Category Archives: marathon

Under 18’s and Marathon Running

Yesterday I found myself directed to the Runner’s World web site to a debate entitled Should Runners Under 18 Be Allowed In Marathons? Two debaters addressed the question from the yes and no perspectives with both focussing almost exclusively on the health issues and the potential harm that could come or in fact not come from upping a young person’s mileage. Scott Douglas is in the ‘Yes’ camp and quotes a Paediatric journal that found that there should be no reason to prevent a person under 18 from increasing their mileage to marathon training distances as long as they enjoy it and are asymptomatic of injury.

On the one hand I do agree with that argument in some respects. It always amuses me that we can limit children under 18 despite any talent and drive that they demonstrate. However my niggling issues with allowing young people under 18 and children to increase their mileage is not just physiological. I have misgivings in relation to the psychosocial as well.

Training for marathons takes up a great deal of time and mental effort. Adults who have run marathons will be well aware of the small sacrifices that you have to make to fit in the time to be able to run a marathon to the best of your ability: less time with family, less time with friends, not to mention the side effects of training such as tiredness, fatigue, irritability. I was a young middle distance athlete and the training still gave me enough time and energy to be a teenager and experience all other aspects of that crucial time. I don’t think I could have had that balance if I had been a teenage marathon runner.

A young person has to go to school, find time to study, deal with growth spurts and hormonal changes while also developing relationships with their peers. If one of my children asks to run marathons when they are in their early teenage years my misgivings would not just be for physiological reasons but also for their social and emotional well being. I watch my sons play mini rugby with their friends and I know their enjoyment isn’t just about the physical work out they are getting but about their friends and the giggles and the laughs they are having, very much like I experienced at my running club. Marathon running can at times be quite solitary and I’m sure it could be even more so for a young person, even if they are surrounded by adults encouraging them.

But as with all sport, rules and regulations are ever changing and as we discover more about human capabilities and those of young people we may discover that they are indeed more than capable of running marathons and maybe more. But from my perspective as a mother I would want to make sure they knew what they might miss out on as an adolescent if they did. I think I agree with the person I saw discussing this on social media when they said ‘Why the rush?’.

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Marathon Brain and A Heavy Heart.

When you train for a marathon you expect to feel physically tired and heavy. What I think I have forgotten is that it can impact on me emotionally and mentally. People talk about baby brain but I definitely have marathon brain. For me it’s a sensation of feeling permanently distracted by running and thinking about running and wanting to go running.

I think this is all perfectly normal, it is a major thing to take on. However marathon brain has impacted on my life a bit of late. I feel forgetful, under the weather, grumpy, anxious and not at all tip top. My insomnia has been dreadful of late so I don’t think trying to function on the back of little sleep has helped. I’ve been forgetting things that the boys need for school and that’s just not like me. Plus deciding to try and promote my own clinic in an existing health centre just adds to many things I’ve added to the plate lately.

Last week felt particularly awful because as a parent I have to think of not just my emotional well being but the emotional well being of my children. Trying to function for yourself and two little people who need you is hard going. My eldest has been having a rough time at school of late, trying to find out who he is and what kind of people he wants to be friends with. He’s had issues that have caused him great upset and I think it has affected me in many ways but everything is amplified because I am fatigued from training and poor sleep patterns. I’d love to be a mother who could give a reassuring ‘it will be fine’ and reason everything to be ‘just a phase’ but I find that their pain is my pain and I stress and I worry about them, as I’m sure many many mothers do.

By the end of last week my brain and my body had had enough and I caught a cold, probably because my immune system decided to have a wee rest. I don’t blame it. It was a weird feeling of a head cold that sat at the surface and didn’t really come to anything, yet was enough to make me feel unwell. Annoying, inconvenient and just frustrating. I rested and thought that by mid week I’d be fine to get back our running.

All of this leads me into my long run from yesterday, which was probably the worst long run I’ve ever done. I woke up heavy headed and I dreaded it from the moment I started thinking about it. I dropped the boys at school and headed out with a heavy heart.

I had to talk myself out of going back home from the first mile. I decided to try a different route off the main roads and got lost. I had to find someone to ask directions. My phone died because I hadn’t charged it properly and I then spent the rest of the run intermittently worrying about whether the school might need to contact me. For some reason I decided to take on the route with all the hills. From 90 minutes in I was on the verge of giving up and had to give myself a stern talking to. And at 2 hours and 20 minutes, my hamstring cramped. I tried to keep running and I couldn’t, it was too painful, I had to turn on my heel and limp home. The walk home gave me a total of 16 and a half miles, no where near what I had intended to do.

What surprised me yesterday was that I didn’t even bother crying. Usually I would have balled my eyes out on the walk back home and even more so when I got back to the house. But I didn’t. I felt numb. And then I felt cross with myself because instead of listening to all the alarm bells that were going off, I ignored them and carried on. If I had stopped when I wanted to I wouldn’t have a sore hamstring.

This morning I forgot one of my son’s bags for school as is typical of me these days. I blamed my marathon brain and then I blamed myself for not being organised this morning. I am my own worst critic and I have gone round in circles trying to figure out what I did wrong yesterday. But maybe yesterday my heart and my head were just burdened with too many other things. My heart was too heavy to be able to carry me to the 20 miles I wanted to do.

And there, there are the tears.

You’ve Got This

This post is dedicated to anyone having a pre marathon wobble (myself included!)

You are getting closer to the start line of what might be the most frightening but also the most exhilarating thing you have ever done.

Six months or more ago you committed yourself to train in the wind, rain, sleet and snow for one day which seemed forever away.

There have been ups and downs, good runs and bad runs, training sessions that haven’t gone the way you wanted but you never threw in the towel.

You are a runner, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The miles that you have run have made you stronger and are there in your legs waiting to carry you further than you’ve ever been before.

Draw on anything or anyone for inspiration you might need but don’t forget that you are your own hero.

Once you’re done, once you have crossed that line, no one can take that away from you.

No matter what happens, the people who count most in the world will be immensely proud of you.

Enjoy it, revel in it, try and take as much of it in as you can.

You are harder, you are tougher than you once thought. You are about to surprise everyone. You’ve got this.

10 Weeks (Or How Not To Train For A Marathon)

About twelve weeks ago I was chatting to a patient in clinic who happened to be a decent club runner. I told him of my own injury woes and how I felt I was running out of time to train for the London Marathon.

‘Don’t worry about it, you can train for a marathon in ten weeks if you’ve run one before’.

And so it appears I have taken my patient’s words quite literally. I didn’t really start training properly for the marathon on the 13th of April until five weeks ago. To date I have only done three long runs: an hour and a half, a two hour and a two hour fifty minutes. It was only over this weekend that I allowed myself to run on consecutive days (no long run this week). Previous to this I would have rested or jumped on the turbo trainer. It has been a higgledy piggledy mess of a training programme.

Well I don’t actually have a training programme. When I came to look at programmes there was nothing that was suitable for a runner just coming out of injury. Looking at them just made me panic about the runs I wouldn’t be able to do at the very early stages so I decided to take an alternative approach: listen to my own body and create my own programme as I have gone along.

There have been no tempo runs, no fartleks, no hill sprints and no real pattern, or rhyme or reason to what I’ve been doing. All there has been is a gradual build up of time back on my feet again. I wouldn’t suggest anyone follow anything I’ve done because it has been a process that can only personally fit me.

I have tried to vary things from time to time but because injury still doesn’t seem that far behind me I continue to hedge my bets and err very much on the side of caution with all my runs. If my legs have felt more tired than usual then I have opted not to run. If I have been aware of that familiar niggle in my calf/achilles then I have jumped on the turbo trainer or gone swimming instead. If I have felt unwell then I have stretched my rest day to two rest days.

To be quite frank I am winging it. I am blagging marathon training this time like the London Marathon is an exclusive club and I want my name on the list. I have no time in mind and I have no goal other than to be at the start line with the aim to finish.  I have no idea how to pace myself and I haven’t used a GPS in so long that the only way I know how to run right now is by how I feel. It’s scary but also exciting. It’s going down to the wire and the only advice I can give to my fellow runners is ‘Don’t try this at home’.

A 19 Mile Mistake

Last week was half term for us Welshies (I’m an honorary Welsh person now, on residency) so mid week I piled the boys and half the house in the car and headed up to my folks’ house in West London. Thursday and Friday I didn’t get to run due to trips to parks and museums and trying to be a good mum. I therefore had my eye on Saturday being a long run day. My legs were feeling ok after the 800m reps on Tuesday so I estimated that I’d like to do somewhere between a 15-16, possibly even 17 miler. Anyhow, I wanted to run for over 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I spent some time considering my route. In West London I was pretty spoilt for choice. There was Bushy Park, Windsor Great Park, all the paths by the river if they were accessible and of course Richmond Park. I decided, after reading about so many other runners love running there so much, to go for Richmond Park. But how would I get there? Bus, get dropped off or just run there? I logged onto the computer and mapped out how far it would be from my parents house to Richmond Hill Gate and it didn’t seem to bad, roughly 5 miles. Plus when I checked how far it was round the perimeter of the park it came up as about 7 miles. It seemed doable.

Now this is where I went wrong. Maths and I have a very hairy relationship. Adding I can do but stick decimal points in there and ask me to convert things to other measures just blows my brains. Now I say roughly 5 and I say roughly 7 but in fact I was converting in a very rough way, in my head, from kilometres to miles, based on what I know 5km and 10km to be in miles. This it turned out later was a huge mistake.

I set out into the cold crisp air on this St David’s Day in London with all my gels and water packing me out like a little donkey. It was cold but it was dry and that was ideal. And so I made my way up to Richmond via Hanworth and the river side path from Twickenham to Richmond. As I reached the gate I looked to my right to have a look at the Star and Garter House, the place where I had my work experience as a teenager, now closed.

When I left my parents house to run to the park my mother had urged me to be careful as ‘there are nutters in parks that might attack you’. Well she needn’t have worried as activity within the park jumped at me as soon as I was through the gate: other runners, dogs, walkers and hundreds of cyclists. It was going to be fine. I checked my watch, it read 50 minutes. I didn’t check the GPS running on my phone as I assumed that all my calculations were correct.

Running in Richmond Park itself was blissful for the most part. There were of course hills everywhere but I tackled them and didn’t let them deter me. I glimpsed round from time to time trying to work out where I had run cross country for the school but I think my radar was well off.

Some runners nodded, some runners said hello and some runners stared ahead robotically, tuning in only to what was playing to them from their head phones. I had no idea what trail I was on but I stuck as close as I could to the perimeter. The second time I looked at my watch it was reading 1 hour and 45 minutes and I started to panic a bit as I told myself I should be nearing Richmond Hill again. As I was pondering to myself I managed to run through the start for a 10k race. Moments later crowds of runners came past me, ruining my void and my running chi. ‘I’m not in your race, I’m doing a really REALLY long run’ I wanted to scream at them.

After what seemed like a path leading to no where, I finally reached Richmond Gate and it was at this point that I realised I could have made a little bit of an error. It was now 2 hours into the run. If it took me 50 minutes to run there it would probably take me well over that to run back. Thankfully I was able to run down hill for a while, down Richmond Hill and down over the bridge. In my head it gave my legs a short rest.

After Richmond Bridge it became a case of putting one foot in front of the other. My longest run up until Saturday had been 2 hours. As my brain whirred I estimated I would be running at least an hour more than that. As I run towards Twickenham on the main roads this time I almost screamed at people to get out of the way as I knew that if I stopped, then that would be it. Game over, miles from home. I started to shorten the rest of the route into chunks to make it seem quicker and forced myself to ignore the shrieking that was coming from my painful quads.

Somehow, through gritted teeth and bloody mindedness, I got back to my parents’ house. My father opened the door and grinned at me, my boys ran full pelt at me (ouch) and my mother took one look at me and told me I was nuts.

As I started unravelling myself from water belts, gilets and trainers I took my phone from my pocket. 30.88 miles in 2 hours 50 minutes. Eh? It’s ballsed up I thought. But then I realised Runkeeper could mean 30.88 km. Which if you convert it using online tools becomes 19 miles.

Holy Mother of Running Socks. Had I really run 19 miles? After I felt more human again I checked via Map My Run which gave me an estimate of 29.65 km, so I’m sure my phone app must have been correct. And I also realised that my maths was shocking and that I had woefully underestimated how far I was attempting to run.

Then as I often do, started to wonder how I had managed to run that far with a poor amount of training behind me and not a great deal of distance in my legs. Was it muscle memory from previous long runs and my history as a runner that enabled me to do it? Had I slightly altered the construct of distance in my head to lead me to run further than I had intended to? Am I more capable than I think of running the longer distances? My last long run was 14 miles so this was a giant leap for me. The last time I ran anything close to 19 miles was in 2012 and since then I’ve been injured. Was it just fluke or did I really do that?

I have checked and re-checked maps and apps to make sure I’m right and it hasn’t changed: I ran somewhere in the region of 18.5 to 19 miles on Saturday and I really enjoyed it. It was a complete error of judgement on my part but it was a good error. Just don

Minus GPS

My Nike GPS watch seemed to give up the ghost while I was injured. It was as if it got sick of waiting for me to use it and eventually passed away like a Running Tamagotchi. It’s food was running, it wasn’t being fed and so it died a lonely death somewhere on my dressing table. I have plugged it in since and the stopwatch still works but the tracker ain’t having none of it.

So when I started getting back into running again I started using a really old watch with a timer on it that my husband used when he was rugby coaching. Apart from telling the time it’s other setting is a stop watch. Start, stop and reset. That is as fancy as it gets. It will tell me how long I have been running for and that is all I know other than how I feel myself.

For some time this has been my only method for tracking my runs and it has become a habit for me not to look at my watch at all than continually glancing at it the way I used to with my Nike watch. I can run for over an hour now until I feel the urge to check. I have found new routes for running lately and I find it more interesting to look around me than to see how long I have been running for or work out what my pace is.

On Sunday I downloaded a Run Keeper app to my phone. The GPS signal where I live isn’t fantastic but it seemed to tune into something way up beyond the clouds so it seemed worth a go. When the wind was whooshing and the cars were whizzing past I couldn’t hear anything from my pocket. But then I heard her, this woman, stating my progress in a weird mechanical tone. And it immediately bugged me. So I took my phone out and switched it off. I knew roughly how far I was running via this old thing that I had checked called a map, so I didn’t need some robot with dubious accuracy draining my running chi. No. Thank. You.

My goal for the London Marathon right now is that I have no goal. I only managed to get the training up and going properly with ten weeks to go which is a joke. I have had some people tell me that this is doable and I have had other naysayers tell me that I should defer. I do think I’ll be able to fit in the runs I need to do, injuries and niggles allowing, but I’m being careful. The last thing I need is the added psychological stress of whether I’m doing this pace for this mileage or whatever. I just want to run and right now running minus the GPS is making me the happiest runner I’ve been in a long time. I’ll probably come back to the GPS watch eventually but for now it can stay in it’s crypt on my dresser until I feel the time has come to resurrect it.

Tequila and Running. They Make Me Happy.

Just before the weekend I had built myself up to accepting that I probably wouldn’t get any running done. I was going to the wedding of one of my best friends from school and I was up for some fun. There were some guilty feelings but as my husband and I don’t get away by ourselves very often I had made peace with it and guilt was replaced by excitement. There was to be no running or training…..until I got a text from one of my oldest and dearest friends asking me to bring my kit with me. There was a decent gym in the hotel and he wanted to do an interval session with him. Who was I to say no to this? At the last minute my kit made it into the bags.

My friend is running his first marathon at London and he is really committing himself to the task. He was an excellent swimmer as a kid. In fact we first met as 8 or 9 year olds at swimming club before I saw the light and discovered running (sorry water babies). Dean isn’t a runner but he’s been really organised, finding a plan, sticking to it and adapting it to his schedule and his strengths. He’s even joined a Masters swimming session to back up his running with some cross training. He isn’t shirking on the training which is why at 8am on the morning of our friend’s wedding we met at the lift to go down to the gym.

We did an interval session on the ‘dreadmill’. It’s been a while since I’ve run on one of those and it felt really odd, not knowing how to work it for one thing. The great thing about going outside to run is that THERE ARE NO BUTTONS TO CONFUSE ME!

Dean talked me through a session that he’d done with Mel B (yes I just name dropped a Spice Girl, what?): 2 minutes walk, 4 minutes good pace and 1 minute sprint it out. We managed this 5 times and it all added up to approximately 5km on the treadmill, but lets face it who really knows with those things?

Afterwards Dean and I were ravenous. We went straight up to breakfast and behaved like total weirdos at the amazing breakfast in the Marriot Hotel, stalking the buffet and shrieking every time we found something we liked. In the end I had a huge spinach and smoked salmon omelette alongside mushrooms and some bread. We also found a pancake machine. We were in post exercise heaven.

Knowing me well my husband went to the shops and got me more food for the journey from the church to the venue. Other guests must have wondered who this woman was, as I scoffed a chocolate bar that I had stashed into my bag.

At the reception venue there was the obligatory wait around for the wedding breakfast as the bridal party had their photos taken. Dean and I, starting to feel the hunger pangs from our session again, found positions by the doors that the waiting staff had to come through with their trays of canapés. We practically jumped on the poor souls, blocking their way so we could get fed first.

And then after champagne and more champagne and dinner and speeches it was time to get up and dance around like loonies. I think my satisfaction at the fact I had trained in the morning meant I really decided to just go for it. For the first time in years I drank tequila and then we bounced around while other drunk people sang to Rockaoke. Dean did a stonking live band version of Like A Virgin. The morning after it was almost a relief to think that the pain in my calves was from dancing in heels and nothing running related.

I know that this post doesn’t read like it has a great deal to do with running but for me it does. We’re at the stage in January where people are getting deadly serious about marathon training and I applaud that, but life is still going on around us as we try to prepare. I could have been really disciplined and trained for the whole weekend, not drink any alcohol, go back to the hotel early and miss all the fun with my oldest and loveliest friends. But I didn’t. This weekend I found a balance and it was the right one. I felt a little bit smug about training in the morning but I feel even better that I spent time enjoying the company of so many fantastic people. I might have regretted not going for a really long Sunday run for a little bit. But I would have regretted not throwing myself into the celebrations and not having those tequilas* even more. Somehow I managed to achieve both running and celebrating, and I came away from the weekend feeling really happy.

*maybe I regret the tequila an innsy teensy bit.

Photo: Daaaaaaasrliiiings!!! @katielynn_w @deanpiperisalive

Be warned! Post tequila pictures are not always pretty.

My amazing friend Dean Piper is raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, a cause very close to his heart. You can find his fundraising page here.