Berlin Marathon Training: Doubt

2 Weeks Until Berlin Marathon

This week I had originally planned to write about my favorite running kit and gear. Instead all I can write about is how I’m filled with doubt and stress. With just two weeks to go, when the training is getting really hard, I am wondering if I can even do this at all.

I ran a half marathon on Sunday as a “practice race” and I felt like it went horribly wrong. Despite having logged hundreds of kilometers, my legs ached and mentally I just could not find the will to run the whole thing. I just wanted to stop by the side of the road and have a good cry. I’d hoped all my training would lead to a personal best and a sub two-hour time. Instead, I finished almost five minutes slower than my previous half marathon. So while I did manage to sprint across the finish, I felt like I’d failed.

And I wondered how on earth I was going to complete twice this distance in a mere two weeks.

The mental strain of starting school, organizing birthday parties, worrying about ill family, traveling abroad for work, moving house, and just plain keeping up the training has taken its toll over the past few weeks. And I know I’m struggling to hold it all together and am certain this is affecting my running. Deep down I know it wasn’t my legs or my lungs that failed me in Sunday’s half marathon, it was my mind.

So where do I go from here?

Take a deep breath, try to regain focus, and think about how amazing it will be to run through the Brandenburg Gate. Try to reboot and remember to just take one day at a time. And maybe book a girls spa weekend when it’s all over.

Fellow marathon runners, have you ever been full of doubt so close to the race? And how did you get past it?

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SHANTARAM Countdown: 9 hours 15 minutes

Berlin Marathon Training: Nutrition

3 Weeks Until Berlin Marathon

I look back with irony at the fact that my first major in college was nutrition. It only took me two semesters to realize this wasn’t my calling and change my major.  I’d been drawn in by the science of how we feed our bodies but the practicalities of putting healthy meals on the table were something I was, and still am, pretty shit at.  It’s OK to eat cereal for dinner, right?

So whether I was training for a marathon or not, paying a bit more attention to what I ate wasn’t going to hurt. But I’ve tried, and failed, more times than I can count to plan creative meals on a daily basis. Having a small child in the house has only made this more complicated. So I’ve stopped trying. For everyday meals I now stick with simple, repeatable dishes instead of trying to dig through all my cookbooks (which largely collect dust.)

My marathon meal plan isn’t based on any super scientific method but rather some tips from Coach Julia along with an understanding of what I like, what’s easy for me to make, and what a five-year old might eat. I’m not counting calories but just trying to make sure I eat as healthy as I can most days and ensure that I get the right mix of proteins and carbs to fuel my running and recovery. The only thing I do tend to count is chemicals, reading ingredient lists and minimising the processed foods.

Why My Typical Meals Look Like

Breakfast

  • Porridge with fruit and linseed
  • Rice cakes with nut butter, bananas, and honey
  • Plain greek yogurt with muesli, linseed, and fruit

Lunch

  • Wholegrain carbs, mainly pastas
  • Mixed salad with any assortment of veg
  • The emphasis at lunch is on the carbs

Dinner

  • Some variation of protein (fish, chicken, beef, eggs) + veg + carb
  • As many vegetables as I want, typically steamed
  • The emphasis at dinner is on the protein

Weaknesses

  • Dessert / sweets
  • Pizza
  • Wine!

Workout and Race Day Nutrition

In addition to regular meals, I add energy gels for any longer runs, those typically over 1 hour 30 min. If you’re not familiar with energy gels, these are commonly used in endurance sports and provide a concentrated source of carbohydrate energy to quickly replenish depleted energy stores. I started using energy gels during half marathon training and have tried many brands and flavors. They vary in consistency from a sticky goo to a slimy liquid and can taste like a sickly sweet chemical cocktail. I have vetoed SIS, High5, Cliff, PowerBar, and Torq for one reason or the other. I’ve decided that Gu Energy Gels have the best combination of consistency, taste, and performance. Vanilla and Espresso Love get my top votes for flavor.

The other area where I supplement is post workout. It’s important to take in a balanced of mix of carbs and protein within the first 30 minutes after a workout to speed muscle recovery. My stomach doesn’t like loading up with food right after a workout so I stick to smoothies and shakes. A cyclist friend first introduced me to For Goodness Shakes and I’ve become a big fan, both vanilla and chocolate taste fab. And the single serving packets of the power are perfect for mixing with water post race.

As for smoothies, I tend to freestyle it and just dump bunch of ingredients into the blender.  But my basic formula is:

  • 240ml milk
  • 120ml plain yogurt
  • 1 tbsp flaxseed
  • 100g frozen blueberries (or any other frozen fruit)
  • 20g uncooked oats
  • honey

Hydration

The last piece of my Circle of Running is staying hydrated. I’m pretty rubbish at remembering to drink water throughout the day. So I’ve started using my Jawbone and the Up app to remind me. I’ve programmed my Jawbone to buzz every hour not just to remind to take a walk and move around but also to drink some water.  It’s also super easy in the Up app on my iPhone to track how much water I’ve had and keep me accountable.

Next week, it’s all about the running kit and gear.

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SHANTARAM Countdown: 14 hours 1 minutes

Everyday Moments: Water

St. Austell Cornwall

Our Everyday Moments group has taken a bit of a break over the summer as we’ve all enjoyed holiday time with family. We’re back this month with the theme water and I didn’t struggle to find some suitable snaps as we had plenty of summer splash time.

The little man has been in a pool almost weekly since he was about 3 months old and he’s now growing into a confident swimmer. And while on holiday in Cornwall I couldn’t tear the little man away from the pool.

St. Austell Cornwall

Cornwall Pool

St. Austell Cornwall

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Please check out my friend Laura’s post to see where she’s been in the water this summer.

Berlin Marathon Training: Strength and Flexibility

4 Weeks Until Berlin Marathon

Four more weeks!

This week in my countdown to Berlin, I’ll share a little about how I add some strength and flexibility work to my Circle of Running. And let me preface this by saying that it’s not much. These are both areas on which I could spend more time and focus and, if I did, it would probably make me a better runner. But there is only so much time in the day and when it comes to making time for exercise, running is the priority now.

That said, there are a few activities I include in my routine to work on strength and flexibility, because they are important. I’ll also add that I’m not a personal trainer or other professional who really knows what they’re doing. These are just a few little things that I can fit into my schedule and that I feel make a difference to me.

Strength

I’m not a gym person. I hate the gym. Been there, done that. My days of having a gym membership are over. This is why I love running, it gives me the freedom to exercise on my terms, on my schedule. And, thankfully, as I’ve experimented with many different exercise routines over the years, I’ve learned that you don’t need lots of fancy machines at the gym to work on the kind of strength you need for running.

Instead, my strength training routine has been heavily influenced by Eric Orton and The Cool Impossible.  I read this book a few months ago and completely buy in to his concept of equilibrium.

Strength training is about muscle equilibrium – about making sure that the big, prime-mover muscles in the body don’t overwhelm the smaller supporting muscles, pulling the entire system out of balance and compromising efficiency.  It’s more important how well we move and how efficient we are in using our strength than how much weight we can toss around…..Equilibrium promotes movement, stability, endurance, and power.

So I work on building both the big and small muscles in my legs and especially my feet.  At least twice a week my workout routine includes dynamic strength exercises like strides (sometimes barefoot), uphill sprints, squats, skipping, high knees, or jumping in place.

And then there is the “storking.”   My family thinks I’m a little crazy as they see me randomly standing on one foot throughout the day.  “What the hell are you doing?” they ask.  “Building my foot strength,” I say!  These days pretty much any time I find myself standing around, I take it as an opportunity to stork.  In the shower, the queue at the grocery store, cooking, pretty much anywhere.  When working from home, I rarely sit and instead have my laptop at my standing desk (aka kitchen counter) allowing me to stork while I work.

In addition to my leg and foot work, about 2-3 times a week I also do stability ball exercises and planks to work on my core. After three abdominal surgeries, my core strength is basically non-existent.  Realistically, I should probably do some core work every day as the gap between strong core muscles and mine is about the size of the Grand Canyon.

Flexibility

Even in my youth I was never really flexible. I remember trying out for the cheerleading squad at age 16, strategically using my skirt to fake the successful execution of the splits just long enough to tick the required box.  (And hoping I’d never have to put this in practice if I made the squad.) Twenty plus years of a desk job have not improved this situation. So even if I weren’t running, this ageing, sitting at a desk, or commuting body could benefit from some regular stretching.

With regular running though, it’s even more important to incorporate flexibility work into my routine.  Running is a repetitive exercise and the same muscles are constantly contracting, shortening, and prone to overuse and injury.  How do I bring my muscles back into equilibrium?  Simply, yoga.

My yoga practice is still in what I’d consider very early days, I’ve only been practicing for about six months.  Like many runners, I started yoga in response to injury, I was trying to fix things that were wrong.  But now I believe this is the most important activity that I’ve added to my routine.  After a hard run (or a long commute) my muscles ache for some time on the mat, stretching and breathing the stress away.  Yoga is key to improving my longevity not just as a runner but as a human.

As Christine Felstead writes in Yoga for Runners (highly recommended):

Yoga restores the balance and symmetry to the body, making it the perfect complement to running.  Runners are often drawn to yoga to deal with specific issues, such as improving flexibility or helping with an injury.  Yet many are shocked at the world it opens up for them, specifically the strengthening capacity and the use of muscles they never knew they had.

Yes, that’s me.

I now have a 15-20 minute yoga routine that I complete religiously after every run.  This routine is focused on flexibility and stretching out those running muscles like tight hamstrings and hips.  In addition, at least once a week I have a longer more balanced session that includes not just flexibility but also poses that work on strength and balance. (Really, yoga is part of my strength training regimen as well.)

A couple of things that have helped start my yoga practice:

Yoga for Runners workshop with Emma Spencer-Goodier – I attended one of Emma’s workshops earlier in the year and it was fantastic.  It helped me understand the fundamentals of a good yoga practice as well as key poses important for runners.

Yoga Studio App – Love this app.  It gives me the freedom to practice my yoga routine anytime, anywhere.  It’s also infinitely flexible and the quality of the videos and instruction is superb, best yoga app I’ve tried.  And I love how at the end of every class it reminds me to “Bring that lovely after yoga feeling into the rest of your day.”

Next week, the hardest part of my routine, trying to eat right.

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Shantaram Countdown: 18 hours 14 minutes

The Snake and the Poppies

Oxfordshire Poppies

Summertime in England means poppy fields blooming across the countryside, one of my favorite scenes to photograph.  As always, they’re never in the same place each summer so finding them takes a keen observant eye as you travel around the area. (And a friend with an equally keen observant eye.)

This year, I arranged to meet my friend for a photo shoot in the field she’d spied.  We met in the afternoon after the little man and I attended a friend’s birthday party.  Which had face painting.  And you can’t tell your child that no, he can’t get his face painted because mummy wants to take some pretty pictures.  Or I can’t and didn’t.

So here he is, my little snake in the grass.

Oxfordshire Poppies Oxfordshire Poppies Oxfordshire PoppiesOxfordshire Poppies Oxfordshire PoppiesOxfordshire Poppies Oxfordshire Poppies