Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Half Marathon Training: Running Update, Walking Breaks and Long Runs

I had a few different ideas for what to write about today, but I decided instead of torturing myself by making lots of little posts that still require a lot of work and awkward scheduling, I would just make one big "running update" post, with some tips and stories based on what I've been doing lately.

Running over the last few weeks has been really tough. Remember how I was ill a few weeks ago? Well since then I've really struggled to get back into running. I've had about half a dozen of those runs that just make you really, really hate running and wonder why you even do it. Runs where you lap times are just embarrassingly slow. Runs where you actually consider pulling out of your half marathon, just for a minute.

Thankfully, over the last week or so I've really started to get back into running. One of the biggest things that helped me was getting back into a routine. Over the last few weeks, perhaps even months, I've found it easy to make excuses not to run, or to do my strength training. Sure, sometimes, especially at the weekends, things come up, but often I've chosen not to reschedule my runs or workouts and just moved on. This mean that when I did get around to doing those runs, it was ten times harder, which led to a vicious cycle of not wanting to run and running getting harder the more I resisted.

The honest truth is that my fitness has really decreased over the last few weeks and it's been a challenge to get back on track. But the only way to get back on track, I've found, is to keep pushing yourself. Stick to your routine, even if it means running the slowest you've ever run.

Another thing that has helped me get back into running has been taking walking breaks. I'd always been one of those runners who considered walking to be "cheating" and would always run, even if I knew walking would help me to go faster. Walking, I always thought, was something I did when I first started out because I wasn't able to run long distances in one go, now I can run further, I don't need to walk. 

But then a few weeks ago I saw a post on the Runners World Facebook page about the benefits of walking breaks, especially in decreasing your overall race time. As I had been struggling with my runs lately, I decided to give this a try at my next Parkrun. As per the article, I walked up all the steep hills and took several little walk breaks throughout the race, and came up with a time 3 minutes faster than my most recent 5K runs. This really helped me to get back into running. It's good to know you can have a rest, get your heart rate back down a bit, rest your legs and then push back through. I haven't needed to take walk breaks the last few runs, but it's good to know they're there as an option.

As I haven't been working for the last week, it's been nice to have a bit more flexibility in my routine. I don't have to get up at 5am to get my runs in (however I have discovered I really hate running when there are other people on the roads/pavement. You don't realise how much you love being alone on the road at 5am until you have to share the pavement!). I can also move my runs around to move convenient days and times. For example I was doing my TEFL course all this weekend and finished at 2pm on Sunday. My plan was to have lunch with Phil and then go do a 5 mile run. The truth was, I was exhausted from an intense weekend, so I just moved my run to Monday and made Tuesday my rest day. Which leads me to the last thing I wanted to talk about, long runs.

For me, long runs are anything over 5 miles and are usually done on Sundays as per my training plan. They increase in distance by a mile per week, and are therefore my most challenging runs in a lot of ways. But quite often, they are my favourite runs.
The long runs I enjoy most are the ones that I save plenty of time for, not squished in last minute on a dark Sunday evening. They are runs I can really take my time on, enjoying the journey, not waiting for them to be over.

For my long runs, I run very, very slowly. Ridiculously slow. My aim for the first few miles is just to keep my heart rate as low as possible (I have a heart rate monitor which also helps) and just try to focus on the moment, not how long the run is or how long it is going to take me. Time is not a factor at all for my long runs. They're about covering the distance, no matter how long it takes.

I also bring a lucozade with me for runs over 5 miles/an hour. I know a lot of people don't like carrying things and find it bonkers that I have a water bottle and a sports drink, but it doesn't bother me. I haven't had any runs yet that have been long enough to require snacks or sweets, but I'm going to introduce them on runs over 8 miles.

When I'm doing a long run too, I like to know where I'm going. I plan all my run routes on Endomondo and have them planned up to 11 miles on there. It's so simple just to draw a map and figure out your next route, and I just check it out before I head out for my run.

Long runs are fun. I find 5 miles is my absolute favourite running distance. 5 mile runs are those runs that remind me why I love to run. It's long enough that I get a great runner's high around the second or third mile, but short enough that I don't get home and die/eat everything. I always have a rest day after my long runs too, to give myself a chance to relax and get my muscles ready for my shorter runs. I love long runs because I don't have to worry about how long it takes, it's just about the journey. And isn't that what running is all about?

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