent so much time blethering. However, this may be the way the virtual marathon goes too and that’s all good! The current plan is to cover the distance in a leisurely manner, stop as and when I feel like it, and maybe even practise for the ultra that’s calling my name in the future by having a cuppa and a bit of cake along the way!
In my last blog I mentioned feeling a bit bored of the lockdown and the same old routines. I know I’m not alone in that. I’m also beginning to notice more traffic on the roads, more cars in the car parks at the local parks and trails, more people out and about and a greater ignorance around social distancing. This last one is the thing that’s pushing my buttons right now. I have no objection to running on the road to accommodate pedestrians on the pavement, but do get irritated if they don’t acknowledge it in any way. It’s just plain rudeness to ignore someone and does nothing towards teaching good manners to youngsters when families hog the pavement en masse, looking at you as if you have three heads rather than smiling or saying hello. Thankfully not everyone is like this; there’s definitely a great number of people being friendly, exchanging pleasantries or even giving way to others. To those, thank you!
I’ve been trying to find new routes to run, becoming a little jaded with what’s now becoming very familiar. During the week I found another single-track trail alongside the River Dee. It was a bit lumpy and bumpy with plenty of roots and boulders. Not ideal for running at any pace, but ultimately I’ve no need to go anywhere fast right now so I enjoyed it for what it was.
Yesterday, we hit the trails again on our mountain bikes which was fun. I’m really enjoying being out on the bike again and when we’re finally permitted to return to the hills any ride ins will certainly feel easier than they previously would have done!
While biking, we wondered where some of the wee trails along the route went but lacked the inclination to investigate. In the past, when we were keen bikers, we’d sometimes explore on foot to get a handle on how routes link up and how good they’d be for riding. Not being close enough to Countesswells to do this without the car or the will to be out walking for many hours, I volunteered to run them instead.
Cheating a little, my run began midway up Anderson Drive having bummed a lift from Bruce who was headed for his Mum’s with the essential shopping. Thrown out at the bus stop, I ran a new trail that took me parallel to Kingsgate. In the morning sunshine it was extremely pretty!
Running alongside the burn, popping out to cross a couple of roads, it ended near Hazlehead with the option to continue to the Den of Maidencraig. That’s for another day. Today’s goal was Countesswells via the shortest route.
Hazlehead was relatively quiet. I’ve noticed more people taking to the fairways as this gives a much more open space on which to walk. I’m sure the footfall is no higher than normal, but I do wonder about the impact of kids on their bikes. For the sake of the golfers, I hope everyone’s staying off the greens!
Over to Countesswells, it was a relief to run downhill, my legs feeling a little like running through treacle today. This is largely due to the work I’ve been doing through @Jcru05’s programme, #unlacethebrace. I know that in the longer term this will ease and the benefits will pay off so I just need to embrace the discomfort and fatigue for now. If anyone is interested in learning more, there’s also an E-book available: https://payhip.com/Physiorun, well worth a look!
I opted to run straight down the fire road; the most direct route to the area I wanted to explore. There’s a lovely swooping section through the trees when you come off Kingshill, but further along there’s a section that gets slower due to a good descent with a subsequent ninety degree turn to go uphill. I ran the reverse of my usual route, surprised by the initial incline. I always thought it was virtually flat coming off this section and back towards the fire road; it transpires it’s not.
Back down the fire road, I followed another single-track path up from our usual trail. Again, this was not quite so much fun and I found it particularly hard going with my heavy legs. While it would be rideable, it was a wee bit more technical and definitely more of an effort, leading back to the other path I’d been on. It allowed me to link up to the usual route again, providing another piece in the puzzle. Those that know me (and my distinct lack of directional sense) will be suitably impressed, I’m sure!
Leaving Countesswells, I took the opportunity to try another route we’ve seen folks coming down. This took me along a wee road in the first instance, then up a single-track path through a field. Definitely another one that would be fun on the descent. I’m pretty certain that on the return leg I’ll stick to the gradual ascent and follow the gate to gate section.
Having been advised by a biker I got chatting to that Hazlehead was now horrendously busy, I stayed off the beaten track for as long as possible, following the horsey trails instead. Down to Den Wood, I then cut along the trail to Walker Dam where I was delighted to see some ducklings!
Just over 11 miles in the legs by the time I reached home. My waterproof jacket stayed in my rucksack and I found some fun new routes. I’d call that a win!
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.
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?
Over the last few months I’ve developed a niggling injury: my heel hurts and has a ‘knot’ under the fleshy pad. In honesty, I probably first noticed it when I started tapering for the marathon back at the end of April. I hadn’t felt it previously despite regular running. It was nothing major so I ignored it and hoped it would go away.
Fast forward a couple of months and the bony bit on my big toe frequently began to join the party post running, although the heel remained no more than a tiny niggle in the mornings. A trip to physio and podiatry suggested it could be to do with alignment, so a silicone toe separator was fashioned and did seem to sort that out. The heel pain however continued to rumble on quietly in the background. Not enough to be bothersome as it eased on walking around in the morning, just there on occasion.
Sadly over the last month or two it’s gotten worse. I’ve had to cut back my mileage significantly and I’ve binned some racing plans due to my ever decreasing fitness. Extremely frustrating!
I’m trying to see positives where I can. I’m working on strength training more, something that’s gone by the wayside during more intense training periods, I’m going to Pilates regularly as I have for many years, and I’m running easy miles when I can.
Being on my feet for much of the day at work doesn’t help. I’m trying to do plenty of stretching, icing, spiky balling, and all of the other things recommended by the most recent physio visit. Pain relief doesn’t seem to help. Not sure that the sorbathane heel pads are doing much good either. The first steps in the morning are the worst, struggling to weight bear until I’ve been up a wee while. Running doesn’t make it worse which is good, but it does seem to niggle more post run.
I think I’m in this for the long term. Fingers crossed I’ll come out the other side in time for marathon training to start again at the turn of the year. Until then it’s continue stretching, rolling, icing and healing.
On positives, one thing that does keep my spirits up is the Sunday social run around the local trails. As long as I can keep doing this I know all is not lost. A steady 10 miles in the bank again today. Thanks to my Sunday chums for the company and chat.
What are your top tips for staying positive during ‘off’ periods?
Any tips on maintaining fitness if unable to run as much?