Stella Hangs Up Her Coaching Lead

I have known for sometime that I was going to have to re-evaluate my training runs with Stella. The vet had recommended that after 7 to 8 years, the pressure on their bones from the impact could do more harm then good and suggested trail running for the majority of the time. So I have been taking her out on shorter runs, or concentrating on parks over pavements.

Stella is now heading on for 9  (that’s 63 in doggy years) and realistically I don’t think I can take her out running as often as I used to without risking wearing her out. Not that you’d think to look at her, she still has the bounce and just plain crazy energy of a Jack Russell crossed with all the Staffie determination. But its all in much shorter bursts and she is exhausted when we get through the door.

I really noticed this today when we went on a very short (but fairly quick) run round the old neighbourhood, she wasn’t rearing to go, she stayed right next to be rather than careening out in front, and she was panting hard after 1.5 miles. Now that is partly the heat, but her lack of interest to really gun it on the straights, made me think it might be time to retire my coach. She deserves a break!

To say I am very sad about this is an understatement. If you know me or have been following this blog, you’ll know she was one of the main reasons that I started running in the first place, nearly three years ago.

She was my motivation to get out the door in the early days, getting all excited when I put on my trainers (even when I was less than inspired) and helping to spur me on out the door. She helped me gain confidence in being my company on long runs, and later on night runs. She was my body guard too, she can look fairly ferocious, and interestingly I got a LOT less street harassment from idiot bar flies when I had her on the lead! She was my partner on intervals, racing me up hills, barking at the top of Holland Walk while I wheezed my way up and down. I can’t really imagine not running with her in the run up to my next foray with the Royal Parks race.

So as a tribute to the best coach a gal could wish for, here are her best bits

Stella bosses around Holland Park. Standard
First Long Run along the canal. We hit Subway after 

Stella totally embarrassed by my shameless selfies post marathon rejection 
Stella Contemplates Holland Walk

Post Squirrel Killing Run. There was a lot of blood. Eww

Snow Running. Not a fan

Thank you Stella. You got me out the house, through Couch to 5K, up to half marathon distance, and the only casualty was that one squirrel.

Looking forward to long walks in the park and chilling out on the sofa. And I promise to stop dressing you in hoodies from American Apparel

London Gets its Spring On

Its been a good week in my parallel life of Lycra! And about time too, its been a long time coming, the training has been progressing, but its been baby steps and frustrating at the best of times. But in the last few weeks I’ve finally started clocking some decent mileage both on the treadmill and out of the road.

This great week also coincided with the weather finally improving (not a coincidence), meaning everyone it out and about and there are so many less excuses to not get laced up and out the door. Plus, it’s lovely to be outside at this time of year. Lighter evenings, magnolia in full splendour all over Notting Hill and spectacular gardens in bloom in Holland Park. And no need for cumbersome layers weighing you down when you run. So I have been swapping a few treadmill sessions for the great wilds of West London, reacquainting myself with some of my old routes from the summer last year.
London, showing off and looking glorious in the sunshine, for the Marathon
Its has also happened to coincide with the London Marathon, on the warmest day of the year so far and bolstered by the huge wave of support in the wake of the horrific events at Boston just a week before. Half a million Londoners came to support the 35,000 runners and we were there at Mile 25 cheering for our friend Frani Heyns and everyone else who sped past us. I was hoarse in about 45 minutes. It was fantastic. 
Danni congratulates the Fantastic Frani – first marathon in 3:18!
It was amazing to see the social element of the sport really coming into play to motivate and support friends and family through the last mile and a bit. Powerful stuff and I admit to getting a bit overwhelmed more than once (*sob*). 
The most social I’ve been in my running  has involved a few sessions on the weekend with my mate Emily, which came to an abrupt end when I was injured, and we haven’t yet managed to pick them up again (Em, we need a few Ealing routes soon though!). While I was returning to form I wanted to run on my own, to build up my confidence again, and get to grips with having to go really slowly. I didn’t want to hold anyone else back (or show up my frustration, there were tears and tantrums)
Then, last Monday, I joined up with Run Dem Crew West. I have been following a few of their members on Twitter, having seen a few articles in the running press and a few of them out in force at races, so they’ve been on the periphery of my radar for awhile, but I’ve not had the time (or nerve) to check them out myself. Then, having signed up for We Own The Night, running with Team Pretty Fit led by a RDC member, Sophie Levett and needing to inject a kick into my training, it was another stroke of genius timing and the last push I needed to try something new. 
So I turned up at Paddington Rec (far too early, like the eager bod I am..such a nerd) on my own, in my running kit and it  was a more than a little nerve racking. But I got over it. 5.5 miles later I felt like I had met a whole crew of fellow running nutters, happy to talk pace, race,  Lycra, training and getting smash up on endorphins. Cannot wait until next Monday to do it all again!
In the meantime, I’ve clocked in a few more runs, a pretty hardcore up tempo 5K run as part of the training plan and a spinning class. I have also survived Week 1 of the new, no dairy, added whey protein eating plan regime designed to help me lose the last four stubborn pounds, and highlight muscle definition. I am already seeing the difference in my arms. Amazing what a difference nutrition makes, but that’s for another post.

Post 5km up tempo run., Stella not impressed
Stella contemplates the new lycra with disdain 
And lastly, to round off my seven day running extravaganza, on Sunday, I’m off to finally meet the rest of Team Pretty Fit to rack up some mileage around Victoria Park. All in all a pretty fan-fucking-tastic week indeed!

Amateur Month

Ah January. Everyone is bleak, skint, and exhausted from the excesses of the festive season. Invariably the weather reflects the general mood by being damp, cold and unpredictable. Which means that these very same people, while cutting back on booze, sugar and general fun have turned their attentions to GETTING FIT/LOSING WEIGHT. But having not quite acquired a taste for exercise of the outdoor variety, they hit the gyms. In force and en masse, taking up space in the change rooms, slots in the spinning classes and mats on the gym floor.

Don’t get me wrong, I was one of these newbies, everyone has to start somewhere. I fell off the treadmill, dropped weights on my feet, nearly flew head first over the handlebars in spin and of course, got ALL the steps wrong in Body Attack –  to the point where the instructor told me to ‘just concentrate on the feet dear, don’t worry about the arms yet’. I even wore grey (Don’t – it shows up all your sweat patches – everywhere!)

But year in and year out I am always astonished at the lack of common sense people have, and equally the sheer lack of willingness to learn. There must be an assumption that you gain fitness through osmosis and it starts working as soon as you walk through the door, and this somehow makes you deaf / impervious to the instructor’s suggestions, or the instructions on the equipment.

I have many mad, bad examples of this, but my current favourite has to be the newbies who turn up at spin, in major kit – clip ons, the lot – and then proceed to freewheel for 45 minutes while bouncing up and down so rapidly on the seat I’m surprised the seat doesn’t cave in. They totally ignore the instructor when he suggests increasing the resistance to stop the bounce, which would also make you sweat a bit and save your nether regions (win win). His very good advice was met with sniping comments, and eye rolling. Actual eye rolling.

Why people fork out £50+ a month to turn up in full gear, barely break a sweat and ignore the professional advice readily available, is beyond me and just a sheer waste of hard earned cash. Ask the stupid questions. Fall of the treadmill, you only really need to do this once, you’ll learn pretty quickly. Set your bike up wrong, make a tit of yourself in Combat, but just give it a go, you’ll get over it!

Thankfully the invasion only lasts about 3 weeks, usually subsiding around January pay day, when the impulse joiners swap the gyms for the pub again, and I get a bit more elbow room in classes. In the meantime I’m investing in more winter running gear to avoid the madness. Hooray for empty streets, crisp air and sleet!* Plus I get to have Stella for company, no eye rolling from her, she only gets bitchy when she’s after a stick and I get to tell her off when she’s behaving badly. Too bad we can’t leash the newbies.
* okay, not the sleet

Rock and Roller. A Horror Story

On Sunday I managed 13.5km of my planned 17km long run before the Dreaded Knee won over, and through gritted teeth I had to admit defeat. After much debating about walk/ running home and even trying a few yards at a time I knew the game was up and limped to the bus stop in a sulk.

I spent the rest of the afternoon with ice packs at the ready, developing an autumn cold and feeling sorry for myself. I had come to the realisation that no amount of Green Giant frozen peas were going to sort out this particular issue. I had an idea this may be the Insufferable IT band causing all this worry, but I had to seek advice from the professionals.

And I was right. Thankfully by some miracle granted by the running gods, I got myself an appointment on a day’s notice. and some tough advice to boot.

The diagnosis? In order of pain brought on by physio massage (I screamed. Like a baby)

  1. Rock hard, aching calves brought on by too many days tottering about in high heels and not enough stretching. Apparently this is also why I’m not getting faster, my calves aren’t able to generate the power  because they’re TOO STIFF. I blame Kurt Geiger 
  2. Inflamed IT band from non-engaged glutes. Yes I have a  LAZY ass! Oh and, not enough stretching
  3. Very tight hip-flexors from, you guessed it, not enough stretching AND cycling up hills in France 

My physio thinks we may be able to do a ‘patch up’ job for the Royal Parks, provided I take nurofen for  two weeks like fiend and do my exercises/ stretches every single day. Twice. At least. And come back to see her for more torture, aka treatment. Serves me right. Really should’ve down the stretches, starting about 2 years ago.

Oh and meet my new Best Friend – the Foam Roller. Welcome to the House of Pain. I screamed like a baby, again.

Resting. While I choke back tears OF PAIN
Getting acquainted. Pre-excruciating, blood curdling screams

Stella found this new development somewhat unnerving, attacked the foam roller and then tried to sit on me while I was doing my stretches. I might make her stretch with the roller if she tries that again. Not a helpful coach.

Stella is suspicious

I’ve also had to take one last, long look at my beautiful collection of heels as they are now, verboden until after the race, and even then I suspect my physio would suggest not on a daily basis. There goes my cost-per-wear theory. But an excuse to buy new shoes. So not a terrible day.

Wicked Witch Flats – serious toe cleavage

Good Week, Bad Week

No good deed goes unpunished, past few weeks have certainly been proof of that!

Having got back from France relaxed and fitter than we were before we left, we discovered Stella the Dog wasn’t very well and shipped her off to the vet to get her checked out. Thankfully she’s fine, dosed up on antibiotics for a mild bug, but the vet did notice that her poor paws are looking a bit worn and has suggested she only run trails. No more pavements. Or I need to buy her some Nikes.

Coach: On sabbatical 

So I am currently without a coach. But I managed a decent five and half miles last Tuesday, trying out a new route via Hammersmith to shake it up a bit.

Wednesday a few of us braved the wilds of North London to visit Move Three Sixty on advice that Hannah Richards had passed on when we met during one of Sweaty Betty’s Run Britannia events.

We met with Claud Serjeant for our assessment who quickly worked through analysing our postures, videoing our running styles (cringe!) and checking our footwear. He gave us some invaluable insight into where we were going wrong, what the aches and pains were pointing to, and how to correct them. It’s all about the glutes! Oh and the hamstrings. We came away with core strength exercises and stretches to begin working into our training schedules. So many ‘ah ha!’ moments around balance, symmetry and kinetic movement, I wish I had brought a notebook!

Saturday I had my first Yoga class of my beginner’s course at the Life Centre. Ninety minutes of basic stretching, postures and some interesting new types of breathing (who knew?!).

The Life Centre in Notting Hill

Armed with new stretches, (mad breathing) and awareness of posture, Emily and I banked 15km with a pretty decent pace for 7:30am on an unseasonably hot Sunday morning. And all seemed well, up until about 13km, when my knee started to complain and its been niggling on and off just a little too much for me to ignore. After all of that!

I managed only 3 miles this evening, before it started playing up again and now I’m a little injury paranoid. It may just be a par-for-the-course ache, rather than anything more serious, but nevertheless I am icing the knee with as many frozen peas as I can get my hands on. Oh and eating chocolate pudding, I hear it has pretty good healing properties. I may just take another rest day with the Coach.

Chocolate Pudding. Good for knees

The Hills are Aliiiiiive!

On Thursday night I attended a Women’s Running event at Runner’s Need in Victoria hosted by the editor, a life coach, personal trainer and a physiotherapist. The main focus of the event was to discuss motivation and training techniques and thankfully the crowd were all relatively new runners, training for half marathons, so we all had very similar questions.

My main challenge at the moment is getting my pace up when running on my own. I find it incredibly hard to push the speed element of the training without someone else’s slightly faster pace to mirror. Interval training I can manage, but its the longer stamina runs that end up falling back to 11:30 min miles, rather that the 10:30 I’m aiming for.

The feedback from the experts then was to give hill training a go. Great for stamina, a form of interval training and also adds in an element of strength training for the old legs. Clearly I am thrilled about this. Hills – not a fan. Intervals – make me want to vomit. Fantastic.

The plan they recommended looks like this:

  • Warm up for 10 minutes regular tempo
  • 1 minute or thereabouts hard up hill 
  • Recover on the down hill
  • Repeat for 15 minutes (with a 2 minute recovery jog if needed half way)
  • Cool down 10 minute tempo run

This looked pretty doable actually and lucky for me there’s a pretty killer hill about a mile away from my flat, just enough time to warm up then.

I set off in my brand spanking new running kit (discount sale at the seminar! I am a sucker for a deal) feeling pretty positive about the session. One minute up hill – pfffft! Easy.

Walk? We ran!

Stella contemplates the hill
Stella sets the pace

And so we hit the hill. One minute up hill, fine. I’ve done that hill a hundred times before. But just the one time per run. One minute up that hill six times over? Not so fine. Although very amusing for passers by, and very confusing for Stella the Dog who actually sat down at one point. Clearly the hill even got to her.

Really pleased I managed it and what a way to clear the better part of 5kms and get the heart rate hitting the threshold. HELL YES! (I say this after I collapsed in a heap on my kitchen floor)

Four to the floor
Stella in Recovery Mode = Hiding

The Crew

Saturday Crew

I count myself very lucky to have a number of mates who also happen to run. They understand the obsession with lycra, the constant worry over every niggle in your knees pre race, they actually want to hear the mile by mile account of your last triumph and understand how crazy it makes you when injury flares up and you’re stuck wearing flats with your beloved trainers gathering dust.

But strangely I have never been into running with other people if I can help it, even the fellow obsessives. I like the fact I don’t have to make conversation. I can change my pace without the worry of being too slow or too fast and I get to occasionally fall in a heap post massive hill climb or muck about with the dog and turn off the GPS. But even I, the solo running purist, had to admit, it can get a tad dull.

That all changed recently when I started running with a colleague from work who has similar running experience to me and doesn’t mind mixing up the chat with a good dose of iPod time too. Now with the Royal Parks training underway and both of us registered and hitting up the training schedules, I’m counting myself even luckier to have a bit of company on those long runs which can get very tedious when you’re clocking up 10+ miles!

Our first Saturday session this morning was a scorcher, first sight of the sun we’ve had in weeks and we managed six miles before 10am (this is early for me on the weekend!). Stella the Dog avoided an altercation with a mastiff puppy in Holland Park and we all managed not to pass out. Not a bad result for our first meet!

Come Out and Play

Finally back in training having secured a place in the British 10K and another in the Palma Mallorca half marathon in October and I’m determined to get sub 1hr on the 10K and sub 2:15 on the half. I need to hit the intervals and get faster, which ultimately means changing up the routine.

So I dressed the dog up in a very fetching American Apparel hoodie to get her ready for the new regime. She has since figured out how to take it off so there goes our co-ordinated running team look.

Today I managed a speedy 5K fuelled by my angry 15 year old self. I have since rediscovered the music of my misspent youth (maybe something to do with another birthday on the horizon and getting a little further into my 30s? That or I had amazing taste in music 16 years ago….). Cue anthems from Pearl Jam, The Offspring, Nirvana, Soundgarden and RATM.

Had you told me 16 years ago, (probably in detention though a haze of B&H special mild), that years from now I would be listening to the exact same soundtrack while pounding the pavements in London (in Lycra no less) I’d probably have given you the finger (perfectly manicured with black permanent marker of course) and told you to stop smoking your socks.

Ironic then, that in 2012 I’m picking up the pace to ‘Smash’ and sprinting down the last 1K to ‘Genocide’. I’m now pulling together an even more grunge worthy playlist to sort out my next long run. 10K of Temple of the Dog and I may revert to wearing my ripped jeans and bleach dyed vests.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I saw just the same get up in Urban Outfitters at the weekend (along with Nirvana T-shirts, Kurt spins in his grave), so provided I can master that look of youthful disdain I may just get away with it

The music itself may have to remain on the iPhone though, R is having none of it. While sorting out my playlist earlier today he said ‘I think I’ve heard enough of this, what is it exactly?’. Talking ’bout my generation….

The Groove


It’s SPRING! Time to get motivated again.

I don’t bounce back after a long race. Something in my psyche tells me I deserve a break, time to recover, relax and generally not do any exercise. So, three weeks after the last big event, it really should not be a surprise that I’m flagging after 5K and can’t find the motivation to get back into the groove. But I am surprised. I’m outraged and pissed off and generally berating myself for not being able to run 15km at the drop of a hat.

And therein lies the rub. The first thing I am learning, (and it is all new to me as I was the antithesis of sporty at school) is that its all about consistency for me. Fitness is a fickle beast, you have to catch her and she’ll elude you. Turn your back for a few weeks and she’s out of sight, having a bit of a laugh as you huff and puff up a pathetically small hill. The training has to be consistent.

This became really clear for me on my run this evening with Stella in tow. She’s not been out as much as I would like due to the fact she’s approaching 7 and the dog gurus suggest you start winding down the mileage as they approach ‘middle age’.  She’s usually very well trained on the lead when we run. But, given a few weeks off the lead, she’s not having any of it. Wrapping herself (and me) around lampposts, tugging at the lead – it look a good 4km to get her back into that groove. She remembers, it just takes a good bit of discipline and metaphorical kick up the ass to jolt back in.

The second thing that struck me today around 5km is, that voice, that one that says, ‘stay on the sofa, you’re really tired and you have had a long day’ is not your friend. Its the same voice that says things like, ‘have another piece of cake’ when you’ve had three. I remember this voice well when I was trying to quit smoking. ‘Stop tomorrow, you’re really stressed at the moment’ or ‘one cigarette won’t kill you, you’ve really cut down recently, you deserve another lung full of tar’. Not. Your. Friend.

Quite the opposite. That voice wants you sluggish, tired, depressed and alone on your sofa watching reruns of QVC. Don’t get me wrong, we all have our nasty habits, after all vices are just virtues taken to the extreme.We all need a good dose of a vice like anger to tell us when we’ve had a boundary crossed. Otherwise we’d be doormats. Its when it turns to Rage that its dangerous. Or the occasional over indulgence, keeps us from being too smug or self righteous. Abusing it is a different story. And equally a bit of lazing around on rest days IS good for you. Its getting the balance that’s tricky.

To do that, the other voice has to get louder. You know the one. The one that says, in the case of my battle with the smoking, ‘enough is enough’. The one that says, ‘I can do one more mile’ and the one that says ‘I’m going to go out in my lycra and rock this route’ . It doesn’t listen to the paranoid self deprecating nitpicking telling you your ass is maybe a bit too large for those shorts. So it is. So what. Take that. I’m going anyway.

My guess is that listening to that other voice, no matter how much you want the extra hour lie in, that extra piece of cheesecake, or the opportunity to just spend three hours on Twitter (guilty!) and then consistently acting on it, some how starts to balance out the negative one. And something magic happens, it stops being so hard. You look forward to those few hours a week when its just you and the pavement, rather than a chore, you start upping the anti, you achieve a few goals, you complete a few races. And you’re hooked. But this habit is building you up, not breaking you down.

And the dog gets a good work out too. Even if her owner is a new-age zen hippy. Winners all round.

Coach Stella Post Run AKA my own personal feet heater