Monthly Archives: April 2016

Run and talk

Marathon hopefuls

Marathon hopefuls line up

Layla's Sunday Runners Sarah and Jaq

The more attractive members of Layla’s Sunday Runners

Typically for the last taper week, I’ve been suffering from the malady commonly known as maranoia – symptoms include: forgetting that you’ve done all the training, feeling sluggish, imagined sore throats, tummy aches, earache, broken toes, suddenly denying that you EVER SAID THREE AND A HALF HOURS – and on and on until your loved ones could happily throttle you with your own resistance bands.

Fortunately, I’ve had something else to focus on, namely my appointment of one of a number of volunteer Mental Health Ambassadors for England Athletics.

I wrote about it for The Guardian running blog, and despite a few disparaging comments and Twitter trolls, who seem to think I’m on a mission to make ill people feel worse (I am not prescribing exercise like some sort of demented PE teacher, just articulating the well-known fact that being outdoors in the fresh air and moving our body can help your mind), the response was upbeat.

I wrote it, because starting to run in midlife, and falling happily in love with it, has been one of the best actions I have ever taken. There I was, feeling a bit doldrum-y, middle-aged, unappreciated, bored, listless….etc, and there was Race for Life. Finishing it made me feel so upbeat I could not wait to do another one, and find running friends, and plan schedules, get fitter, finally give up smoking….

Now my youngest child is 18, I find I can devote even more time to my first love. Husband is still grumpy about it, but he knows what he can do, right? Run and talk with me.

Until he does that, I have my own delightful running friends. I look forward to meeting them at the crack of dawn on Thursday mornings, at parkrun on a Saturday, after breakfast on a Sunday. They make me happy, they keep me sane. And we chat, how we chat! And run like happy dogs.

So, here’s my taper schedule. I am remaining as calm as I can. Next post? Post marathon news.

Monday: rest

Tuesday: strength session 8am, track session 7pm (5M, three at marathon pace)

Wednesday: 2M easy, plus strides

Thursday: 3M easy, plus strides

Saturday: 2M easy, with a quick check of marathon pace.

Sunday: 26.2 miles from Greenwich, at MARATHON PACE




A run, not a race

Blog parkrun

Happy to be back with my Hillyfields parkrun gang


One essential element of the ambitious marathon training plan I have selected this year has been the Saturday parkrun. The fact that this weekly timed run (that’s run, not race, media folk) has made it on to all good training plans is testament to the fantastic positive impact parkrun has had on the running community.

Parkrun’s continuing popularity has been well documented. It has much to recommend it, but the aspect that seems to inspire the most love is its sense of community. Shame, then, that a misguided parish council in Bristol is considering charging parkrunUK for the use of its paths. A much-lauded community health initiative about to price its participants out of the running? Let us hope not.

What I really love about parkrun is that it’s a happy halfway house between taking the big step of joining a running club, and going it alone. For those who find the idea of being lapped by clubrunners on an athletics track every Tuesday night a powerful disincentive, the fun of running in a happy crowd of weekend warriors, then sitting down for coffee and cake in a park café rather than a clubhouse, is far and away the more attractive option.

For the past few months my Saturdays have not been my own, which meant parkrun could not be part of my training plan. I had club night at the track for speedwork, but how I missed that hilly 5k on a Saturday morning!

It meant, too, that my old 5k phobia reared its ugly head. It often does, at this stage of marathon training, when it’s all about ramping up the mileage and quality short distance times seem a distant memory. If you regularly run a parkrun, you’re more relaxed about the time it takes to puff round. If you’re not feeling so PBish, you can take it easy and admire the scenery, or jog with a buddy and chat.


Last Thursday The Assembly League reared its terrifying head again. The League is a series of summer races (yes, races, be still my beating heart) for clubrunners. I run with my team, Kent AC, although I am one of the slower members.

It was a cold, rainy evening, and I had to force myself into my Kent AC vest and ‘serious’ shorts then cycle over to Beckenham for the race. Even lucky socks did not help. I started, and remained, nearer the back of the pack than I’d have liked. All the same, it was lovely to be greeted by my teammates at the end, and to be looking forward to working on those 5ks again, when all this 42K excitement is over.


The schedule for the coming week

Mon: Rest and stretch

Tuesday: track session (5-6m)

Wednesday: 3 miles easy

Thursday: 9 miles easy

Friday: 1-2 miles recovery

Saturday: parkrun – hurray!

Sunday: 10 miles easy


Plight of worms

Blog paddock wood

Worm murderers


Sunday was the 27th Paddock Wood Half Marathon, and the fifth time I have run this race, which takes in a looping, flat circuit of pretty Kentish lanes, past oast houses, orchards and country pubs. This easiness on the eye is even more surprising, given the race’s start and finish in an unprepossessing industrial estate.

My teammates for this race were both faster than me; I hoped that trying to keep up would net me the PB of a ‘much better runner’ (cf Malcolm Gladwell’s remarks, blogs passim). I ran it a minute faster than last year, but still my time was too slow for someone who’d like her marathon time to be in the 3:30s.

Recreational runners like me hesitate to reveal their competitive streak, for fear of being laughed at. You feel a bit sheepish celebrating a minute shaved off an admittedly slow time, when the top woman in your age group ran the 13.1 miles a cool 22 minutes faster than you. In fact, one of my idols, Claire Elms of Dulwich Runners (age 51) won the race last year.

Yet it’s important not to belittle one’s own modest achievements. Running makes you feel good, strong and healthy whether you’re a fun runner or an elite. In fact, the clue’s in the name: fun runners often feel less pain and enjoy their much longer journey to the finish line.

It is, moreover, a personal journey. A great friend and running mentor slapped me on the back yesterday with the words ‘I can’t believe how far you’ve come!’

She’s right. My first ever half marathon was the Paddock Wood one. It was March 2008. I had been running properly (ie, had joined a club and had the vest to prove it) for 18 months. I was a 44-year-old mother of three who could not quite imagine being able to run without stopping for 13 miles. My longest run to that date had been a ten-miler. So I approached the race with the failsafe ‘just want to get round’ mentality.

I started off tentatively, with a vague feeling that I was making a fool of myself, but quickly began to enjoy myself, loping along happily with the other recreationals, asking for advice from sinewy old club runners from all over London and the home counties. It was my first race off my home turf, and I took great pleasure in the scenery, and small children high-fiving outside their garden gates, proffering jelly babies and words of encouragement.

Most of all I remember the worms. Like last Sunday, the weather was sunny but the ground was wet, and heavy rains the night before had washed a multitude of earthworms on to the lanes. During my first Paddock Wood half marathon, I stopped to stretch aching calves frequently and took the opportunity to rescue worms from pounding feet while doing so. I finished the race in two hours and two minutes and felt ecstatic. Last Sunday my popping eyes were focused on my Garmin, trying to stick to my preferred pace. The worms copped it. I finished the race in one hour and 44 minutes and was cross with myself. There’s a lesson there; something about not taking yourself too seriously, perhaps?

The following morning, I took the advice of Fraser Clyne, an inspiring coach, runner and writer (marathon PB 2 hours 11 minutes and 50 seconds), and ran a further 13 miles, this time at marathon pace. At least I tried to; my hips didn’t want to. The idea is to get your body used to running on tired legs: this method has you running the full 26 miles in 24 hours. It’s a marathon dress rehearsal.

Except at the end, you don’t get to drink several pints with your team mates in salt encrusted club vests in a state of euphoria (if not for your own PB, then on behalf of the team’s fantastic results).

No, after the second 13 miler I hobbled to my desk to work, while my hips seized up like sprung traps. It took quite a bit of stretching and rollering to sort myself out.

Perhaps I am taking all this too seriously.

 The schedule for the coming week

Tue: Rest and stretch

Wednesday: 5 miles easy

Thursday: strength work and a 5k race (first Assembly League of season)

Friday: 5 miles easy

Saturday: parkrun and a mile warm up/down either side

Sunday: 15 miles