Sunday, January 31, 2016

Streaking In The Snow - Nine Weeks To Go

I've bought this, the trail version of my
usual running shoe. It's unmistakably
more stable in the snow, ice and mud
that my routes have turned into
this flooded winter.
As I approach half-way through my eighteen weeks’ training, I haven’t yet skipped any of my five training runs a week. I’d thought that I might start to drop one of the midweek three, but I’ve managed to keep it up. This, dangerously, means that I’m on a streak and that I’ll be compelled to try and sustain this for the remaining nine weeks. It’s dangerous because it will drive me to run when perhaps I shouldn’t, either because I’ve acquired sustained stress injuries or because I’m overtraining.
It’s overtraining that I’m most attuned to. It happened last year when I tried to train for a marathon while keeping up a relatively-new gym regime at the same time. I wasn’t getting enough recovery and my gym performance collapsed, while I developed acute mood swings and sinusitis. The only thing you can do is ease off and sit it out, which is the last thing an Aspie with a plan wants to do. But I did it. I rested completely for a week, and parked the gym until after the marathon. I recovered and ran a personal best.
I could feel the overtraining symptoms circling me last weekend. I didn’t want to go out and run. My yoga class just reminded me of what a comprehensive set of parts of me hurt. The winter blues made me shut down when the short day ended. I was in an icy mood, no fun to be near, no fun to be married to. I woke on Monday feeling there was no point in carrying on with anything. The black dog was back.
During Monday, something shifted. I felt better by the evening, opened up to Helen about how I’d been feeling, embraced my gym and yoga classes and got back on with things.
Work has been eventful this week. Sometimes my job is nine to five and involves writing things and having meetings. This week was a return to my engineering roots, as my team performed an intense hands-on change to our clients’ IT systems. I rose at five on Tuesday to be at my desk for six-thirty, and later ran nine miles home. The following morning, I rose at five again and ran another nine miles to work to be at my desk for eight.
It’s fascinating how different those two runs were. The run home after a long day’s work was a real strain, with only a vivid winter sunset to inspire me. I still can’t shift the habit of trying to stick to a pace and find anything below ten minute miles shameful, and it was an effort even to sustain that. I wanted to be home and warm and not have to cook dinner myself. Two out of three were achieved.
But the following day, rising at five, I felt less stiff, less tired and as though I was on top of the run instead of fighting it. It was dark cold and quiet, and in Edinburgh in January at six in the morning I owned the city – the pavements were quiet and the off-road paths were empty. The day didn’t dawn while I ran and I seemed to be dream running in a night garden that would stay like this for ever.
Beauty appears at the oddest, least expected times.

Money Raised: £3,025.76
Money to Raise: £1,974.24
Miles run: 366
Miles to run: 588
Sponsor me here:

Saturday, January 23, 2016

An Expanding Sense of Aversion - 10 Weeks to Go

I am developing a recurrent craving to do almost anything other than run.
I love my gym sessions - twice a week at Craiglockhart Sports Centre with the irrepressible Michael. There's double-edged adjective if ever I saw one, but he's great, leading small bunches of us through quick high-intensity intervals and circuits. I have learned that one of the best ways to guarantee failure and injury while running is to only run. You need to be strong all over. And I love my yoga as well. And just walking. Or cycling. And I'm even starting to feel like swimming again despite the fact that sharing a swimming pool is a social and sensory nightmare for me.
Running isn't delivering me as much euphoria and satisfaction as it usually does. There's a lot of it to get through each week and while I'm feeling relieved to have got through eight weeks of this regime (forty runs now - oh my) without any injury more acute than aching joints and twinges in the tendons, and pleased that I've shifted to a softer running style that doesn't bring these on, I don't feel like a sportswear model when I'm out doing it.
The present is uncomfortable to inhabit so my mind is taking refuge in the future. In ten weeks' time I'm actually going to be doing this. What will it be like? There are some clues in these blogs from first-timers who've done it before: Pursued By Angry Bees, and Lee Shearer. While I'm glad that both these correspondents actually finished (and by no means all the runners do) I'd been hoping to do a bit better and get to the finish about ten hours after setting off. I'm encouraged that the stewarding and support sounds excellent. I am going to experience extreme mood swings during this event.
So, no change there.
One thing that's constant in accounts of this and all other ultras is that you need to eat a lot, and keep your blood glucose topped up. Just as my training for this has involved a U-turn, from little and fast to lots and slow, so my nutrition will have to change. I eat an Atkins or Paleo style diet with far more fat and protein than I used to. I don't eat simple carbs, so bread, pasta, grains, and potatoes are all off. And sugar's a complete no. I've lost the best part of 20kg as a result. But on the day of this race, that's all going to have to change. I'll have to eat food that's portable and energy dense. And I'll have to practice eating it as well. So some time in the next two months, I'll be heading out for a 26-mile training run carrying forbidden food - muesli bars, dates, dried apricots - just to verify whether it works.
I'll be carrying it in my new toy, once it's arrived. It's a proper running hydration vest. I have justified the expense by remembering that I can use it to take a clean shirt, towel and my lunch on my run to work on weekday mornings. That's the second big expenditure for this event, following my head torch, also a mandatory item. Since I'm so busy that I have to do three to four of my runs in darkness at this time of year, the torch getting quite a lot of use. It can also be worn indoors if you want to be completely insufferable to your spouse or partner. My final splurge will be a new GPS running watch. My current one works, and my excuse for replacing it is that it won't stay charged for the duration of the race. So it's a 16-hour model next. This will have five years of other design improvements which I'll enjoy.
You can see where my mind is. I'm distracting myself with gear and gadgets (oh yes - I'll need another two pairs of shoes before this is over) and trying to scry the future from others' experiences because the present is a bit of a grind.
This week was what my schedule calls a Cycle Down week. I've been allowed to ease of the mileage a bit, and I needed to because I was badly hammered by last weekend's back-to-back. Next week it's back to increasing the load. And, for the sake of my confidence, getting donations over £3,000.

Money Raised: £2,838.77
Money to Raise: £2,161.23
Miles run: 300
Miles to run: 654
Sponsor me here:

Sunday, January 17, 2016

This Week Was The Hardest So Far - 11 Weeks to go

This entry is a week late. I've been too busy to write because I've either been running, working or, very infrequently, sleeping.
I promised 18 blogs, but they don't have to come once a week. Better, I think, to wait for something to say.
This week was the hardest so far. The training volumes are creeping up, so I ran a total of 62 miles this week. The weekend two days back-to-back meant that between sundown on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday I ran 32 miles.
This week was the hardest so far. Having missed training on Boxing Day in order to see my family, I've been running a day behind schedule ever since. I chose to catch up this week, so instead of running three days, resting a day and running another two days, I ran a consecutive five days. I don't think I've ever done that before.
This week was the hardest so far. I arrived at my desk at work at 0645 on Wednesday morning and left at 0430 the following day. I managed two hours sleep from 0500 to 0700 before I had to be up again to take my computer to be fixed when the shop opened. During this 22-hour working day, I ran in my lunch hour, and I ran again the following afternoon. I found that running for less than an hour does help with drowsiness.
This week was the hardest so far. As I set off on my 22 miles on Saturday night, it started to snow. It fell through much of that three and half hour run. The following morning there was a firm coating and my shoes didn't get purchase so I was sliding a bit and it took me nearly two hours to run ten miles.
I've bought myself a head torch. Not only does it make me feel a bit safer running in the dark, but it makes me run a little faster - I've observed repeatedly that I run more slowly when I can't see where I'm going. It also has a thousand uses around the house. I'll never look cool wearing it.
Fundraising has more or less plateaued. This is to be expected with the cost of Christmas, but I'll be rattling the tin more loudly in a week as people's January salaries get paid. If I can get to £3000 by the end of January, I'll need to raise £1000 a month for the next two. I think I can do that by individually contacting people and perhaps getting some cards to hand out to people I see regularly but don't know on-line.
I can feel myself changing as I do this. I think my body has got used to the idea that it's not getting as much rest or recovery as it used to. I may be flirting with injury. Two yoga sessions a week are now essential rather than a luxury, and at least five runs a week means five post-run stretches.
Last night I ran eleven miles of what will be the route of the ultramarathon. It was just 20% of the whole route and I let that fact overwhelm me. I forgot that when I run it I will have tapered my training, be rested and have the company of other runners. I have a choice - I can avoid training on the race route or embrace it. I think I'm going to embrace it and cover as much of it as I can. Perhaps in coming weeks, rather than running out and back, I can run out to Linlithgow and get the train home. After all, the course itself is the best training route.

I am too busy and tired to summarise my mileage so far here and now.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

States of Running - 13 Weeks To Go

I am either running or not running. It is either a running day or a non-running day. If it is a running day, I have either already run, am running, or am yet to run. 
These are fundamental, primary states. There is no blurring or overlapping. There are finite transitions between them. This is the ever-present grammar of my life.
I am thinking, always, of my next run, or the ones after it. This is regardless of whether I am running or not running when I am doing the thinking. I sometimes think about activities other than running, such as my paid job, my domestic life or my political roles, but only of how they are going to frame and be framed by the running.
As I think, I plan my movements for the weeks ahead. On a certain day, I will run to work in the morning, so I must have left clean clothes and toiletries there on a preceding day. On another day, I will run at lunchtime, and forfeit the chance to do anything else in that time. At weekends I will run during the day and must plan my meals so that I take in protein within minutes of arriving home, and avoid coffee and its subsequent diuretic effect before going out.
As I look at the audio books and plays on my iPod, I plan where I will be running when I listen to them. A single episode will accompany a lunchtime four-miler. A weekend sixteen will use up two whole disks of a boxed set. Can I tolerate running with a production that I am listening to only out of completeness or loyalty when I am fatigued? Will I be able to follow something esoteric when I am navigating unfamiliar paths? Should I allow myself an intoxicating hit of music instead?
As I decide what to do with my non-running hours and days, I survey the damage running has done to my body and mind. Do I need to try and fit in more yoga? Can I do this before or after I have run? Do I have time to meditate today? Will running alone, perhaps without anything in my ears act as a substitute? Will attending a gym class address the parts of my body that the physical monoculture of running is neglecting or will it push me into overtraining and immune system depletion? Would my acutely sore tendon and spasming lower back be significantly better if I allowed myself to run less, run better, be truer to my whole.
I never think of the totality of the months between me and the ultramarathon. It’s too much to contemplate at once. I sometimes think of what it will be like to start the race, and often of what it will be like to finish it. I think a lot of what I will do in the week afterwards. I foresee I will be replaying the race again and again, sleeping little, and feeling adrift without a goal and a structured path to reach it, until I bow to my compulsion and enter my credit card details in the entry form for the next race.
The first three months of my year will be a brutal perfect storm of schedules and obligations. Running is the only activity over which I have complete majesty, to which I am permanently attuned, and which I will not sacrifice, ever, not under any circumstances.
Running and I have a perfect symbiosis. We are each agents for the other, enabling the other to be, and each defined by the other. 

Money Raised: £2,753.77
Money to Raise: £2,246.23
Miles run: 156
Miles to run: 808
Sponsor me here: