30. June 2015 · Comments Off on In sickness and in health – run that by me again? · Categories: Marathons, Run, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

After the absolutely amazing experience of racing the Leadville Marathon in Colorado…. I got ill.

I was ill on the plane ride back, ill upon arrival in Florida, and even ill when I wrote about the race in my last blog post, not that you would have known it.  I was in denial.  It wasn’t going to last.

It has been 10 days since I have done any running. That has taken some willpower.  To the runners out there, you know how bad that feels. Like all my hard work this past year is drifting away, like I will never run again, like I never knew how to run in the first place.  Worse yet is the fact that the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland – my next big race – is in 17 days.  And I’m still not healthy yet.  Forget about tapering.  This is just about recuperating and desperately clinging on to any semblance of fitness.  I can’t even pretend I’m laughing about it because I lost my voice 4 days ago and it hasn’t come back yet.

But this is out of my control.  And while the Laugavegur Ultra looks really hard, really tough, and really absolutely astonishingly beautiful – it is not my A-goal race this year.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot more now than it might have.  But it’s one foot in front of the other and hopefully that will get me to the finish line.

So there is my update.  Now I’m going back to bed…..

Sometimes I am in awe of the serendipity of life, of the chains of events that lead to something happening.

For example, the fact that I married my husband Tom in 2010 can be traced directly back to the fact that I was teaching at Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2003. If I hadn’t done that, Tom and I never would have met. Life is weird and unexpected.

Tom and I are signed up for the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland this summer.

"Running" through the wilds of Florida

“Running” through the wilds of Florida

But as the time passes and the July 18 date nears of the ultra, and we train on these flat hot swamp trails – the fear has set in.  How are we going to handle climbing glaciers, mountains, technical terrain, when all our training is through the dead flat boggy Everglades?  Don’t get me wrong – the trail running here isn’t easy (see here!).  Our runs are still unbelievably slow as we slog through yet more wet bush and wrestle with alligators, but nonetheless, it’s flat.

 

 

So discussion ensued how to get some practice runs in with some actual elevation.  And then we saw that Beth from Shut Up + Run blog was suggesting people join her in running the Leadville Marathon and/or Heavy Half. Yes, that’s the same Leadville as the famous Leadville 100 mile race. And as detailed previously – in a matter of 12 hours, we had bought our flights and registered for the race.  Thanks Beth!

Ok, first things first – we got to meet Beth at the start line.  How cool is that?  Turns out she is a real person and there is no panel of 25 writers putting together her hilarious blogs.  Yep, the real deal, and she didn’t freak out that I was some stalker who followed her 2,105 miles across the country (didn’t think of THAT, did you, Beth, eh?).  Here is our celebrity photo shot:

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Karis of See Kay Tri on the left, Beth of Shut up and Run in the middle.

 

Don’t forget to check out those big snow-covered mountains in the background.  Now have a look back at that wild green swampy photo above, and then back at those mountains.  Then take a big gulp and imagine how we were feeling.  Oh, and did I mention that Leadville is actually the highest altitude city in North America, at 3094m (10,200 ft)?  And that the marathon took us up to 4019m (13,185 ft)?  In case we were to forget about the altitude, there was this nice big sign there to remind us:image

Yes.  So, altitude sickness was on all our minds, and shortness of breath was in all our lungs.  But we were excited!

You might have thought that the elevation profile of the race might have given us some warning as to what we had got ourselves into.  In theory. Tom claims the race was as he expected, but the rest of the Flat Florida crew just really had no idea.

So here was our elevation profile, courtesy of Strava, post-race:

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See that tall skinny peak in the middle?  That’s called Mosquito Pass and up until last week, it was entirely covered in snow.  Wonderful race volunteers actually went all the way up there to shovel it.  Yes, they actually shovelled us a path up to Mosquito Peak.  This was the photo that Leadville Race Series posted for us just a couple of days before the event:

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Maybe you’re beginning to understand some of our trepidation in getting ready to run this race!

It was a nice leisurely 8am start (races in Florida start much earlier to beat the heat) and Colorado was having a heat wave.  Although we headed to the start line in jackets, we stuffed them in our packs before the race even started.  How does Leadville start?  Just like the Leadville 100 – with a gunshot!  I jumped out of my skin…but it was ok, we were far enough back from the front that I had time to recover before we shuffled over the start line.

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As you will see from that elevation profile, we headed uphill from the moment the race started. We all ran at first, and then slowly as the lithe Colorado-bred high-altitude gazelles overtook the rest of us, we settled to a fast walk. Oh, how naive we had been. Heading to the airport on Thursday evening, I had announced to the others, “I think we need to be realistic – we will likely be walking some of this race.” Oh hahahahaa. Some? Some!?! No. We had to walk pretty much every uphill, and by uphill, I mean each massive mountain. We even lost the will to jog for the photographers.

But it was beautiful.  The mountains surrounded us, and the higher we went, the more snow appeared, much to our delight (thanks to the wonderful shovelers, though, we never had to run in it!).

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We were excited when we reached the first of the snow at around mile 4. Travis celebrates by throwing a snowball at me.

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Ben, Tom, and Travis climbing to the top of Ball Mountain, our first mountain of the day.

Although the Heavy Half (so called because it’s actually 15.5 miles, rather than the traditional 13.1) started with the Marathon, the split was very early on, so we didn’t see Karis for a good few hours until we met her again as she descended from Mosquito Pass. The rest of us stuck together pretty much until the end. There were 9 aid stations so we were well fuelled for the well over 7 hours it took us to get around this marathon. Watermelon has never tasted so good as it did atop of Ball Mountain.

Ball Mountain was a relatively gentle climb compared to what was waiting for us going up Mosquito Pass. Remember that snow? This is where it got real.

It went up, and up, and up. And it was much steeper than it look in these photos.

 

And it got steeper, and more and more snow appeared….

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And then finally, blissfully, as the winds picked up to 50 mph, we rounded the corner and there was the top of Mosquito Pass at 4019m, or 13,185 feet, with a timekeeper sitting there bundled head to toe in fleece and windproofs.  It was – unsurprisingly – glacially cold. The wind was a furious smack of ice and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Tom snapped a quick photo of me before the wind blew me away (that’s no joke) and then we headed back down the mountain.

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I found the climb up Mosquito Pass a real struggle.  In fact, Ben and Travis were about 10 minutes ahead of me by the time I reached the top. I managed to make up the time coming down the mountain to meet up with them all at the aid station at the bottom, thankfully (or else it would have been a lonely rest of the marathon). Travis took a great little video of Ben descending and running into me. I think this gives you a real idea of what the marathon was like, more than any of these still photos:

The race was out and back, so it meant that we then covered the same ground as before – back up and down Ball Mountain once we finally descended Mosquito Pass. The clock was ticking and we were worried about making the cut-off of 8.5 hours, especially since the slog back up Ball Mountain seemed even steeper than before. But we made up the time on the downhills and we even managed some sort of proper run for the last few miles back down, with Ben hitting 7 minute miles (“I got mad,” she said.  “I just wanted to be finished.”).

imageTom parted ways with us at the 21 mile mark due to ongoing issues with his foot, so Ben, Travis and I all finished together and were met at the finish line by Karis sipping a cold beer.  Oh, and her finish?

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OK, so this photo was staged the night before. I wasn’t there when she finished, but judging by how fresh she looked, I expect this was probably accurate.

All in all?

This race was one of the best I’ve ever done, and it totally kicked my ass.  Results-wise, we did terrible! (ok, if you must know – I was 109th out of 155 women!) but we had a blast. We lost around half an hour at aid stations and I am pretty sure I left half of my legs up Mosquito Pass. The altitude crushed us, the footing was technical, the ascents were brutal, the descents required goat legs, the scenery was magnificent, the company was tremendous and we had so much fun.

Bring it on, Iceland. I may well come last – but I’m gonna love it.

[Update:  Karis has now written her own race report, a most excellent one – you can read it here.]

01. June 2015 · Comments Off on 10 things we did in the UK other than run a marathon · Categories: Holidays, Marathons, Run, Trails · Tags:

We’ve been back from the UK for a couple of weeks now and it already feels like it was a long time ago. We had a wonderful time catching up with friends and family and for the most part, the weather was perfect (a rare statement in that part of the world).

So what did we get up to when not running the London Marathon?

1.  Bluebells

Bluebell season is short – maybe 2 weeks long? You really have to be lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

These were in the Harewood Forest, Hampshire, near Tom’s parents’ house.  The thing about bluebells is that you can never really capture them on camera.  Their beauty lies in their sheer numbers – a flood of colour across the forest floor.  Even the best photography leaves the images somewhat sparse compared to real life.  It was a true fairyland.

2.  Trail running (my favourite thing) and beautiful spring weather 

It was positively joyous to be running in the cold.

3)  The weather wasn’t always perfect.  It is the UK, after all.  But after the rain….

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4)  Coffee.  Tea.  Yum.

We have yet to discover really good coffee in Wellington (please please local readers, if you know of a good place, and don’t say Starbucks, I am listening!).

5)  Friends

We didn’t get to see half the friends we wanted to – we ran out of time.

6) And family

7) We took the Eurostar to Paris for the day to see our friend Karis!  Karis in Paris!

8)  I got to do one last track session before the marathon with my old club, London Heathside!

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9)  We spent a lot of time traipsing around southern England and greater London with suitcases in tow, sleeping at various friends’ houses.  The less glamorous side of the trip!  Good thing Tom is very strong!image

10)  And on the day we left, our nephew Finn was born!

 

So the London Marathon is over.  Last month’s news. It was an obsessive focal point for months and then it didn’t go as planned.  So what happens next?

FUN STUFF.

When a road race doesn’t quite work out after all that effort and work, I need to stop and think:

  • Why do I run? because I love it
  • What do I love most?  being outside. Exploring.  TRAIL RUNNING!

As I had mentioned previously, Tom and I are running the Laugevegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland in July.  It looks awesome, in the true sense of the word.  Mountains, glaciers, valleys, fording rivers, snow and ice in July – seriously breathtakingly beautiful.  The race is 55km long (34.18 miles) and covers around 2000m (6500 feet) of climbing.

The challenge is: how do we train for that here in flat hot Florida?

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The elevation profile from one of my recent long runs.

Answer:  enter another mountain race as a warm up!

We’ve been doing a lot of trail running with our friends Ben and Travis lately (they are also training for a truly epic race, the GoreTex Trans-Alpine Run, 8 days of running across the Alps through 4 countries!), and I’ve been loving it.  But there is a distinct lack of hills here and it has been a cause of concern to us all.

We were heading home from our club run the other day, which consisted of hill repeats in Okeeheelee Park – 10 times up and down the one 23m hill, and we were thinking what more can we do?  Ben’s training plan says to find a hill that takes 20 minutes to run up and down – these hill repeats were taking us 40 seconds. Then I happened to flick through Instagram and saw that one of my favourite running bloggers, Shut Up + Run, had just posted about doing a hilly mountain race in Colorado in June.  I was intrigued.

I’ve certainly been spontaneous before (flying to the Arctic Circle on standby on a whim in the middle of winter and landing there at midnight with nowhere to stay comes to mind, back in my youth…), but this still ranks up there.  By lunch time the following day the four of us had registered for the Leadville Trail Marathon, bought our plane tickets, arranged hotel rooms and a rental car. I’m still a bit in shock, and slightly terrified, but 100% excited.  Who wants to join us?

The race starts and finishes in town, with most of the race up in the mountains.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!

And in the meantime, we have been doing long runs out in the bush/jungle/scrub – whatever you want to call it. There is a great trail called the Ocean to Lake Trail (guess where it goes?).  In total it covers 62 miles. We have done roughly half of it so far.

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Don’t be fooled by that simple looking line.  Most of that trail is as wild as can be and it is very slow going despite flat terrain.  And by slow, I mean turtle slow, snail slow, molasses slow.  But it’s really fun and a great break from all the pavement pounding I was doing up until the marathon.  And it’s very pretty in a wild sort of way.

Animal tally so far:

  • 6 manatees
  • 3 alligators
  • 1 wild boar
  • maybe a dozen deer
  • 1 snake
  • many a squirrel
  • even more birds

Photo time:

1)  Riverbend to Hobe Sound (the ocean!) – 16.5 miles, took 3:15 total time!

We swam in the ocean fully clothed at the end of the run.  Can’t tell you how amazing it felt to rinse off the grime.

2)  Hungryland to Riverbend – 17 miles, took around 3:40!

3)  We’ve also been running at Apoxee Wilderness Trail, which is quite a bit easier going and good for ‘gator spotting:

Wishing you all happy trails!

*NB – if you subscribe to this blog via email, you may not be able to see the photos in galleries above – sorry about that.  You need to open the blog in your browser and then you’ll see these stunning, award-winning images of nature and incredible athleticism. Wait, maybe better you don’t look….

11. May 2015 · Comments Off on London Marathon 2015: #thanksPaula #thankskathrine · Categories: Marathons, Race Report · Tags: , ,

Did you know that up until the first woman officially ran a marathon in 1967, it was believed that – point blank – no woman could run a marathon? That all that running might damage their reproductive organs?  That those organs might even just end up falling out, mid run?

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer, the first woman to enter any marathon race.  She had trained for it and she was ready.  But just 4 miles into the 26.2, she was attacked by a race official trying to pull her off course:

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Kathrine managed to keep running and finished the marathon, despite shouts, jeers, and the press pestering her as she ran.  She writes today on her website, reflecting on the moments following the attack:

“…how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston.”

I ran the 2015 London Marathon thanks to Kathrine, and others like her.  My race didn’t go to plan.  In fact, it was one of the most disheartening races I’ve ever run, where nothing seemed to go quite right.  But nobody tried to pull me off course, and the only voice screaming at me to stop running was the one inside my head.

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The start of this year’s London Marathon

Not only did I get to run the London Marathon again this year, but I had the enormous privilege of running it with Paula Radcliffe – world record holder of both the marathon and 10K (2:15:25 and 30:21), and six time world champion.  Paula is nothing short of phenomenal.  This year she ran London as her last hurrah, a goodbye to racing, and she ran it with the mere mortals rather than starting with the elites.  She has retired after so many years of willing her injured foot to cooperate, but she still managed to knock out 2:36:55 and (small wonder) placed 1st woman overall outside of the elites.  Is it worth mentioning that this was the slowest marathon she has ever run?

London Marathon Paula 2

Nobody says that women can’t run marathons anymore, and Paula only ran faster after going through pregnancy and giving birth to her children.  I say:  thank you, Kathrine.  Thank you, Paula.  You’ve shown us that ThisGirlCan.

37,584 people crossed the finish line at the London Marathon this year (if you’re interested, 38% women, 62% men) – and that doesn’t count those who started the race but didn’t finish.  I finished in 3:21:50, which was a disappointment, although still a PB.  I boiled myself over without realising it, running sub 7 minute miles early on in the game when I was meant to be doing 7:25 (let’s forget about Paula’s 5:10 min/mile here, ok?) and the rest of the run was pure drudgery, dragging myself to the finish line. It was cold, it was damp, I ran a stupid race, but – there is always next year.

London Marathon 2015 2

Sporting a 5Q tattoo, seeking gender equality in Ironman triathlon

It’s tough to train for months and then for things to go wrong.  Especially when it’s your own fault.  Last year I ran perfect splits, this year I got cocky and paid for it (from the 10 mile mark onwards!). I didn’t run the race that I wanted to run, but hey, I was only 502 spots behind Paula… on her worst day.  And on Paula’s worst day, she wore sunglasses

“to keep a lid on my emotions and they definitely hid some tears along the way.  Down the last mile I thought ‘I don’t care about the time’, I just wanted to thank as many people as I could.  I knew it would be emotional and it was so emotional. I nearly lost it at Birdcage Walk but the crowds bowled me over, I wanted it to last forever. It was so special, I’m really going to miss it. (BBC)

Despite what I was saying to myself as I ran down Birdcage Walk some 45 minutes behind Paula, this won’t be my last marathon, so I can still run the race I want to run, that I know I can run, next time.  I’m not retiring yet.

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#thankspaula #thankskathrine #thisgirlcan (and thank you also Jacob Howe of London Heathside for helping me prepare for the marathon!)

25. March 2015 · Comments Off on London Beckons · Categories: Marathons, Weekly Roundup · Tags: ,

The London Marathon is now just a month away, or another way to look at it is 4 or so weeks left of training. April 26!

Crossing Tower Bridge – and passing my old office

I ran London last year, and it was every bit as fabulous as everyone says.  I’d lived in the city for over a decade but it was my first time in the marathon and I couldn’t believe the crowd support, the organisation, the water stations – everything was done pretty much as perfectly as possible considering there were some 36,000 runners.

London Marathon 2014Last year’s race went pretty much as perfectly for me as a race can go.  The results page shows all sorts of cool statistics that allow you to find out how every single runner is, in some way, amazing, and these were my two favourites from the page:

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 17.51.51Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 17.49.28I kept it pretty steady throughout the race, as the first graph shows, and the second graphic shows what good pacing does for you in the final leg of the marathon. (See here for more stats and fun graphics.)

I would be thrilled if I could run as steady a race this year – and perhaps just a wee bit faster too….  well, it never hurts to try! But was last year too perfect to match again?

And now we are some 4 weeks away.  The time has come around again fast.  Training, for the most part, has been going well.  Last year, I was training for Ironman Lanzarote and the London Marathon was my “B” race a few weeks before (I had a Good for Age spot that I didn’t want to miss out on).  So my only concessions to the marathon training were weekly track sessions and a Sunday long run.  Otherwise I focused purely on the Ironman training.

This year, while not being completely strict about it, I have been following the London Heathside plan so kindly provided by Coach Jacob, and I’ve been doing my best to fit in as many of the tempo runs and marathon pace runs as I can (ow ow ow!).  I’m hoping that will make a difference, because in general, if anything, I feel like I am running slower than ever due to the Florida heat and humidity.

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Club runners and vampires gather before 6am for the time honoured tradition of the Sunday Long Run

This past Sunday I survived the longest run on the schedule, just over 24 miles (or just under 39 km). Thankfully, I ran most of it with the Wellington Runners’ Club, and with my friend Ben step-by-step for 20 miles.  I will admit I was dreading the run – it loomed large on my training plan – but like many of these runs, especially group ones, they are often more enjoyable/easier than you think they will be.  I felt strong from start to finish and we kept a decent pace.  Now we just need to run the race 1 min/mile faster…..

In general, I am realising that to do any sort of faster running at this time of year, I need to do it before the sun comes up.  I say that because I tried to do a marathon pace run on Thursday in the heat of the day and it could very easily be classified under One of the Worst Experiences of My Life. Having learned my lesson the hard way, here is a very nice photo of me from my next run, long before there was any hint of sunlight:

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Me on the left. Palm tree on the right. Or is it abstract art?

Did I mention there are no streetlights where I live?  And that I have terrible night vision? (See here for another look at the deep depths of darkness.)

Weekly Update

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This upcoming weekend will bring more pain for both Tom and me.  Tom is doing the HITS Ocala Half Ironman (you may recall that we both did HITS Naples and we thought HITS put on a great race) and I’ve just signed up to do a 5K race in Lake Worth as part of my Sunday long run.

Do you prefer to run in heat or cold? I like cold running best, but heat for cycling.

 

It’s hard to follow up with another post about mundane life after the Leanda Cave tri camp earlier this month.  But this is what has been going on:

1.  Marathon training.

In a big way.  I’m following London Heathside‘s amazing coach Jacob’s plan, and it’s not for the faint-hearted.  While I’m not following it to the letter, it still makes for big mileage, fierce tempo runs and really really long long runs.  Jacob has produced countless sub-3 hour marathoners; he knows what he’s doing.  I certainly don’t have any aspirations to join that club yet, but I’m still trying my best.  Last weekend’s long run was 22 miles (35.5 km) and the distance is still growing.  Worse yet, soon it instructs us to do the middle 6-10 miles at marathon pace.  I managed it last year running with London Heathside’s fast group – I’m not sure how I will manage to do it this year by myself.  I’m hoping Tom will be in full running form by then and can at least pace me for the faster segments.  The tempo runs are also pure agony!

Ben, who is willing to share the pain with me!  22 miles on trails last weekend.

Ben and me after 22 miles on trails last weekend.  Can you smell us?

2.  Old friends!

My best friend from schooldays, Alex, was visiting for a week with her 7 month old baby, Will.  I swear, he didn’t cry once (at least within our earshot) the entire time he was here.  He made best friends with Haile and was pretty much the star attraction for the whole week (oh, it was good to see Alex too!).  We went to the beach, we walked through gator-ridden trails and bird sanctuaries, we did baby yoga.  Amazing.

Does it get any cuter than this?

Does it get any cuter than this?

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The dog beach was a revelation in itself.  Haile loved it.  We will be back.

3.  Winter came, then left

We had a few days of relatively cold weather.  Yes, it even got down to freezing for 2 nights.  We had to bundle up in jackets for our dog walk and wear gloves when we went running.  I forgot how to dress for cold runs.  I get so hot that I don’t actually need to wear that much, especially when the sun is out.

We got hot.

It was cold.  We got hot.  Those are my gloves sticking out of my waistband.

The cold was actually a true blessing for running.  It’s a whole lot easier to run when you’re not sweating 3 pints’ worth the moment you press start on your Garmin.

And when the cold left and the heat returned, well, we had to celebrate with a nice cycle to the beach:

4.  I cantered down memory lane

Horse sport was my original passion, once upon a time.  It was pretty much all I lived and breathed up until my 20s, and I spent a great summer working as a rider/groom in Ireland.  When I was in law school in the UK, we somehow managed to get funding for a polo club and I got to play heavily subsidised polo for 2 years – so much fun.  And then after that, zilch.  I used to get the occasional pony ride when visiting family, but I hadn’t jumped in probably around a decade or so.  Well, my sister wasn’t feeling well this week so she asked me to exercise her mare Zoey for her.  Next thing I knew, she was setting some jumps and I got to relive my youth.  Zoey took good care of me.

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I rode her again the next day and then went to a track session.  I tell you, doesn’t matter how much sport you do – do something different, using different muscles, and wow, you’ll be in pain after!  Or is that just me?!

We also discovered that fearless Haile thinks it’s great fun to chase the horses’ tails as they canter along.  Thankfully Zoey is super good-natured.

5.  Haile, Ballon. Enough said.

I keep sharing puppy photos, but did you know I also have the most beautiful cat in the entire world?  Her name is Ballon and she is International Feline of Mystery.  She is originally from Ireland.  She had a very serious accident there that resulted in 2 broken back legs.  She was flown to the UK for surgery by the wonderful charity Cats Protection.  3 major surgeries and a year later, she found a home with us in our London flat.  She walks a bit crooked and can’t jump, but that doesn’t stop her.  Now she lives with us in Florida and enjoys sunbathing and getting Haile in trouble.

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Ballon actually had an incredibly intense fear of dogs, but Haile seems to be winning her over (when he isn’t chasing her).

6. And finally, training in general

There have been some laments that I haven’t posted my normal weekly training updates – but I don’t want to bore you.  For those that are interested, I’ve put the usual weekly calendars below.  I had to take a disheartening chunk of time off due to some really seriously bad asthma issues, quite scary actually – but I’m pretty much back to normal now.

The week of the Leanda Cave tri campScreen Shot 2015-02-26 at 21.41.33

And the 2 weeks since the camp:

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Have you noticed I’ve not been foam rolling?  Why aren’t you yelling at me? Seriously!

 

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll have seen that last weekend I did the HITS Naples Half Ironman, and then three days later I signed up for the Sunshine State Palm Beach Half Marathon this past weekend.

It was awesome.

No, setting the alarm for 4:44 am Saturday morning was not awesome.  The jangling race nerves and the cold dark morning were also not awesome.  Racing one week after doing the Half Ironman was also not really very awesome.

But I had a secret weapon for this half marathon.

Secret Weapon!

Secret Weapon!

I first met Ben when she beat me in the Wellington Horse Country 10 Mile race in October.  As we stood gasping at the finish line, she told me about the Wellington Runners’ Club and their Wednesday night track sessions.  I’m a real believer in the track to sharpen up speed so I came along the very next Wednesday, and haven’t looked back since.

Ben also raced with me (and beat me again) in the Miami Man Half Ironman in November.  She is fast and she is strong.  Let’s put it this way – she has done an 11 hour Ironman!

So when I knew she was doing the Palm Beach Half, I immediately thought it would be great to run with her for pacing, if she was open to it.  She was – hurrah!

Running with someone who more or less runs a similar pace is a fantastic experience.  You never feel good throughout the whole race, but you also never feel bad the whole race – and when you’re running together, you have that little bit more of an incentive to try to keep up when you’re in a bad moment.  As it happens, Ben and I discussed afterwards that she feels at her best in the middle of the race.  I’m the exact opposite – the middle is where I struggle, and then I can usually find a bit more in the tank once I know the end is in sight.

The race started at 6:30 am so it was dark as we ran along the coast and we saw the sun rise over the ocean, still a novelty for me.  Our pacing worked beautifully.  I had my watch set to lap each kilometre, and Ben’s lapped each mile – so we had regular updates of our pace.  We agreed to start the race off about 10 seconds slower so as to prevent going into overdrive too quickly, and then we nudged it up after 2 miles.  Our splits were generally even and we ran the first half at a slightly more casual pace, then picked it up when we finally made the turn around and started heading back for home.  I had this pre-race text message in mind from Tom (who was travelling at the time) as we pushed ourselves that much harder:

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Err, I assume the missing word in there is HURT.

Neither Ben or I have been in proper speed training or half marathon training leading up to this race, but we are both running spring marathons (London for me, Boston for Ben).  I wanted to see where my fitness was at.  Ben had cheap entry via Groupon!  (Reason 1001 to enter a race?)  In any event, it felt great to run a strong steady race, a negative split, and to have a bit of a kick at the end for the last two kilometres.

We ran pretty much the entire race together and finished with a new PB for us both of 1:33 and placed 3rd and 4th woman, 17th and 19th overall (out of nearly 500 runners).

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Crossing the finish line just behind orange day-glo man

We both are aiming to get to sub 90 minutes eventually, but at this stage in the game, an even paced, negative split race feels awesome and a new PB never hurts!

What’s your strategy for races?

 

Weekly Round Up

This was obviously a bit of a strange week for me in that I was coming off the Half Ironman last Saturday, and preparing for the Half Marathon the following Saturday.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done back-to-back races so I wasn’t too worried about it, focusing on one short speed session and one longer run.  And zero cycling!

I am truly pathetic when it comes to making time for things like strength training, foam rolling, and core work (ok, so like 98% of runners out there).  So I am now logging that time onto my Garmin account as well so that I can see it from week to week.  If you don’t see it logged, I’m not doing it – please feel free to yell at me.

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Total time:  7:38

Swim:  1000 yards, 25 min

Bike: 0!

Run:  52km; 4:38

How was your week training?

 

Why do we race?

I haven’t figured it out yet, really.  I feel awful in the days leading up to a race and I don’t sleep at all the night before.  The morning of the race, it’s the last thing I want to do.  And often during the race, I repeat to myself “I am never racing again.  Ever.  This time I mean it.”

Yet inevitably I sign up for another race.  Another, another, with hopes of going faster, longer, harder.

With my Half Ironman this past weekend, I really was adamant that I was done.  No more!  But by Wednesday I had already signed up for another race…. on Saturday.  Yup, I really don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I’m racing the Sunshine State Half Marathon on Saturday.

I don’t feel particularly fast or strong at the moment for this type of race, but I have the London Marathon in April and if I do a half now, I’ll know where my fitness stands as I get into marathon training properly.  I know it’s going to hurt, and I probably won’t get a PB, since I haven’t been focusing on speed.  But I’ll give it my best shot.

But wait, I’m not done.  I’ve signed up for something else.  Something hugely scary and massively exciting:

The Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, in Iceland.  I know I previously mentioned I was planning on it, but now it’s truly happening.  If you have a look at photos from the route, you’ll understand why I want to do this (or perhaps you’ll just think I’m crazy).  Here is a taster:

 

The ultra marathon is 55 km with nearly 2000m elevation.  I expect this will be one of the hardest events I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding.  We will go up through mountains, across glaciers, down into valleys, and will ford rivers.  Yes, that is snow and ice in July.

Who wants to come do this with me???  I’m so excited!

Before I ever got into triathlon, I was into books.  I still am, of course.  I have two degrees in English literature and I read as obsessively as I train.  Novels are my favourite, but since getting into running and triathlon, I have been hugely inspired by some tremendous sport memoirs.

These books have helped me push my limits, helped open me to the possibilities of what the body can achieve.  They inspire, they lead by example, and they encourage.

Some of my favourites:

 

Born to Run:  A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

I think by now, most runners have read Born to Run.  It’s so good, I made both my non-running parents read it.  Hidden tribes, superathletes, secrets exposed, myths debunked – it’s a real page-turner.  But seriously, the author starts out not being able to run 5 miles without getting injured, and by the end he can run 50 miles.  It’s such an epic read precisely because it could be about anyone.  You, me, and the superathletes.  We are human, he explains, and we are born to run.  It’s amazing.

Scott Jurek runs with Arnulfo Quimare in Mexico

Reading Born to Run is what made Tom and me want to run ultra marathons.  It suddenly made the idea of going out into the wild and just running all day long extraordinarily appealing – and natural.  And my experience in ultras so far has been as positive as the book made it sound.  Running ultras feels natural and fun.

The book also had a major impact on the running shoe industry, provoking traditional shoe companies to invest in barefoot or minimal trainers.  I haven’t gone the true barefoot route, but I do run in minimalist shoes, even for the ultras.

If you are going to read just one book about running, this is the book.

 

A Life Without Limits: A World Champion’s Journey by Chrissie Wellington

A Life Without Limits, for me, was the triathlon equivalent of Born to Run.  It doesn’t hurt that Chrissie is around my age and didn’t really get into triathlon properly until her late 20s/early 30s.  She is just such a smart talented woman who lays herself bare in this autobiography, talking about her eating disorder in her younger days, her need for control and perfection, and the gritty determination that made her World Champion 4 times at Kona.  Above all, she has such an infectious smile (even her Twitter handle is @chrissysmiles), such a positive outlook that you can’t help but think that she would make a great best friend and mentor.

Chrissy is my absolute hero!  And her book is a must read, even if you don’t do triathlon.  I really believe every female athlete should read it.  And the men too.

 

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Born to Run introduces Scott Jurek as one of the all-time great ultra runners who comes to Mexico to run with the Tarahumara, so he was a familiar name when his book came out. Eat and Run picks up on that run-all-day philosophy and mixes in Scott’s vegan diet, complete with a number of amazing recipes.  Scott’s vegan chili is now a staple in our house.  If for some crazy reason you want the chili but not the book, you can find the recipe online here.  But that’s just one of many fantastic recipes in the book.

Scott Jurek running Badwater

After reading this book two years ago, Tom – formerly a pretty hard core meat & potatoes sort of guy – suggested we go vegetarian.  Ok, he actually said let’s go vegan, but he didn’t really realise that meant no milk/yogurt etc.  In the end we settled on pescetarian, which isn’t a perfect solution, but the point is, that’s how much of an effect this book had on us.  Faster recovery times, fewer aches, less swelling, all down to diet.

It’s not just a cook book, though (the recipes are truly secondary to his running life story).  It really comes down to the details of how to run, run, and run some more, how to run in the deep snow, how to race Badwater in 130 deg F (54 deg C), how to cope with being one of the world’s greatest long distance runners, and the highs and the lows.  This book made me want to get out there and RUN.

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This was the first running book I read.  It’s a bit different from the other books I’m listing here – Murakami is best known as a writer, not as a runner.  I have read every book he has written and I think he is one of the best modern authors out there.  1Q84, one of his recent novels, is an absolute masterpiece, in my opinion.

But this book is fantastic not only because of Murakami’s masterful prose, but the fact that, again, he is just an ordinary runner.  He is you, he is me, he is the guy next door.  He isn’t particularly fast, nor is he particularly slow.  He just runs, and ruminates while he runs.  He generally runs 10km every day, and he never takes more than one day off at a time.  He has tried his hand at Ironman and at ultras, he runs marathons regularly, but truly he runs because running is his thing.

A great read.

 

I’m Here to Win: A World Champion’s Advice on Peak Performance by Chris McCormack

This book took me out of my comfort zone.  I’m the sort of athlete who goes into a race saying to friends, no, I haven’t trained enough, no, I’m not expecting much, I’m just going to see how it goes.  But then when I am racing, I am 100% in the game and will always try my best.  Macca’s book delves into the psychology of winning and specifically winning at Ironman.

 

What stuck with me the most was his method during the race of overtaking someone while running really hard, but trying to make it look as easy as possible – easy breathing, relaxed.  And as he goes by, he says to the person he is overtaking, “You’re doing great!” And then he tears away, making it look like he isn’t suffering, that he can talk and run, that it’s easy.  And more often than not the person he overtakes like that will give up just that little bit, letting Macca get in front, not realising that as soon as he is out of sight, he is gasping for air, choking on the effort it took to go past like that.  But the psyche-out takes root and the overtaken lets himself be beaten.

It doesn’t always work, though.  Macca told everyone going into his first Kona that he was going to win it, and he ended up with a DNF.  I’m not sure I’d be able to handle that sort of humiliation.

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Finding Ultra:  Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself by Rich Roll

 

World’s fittest man?

While I find the title of this book a bit daunting and over the top, it’s actually really good.  Rich is an overweight alcoholic who completely turns his life around via running, Ultraman (3 x Ironman), a dash of yoga, and a whole lot of green juice out of his Vitamix.

In case you were taking Rich too seriously….

Confession:  the first thing I did after moving to Florida (more space!) was buy a Vitamix too.  It’s pretty darned amazing.

And who does an Ultraman when he hasn’t even done a triathlon?! (Well, my friend Karis did an Ironman after just a sprint triathlon, but that’s a story for another day – or have a read of her blog at See Kay Tri.)

This book yet again shows you what we humans are capable of when we put our minds to it.  And also why you should buy a high-powered blender.

 

Ultramarathon Man:  Confessions of an All-Night Runner by Dean Karnazes

There is a theme here…. again, Dean was in his 30s, hadn’t run since he was in high school, and was drinking too much… and then on his birthday, he left the bar, and started running in his jeans, and didn’t stop running.  He ran through the night, ran to another city, and then rang his wife to come pick him up.  The ultramarathon man inside him had been awoken.

Dean is a legend in ultramarathon circles.  He has run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, he has run from one major city to another just in time to toe the starting line of that city’s marathon, and he orders pizza while out running in the middle of the night, has it delivered to a street corner and rolls it up and eats it like a burrito… while still running.  Don’t believe me? Watch this.  Yeah, he is pretty cool.

 

This book is an inspiring get-off-the-couch read.  I particularly enjoyed the section where, as a beginner runner, he sees a couple of US Marines training for the Leadville 100 (a mountainous 100 mile race) and asks them what they’re doing.  They scoff at him when he expresses interest in the race.  He nonetheless qualifies for the race a few months later and enters it, only to beat them.

Yeah, I’d like to do that too.  Leadville 100 – one day!

 

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:  What Going to Space Taught Me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield

This book choice may seem like the odd one out, because, well, technically speaking, it’s not about sport.  Why have I included it in this list?

Because it’s £$%$^ awesome!!!!!!!

But seriously – look at the the second half of the book’s title is:  “….Taught Me about Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.”  That could come directly out of triathlon.  Chris talks about choosing a goal and doing whatever it takes, with all the drive, determination, and grit required, to get to where you want to be.

And there is this.  If you haven’t seen it…. Chris made a space video cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.  I LOVE this:

 

Other books?

This is far from a complete list of books to read.  For example, Paula Radcliffe‘s My Story So Far can’t be left out.  The men’s marathon world record keeps getting broken… Paula’s 2:15:25 marathon world record has remained unbroken since 2003.  That’s nearly 12 years now of world domination?! Incredible. I also think it is important to recognise and support strong female athletes just as much as we do the men.

Paula knows how to embrace Rule 5!

The indomitable Killian Jornet recently wrote Run or Die, a dramatic title that speaks of his need, not love, but actual need to run pretty much since he conquered his first mountain while the rest of us were learning to bump our bums up the stairs.  Running comes so easily to Killian, though, that I found this book somewhat harder to relate to than the rest of the books on this list – somehow he isn’t quite as mortal as the rest of us.

 

What are the sporting books that have helped shape you as an athlete?