There’s something a bit funny going on at the moment. I almost don’t even want to say anything about it, in case Fate decides she’s been tempted and it all goes wrong. But here goes…
I’m getting faster again.
I know, weird! It’s been so long since I was able to run the paces I’m running at the moment it all feels very strange and unreal.
Last summer I was training for the New York Marathon having done Rome in the April, and I was getting fitter and faster. Everything was going well, PB’s were falling all over the place.
And then my legs started hurting. And then they sort of stopped working altogether. And then I had to have three months off, with virtually no exercise. I gained weight, I lost fitness, and it was a horrible situation altogether. You truly don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and that applies to health and fitness as much as anything. Constant pain is no fun.
This year things were going along a similar vein to begin with; Spring marathon, bit of a rest and then back on it trying to go a little bit faster. Except this time, crucially, I’m taking better care of my legs. Yoga poses, actually warming up, stretching properly after runs and a lot of icing to maintain the pain-free status quo.
My legs must be appreciating the extra attention, because they really seem to have a mind of their own at the moment.
Take the Great Aberdeen Run the other week. I was going to pootle out at marathon pace, or at least what marathon pace was going to be. Do some 10:30’s and see whether I could edge up to 10:15’s. But no, my legs shot out at 9:40’s and I had to do some serious work to calm them down.
It’s the same story with parkrun. I had in the back of my mind that it would be nice to get back under 30 minutes as a regular thing at parkrun, but as I’m still marathon training my brain only meant just under 30 minutes, not anything too strenuous. My legs didn’t get the memo and have been steadily working their way back to what happened on Saturday – 28:33 in even splits around Osterley Park’s beautiful three lap course.
So my long runs have been interesting over the last few weeks. The way my plan is designed this time around was to start earlier and have a bit of a cut back half way through, because there were a couple of half marathons on the calendar. So way back in early August I ran a 15 miler very possibly before I was ready for it and I really struggled. I almost cried into my energy gel 6 miles in and couldn’t even maintain my old marathon pace of 10:40’s. It genuinely was only my mate Allie’s threats to encourage me in a comedy West Country accent that kept me going for the final three miles of that one. Horrible (the run, not the comedy accent).
So what’s suddenly different now? How come I ran 15 miles last weekend in strong and even 10:27’s? And how come I stormed a 16 miler yesterday in very evenly paced 10:26’s, with a fast last mile and a refreshed positive attitude?
Well, I reckon it’s a few things, but mainly I think it’s stemmed from the fact that I bought a Fitbit.
I bought one because something was nagging at me about how generally sedentary I was when I didn’t have my running shoes on. I work at a mainly desk based job, and wasn’t making time for much movement in my day. I was also getting fed up with trying to shift the extra weight I was still carrying from last year’s injury downtime. Usually I would say trying to actively lose weight when training for a marathon isn’t the best idea (hanger, anyone?!) but as I knew I had three or four weeks with lower mileage coming up, it seemed like the right time to kick start a change.
So I ordered one of these little wrist based activity dictators and honestly, I’m so glad I did. I use all the different functions; it tracks my steps, I log runs into it, I use it to track my food intake and hydration levels throughout the day, and it also checks I’m getting enough sleep.
I’ve lost nearly 9 pounds in weight, and about 2.5% body fat – I’m now under 20% which officially falls into the ‘athletic’ category as opposed to ‘fitness’ (no snickering at the back there, I’m an athlete!). That has never happened – I’m a curvy girl, I’ve always got a higher body fat percentage than you’d expect relative to my weight (I’m also usually about 10% cheese, so there’s that). I’m better hydrated and paying more attention to getting enough shut eye.
But the main thing is the steps. It sounds so silly, and seems so simple, but there it is. Moving about more is good for you. Who knew?!
I like to get to my 10,000 steps each day regardless of any running. Runs are bonus steps, because I was doing them anyway. That 10,000 steps each day is just under 5 miles. If you went out and walked 5 miles in one go it would seem like a lot, it would probably take you about an hour and a half. But all I’m doing is getting off the tube a couple of stops early in the morning, and then nipping out for 45 minutes at lunch (I know this isn’t always possible, I really do, but I’m loving adding a breath of fresh air into the day and shaking my legs out a bit). This generally means that on weekdays I am usually at 10,000 by the end of lunchtime.
And it’s not the step count that counts, but what the steps are doing. It’s stealth cross training. It’s getting your heart rate up and giving you a gentle cardio workout without you even really noticing. And most of my walks are at ‘fat burn’ pace, which along with asking the Fitbit to calculate a calorie deficit for me for a few weeks has led to the simplest weight loss I’ve managed in years. It’s also flagged that actually my diet isn’t as bad as I thought it was. I’ve made a few tweaks, but I’m still eating all my favourite foods (alright fine, less cheese).
So I’m lighter, have a leaner body composition (a running pal commented that I was looking sleeker from the back when I saw her for the first time in ages a couple of weeks ago, and she would know having run a 20 miler just behind me three weeks before London!) and more importantly have massively increased my general level of activity. That has helped me to run my last two long runs in the fastest times I have ever produced for those distances, including actually during marathons! If you want to speed up just a little or feel generally fitter I would recommend adding in more walking, I really would.
With my injury profile I’m still conscious of the dreaded overtraining, so now I’ve got my parkrun time back under 29 minutes I won’t be trying to attempt that sort of speed every week. But on the other hand, and as another friend who runs is fond of telling me, your body knows what it’s capable of most of the time. So go with it.
Maybe I’m not going to manage 10 minute miles in New York – in fact as I want to enjoy the experience that’s probably not the best plan anyway – but maybe I’ll trust these seemingly autonomous legs of mine, try to keep this faster training pace up and see what comes of it.
And maybe my legs will find out if they’re as fast as they think they are.