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!

New Season, New Look

Spring has not sprung. It’s mid April and we still have the heating on, I am making full use of all my coats and and the electric blanket. Because its freezing. And with it being April, everyone is marathon obsessed, and out pounding pavements all over London. Inspiring stuff bearing in mind the horrendous weather.

Joining in the ‘spring’ spirit, I have also started training, albeit mostly on the treadmill because I have totally wimped out, but training nonetheless. I have signed up to We Own The Night in Victoria Park on May 18th, which will be my first race since the disaster that was the Royal Parks.

Following advice from my physio, I’m combing the running with two spinning sessions a week, and that combined with the eating plan means I have bought myself my first pair of size 8 jeans since I was about sixteen! The bad news is I have to get my wedding ring resized, and my credit card has taken a serious beating.

It’s been hugely satisfying watching all the hard work pay off, eating healthier, getting my form right and as a result, achieving my goal weight. But that does require a new wardrobe full of clothes that actually fit, rather than shirts that bunch up in the wrong places because they’re just a bit too big. That includes new belts, new bras (slightly gutted), new running kit (that doesn’t fall down), and of course, new jeans!

So thought I’d dig out an old snap from my training last year (right)  prior to the eating/coaching plan, and a snap of me a few weeks ago (left). Eighteen pounds down (circa 8kgs) and four to go! That sub 1 hour 10K race in May, could just be doable

The Jozi vs Western Cape Sessions: A Sea Level Softy Speaks Out

Back in London post three week holiday to South Africa.  Back to work, and invariably back to treadmill sessions and/or  bracing pavement pounding in the freezing cold. Spring brought snow and sleet, the poor daffs are literally freezing to death.

But rather then dwelling on the pretty dire training conditions i.e. ice on the Portobello Tuesday night, I’m much happier to recount my running sessions in sunny South Africa, while I load all my pictures over from iphone, making sure I logged all the activity on good old Nike+

I ran a lot in South Africa. Weird for me, because back in the olden days, a holiday was the perfect excuse to do NO EXERCISE whatsoever, so rejoicing in packing shorts and vests for my holiday down south was slightly ludicrous. But the crazyis here to stay. No more long running tights and waterproof jackets, hats and running gloves. Just shorts and a vest. Fan-bloody-tastic.

I was really looking forward to exploring a bit more of Joburg, and a lot more of the Cape. I have realised that I NOTICE more when I am running. I’ve become more aware of my neighbourhood in London as a result, rather than just rushing past everything while on autopilot en-route to work. When I run, I take it all in. So I was very keen to take this theory and test it on the big bad streets of Jozi, and the wild trails of the Cape.

But Johannesburg is another story. Its a city 4,921 feet above sea level and by mid February is pretty damn hot on the high veld. By 9am it’s close to 25 degrees and there are no clouds, no wind and no place to hide. There are also NO PAVEMENTS. I must first make it very clear that although I grew up in Joburg, I never did any running there, so this is the first time I have really paid attention to the lack of any kind of side walk action. I did a bit of light sprinting, once or twice while avoiding parents, teachers and the occasional lunatic ex boyfriend, but no sport. I famously came last in school cross-country when I was 8. It look me another 21 years to get over that humiliation, having convinced myself I just ‘wasn’t sporty’, so hitting the asphalt in this town was a mental thing too.

I’d love to say I smashed it. That it was 5ks of speed and agility.That the neighbours waved encouragingly and that I discovered some fantastic new coffee house/gallery/ cake shop on my route (a fav past time in London). But I didn’t.

First the altitude difference hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely breathe let alone keep up my pace and form. After 2.5km I had to walk, heaving as I went, stopping to wipe the sweat which was pouring down my face and succeeding in freaking out a few neurotic Doberman as I stumbled past. A messy mess really. Oh and Jo’burg has some serious hills. I has not bargained for that. I had failed to notice these while driving around in my youth. I managed another 2.5km and limped home. Having had my ass handed to me, and being on holiday, I climbed back into bed determined to start the day over. Fail.

Respect to you Jozi runners. Call me a sea-level softy all you like, you guys are HARDCORE

Thankfully running in the Cape is a completely different experience. Betty’s Bay in particular has a fantastic mix of great tarred road along the coast as well as some pretty awesome trails that wind along the beach. You even get to see Penguins on your morning run. Yes really. I mean who doesn’t want to wake up to that? And it’s at sea level. YES!!

Over the two weeks we were there I ran religiously every other day, between 4 and 6 kms as per my training post injury, and took in the trails, botanical gardens, beach routes and got reacquanited with a beautiful part of the world that is very close to my famiy’s hearts, and part of our history now spanning five generations.

Here’s a taste of the place and a few snaps of me post run. Just to prove I actually logged the mileage!

Moody: There are actual Penguins behind me here at Stony Point , but this pic doesn’t quite show them!

View just before I hit the trail along the dunes/ beach path

Half way point in my 6K run having got to the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. Not a cloud in the sky

Got to love early morning endorphins!

Breakfast back at Craigeburn, our family cottage by the sea, over looking the lake

I am hugely grateful to have the opportunity to take in the beauty of a place, almost like it was the first time, with just a pair of trainers.Smashed that then! WINNING

Sorry Jo’burg, you may be my birth place, but heart belongs to the Cape. That and I”m too much of a wimp to take on your altitude. And lack of pavements. Its too much  for this very amateur runner   (and there are penguins in the Cape. You can’t beat the Penguins).

ARMS and ABS! All Hail the New Regime

Week Two of the New Running Regime. Just a few sessions under my belt and I can already see a huge improvement, that and it feels completely different. Much more streamlined.

The main focus has been strengthening my core, in a bid to stabilise my running and sort out the alignment. So that means literally, sucking it (the abs) up. I have never felt my abs work like they do when I’m working this program. Hopefully by the end of this I should have a wash board stomach.

The running itself is knackering, mentally as well a physically. The combination of core work, and trying to remember to pull in the tail bone, keep the back soft, remembering to lift and pull (hamstrings and glutes) rather than push (calves) AND lean forward from the ankles to aid momentum, my brain is having a hard time keeping up with my feet. That’s only doing two minute intervals (running) and three minutes walking. Exhausting and I have to keep reminding myself to breathe.

Most of the time all I can hear in my head is my coach shouting ARMS and ABS! Repeatedly. Arms must not swing across my body. Ever. Abs need to be in pain. Constantly.

Once a week I get filmed running on the treadmill (*cringe* but a great motivation to pull in the abs!) so my running coach and me can check out what’s going right and what’s still going wrong. Everything from my left hip collapsing half way through the cycle and the weird flick I do with my right foot. But its also great for seeing how far I have come, with four weeks still to go.

The great news is that I am already faster. Like much faster. I can’t quite believe it was as simple as bring the feet in line with my centre of gravity, upping the cadence and leaning forward. Just a tad. Well, let’s be honest, I’m running faster in two minute spurts. Not sure I could keep up the pace for 13.1 miles. But we’ll see.

Here’s me after 20 minutes (that reflection is actual sweat + smudged mascara for proper authenticity). I usually looked like this after 2 hours. So that’s efficiency for you!
Here’s hoping for a 5km for Christmas.

Hair a complete state and V sweaty. Not well documented here! 

Swimming 101: Don’t Drown

Five o’clock this morning my alarm went off and I got out of bed. Its pitch black outside without a soul in sight, not even the psychotic neighbours, who I’m convinced don’t actually sleep (that right there is whole separate blog). I’m out of bed, I’m dressed and I’m out the door and headed to the West End to meet my friend (and new swim coach) for 6:30am. I’m out of bed, and clearly out of my mind. 

Its eerie driving through the West End at 6am on a Wednesday morning. The sun hasn’t even thought about rising yet, the shops are all still pretty shut up and there are only a few people around, wrapped up against the pre-dawn cold. And it is cold. Its been years since I saw this side of London, and back then I probably would have been headed to bed, rather just getting out of it. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought I’d ever be dragging myself out of slumber, willingly, at this hour to hit the pool. Before work. Like a lunatic.
Thankfully the Oasis centre in Tottenham Court Road is warm, and although we were disappointed the heated outdoor pool wasn’t open yet, I was slightly relieved that I wouldn’t have to brave the cold wearing only my speedo full piece and some spangly goggles. The indoor pool would do!
Then there’s nothing else for it. I have to jump in. And its more than a shock to the system when I get going. I’m very grateful to have a friend there, who is a very strong and experienced swimmer and talks me through the different lanes and has a look at my very rusty technique. 
The first thing that strikes me is how tough it is. Really, lung burning, muscle aching tough. I am not swimming fit at all. It reminded me of my first few C25K sessions, I had to stop every couple of lengths to catch my breath. Totally knackering. I also seem to have forgotten how to swim without inhaling half the pool. Cue much spluttering and the occasional fear I may actually forget to come up for air (yes, mad). Or get taken out by the super quick pensioner just behind me n the lane. Its a jungle out there. 
To add to this farce, swimming freestyle highlights my terrible co-ordination, those neural pathways are non existent, I’ll need some lasers to burn these into my brain! I can’t get the breathing sorted as well as have my legs kicking as much as they should at the same time. Yup. It’s comedy value really. 
But with a few pointers from my swimming guru friend, and sensibly slowing the pace, I began to get into it. Managed about 35/40 minutes. Not bad going for session one. Now to ensure I fit in at least another three ahead of the Torture (sorry Physio) appointment. 
One of the many excuses I thought up to not go swimming. 

Sink or Swim

Two weeks since the race and a few follow up physio appointments later, its very clear that my running injury is a bit more complicated than I initially thought, and its going to take a lot more than a few weeks rest to get better.

Pay attention, here comes the science bit, I’ll keep it brief. The year old calf injury from back in Feb 2011 has come back to haunt me, just in time for Halloween. Apparently this is fairly common as I didn’t get it properly looked at. This means my right calf has very little flexibility and my left leg has been compensating. Add to that the lazy glutes (as discussed here so I won’t go on), a pretty lackadaisical core and tight hips and HEY PRESTO! Awful awful ITB issues. What fun.

The upshot of all of this is that I will not be running for at least another month while I focus on building up the flexibility and getting the right muscles ‘firing’.  When I do start again, I have been advised to pretty much start again. They’re talking running for a minute, walking for three minutes… that kind of starting again. OH GOOD. But we’re also talking sorting out my posture, getting rid of that weird flick I do with my right foot, and getting stronger and faster all round.

So there’s that to look forward to. In the meantime its been suggested I swim. Yes, swim. And not the faffing about in the pool I usually do, while on holiday. Proper swimming, using freestyle, to build my core strength.

Its worth noting I haven’t been swimming for fitness purposes since 1994, back in Roosevelt High’s Grade 8 swim team, which I was a part of for precisely 2 days.

I do not have fond memories of sporty ‘proper’ swimming in general. My high school pool was also used for diving so was suitably, very deep and I had this irrational fear that I’d dive in too deep and not reach the surface quickly enough. You know, before I drowned. I hated the horrid elastic caps that had to be dusted with baby powder so they didn’t stick together, and pulled my hair,  the sting-your-eyes chlorine that also turned my hair green and made my skin itch. The unflattering school issue navy swimsuits.

But needs, must and all that. I’ve had a bit of a look around the local leisure centre facilities, and with the hoards of screaming children, it looked just as daunting as my old school pool nearly 18 years ago. I left without even getting a toe wet.

Not a good start then, so I’m just reminding myself I was just as terrified of my trainers when I first put them on. Flashbacks of shivering to the core wearing ill fitting brown nylon shorts on the starting line in the middle of winter come to mind. All the anticipation and anxiety, only to come last in sprints. Or falling over the hurdles. Its fair to say I loathed running, I found it humiliating and difficult. Now I find it something I pretty much can’t live without. So if I want to get back on it. I’m going to have to jump in the pool.

My ideal pool.
Unfortunately no Lilos are allowed at the leisure centre

Royal Parks or …The Plan B Race

I finished it. Yes. I finished. This is what I keep repeating to myself while alternating ice packs and hot water bottles while recovering on my sofa post 13.1 miles this morning. What a race. But for very different reasons.

It was such a beautiful day, perfect weather, and everything was going incredibly smoothly, no delays, no queues, I was feeling relaxed and positive about the race. I had told myself that I wasn’t going for a PB, with my injury, I really just needed to get round. So no pressure.

But once I was there absorbing the atmosphere, all the buzz in the air, the anticipation, part of me really thought the universe may just conspire to deliver me a 2:15. It was sunny after all. In October. Crazier things have happened. Right?

Emily and I set off at a good pace and I honestly felt pretty awesome up until about mile 4 – so technically the very start of the race. Emily’s very uplifting chatter of, ‘we’re nearly a third of the way there!’ helped, for about another mile or so, and then I had to drop two more Nurofen to counteract the now, very painful ITB. And I stopped being able to keep to our pace.

Come mile 6, and my sunny disposition was starting to darken. I was already tired, how can this be? Well I can tell you, three weeks with just cross training is a very poor substitute for the real thing. I kind of knew this in the back of my head, but again my over positive mind frame pre-race, let me conveniently forget it.

Between miles 8 and 9 I thought it may just be over. Or at best I’d have to make peace with the fact I was going to hate every inch of the course left to run and may just cry my way through it. Nurofen helped a tad, but then the other ITB started to strain which threw me off my game plan completely. Both sides? Are YOU SERIOUS!?

At this point I felt a tap on my shoulder, ‘you alright love?’ says a woman wearing the same charity shirt as me. And for once I didn’t try and front it out. I’m not sure if it was the implicit camaraderie as we were running for the same charity, or the fact that at this point I thought I may vomit, but instead I said;  ‘Not really, having a pretty tough time, I’m injured blah erg, blah URG, blah *sob*’ And Julie just got it.

And by some minor miracle, Julie was in a pretty similar state to me, and more than happy to keep me company while I just got myself back together. Having torn her calf muscle running the London Marathon earlier this year (at mile 16, with another 10 miles to go – and she still finished!), she was looking at walk/ running the last 4 miles. Which sounded like a good Plan B to try and salvage the rest of the race, and possibly my ITB (and sanity).

And from that point my race improved dramatically. Julie’s fantastic demeanour and inspirational story helped distract from the pain, and well, we just had a laugh. I stopped taking it so seriously. I gave up the idea of getting anywhere near a PB. We talked to other runners. I managed to jump up and down enthusiastically when I saw my friends and family who came to support (ouch, but worth it). We helped first time half marathon runner Katie, manage a particularly nasty stitch. We waved at everyone. We made faces at the cameras.  We finished with a spectacular 800 metre dash (er, hobble really), in just over 2 hours 39 minutes, actually smiling. Plan B.

Now that’s nine minutes slower than my PB, but I’ll take that. Those nine minutes reminded me of something pretty core, that I had forgotten to have fun when training. It was all splits and miles logged and comparing schedules with other colleagues, desperately trying to achieve perfect form, and ultimately finding myself in a lot of pain on physio tables. Not fun really. At all.

So I’m going to take some time out to recover, sort out the injury slowly and properly and then take to the street again, when its healed,  without the expectation, or added pressure of an impending race. And just run, for fun. To feel good, and have a laugh.

Until Paris next year that is!

DONE. Badge to prove it 
Amazing to have my Mom here to see me run all the way from Sunny South Africa

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