Sunday, 27 December 2015

Pay it Forwards....

It has been great to have a year standing back from setting time goals and to just enjoy running for the sake of running again. I've managed to try several different things (though admittedly I've done some rather familiar events) and push myself to get right out of my comfort zone.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed is actually putting something back into running....and what I mean by that is putting something into running for other people. 

Tracy's first parkrun
My friend Tracy Dean helped to encourage me to get off road and develop my self-confidence to "enjoy" running both the "Three Peaks" race in Yorkshire and the "Dragon's Back" race in Wales. In return, I've introduced her to "parkrun". She was looking for something to spice up her own running, and what better way than with a fun, free, sociable speed session. We have done a couple of these on catch-up weekends and now I believe she is a regular at her local event, and I'm sure will see the difference the short hard effort makes to her regular runs.

Helen (at a parkrun with her brother and myself)
Another good friend of mine, Helen Davies (who admittedly did think I was slightly mad when I went running in the snow one day when we shared a room on a skiing trip), thought that she couldn't run 5K without stopping for a few breaks. We took in a parkrun whenever I was down in London and she's now gone from "run-walk-run" (via "run-stop to tie shoelace-run") to running the whole thing and seems to record a new PB every time she now ventures out to attempt one! "Love" might be too strong a word for it, but it has been brilliant for me to watch her develop her "like" for running...and it has reminded me of how I felt when I was getting into it.

I've done a couple of runs myself over Christmas, and although I know that I have strength rather than speed (as I only start to overtake people near the end) so my times are nothing worth writing home about, others have recorded PBs by trying to avoid being "chicked" for as long as possible. In turn, knowing this was happening encouraged me to keep going.

Aleks' sprint finish
Cecilia and I just ahead of Edith and her mum
Cecilia proudly presenting her own barcode!
Today was the best day of all, as my nephew and niece completed their first junior parkrun. Aleks ran with his Dziadek (Polish for "grandfather"), while Cecilia and I did our best to keep "the boys" in sight. Aleks paced his run well and kept enough energy for a sprint finish, while Cecilia had a great to-and-fro battle all the way round with a girl (Edith) only 2 weeks her junior. It was wonderful to see so many families out there enjoying the fresh air, being led by the children, some of whom who were pushing themselves hard (just because they wanted to) whilst others laughed and chatted the whole way round (but what age do girls start gossiping, as they seem pretty good at it in the JW10 age bracket?). I love watching children run, as they seem to just enjoy themselves and go whatever speed they feel like....and sometimes in whatever direction they feel like (I'm sure Aleks would record an even quicker time if he ran in more of  a straight line!). I made sure that I was always alongside or slightly behind Cecilia so that she determined our effort and speed, though we did giggle when people cheered her on for "beating her mum" (my father had the best comment though, as he and Aleks had become slightly separated...."I'm not sure that you're quite in the right age bracket, but well done!")!!! Seeing how much they loved it made me more determined not to lose that element from my own running!

The SisuGirls "knot"
In a similar vein, I have recently become a community ambassador for SisuGirls. As a youngster, I was labelled as an "unsporty" child. My parents say that I was good at walking up hills, so I obviously had some of the strength and stubbornness that I show as an adult, but as I wasn't very good at the sports we did in school, so I was made to feel bad about my ability (or lack thereof), and even had marks taken off for "not trying". At school in America, I was actually "excused" PE for a term in order to learn how to type (I'm not sure that's done me much good as I'm now "queen of the two-fingered type"!!!). Having found a love for the outdoors and for physical activity as I got older, I am now keen to ensure that other children do not find themselves up against the same barriers that I faced. The only thing that limits them should be the extent of their dreams and ambitions.... I think that, even now, a lot of my "limits" come from within my head.....which is probably related to my childhood (I hasten to add that this is not due to my parents but more to the opportunities and facilities that were available at the time, eg I wasn't allowed to do a GCSE in motor vehicle engineering because "I was a girl" and so had to do music instead). 

SisuGirls is a new charitable organisation whose mission is to show girls how determined, brave and resilient they are, through participative adventure-based projects with inspiring content. They use outdoor activities as learning opportunities to build character as well as community, with fun, inclusive, and powerful programmes. The aim is to break preconceived physical and mental boundaries to teach girls how to set and attain goals, confront challenges, and believe in themselves. Hopefully, I can help with this, especially in my local area, and in that way will be able to pass something on....and so "pay it forwards".....

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

CurraNZ Revisited

It has been well over a year since I first wrote about CurraNZ (a New Zealand blackcurrant supplement from Health Currancy Ltd) and changes I noticed when I started taking it. In many ways, the past year had been one of my most consistent running-wise. You might not believe me if you just look up race results that are reported on websites such as the Power of 10, but at the start of the year I made the decision that I was not going to chase times and results, and instead try a few new things, get out of my comfort zone, and just generally enjoy myself.

During 2015 I have run on roads, I have run on trails, I have run in the mountains, and I have run XC. I have run during the daytime and I have run at nighttime and enjoyed doing so on 3 different continents. It has therefore been a very varied year, but CurraNZ has been a constant companion throughout, helping me to recover and to avoid injury. Just to put people's minds at rest, I also believe in clean sport and have undergone multiple random blood and urine tests over the course of the year whilst taking this supplement.

I have played with different dosing schedules for different events - during the multiday Dragon's Back race through the mountains of Wales, I took a capsule both before and after each day's running, but also put an extra dose into my lunchtime dropbag. This seemed to work for me as I got relatively stronger as the week progressed, moving up the field everyday as others tired, missed cutt-offs or developed injuries.
As this worked for me, I repeated the process (more or less) when I ran the 100K at the World Champs (though I did pre-load with 2 capsules/day for a couple of days beforehand). I took my usual pre-run capsule but also carried another to take after about 4 hours - note to self.....however well you think you have wrapped up a capsule of CurraNZ, if you're carrying it in your top and throwing copious amounts of water over yourself to keep cool, then you are likely to develop interesting purple stains on your top! I fully admit that I faded over the last 20K of the race, but then again, I did run a new PB of almost 10 minutes....and was also able to go for a nice recovery run with our Team Managers the next day when most other participants could only manage a painful shuffle!!!
I have also looked into some of the other health benefits of the supplement - the anti-viral activity is the one that is the most beneficial to me. As a busy GP, I am probably exposed to more than my fair share or viruses, yet over the past 2 winters, I seem to have been affected by fewer of them than my colleagues. A few patients are also taking the capsules on the recommendation of our local menopause guru to gain relief from some of their debilitating flushes. My mother has also investigated some of the research into the effects on brain health, and so is going to give them a try....well, who wouldn't want to do all they could to keep their brain sharp as they age?
To return to the exercise side of things, there has been some exciting recent research looking more specifically at fat-burning during exercise. In a nutshell, it shows that CurraNZ is the first supplement ever found to have a profound effect on substrate oxidation - increasing fat oxidation (27%), and sparing carbohydrate expenditure (11%), so it may allow active people to exercise harder, recover faster, and burn more fat.
The dosing study shows that two capsules is optimal for endurance, not one, and so I know what I'll be taking in 2016. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Running in the Californian sun....or not!!!

I was asked to run the 50k World Champs at rather short notice, and so had to decline as I had already booked a holiday for that period, but when I spotted a marathon (the California International Marathon or CIM) right in the middle of my fortnight away, I couldn't resist jumping in and giving it a go.

With hindsight, it may not have been one of my better ideas. I'm not trying to make excuses for myself, as sometimes a no-pressure event yields unexpected results, but I think that a combination of a lack of sleep (from jetlag, unfamiliar surroundings and several different room-mates), a complete departure from my normal pre-race diet (not that I'm complaining about that as I've loved everything that I've eaten), lots of travel (ie 10 hours in a car the couple of days beforehand) and a lack of long runs (I've done one long run since the 100k in September......and that was the York marathon) probably wasn't going to lead to a stellar performance.

Still, I usually end up running alone (both in training and in marathons) and it was a great opportunity to run with a huge number of speedy women (the CIM is considered to be one of the best - and last - opportunities to qualify for the US Olympic Trials, so many women were aiming to try to run sub 2:43). I also thought it might be a good opportunity to try out different "in-race" nutrition, as I don't really like gels that much and hence tend not to use them in training.

I hadn't really been "feeling it" for a couple of days pre-race, and those who know me well, will realise how unlike me it was, that it just wanted to go to bed at 7:30pm the night before the race as I felt so off. Still, it could have been a good thing as breakfast was from 3am. I felt rather nauseated as I forced some granola and yoghurt down, so decided to try some of the cakes available (as they always go down well). A couple of mouthfuls of blueberry muffin weren't sitting well, so I switched to better. Oh dear!

The race didn't start until 7am, so after we had been bussed to the start nice and early (!), I tried again with a jam bagel sandwich. As a last resort, I went for a can of, liquid and caffeine...magic (that certainly scored me some kudos later!).

No hiding en route then!
Unfortunately, the warm Californian weather I had expected was not in evidence, and I wondered how everyone else was managing to stay warm as they stood with hand on heart in the cold rainy dark morning listening to the Star-Spangled Banner, as I felt really cold whilst trying to keep still out of respect (though I do have to say that the singer had a great voice!!).

The start was nothing like I had feared, even with an elite field that covered 6 pages.....really relaxed with no trampling issues. It was only then, when up and running  that I realised the nausea hadn't subsided at all. I briefly contemplated dropping out, but how embarrassing would it be to be the first person to pull out of a race? I thought about it again in the second mile, but figured that it really wouldn't be fair to do that to my friend Clancy who'd been a super-chauffeur and would be waiting for me at the finish line.

Instead, I decided to see if I could stick with the 2:43 pace group up to the halfway mark (thinking "please don't be sick until then") and then make a decision. If I could get to there, then I could afford to run the second half almost 7 minutes slower and still break 2:50 (that might sound like a really strange goal, but I've never finished a marathon in the 2:50s).

I started to chat to a lady in the group and we realised that we had friends in common, as she lives and trains in Boulder, where several Scottish marathoners I know, go for their altitude training. You could see how serious some runners were about sticking with the 2:43 pacer, as they would chop their stride if they got slightly ahead. And I ended up moving just ahead of the pack, as I was getting knocked and nudged around and I like to be able to run freely, especially  up and down inclines.

It was certainly cold when you stopped running!
I still wasn't feeling much better, so I mentally worked out how much slower I could run for each mile in the second half to make my target. As we passed through the halfway point, the clock showed 1:21:15 (I was impressed as the pacer had been due to go through at 1:21:20 and he was just a stride behind me). I stuck with them for another few miles (giving me more of a fade-buffer) and then dropped off the pace.

I make it sound like it was a measured decision, but I just couldn't keep going at that pace. However, on looking at my garmin afterwards, I appear to have run a pretty consistent pace from there on home, albeit 20-25s/mile slower than the first 17. It certainly didn't feel that way at the time. There were a few ladies struggling around me, who would put an effort in and move ahead, and then I'd catch them up again, only for the cycle to be repeated. 

I tried to ignore them, and just focus on not letting my pace drop too much......though I confess to working out how slow it would have to drop to before I was into the 2:50s (just quietly, I was kind of wishing that my pace had dropped that far, as then I could let myself slow even further to finish over 3 about being weak-minded, I'm not very proud of that!). 

So glad to have crossed that line!
I overheard a lady (one of the ones who had been pushing and dropping back) almost crying to a friend of hers on a bike, as she had such back pain in her Achilles. I knew how she felt as I'd been going through phases of left quad pain alternating with right calf pain. I decided to "nobly" suggest to her that we run-walk it in together, but luckily (!) for me, when I turned round, I couldn't spot her any more.

The last few miles were rather lonely ones but looking at my watch, I knew that as long as I could keep going, then I would make it. I actually passed quite a people in those final miles, so I felt that I just be running more strongly than I thought (despite someone shouting "get those shoulders down and relax darlin' " from the side of the road). I was tempted to reply "you do it then" in response to a cry of "it's just a walk in the park from here", but as I had my name displayed across my chest, I didn't think that would make me any friends.

A worthy medal ;-)
The final turn took forever to arrive, and just before I got there, I heard my name pronounced perfectly for the first time that day. Turning, I spotted Martín Montoro, a family friend who had come up from LA to see me run, so I tried to smile and wave. Rounding the final corner I spotted the finish gantry and managed to sprint past another couple of ladies, crossing the line with 2:46 on the clock. The best thing was that Clancy was right there at the line to hug me (a VIP pass really does let you go anywhere) and lead me over to see Martín and his wife Cathie. 

Not my finest race (and although I couldn't even face the free post-race buffet, my stomach had held up) and the nausea had prevented me from trying out the planned nutrition, but I hadn't disgraced myself, I'd run with some great ladies (I think 15 qualified for the Trials.....although no men did!!) and I'd had some lovely support from some great friends! Who can complain at that? 

Now...more pancakes and brownies anyone????