A runners high without the run.

27 Feb 2017

Week two of the EMF2017 training plan has passed and was noteworthy only for a lack of noteworthy incidents (great news when trying to come up with a new blog). The runs themselves were uninspiring even with the promise of new runs in new towns on our mini Scottish tour to visit family, friends, and meet some inspiring people. More on that to come.

The now standard three mile Monday recovery run came and went. I’m sure once I’m running longer distances on the Sunday runs I’ll see the point of these runs. For now though they seem to be a wasted effort.

Tuesday was to be a hill session, however this had to be aborted when it became obvious that Elgin suffers from a chronic hill shortage, at least in the bits I saw. Instead it was off to the park with my wife and A in tow to do 1km efforts whilst they enjoyed a blustery session on the playground. Wednesday was another lazy 3 miles around a small village near Perth which itself is only 1.5 miles around. Two plodding laps followed, the only highlight being some fully deserved heckling from a young lad on highway safety, concerned at how my running in the road contravened the advice his mum had repeated to him. Unable to find fault in his argument I could only smile and offer a thumbs up as I dutifully mounted the pavement and carried on my way.

Then there was storm Doris. In terms of my training plan I was lucky that the worst of the storm came on my rest day, however it did coincide with our drive from Perth to Edinburgh along a very snowy and slippery M90. The weather and driving conditions were awful. It was windy, the snow was coming down fast and sticking despite a healthy flow of motorway traffic. To top it off this was a journey I didn’t want to be making anyway. We were due to meet with the lovely people at The Sick Kids Friends Foundation in Edinburgh who have helped us with our fundraising over the past year and a bit. This is the charity associated with the Sick Kids Hospital where E passed away. We weren’t going to the hospital itself. We weren’t meeting any of the doctors or nurses who treated E (lovely people themselves, but covered in memories). Yet I did not want to go. I could’ve quite happily seen us stuck in the snow for an hour or two to avoid this meeting. Even at the point of ringing the bell to go in to the building I wanted to turn back, my bottom lip tensing ready to resist the oncoming wobble. However my last minute efforts to come up with an excuse to run away failed as the door opened and we were welcomed inside. Getting through that front door was hard. I felt like I was being pulled off the safe, steady course I’d clung to this past year and the best thing to do was not risk it and scarper back to the slow lane (a feeling foreshadowed by overtaking the longest HGV ever during our snowy M90 adventure). I was, as so often is true, being ridiculous. This was uplifting, inspiring, any of those words that might sprawl across those ubiquitous Facebook posters set on pictures of sunsets. It was great to meet everyone at the charity and see the work that goes in to supporting the Sick Kids Hospital. This wasn’t about being reminded of the sad things that families suffer through, but seeing how all that fundraising helps to make sure the kids in there still get to be kids. The most appropriate comparison I can offer is on those runs days where you know you should run, but every part of you is telling you this is a bad idea and your legs will you back to the sofa. Yet you go, you fly round and when you’re back you feel incredible and ready to go again. In terms of runs, I haven’t had that yet in this training plan, the runs have come without any extra motivation required. However I look forward to it coming after this week. The finishers high definitely beat the starters low.

By Thursday evening we were back home and back out running on familiar hilly territory first thing Friday morning. The week’s training ended with a balls up on my part, falling two miles short of the programmed ten miles for my Sunday long run. Although unintentional this was probably for the best. I wasn’t at my best on Sunday. A Saturday afternoon without any parental responsibilities for my wife and I resulted in a few more drinks than intended and subsequently a less than optimal Sunday followed. The eight miles I completed weren’t great, I’ll spare any detail but suffice to say I was happy when they were done. The thought of having to do another two miles on top of this may well have broken me that day.

Week three’s training is a little lighter with a 10k race to come on Sunday and an ambition to break the sub-40 barrier. A few weeks ago I’d have felt pretty confident about this, even after failing to break it at my last attempt (kale smoothies do not make for a suitable pre-race breakfast). However my legs are still coming to terms with running 6 times a week and I’m not convinced there’ll be enough there to keep up the 4min/km pace for 10km. But we’ll see. In truth this 10k feels like it’s getting in the way of my marathon training and there is a tinge of regret at signing up. I can comfort myself at the thought that maybe this will be the run I drag myself out on and end up on a finishers high.

I’ll end this week’s blog with a confession. After eulogising about morning running in my last blog I have already relapsed. On Monday morning my 6am alarm sounded as planned only to be swiftly dismissed and proceeded by another hour of sleep. In my defence, A was awake a lot during the night so an extra hour of sleep was definitely worth taking.  Besides, the run itself was only 3 miles so could easily be squeezed in to the evening (a thought which was surprisingly clear in my mind in the seconds between turning off my alarm and falling back asleep). Those are suitable excuses, right? No,they’re not. Wednesday morning, that seemingly pointless three-miler is on…………… although it was snowy when I left the house this morning.







You can have it all!

The first week of my #emf2017 training is complete and so far all training runs have been completed, albeit with a bit of jiggery as to what’s run and what day. Granted, this is week one of sixteen, but this in itself feels like and achievement as half of my runs have been pre-work. Something I’ve avoided at all cost until now. I have no problem with early starts, I’m often in work for just after 7am. However this relies heavily on my ability, honed over years of snooze button abuse, to get out of bed and out the door in under 15 minutes. Throwing in an extra 30 minutes to run and subsequent shower time meant a midweek AM run never even seemed an option.

The first 6:30am run was only 3 miles, the first mile of which slipped by unnoticed as I plodded along semi-concious, but it was a revelation. Once I was fully corpus mentis and the sun made a welcome appearance above the horizon, I saw the light. Even Wednesday’s commuting run to work with the threat of the work shower at the other end was enjoyable. Far more so than the equivalent run home that I try to do once a week. Not only do you feel more awake as you sit down to start your days’ work, your evenings become your own and the struggle to fit in a run around bedtimes and tea-times is banished. My worry in all this training is I’d see even less of my wife as I go for more frequent, longer runs midweek after putting A to bed. This way I’m up, out, and back just as they’re getting up. I can train as much as I need to and still have family time. I am becoming a morning runner.

“Let me sleep a while, ‘cos I cannot stand” – in hindight this album may have been about marathon training.

It may only be week two, but the enormity of the training that lays ahead has hit home. There’s a lot of running coming my way over the next few months. Before even starting to train I upped myself from an intermediate training plan to an advanced training plan, symbolic of a little bit of over confidence in my current fitness level, and reaffirming the fact that no matter how many times I tell myself otherwise I do want to run this marathon in a good time. Yes this is about raising money for charity, keeping E’s memory alive, and helping keep my own darker moments at bay. But as I continue down this running path, carried further by the folk at running club who seem to barely break sweat during those lung busting hill sessions, I start to think about PBs and becoming a serious runner. And so long as E stays central to it all, that can’t be a bad thing can it?

The definition of a good marathon time for me is still up for debate. My only other effort, albeit before a serious running bug took over, was 4 hours 13 minutes. At the time that was crushing. I’d trained for sub-4hrs and it was easily achievable. However I set off like a mad man, ran what was then a half marathon PB over the first 13.1 miles, then went careering in to the wall around 18 miles. I never got over the wall. I lumbered my way through the next 8 miles and my 4 hour target slipped by without a fight. But this time 4 hours doesn’t seem ambitious enough given what I’ve run in the last 12 months. Last year I finished a series of six half marathons with a sub-90 minute time (although Strava tells me it was 200m short – don’t take it away from me Strava!!!), and scaling that up in the surely reliable running calculators tells me I should be looking at closer to 3:10. Even at my most confident that seems unlikely. At the moment, a whole week in to my training plan, I think 3:30 is probably my target. Probably.

The internal struggle of how to pace myself on the day will inevitably continue right through until race day. Likely until around mile 18 again, after which its almost certain I’ll have no say in what pace I’m running. Other struggles are so far being kept at bay. Even a return to Scotland, where family, friends, and the surroundings all sing with memories of E, is proving (just about) manageable. I have my running gear with me. Partly to keep me on track for Edinburgh, and partly to keep me on track generally. Its tough staying with friends whose youngest, best friends with E, is only a couple of weeks older than she was. Seeing everything that E should be doing now is always going to be difficult. But it’s manageable. If anything, times like this become training for when A overtakes E in age and we’re reminded of the missed milestones once more.

Now to start training week two and make sure the running gear gets good use whilst we’re here (unlike the running gear that went on its summer holidays last year and never left the case). Time to dig out the old MapMyRun log in details and figure out some routes.

The start of 2017 training

A realisation struck recently; I still had a live blog that hadn’t been updated in a while. On inspection while turned out to be 11 months. I remember writing the last one, on the train back to Edinburgh to meet the hospital staff whilst A slept on my chest in the baby carrier. I wasn’t great then, the blog was supposed to be a release be in reality it wasn’t. However by the time I wrote that I was taking literal steps to help me cope, I just hadn’t noticed yet.

When I wrote my last blog post in March 2016 I was running again. I’d run before, never seriously or with any great ability, but I’d done a handful of races and Parkruns. In 2013 I ran the very first Yorkshire Marathon, enjoying the atmosphere of my first marathon for the first 18 miles or so, then finding the lure of St John and his fine fleet of ambulances increasingly difficult to resist as my legs set firm and every part of my body begged me to stop. In the following two years you could count on one hand the number of times I went out for a run. Running was no longer for me.

However, in the grief fuelled haze I was trying desperately to ignore I needed to do something positive. My wife had already taken the initiative and signed herself up for some runs to kick start her sponsorship drive for charity, with friends across the country following her lead and forming their own army of fundraisers. It didn’t take much persuasion to get me involved, I was signed up for three half marathons before long and these would be my contribution to E’s army, raising money for charity and running three lots of 13.1 miles with E’s smiling face emblazoned across my chest by way of the customised running tops.

Over the course of 2016 three half marathons eventually became six, with a supporting role in the Yorkshire Marathon to boot (my wife ran her first marathon and a place became available for me to run with her). By the time I’d finished the first half marathon of the year I was a runner again. Hooked on the thrill of race day yes, but this time there was more. I was running these for E. I wanted to do well for E. Her face was carrying me round the route and we were connected again.

I’m not sure when it clicked but during my training I noticed a significant change in my mood. Yes I was still low, and yes it was still shit, but I was lifted. The exercise was making me fitter in my body, and also in my mind. I was less prone to breaking down when I was on my own and the distractions keeping the sadness at bay were absent (usually on the dark walk back home from the rail station, or when sat feeding A in her dark, quiet room before bed). Any gaps in training would bring about predictable lapses in my resolve, those bedtime tears creeping back out (thankfully A was only 4 or 5 months old when these were at their worst and never seemed to cotton on), so training took on greater importance. I was training to run quicker, feel better, and be stronger for those around me.

Skip forward to 2017 and I run more than ever, having joined a local running club towards the end of last year to make sure I kept active over winter. Even when I was running for pleasure pre-2013 I never ran over winter, the cold is not for running in. It worked. I’ve kept up my physical fitness and I haven’t had a serious lapse in some time (not counting Christmas and E’s birthday which no amount of endorphins could get me through smoothly).

So far there are two races in the diary for this year, both marathons, significantly one being the Edinburgh marathon. That’s where we lost E, in the Edinburgh children’s hospital, and where we try to do the most good to help those experiencing the worst of times imaginable for a parent. It will be emotional to be back there, and in my energy depleted post marathon state there will undoubtedly be tears at the finish line, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to pushing myself again. I’m looking forward to meeting members of the Sick Kids Foundation and being part of their team for the day. And I’m looking forward to running 26.2 miles with E on my chest again. She’s going to get me round and make sure St John and his ambulances don’t start to tempt me in again.

Today marks the official start of my marathon training plan for Edinburgh. A gentle 3 miles to start off the programme will follow A’s bedtime tonight. Touch wood, neither of us have shed a tear at bedtime in some time. Alongside the latest running goal I’m also going to aim to make better use of this blog. When I set it up I thought it would help me deal with everything that was whirling through my head. It didn’t, but running did. However I wish I’d kept the blog going this last year, purely as a log of how I was doing. I enjoy the running geek nature of tracking and analysing every step I take through Strava. I love seeing how I’m progressing ahead of each race and scoff at how long it took me to run up ‘that’ hill this time last year. Perhaps this is where the blog can fill the gap and make sure I keep it up to date. This blog will be my Strava for grief. Looking back at the brief history of this blog I can already see how much progress has been made since last year. Let’s hope 2017 sees that trend continue.