RUN: What I Learned From Advent Running

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From the 1st right up until the 25th of December, I ran for 30 minutes every single day.

A lot of it was done in the wet; even more done in the dark. I even took up running to and from work just to get the time in. As someone who normally runs two, maybe three times a week normally, this was pretty daunting to me; throw in my crosstraining around it and at first it seemed an impossible ask for my body and mind. The first week was extremely difficult but as I got used to running every day (and my brain got used to the idea!) it became a lot easier, and I feel like I learned a lot about myself and my running..

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Running every single day is not as hard as it seems.
When you know you have to run that day, you just get it done. First thing, before tea, before bed; whenever, it just gets done. When you’re sortof-maybe-perhaps-I’ll-go-after-work-ing it there’s a lot of bargaining that goes on. “Well, maybe if I don’t go today, I can run double tomorrow”, or “I need to have clean hair this afternoon so really can’t go this morning”. Taking the decision away by telling yourself you ARE running EVERY day makes it easier just to lace up and go!

Swapping out shoes can help with any burgeoning niggles.
I ran with three different pairs of shoes over Advent Running: Nike Lunarglides 5 and 6, and Nike Free 5.0. Accidentally leaving my Lunarglide 6s somewhere I had to wear a different pair of shoes, and found that really eased the shin niggle that was starting to develop. I never much believed in the concept of having different pairs of shoes to run in before this challenge, but I definitely do now!

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Barefoot shoes give your feet a really nice break!
Barefoot running is, again, something else I never really believed in. At work I recommend people run in them once a week to help strengthen tiny muscles, tendons and ligaments in the legs and feet, but always thought that if I ran in them I’d injure myself. Not true. Running in my Frees gave my feet space to stretch out a little, and I was running softly with a faster cadence so it was less jarring for my legs. I maybe ran in my Frees 2-3 times a week over Advent Running, and will definitely be using them once a week going forward.

Overtraining is a real thing.
In the last week of Advent Running, I started to deteriorate. Going out running with a dreadful hangover the Sunday before Christmas was the beginning of the end, I think: on a day I should have been resting off the night before’s excesses, I dragged myself running. From there I started to get ill and, incredibly, I still feel crappy nearly three weeks later. I hardly ever get ill and I’ve never in my life been ill for this long. I believe this was down to overtraining, so although this challenge was all about training every single day, it’s actually taught me the importance of rest and giving yourself time off when you need it.

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Going for a run on Christmas Day is loads of fun.
Although I was absolutely full of cold I wasn’t going to miss the big culmination of my Advent Running, which was Delamere Parkrun. I dragged my mum and her cousin Malcolm out to watch me (boyfriend got to stay in bed!) and ran a sub-25 minute 5K, which considering how poorly I felt I was pretty pleased with. It was lovely to jump out of bed, clear the cobwebs with a run, then come back to open presents and fill myself with food, and it’s something I hope to do next year.

Would I do a runstreak again?
This close to the event, I’d say no. Next year when Advent Running comes around I’ll probably make an extra effort to run more, but I don’t think I can run through illness and rotten Christmas party hangovers again. I’ve proven to myself once that I can do it and that’s enough to me.

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RUN: November Update

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Chris and I ran up an enormous hill in Delamere Forest.. with just one brief walk!

Back at the start of November I set myself some running goals for the month, so now we’re into December I thought I’d check back in to let you know how I got on…

After a slow start to the month I didn’t end up running the 100km I wanted to. I only ran twice in the first two weeks – a 7km and the Run in the Dark 10km – due to three Masters hand-ins clustered around the 13th (my birthday!). I did manage 70km for November which I’m still pretty happy with, especially considering the majority of the distance was run in just over two weeks. I’ve done more spinning sessions this month, at my own gym and also a class at BOOM Cycle which is great HIIT work, though I’ll be adding in some variation with Insanity-style classes and CrossFit.

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It was my birthday! My mum got me this card, which I relate to highly.

Forefoot striking came a lot more naturally to me than I thought it would. I decided to do it in November and didn’t really have any issues transitioning, though at first I took the “forefoot running” too literally and my calves took the brunt – now I’m landing mid-forefoot and letting my whole foot touch the ground and it’s a lot more comfortable. I had a bit of a knee niggle but that didn’t last for long, especially not after I started taking turmeric tablets, so I think I’ve achieved my aim of staying injury-free! I’ve also made progress with my hips and pelvis, though I haven’t stuck to doing my physio exercises every day. I have an appointment this evening so I’m sure I’ll get told off about that. Rest is something I still need to work on; I feel like I’ve been going through life at a hundred miles an hour lately so I need to learn how to better take down-time.

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We kicked off the Nike+ Run Club Manchester – it’s on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings if you’re local.

So, that’s November over with: how about December’s goals? I’ve been thinking about my nutrition a lot; for a while I was just eating whatever I wanted – very carb-heavy – and I noticed I’d started to lose definition. I know it’s not everything but I’d really like to maintain muscle density whilst marathon training, so I had a chat with PT Denton who reassured me that whilst it’s difficult, it’s not impossible, and advised me to aim for a 40% carbohydrate/40% protein/20% fat split. I’m back on MyFitnessPal so I’m aiming to login every day and track my macros more carefully. If you’d like to keep me accountable (or nosey at what I eat) my username on there is squatbot.

I’m doing Advent Running this month, which is a runstreak of 25 days – from December 1st to Christmas Day – running at least 30 minutes each day. Yes, that includes Christmas Day! My goal is simply to complete the whole 25 days and to stay injury-free throughout. It’s already been tough and I’m only on day 4. Dark nights, extremely cold weather and busy schedule are getting in the way, but I’m doing it, which already proves to me that if you make room for something then there’s always time. You can keep up with the challenge (and join in yourself) by checking out the hashtag #runforsprouts on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And if you happen to notice the absence of my posts.. give me a nudge! I might just need that extra motivation to get off the sofa.

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KIT: Stay Safe in Winter

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Winter running can be a little daunting, as the majority of us are either early morning or late evening runners due to daytime commitments. We all know that we should run with others, tell someone where you’re going and how long you will be, but are there other precautions we can take to stay safe in the dark, cold winter months?

Changing up your winter running kit is the easiest way to keep yourself safe and warm over the winter months, often the most important time in the running calendar, with the majority of long races being in early spring.

If your kit has reflective and fluorescent elements on it, you’re much more likely to be seen by motorists and other road users. Both work by absorbing and reflecting light differently to other materials (a black pair of matte leggings, say, will just absorb the light and become part of the background); although reflective materials need a light source to work, like a car headlight, fluorescent materials are easier to see in low light conditions. You can pick up fluorescent vests and reflective bands for a couple of quid from places like Pound shops and eBay, so there’s no excuse for not being seen! A good tip for reflective bands is to wear them on places that move the most, like your ankles or wrists, as motorists are more likely to notice something moving rapidly.

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Sometimes the thought of feeling cold can really put me off going for a run – even though I know that five minutes in I’ll be warm enough – so I bundle up before leaving the house too much. That means I end up sweating an unpleasant amount, eventually getting colder than I would have been had I have been wearing less! A general rule is if you dress as if it’s 5°C warmer you are less likely to overheat on your run, and you’re also much better in a couple of thin layers rather than one thick layer. The first layer should wick sweat off your body, the second keeps warm air circulating around, and the third can protect from the elements if it’s windy or raining. The more you do it, the better you’ll balance keeping toasty in your warm-up and staying cool during your run. No more shivering cooldowns.

Less of a kit-tip and more of a no-kit-tip: I’m dreadful for sitting around in my sweaty running clothes post-run, but this really isn’t ideal in winter! There’s no proof that getting a ‘chill’ can cause a cold, but it does feel unpleasant and it’s tough to warm up again after your body temperature drops. I try to strip off as soon as I get home and get in a hot shower. It warms up my skin, so makes me feel more comfortable, but also keeps my core temperature stable which is the most important thing. Jumping straight into your cosy pyjamas and drinking a hot drink not only feels amazing but will keep you warm too!

When it’s freezing and lashing it down outside, nothing feels more triumphant than getting yourself out pounding the pavement. But at the same time, if you’re feeling run-down anyway and the thought of getting out there fills you with absolute dread, the world is not going to end if you skip a run. It totally depends on your goals and why you run. Just don’t turn it into a habit!

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RUN: Run in the Dark

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Manchester Run in the Dark 2014: or rather, a lesson on not letting your ego control your legs…

Last Wednesday night, I was feeling pretty good. I’d had a nice lunch with my mum, hydrated enough, carbed up to the max. I was looking forward to Run in the Dark kicking off at 8pm as I actually prefer racing at night; at least you’ve had a chance to get a full belly of food throughout the day.

Arriving at the start line, I could see that the field wasn’t enormous, comparable to a busy parkrun. I’d already told myself I was going to run for fun tonight and to be with friends, but the sight of such a small field and the fact I might be able to get a decent placing if I went for it riled me up. When we set off I ran the first 2K in 8 minutes: a cracking speed by any amateur’s standards. I got to the furthest point near Victoria Warehouse and was hit with THE most painful stitch I’d ever had. Argh! I was so annoyed and tried to run through it but I really was in a lot of pain. I managed to keep on walking and was running again by 3K – albeit at a much steadier pace – but it took me up until the end of the first 5K lap to get back into a rhythm.

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The latter 5K was more enjoyable but I was pretty annoyed at myself for sprinting away when I should be working on a more steady running strategy, considering the future events I have planned. If I behave like this when running marathons or halves then I’m going to use up my energy early on and be uncomfortable later on. I think I need to book in for a few more 10K races then run with someone I know is able to pace themselves well and doesn’t get too over-excited like I do!

One of my favourite things to do when running races is to look out for my friends to cheer them on. It was strange doing this in the dark though as you’d be about to wave to someone, convinced it was your mate’s face looming in the dark, only to realise last second that it wasn’t them. Somehow other people recognised me though… I must have a really recognisable (read: weird?) running style.

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It was pretty cool to have this run on my doorstep, and to be running the same event as 15,000 other people around the world. The whole entry fee went to the Mark Pollock Trust, which works to support those seeking a cure for spinal cord injuries. Although I was pleased to be supporting a charity and I’m cool with no t-shirt, a medal would have been appreciated. Yeah yeah, I’m ungrateful, and I should be happy with just the experience, but I just like something to go around my neck to say “I did it”!

Would I do it again next year? I’m not sure. I do feel it needed to be better organised, especially at the start and at bottlenecks on the route, though everyone else I spoke to enjoyed the run so maybe it was my own experience that tainted my opinion. It’s a great concept and I love that it was practically in my backyard.

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RUN: WIN an Andrew Wood Photoshoot!

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Next up are my RUN photos! This shoot was mega-high-energy, with lots of tuck jumps and running around going on. Again, I think the fun vibe was captured perfectly and the volt yellow is the ideal accompaniment. Tonight I’m doing the Run in the Dark 10K, which is practically on my doorstep, and right now it’s raining – so I think I’m more likely to look like a drowned rat than how I do in these shots.

So far in November I’ve run a grand total of once, but there again I’ve mainly been sat at my computer getting some assignments done: one was handed in yesterday and another is for Friday. Although I have more not long after that I’m really looking forward to getting pounding the streets again; I’ve felt a little antsy all week and I really think it’s because I’ve missed my running. Roll on the wet and dark of tonight – somehow I don’t think it’s going to be a PB-chaser in these conditions, but I’m looking forward to it all the same.

There wasn’t enough space in the studio for true running photos, but we still had a go – the below is my favourite outtake of the action shots!

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I’m wearing: Nike Miler tee/Adidas shorts (old, but these are cute)/Nike compression socks (calf version here)/Lunarglide 6 shoes/Garmin Vivofit

My giveaway to win a photoshoot plus three runner up prizes is still going on until November 24th. For full information please take a look at the YOGA shoot.

All you need to do is drop me an email at squatbot @ live.co.uk and a winner will be picked at random from the emails received.

Good luck!

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RUN: Marathon Training and a Masters Degree

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Whilst I’ve made it known that I’m doing a Masters degree in Sports Marketing & Business Management this year, I’ve kept something else a little closer to my chest: in April I’ll be running my first full marathon, and what’s better my debut will be on home turf at the Greater Manchester Marathon.

Yep, it’s around the time I’ll be handing in my last Masters assignments, bar my dissertation. And yep, I’m going to be spending a lot of time this winter training for it. So I guess you could consider the fact I’m doing two very big things in the same year a little crazy, but I find the more you do the more you want to do, and I’m already enjoying my studies and looking forward to my training runs.

I graduated from my Bachelors last week – First Class with Honours, thanks for asking – and it was Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell who handed me my scroll. No jokes about dropping the baton please, I’ve heard them all. He gave an inspiring talk about the importance of a strong work ethic and the fact that where you’ve come from doesn’t have to dictate where you’ll go, and I totally agree. Everything is about focused, hard work. Now I’ve graduated I can’t linger on my Bachelors any longer – it’s time to dig deep and get my Masters and get around this marathon.

In October I hit 90km for the month, which I believe to be more than I’ve ever run before. Even when I was training for previous half marathons I did it on a wing and a prayer which you can do while you’re young; I recognise as I’m nearing my thirties that I need to be kinder to myself, and that involves thorough preparation and proper rest. Thus, I’ve set myself some goals for November:

  • Run 100km in total for the month.
  • Do more high-intensity interval training.
  • Make progress with my hips and pelvis, engaging my glutes.
  • Consciously try to strike on my mid/forefoot.
  • Rest when I need to, and enjoy it.
  • Stay injury free!

November is going to be very busy for me: two Masters hand-ins, the run club at work launching, physiotherapy sessions and – last but not least – my birthday. I’m getting so much better at time management and putting what I want most above what I want right now, and I know I’ll be able to not only survive but thrive at both my Masters and my marathon.

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RUN: Alley Cats Take Over Manchester

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Often I wonder whether I spread my fitness-self a little thinly: a little yoga here, a run or two there, never missing a leg day in the gym. Maybe if I concentrated on one aspect of my fitness I could be really, really good at one thing rather than being alright at lots of things. But, you know what? I really enjoy doing different stuff every day despite the fact I’ll never top a half marathon or powerlifting podium.

On Saturday night, though, I ran a race that took all of the activities I love – endurance, strength, flexibility and speed – and rolled them all into one. The Still Waters Run Deep Alley Cat run. This nighttime race was celebrating a year of the Still Waters running crew, and although I knew the run was a nine-miler with a difference, I had no idea what to expect. Arriving to register I quizzed some of the other runners who were also in the dark. I spotted this board, and it soon became evident that it wouldn’t be just our running legs we’d be using…

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Finally we were given maps and briefed on the run. Three checkpoints were dotted around the city (one of which was split into four) and we had to run out to the checkpoint, get recorded by a volunteer, then run back to the run’s base, Train, to complete one of the CrossFit challenges above – this happened three times over. The checkpoints included a long hill run, a sprint hill run three times over, then heading to four Manchester landmarks.

Anxiety started to take hold of me a little. I was worried I’d be the slowest to run the 9 miles anyway – run crews are notoriously fast! – but to do these frankly pretty tough challenges in the middle got me quivering in my Nikes. Thankfully we were split into small teams according to our 10K times and I ran with two awesome guys, Simon – who pushed the pace and kept us going – and Shao, who kept us safe and ran beside me.

Running through the city on a Saturday night was incredible. The drunken crowds were confused and we had everything from chavs hurling abuse to groups of girls cheering us on. There was a huge sense of comradery upon spotting another group of Alley Cats, always accompanied with whoops and high-fives.

I loved it – by far the greatest run I’ve taken part in. Not only did I complete the nine miles (more like 11 by the time we’d finished, whoops!) and smash through the CrossFit exercises, I found out this afternoon I was actually the fastest woman to complete the entire race, challenges included.

My mind is blown. Never did I expect – it never even entered my mind – that I would possibly even get close to winning anything. But it is because I work all the spheres of my fitness, working my weaknesses as well as playing to my strengths, that I was able to not only survive but thrive.

Slow and steady may not win the race, but strong and steady definitely has a good shot.

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Top image from the Still Waters Run Deep Instagram. Tough to tell, but that is me and my team – you can tell from the neon kicks!

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