What Do You Do When The Other Bug Strikes?

New post at The Running Bug, ‘What Do You Do When The Other Bug Strikes?

I’m not talking about fighting between Running Bug members. I’m talking about the flu bug, the sickness bug or any other kind of illness.

It’s bad enough when it strikes at all but, surely, the most inopportune sickness is that which strikes in the lead up to a race or, even worse, on race day itself.

All that preparation, planning & training. What can you do? Do you race regardless?

When it comes to training they say that it’s OK to run with anything that sits above the neck but advise you not to run when illness strikes below the neck.

Do you feel up to running however, and what, if any precautions do you take?

From personal experience I can state that running while sick in both cases has made me feel better, perhaps as a result of some endorphins release!

I do, however, have the benefit of an in house treadmill which I appreciate isn’t the case for everyone. When running while ill I tend to aim for a low mileage, drop the speed and generally just plod along. Depending on how good, or otherwise, I feel, I judge the run, whether or not to continue etc.

It’s definitely not for everyone but you never know, it might just make you feel that little bit better. At this point I should probably just state that you should seek proper medical advice before running. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s continued illness!

I hope illness didn’t strike before anyone’s VLM. With just under 40,000 of you running yesterday, there had to be some unfortunate souls who suffered (not that 26.2 miles whilst in full health doesn’t involve a fair degree of suffering!). Congratulations to everyone who did run. I enjoyed watching the race from my sickbed.

Yup, you heard correctly. Less than 7 days to go until the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling and I found myself ill for most of the past week.

You know, when everyone around you is dropping like flies, that there’s a fairly good chance it’s going to strike you. The only question is when.

I don’t have the most resilient of immune systems (perhaps down to the training regime?) so, for me, it really was only a question of time. ‘fortunately’ I appear to have timed it so that I have a few days to recover and to try and regain my form.

Right, that’s me got my excuses in nice and early ;o)

Next post will be a summary of how things went on the Hoka Highland Fling. If you are also running it, have a great one and I might even see you there. If not, I can definitely recommend it. With just under 500 solo runners this year (there’s also a relay team option), this is definitely one of (if not THE) UKs most popular ultras.

Happy Running!

Why Speed?

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Why Speed?‘.

Why speed? Not a post about road safety but, in fact, about the ‘need for speed’ when it comes to running. Speed training is something that I have failed to embrace and, indeed, shied away from. Until now.

Back in the days when I realised that it was time to turn my life around and I first hit the gym, there were many machines that I despised. The treadmill was top of that list. I started working my way through these machines, one by one picking them off and slowly moving from hate, to acceptance and, in some cases to an actual liking for the machine. Eventually, I moved on to the treadmill, at first hating it, but, by the end, it became the ‘machine of choice’ where gym visits were concerned.

Fast forward a few years and I am still a fan of the treadmill. I even own a treadmill! (if truth be told, my second treadmill after I wore out the first one!)

I have since discovered the joy of running outdoors and, indeed, take this to extremes running in my favoured event – off-road ultramarathons. This is my 3rd year running ultramarathons, with 1 previous year running marathons.

In all this time, right from back in the days on the gym treadmill through to now running ultramarathons, I have bumbled along at pretty much the same speed. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than happy to do so and I have enjoyed my running (and even the challenges posed by some of my events of late!).

In all this time, I have run events with the sole intention of completion. Improving on a previous PB was/is always a bonus but, by and large, my ‘game plan’ has been to get to the finish and nothing more.

I could, I am sure, continue to bumble along quite happily.

However, since the turn of the year I have embraced a strange compulsion to pick up the speed.

It has taken me out of my comfort zone and, at the end of speed and/or hill sessions, I have often found myself dripping with sweat, legs quivering and with a desperate urge to throw up. But not once have I asked myself ‘WHY?’

I now have a new game plan,with the same goal of event completion, but with a slight addition tacked on to improve on my speed. Since the beginning of the year I have knocked 8 minutes off of my ‘comfortable’ 5 mile time and there’s definitely more to follow – I reckon another 5 minutes improvement (at least) is possible.

I have noticed improvements in my training and racing, most notably my D33 time from March this year where I knocked 23 minutes off of my previous PB. Further, there have been times, out on long slow runs on the trail, when I have felt like I am going far too slow. The Garmin, however, tells a different story. I have actually been running at a good pace, often faster than I would previously have run. Why did it feel slow? Because the body was starting to feel accustomed to the ‘new’, ‘improved’ faster pace from the speed sessions.

For many years I was like one of those single speed bikes. I had no fast, medium and slow pace. I just ran. Now that I am finally beginning to embrace speed work, I hope to see benefits not only in terms of improved times, but also in terms of weight loss and general overall health improvements.

Looking back, I realise now that I was content to run within my comfort zone, only occasionally pushing the boundaries in a bid to up the ante. This approach has served me well and, barring 1 DNF, I have managed to complete everything I set out to finish. However, I now appreciate that I have more to give. It may feel like some kind of sadistic torture at the time but the exhilaration finishing a speed and/or hill session is more than worth it and, what’s more, it will hopefully continue to bring added benefits.

If you are reading this and can identify with the above, I suggest that you give it a go and really push yourself to your limits. If you are anything like me, you will likely find that those limits keep expanding to accommodate your new found speed.

Ultra Colleagues

As yet another ultra approaches, the Hoka Highland Fling on the 28th April, it dawned on me that at least 3, if not 4, people from my fairly small IT department at the University of Aberdeen will all toe the line for the event.

I am useless at maths so will not even attempt to work out the % of people in the UK who run ultramarathons. I do know, however, without having to resort to any maths that, even despite the rise of ultramarathon running these past few years, it is still unusual to have so many ultra colleagues in a single place of work – or is it? Running ultras is infectious – I definitely recommend it!

“If you start to feel good during an ultra, don’t worry, you’ll get over it”
(Ultra quote, unknown source)

Not In The Mood?

There are times when, regardless of your commitment, you just can’t face a run. This happened to me just the other weekend. I had planned a long slow run as part of my training but just couldn’t face it. This doesn’t happen to me often (fortunately) but I would like to suggest a possible remedy.

If it happens, deal with it. Your body may well be telling you something. If the plan was for a long slow run, how about aiming for a short, fast run instead? This way may at least ease the guilt somewhat.

Go out hard (after an initial warm up). If you are on a treadmill, run at a good pace but ramp up the incline a few notches to make things tough for yourself. Do some speed work. Do both!

Continue for a length of time that is proportional to your overall run i.e. 1 to 2 miles out of a 5 mile run before then changing pace and incline to represent your ‘normal’ run. After the intense start to your run, the rest of the run will feel much easier and you will likely get through the session, no doubt coming out the other end of the run glad that you did it.

Happy running.

Aberdeen Sports Village

I finally upgraded my complimentary University of Aberdeen off peak staff membership to a full membership yesterday and headed into the gym after work for a 2.5 hour session that left me running on empty.

I have had particularly tight calf muscles this past week, possibly on account of the hill and speed work that I was doing last weekend and towards the start of the week. Regardless of how I got them, I just couldn’t get shot of them and it was making for some pretty painful running.

On Tuesday it was all I could do to knock out 2 miles before retiring for the evening. That was partly why I decided to head to the gym as well, rather than risk heading out for a run.

As it turns out, I persevered and just ran through the pain. I ended up knocking out 10 miles on the treadmill and, by the end of it, I actually felt like I had run off the problem. After that I hit the bike, cross trainer and a small selection of weight machines to finish off my workout.

I am taking a day of rest today as I am aiming for a medium run on Friday followed by a couple of long runs this weekend. After this I will need to think seriously about tapering (evil!) before the Hoka Highland Fling at the end of the month.

With 1 finish and 1 DNF to my name at the Fling I am nervous. I want to complete it but, at the same time, I also want to take a chunk out of the previous years time, much as I did with my 23 min PB at the D33 in March. Only time will tell but, in the meantime, I am hoping that the calf problem is resolved.

I am also planning on using the Sports Village a couple of times a week to give myself a more rounded workout than simply running.

Milestones & Losing My Mojo

New post on The Running Bug, ‘Milestones & Losing My Mojo‘.

I haven’t posted here on The Running Bug since back on the 20th March. The reason for my absence was an extended leave of absence to mark one of my own milestones – hitting the big 4-0.

I couldn’t have ‘timed’ my 40th better. I have spent a lot of time in the Cairngorms these past few years but never before have I encountered the kind of weather that we had for the duration of my birthday week which was spent running & walking in the Cairngorms with Mrs Mac. I recall two weeks spent in Aviemore one summer in which we had 13 days of torrential rain and a single sunny day. On that day Mrs Mac almost broke her ankle out walking in the hills, an injury that took some 6 months to fully clear, so, all in all, we have definitely had more successful holidays!

This time around, it was a different story altogether and we certainly made the most of it on walks in and around the Cairngorms. My ‘local’ run for the duration of our stay became an out, around and back from the hotel to the stunning Loch an Eilein, a great start to any day! The last run of my 30s came in the form of a hot & brutal 1000ft of ascent in under 2 miles as I ran up the back of Aviemore in the Craigellachie Nature Reserve. On top of an ascent of the Goat Path up Coire an t-Sneachda and back around Coire an Lochan and Lurchers Gully, earlier that day, this left me well and truly in need of a day of rest on my birthday!

“A milestone is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary at intervals of one mile or occasionally, parts of a mile… Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travellers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance travelled or the remaining distance to a destination.” (Wikipedia – Milestone)

I will admit to having had some initial reservations about reaching this particular milestone and this is only to be expected given that 40 is an age which attracts so much attention, in a way that 20 and 30 never did. I did my usual whenever something intrigues me – I Googled it. I actually didn’t find all that much to explain why 40 was such a big deal other than the suggestion that 40 signifies ‘middle age’. Now admittedly, I didn’t search for too long so perhaps I just missed the ‘real’ significance. I don’t know about anyone else, but me, personally… I am aiming for more than 80 years and, with a bit of luck, I will still be fit and active.

Using my 40th as my own particular reference point, I would say without doubt that I am healthier, fitter & happier than at any point in my life up until now. As such, I think it is safe to say that I am indeed following the ‘proper path’ and this all helps to put the big 4-0 into perspective for me.

In terms of running, a large number of my ultra friends have this year turned or are about to turn 40. Coincidentally, most of us are also attempting the 95 mile West Highland Way Race for the first time this coming June. Mid life crises? Maybe so but I would be more inclined to call this our mid life challenges.

Dean Karnazes perhaps sums it up in the opening chapter of Run!

“The human body was made to move. Everything about us was designed for locomotion, engineered for movement. Our modern world, however, invites just the opposite: idleness. We go from our air-conditioned cars to the elevators of our climate-controlled buildings to our comfortable office chairs. Modern rationale equates comfort and convenience – the total absence of pain and struggle – with happiness. I, along with a growing number of like-minded individuals, think that just the opposite may be true. We’ve grown so comfortable, we’re miserable. Personally, I never feel more alive than when I’m in great pain, struggling to persevere against insurmountable odds and untold adversity.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘miserable’ but I agree with the essence of what Dean is saying. I have a comfortable office job throughout the week and, come the weekend, I want to hit the trails, to rack up the miles, to test myself, and perhaps even feel some pain. I am not a natural runner. I am not a fast runner. When I set out on training runs and ultramarathons alike, I expect that there will be periods where I will suffer. And yet, this is the ‘hobby/addiction’ that I, like my ultra friends, have chosen for myself.

Built for comfort, not speed

Looking at the various 40 jokes, I had to laugh when I came across this one:

“At 40, I realize that I was built for comfort, not speed.”

I have never been known for my speed but, ironically, it is something that I have embraced since turning 40.

My first weekend back after my time away in the Cairngorms was supposed to involve a couple of long runs of at least 20 miles. However, Saturday’s run did not go to plan and I limited the run to 12 miles. My legs felt unresponsive and jelly-like so I saw no point in pushing things. I settled for an afternoon spin bike session.

Sunday was no different and I opted instead to hit the treadmill. I decided to ‘punish myself’ with a hill and speed session rolled in to one. By the end of the 5 mile session, I looked like I had been caught in one almighty (indoor!) rain shower but the change in how I felt was remarkable. That afternoon I hit the cross trainer and the spin bike again and, I have to say, thoroughly enjoyed mixing it up a bit for a change.

I both lost & found my mojo, all in the short span of a single weekend and this morning I completed another 5 mile hill & speed session.

It’s not exactly what I had planned in terms of training at this stage and, reading of friends 30 mile plus runs this weekend, part of me wants to hit the panic button. The Hoka Highland Fling is on the 28th April and I currently have 1 finish and 1 DNF in this race. I am determined to add another finish and, thus, don’t want my training to lose direction. However, there is still time for the long slow run training and, in the meantime, my hill and speed work can only be beneficial.

My final thought on turning 40:

If I am ‘over the hill’, it is only because I chose to run up it!

Back To Reality!

After a week off to celebrate hitting the big 4-0 it’s back to reality but I can’t really complain. Setting off a day earlier than originally planned, we had an overnight stop-off in Kenmore before motoring up to Aviemore via Ben Lawers and Pitlochry. A week of walks and runs then followed before we eventually returned home on Sunday for which, I think, the bodies are thankful – mine certainly feels like it could do with a rest!

Having previously spent two weeks in the ‘Summer’ in Aviemore with 13 solid days of rain, neither of us had very high hopes weather wise for a week in March but were determined to make the most of it regardless. As it was, our holiday coincided with some of the warmest weather in 50+ years! Other than some very light rain on the Saturday morning, the weather was perfect, with the temperature even hitting 22°!

Heading back in to work this Monday morning, the word is that more snow is on the way and that it will not be confined to the hills. Talk about perfect timing!