Category Archives: motivation

How to run your first 10K!

The sun is shining, finally, which means it’s the best time of year to think about new fitness challenges! Whether you’re stepping up in distance or putting your trainers on for the first time, here are my five easy steps to completing your first 10K

Have you recently completed a Race for Life 5K or parkrun? Or are you new to running and looking for your first challenge? The natural progression is to train for a 10K.

With 28.5 per cent of women taking part in sport two or three times a week, and 4.8 per cent of women trying either jogging, cross-country or running, more and more 10K races are springing up in a town near you. If training, and completing a 6.25-mile race appeals, here’s how you can ensure success.

It’s all about the training
If you’ve recently completed a 5K, well done! Even if you’re new to running, it’s worth knowing that moving up to your first 10K isn’t about speed, it’s about completing a new distance. Get ready to add time on your feet. ‘The more you extend the time on your feet, the closer you will get to your 10K goal,’ says running coach and Olympian Liz Yelling, who regularly trains new runners in her hometown of Poole, Dorset.

Training for a 10K is similar to a 5K, however the distance of your long run will double. ‘Slowly building your long run will help your endurance or ability to keep going when your body starts to tire,’ says Liz. A common misconception is that you need to have run the distance in training before race day: you don’t. If you’ve run five miles, the occasion will pull you through the last mile.

Kate, Amber and I after we finished the 10K

Very hot 10K in Barbados

Don’t think you need to be running every day either. It’s better to train smart, than train too much. There are three key sessions you should aim to include every week – a long run, a 30-minute steady run and an interval session. Interval running is about running faster over a short distance, then recovering before you repeat the effort. This helps your body get used to the feeling of running fast, and helps your heart and lungs adapt to let you do this.

‘One of my most popular sessions with runners aiming for their first 10K is running fast for 60 seconds, then walking for two minutes to recover, before repeating between six and eight times,’ says Liz.

When it comes to race day make sure you give yourself enough time to warm up. ‘Don’t waste energy on a really energetic warm-up,’ advises Liz, ‘at this stage, a brisk 10-minute walk will loosen your muscles.’

Pacing is key
When you first start to run, you can quickly become out of breath, which can feel scary if you haven’t done this since school. But it is normal. Training allows you to understand how to make your body run faster, and you shouldn’t be afraid to push yourself gradually, at small intervals.

The biggest pacing mistake for new runners is going off too fast in a race. How do you know you have done this? Think of the perceived effort you are running at, on a scale of 1-10. One is walking, 10 is running as fast as you can. If you are at 8-10 it’s too fast! You should be aiming for 6-7 to be able to finish comfortably.

Recognise that if you can’t keep running you have probably started too fast, and don’t be afraid to walk. Break the remaining distance down into periods of running, then walking for two minutes to recover, before trying to run again for two minutes.

Muddy 10K

Muddy 10K

Nail your pacing on race day by monitoring your breathing, and ability to talk while moving. For a first 10K, it’s unlikely that you are chasing a time, so you won’t be running flat out. Aim to be able to speak 8-10 words with the person next to you before you have to take a breath, and before you know it that finish line will appear.

Balance your diet
Can what you eat really affect your race? ‘Yes!’ says nutritionist and endurance runner Emma Patel. ‘Your daily training diet should be a consistent balance of natural unprocessed whole foods. Fill your body with processed junk and it will feel like you’re running on junk!’

A body loaded with junk is too busy detoxifying to thrive, leading to fatigue and low energy levels, and faster burnout when it comes to race day.

Try cooking with grains that have a low glycaemic index and aren’t processed, such as amaranth and quinoa. Both offer a vast quantity of carbohydrate, proteins and micronutrients. Processed, refined sugary foods such as white bread and pasta don’t offer much nutritionally other than carbohydrate and “empty calories”.

‘You also need healthy fats (free-range eggs and organic avocados), quality proteins such as sustainable organically farmed chicken and fish like salmon, plus an array of seasonal fruits, vegetables and spices,’ adds Emma. These are anti-inflammatory and are rich in antioxidants, aiding the recovery process after vigorous training.

Christmas 10K

Christmas 10K

Iron-rich foods are also important, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan, as they can boost performance. ‘This group of powerhouses includes dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and dark coloured berries,’ says Emma.

Eat your pre-race breakfast two to three hours before your run to allow the food to be digested. ‘I recommend a go-faster breakfast of brown rice, blueberries, a dash of maple syrup and some healthy nut butter on race day,’ says Emma.

It’s also important to refuel and rehydrate as quickly as possible after to reduce muscle soreness and boost energy levels. Even though you may not feel like it, eating within the first 15 minutes of finishing will kick-start your recovery.

Avoid recovery drinks with large quantities of sugar, sweeteners and additives; a homemade smoothie will be more nourishing and cheaper. Try making your own with banana, almond, coconut milk and strawberries.

Finally, if it’s going to be hot, you sweat a lot and your race will take more than 60 minutes, sip on an electrolyte drink on your way round to remain hydrated.

Sort out your kit bag
With the right gear you can avoid injury, which could halt your training. Buying untested shoes online could mean running in the wrong type of trainers. You need to get both your feet and your gait analysed in a specialist running shop, to get the right shoe for your running style.

Videos on the Internet may help you work out whether you have high arches or over-pronate (think of your knees rolling inwards), but it’s difficult to assess your own running style.

Any specialist should match your running needs with your budget, and give you plenty of options; your first trainers don’t have to be expensive.

Mountain 10K in Mauritius

Mountain 10K in Mauritius

The majority of runners over-pronate and need a little support in their shoes, but as the overall trend is towards natural shoes, even if you need support you can expect your trainers to be lightweight.

If you don’t wear a properly fitted, supportive sports bra when you run you could suffer permanent breast damage – even if your breasts are very small.

Also, when you’re buying gear to run in, your best option is modern polyester fabric, rather than cotton, as it’s breathable and wicks away sweat. This fabric doesn’t get heavier as you sweat and the more expensive items will have an odour control element, worth investing in!

You CAN do this
The surest way to ensure you achieve this goal is to work out why you are running. You need to find out the core “why” or motivation for running: the bottom-line reason behind your effort. For example, if you are running with a friend, ask yourself why? If it’s to support her as she’s raising money for charity, why do you want to help?

If the charity is linked to a specific cause, why is this relevant to you? Keep going until there are no more questions – this is your core motivation. ‘The more you can drill down to the core “why” behind your challenge, and get to the bottom of why you took it on, the easier it will be to keep going when it gets tough,’ says emotional wellness coach Janet Smith.

When this is your reward why wouldn't you train for a 10K?

When this is your reward why wouldn’t you train for a 10K?

If you are running to raise £1,000 for a breast cancer charity as you lost your mum to the disease, this is your core motivation. As you run you can then build on this motivation to keep going. ‘Each 1K you complete can become £100 raised towards your target, or a chunk of whatever goal you have set yourself,’ says Janet.

‘Keep thinking big: if you raise your target what will the charity do with this money? How many lives will be saved by this charity? This becomes your biggest goal: to help save peoples’ lives.’ If it helps, contact your charity to ask what your fundraising target will achieve.

When last minute nerves kick in, don’t let them stop you achieving success. ‘Either connect with others, via blogs or Facebook, to get external energy to boost your confidence, or journey inwards to do this. Renew your energy by spending time with yourself, whether you enjoy swimming, walking, meditation or art,’ says Janet.

Here’s my beginner’s 10K training plan!
Beginner's Training Plan 10K

Emma Patel’s ideal breakfast, lunch and tea:
Breakfast: Amaranth porridge with fresh mango and chia seeds. Start the day with hot water with fresh lemon and ginger.

Lunch: Mackerel and brown rice with an avocado, spinach and watercress salad, and a tahini dressing (rich in calcium).

Dinner: Roasted turkey breast with roasted veggies, celeriac, butternut squash, aubergine and peppers. Add melted feta cheese to the veggies.

Don’t forget to drink filtered water throughout the day (aim for six glasses).

Let me know how you get on with your first 10K!

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Running away stress

I am so grateful for going for a run today. It wasn’t spectacular, nothing happened, I didn’t see anyone, run fast. Or slow. Two weeks ago I ran a sub-seven-minute mile in the first mile of a cross-country race – today, at one stage, I was doing 13-minute miling along the shingle. Since the cross-country I’ve not really run and everything. Has. Nose-dived.

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I’m feeling broken. After every race. Which is worrying as 1. I’m not ready to give up on my goals, and 2. I’m only 45…I figure many issues are only going to get worse. My body no longer behaves like a 23-year-old’s body. My mind and it are starting to become strangers. Most of the time I hope everything will go OK at races, rather than knowing the training is in the bag.

I think I am going on to the next phase. I never knew there was one, as the first one was being young and not giving a f*ck about any phases as everything could be conquered, visited, finished, done. The second one started when I had children – life became about them, not me.

The wet bit

The wet bit

In this new one, there’s a new me (not that I asked for one) and a whole lot of issues that I would never have thought would have been part of my life 20 years ago. I’m living in someone else’s body. Don’t really know if I like her.

Lying down on the beach in the winter is very therapeutic

Lying down on the beach in the winter for a nap is very therapeutic

Then there’s the germ merry-go-round in our house. Is it the germs that have slowed me down? Something else?

I’ve been getting more and more frantic and stressed, and more and more burnt-out. Being pulled in so many different directions. Perspective. Lost. Awful aches across my back, so tired, really stressed and in the background consumed by a kaleidoscope of worries. Being the provider for my three children. My accountant keeps asking me to do my accounts. Every time he does I start crying!

There’s no point worrying about everything but you do anyway. Worry has become alive, inside my head. Laying down to do 30 minutes’ mediation doesn’t take it away. A glass of wine – doesn’t work. Going for a run…I have no energy for it.

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I put on my running bra when I got dressed knowing it was a little movement in the right direction. I was determined to get out today even though I felt terrible. My body language must have looked strange as I hit the track around the field behind my house. Even the air, as I squelched around the field, felt heavy – almost menacing. Do I have to battle against even the air? I kept my head down. Just go slow. The field became a road. A footpath. Legs were heavy, shoulders hunched, I shouldn’t have worn my Garmin – was I really going twice as slow as two weeks ago? Stop looking at the Garmin, stop torturing yourself. I knew I didn’t have a long run in me, I just wanted to get to the beach and the shingle. It’s so hard to get there.

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Closer. It’s crunching under my feet and I feel OK, calmer. I’m going to do two miles along the shingle. What? the voice in my head said. Sshh. I’m going to do two miles slow. I have to. Bloody minded stubborn head. 13-min miling, even on the shingle. Slow. This is my place. I run along that bit of beach and feel so lifted. First mile out and the little wading birds were jumping along the water line. The tide is really high which makes the ridge where I run harder. There’s a tree in the way; when the tide is high you have to get your feet wet. The water sloshes in my trainers, I don’t mind. My toes feel alive. The end of a mile and I turn back and it’s starting to happen. The voice inside my head that goes over and over the stresses, the worries, is starting to quieten. I’m going to pound it out. I’m dragging myself along but knowing I have to do this, to let go. Look down…the stones slip away. My worries slip away too. The massive tension, the 20 bricks I am carrying, in my shoulders, is melting away and even though I feel so tired I feel amazing too. My dad is running beside me. Thinking about him makes my throat feel weak. For a while he’s there saying… shoulders back and down, chin in, just relax. RELAX. OK, I WILL! Why haven’t I done this for so long? Why have I let the worries and stresses take over and become me, inside my head?

When the weather reflects your mood

When the weather reflects your mood

Two miles and I jump back onto the coast road and it’s like it’s made of thick, syrupy pancakes. Twitchers are listing today’s birds. The swans in the small harbour aren’t interested, I haven’t got any food today. So hot; the sweat soaks through the layers until I am squelching in my own clothes.

Love running in my ON Cloudsurfers

Love running in my ON Cloudsurfers

The last mile back, I make contact with a seven-minute mile. It’s temporary. Everything you fear is lost isn’t really, it just isn’t there right now.

The huge weight isn’t off your shoulders; there are more worries to face, but that place I go to changes me every time I run there. It takes so much from me, the worries melt through me into the stones, and it gives far too much back. For this I pay no price. I will need to go back; my head will take back control. I will need to march myself along the shore-line to banish the demons. Hopefully not too soon. Hopefully a tr-million heartbeats before I have to melt into the shingle.

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Every minute that takes me further away from my run I’m feeling more positive. The endorphins are doing their job; my mind is a symphony of neural transmitters creating their own masterpiece. An invisible chemical filter that makes the worries unimportant.

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I am so grateful for going for a run today.

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If you’re going to have a treat… make sure it’s a good one!

Jenny Meadows is an Olympian, World and European medalist and the fourth fastest British woman over 800m. I wanted to know some inside secrets on how she made this happen…

I love watching Jenny running on the track. She always gives 150% effort. She’s such a gritty runner; she pushes hard in every race. Can us slightly less talented runners learn from Jenny’s training ethos, and how she has approached running, to improve our own performance? Hell, yes! (Don’t skip to paragraph 4 here, you need to do some work first…)

jenny-meadows-aviva-uk-athletics-preperation-u_rvwm912pyl

Learn to control the controllables
“I find a huge part of running is what goes on in the mind, both before and during a session. I try to ‘control the controllables’ by concentrating on what I can do to ensure I get what I need out of a training workout. We all feel tired occasionally, we all suffer anxiety leading up to training sessions or competitions, and lets face it…. we all compare ourselves to others! I try to remember that running is my own personal journey and that it is ‘my thing’. This helps me refocus and decide what mindset to chose, after all we run out of choice. I usually think about how I would feel if I didn’t complete the workout or chose not to compete, and this is usually enough stimulus to get my mind back on board and channel positive thoughts.”

Chill out runners – and learn to play with speed
“One of my favourite sessions is a fartlek session (which loosely translated means ‘play with speed’). This can take many forms and can easily be adapted to suit varying levels of runners. I would usually do this type of session for 20-30mins duration and include a few minutes at the start of an easy jog and warm up and again a few minutes at the end of jogging to cool down. A typical session for me may look something like: 5mins jog followed by 10 minutes of 20 seconds of faster effort with 40 seconds easy jog recovery between and then 5mins easy jog cool down. The session is 20mins duration but you are getting 10 x 20 seconds of good paced running in there and the heart rate is actually really high for the whole 10 minutes work section of the workout. Obviously the duration, pace and interval lengths can change dependent on experience, fitness level and objective of each runner. This is a good session to do if you aren’t feeling that motivated as by the end of it I usually feel fresher and more motivated than I did at the start.”

Carry on camping – at home
“I used an altitude tent extensively between the period of 2011 and 2012. I did find it very beneficial prior to going to altitude training as it allowed me to adapt prior to travel and I seemed to hit the ground running as it were once I arrived at the altitude training camp. I also found that when I returned from altitude training the benefits of training at high altitude lasted longer through continued use of the altitude tent. The negative side of altitude tents are firstly the noise of the generator – it does take quite some time getting used to, and also the loneliness of being ‘cooped’ up in there. It is recommended that you sleep in the tent and also spend additional time during the day getting up to 12-14 hours exposure per day in order to realise the best results. I found that this was unrealistic to achieve so was unsure whether I was committing the time to sleeping in the tent and not really benefitting from it as much as I hoped I would be. Since 2012 I haven’t used the tent and can report that I am sleeping much better! Sleep is obviously also a very important aspect of a runner’s life so perhaps one negated the other.”

The bit we’ve been waiting for – you CAN enjoy your treats (this includes cake)
“As far as nutrition goes I don’t deprive myself of anything. In the past this has just not worked for me and I end up actually craving treats and then giving in to them and eating more! Instead I try to eat sensibly and everything in moderation. If I am having a treat then I make sure it is a good one and one that I will really enjoy! There is nothing worse than having a treat that is just not satisfying.” Jenny, we truly love you. Forever.

OK, I don’t think most of us are going to invest in an altitude tent, but we can all try to control the voice in our head that doesn’t like it when we wander outside our comfort zones, we can all introduce a bit of speed into our sessions (there’s no point avoiding it any longer… do it this week) and when you’ve trained hard you can let yourself enjoy your cuppa plus cake. Jenny says so.

If you're gonna, might as well make it a lemon drizzle

If you’re gonna, might as well make it a lemon drizzle

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Is it time to change your mindset?

Does it sound stupid – using your mind to run faster? Surely it’s harder reps, longer long runs and the odd hill session that normally does this? Well of course, training your body will improve your times. But what about training your mind?

NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. It’s the art of getting consistent results using the language of the mind to positively influence our attitude and therefore our behaviours. It’s something I’ve used in life, and sport, over the years.

“NLP is an approach that is underpinned by a high performance philosophy that on its own will improve performance dramatically,” advises Janet Smith, an Emotional Wellness Coach. “NLP provides a series of techniques that assist in changing negative mindsets or removing blocks to performance that have been created through bad habits or as a result of negative past experiences.”

I'm not going to argue with Jack

That means NLP techniques can be used to seriously focus your mind. No more wandering off mid-race thinking about what you’re going to prepare for tea, or which homework task will be tackled first. An end to standing at the start line and saying to yourself: ‘Actually, I’m not going to race today, I’ll just take it easy.’

“Changing limiting self beliefs and negative self talk will increase personal success as a runner and also increase happiness as unresolved negativity is released,” Janet says. Believe me, my negative self talk can be so loud it’s been known to reach Australia. “Performance in any sport can be broken down into the components of knowledge, skill and attitude. With running, the attitude or mental approach is often paramount in achieving success. Think of the runners that you admire: what qualities do you notice? It is often attitude which allows that person to put in the dedication to achieve their goals; knowledge and skill become secondary.”

My view is always if they can do it, so can I. Maybe not to the same degree as an elite, but you/I can give it a try.

How can NLP benefit my running though, you ask
By working with NLP it is possible to challenge your long standing beliefs through ‘mental modelling’. Using a series of questions you can start to work at getting to the root of the problem that affects performance. “You may also wish to break down your running technique into components which can be looked at individually. Often what we believe about a problem is not where we end up finding the solution,” continues Janet. “We can begin by asking ourselves simple questions such as: What do I believe about my ability to reach my goal? Is there anything that will stop me? Do I commit 100 per cent or do I self sabotage?” Just be asking yourself a few tough questions, and giving honest replies, you can shift the stereotype you’ve been carrying around in your mind about yourself/your running.

Will it really NLP affect my performance?
Success begins with the right attitude. For all of us we have to look at ourselves as a whole. “It’s never just about the running; outside stresses influence our ability,” Janet believes. “Negative emotions and anxiety can drain our energy and cause under performance. Similarly being too relaxed and not focused will lose us ‘our edge’.” Janet stresses how it is, therefore, important to create the best attitude around running. “Begin by thinking of a time when you were off your game and under-performed. What emotions were present? How was your behaviour influenced by those emotions? It is most likely that negative emotions of anger, fear and anxiety were present in some capacity or they even stopped you from going out running in the first place.”

The reps hurt but I didn't stop

The reps hurt. Did I give up? No

We can all raise our awareness of our own peak performance by recognising when we are on our game and things are going well. If we can just stay out of our own way then we will perform to the peak of our capacity! Increasing our self awareness provides us with the motivation to achieve our aims.

“Numerous coaches believe that the next big steps in human performance will come from how we harness the mind and this is where NLP will come into its own as we step into the future of sport and competition,” adds Janet.

OK, I get it – but what do I do about it?
Here’s some NLP strategies you can do at home

Janet suggests you:
Listen to the stories you tell yourself and others about your running. Do you constantly discuss your fears over a previous injury? Do you play down your ability? Are you frightened of achieving success or failure? Change the stories – change the results!

Focus on what you do want and not what you don’t want.

Ask yourself what do you believe about your ability to achieve your goal? If you believe it is impossible or that it will take a long time, you will be right.

Imagine yourself having the best run of your life, what would need to be happening? How would it feel, look and sound? Use this as a visualisation exercise.

Take time to focus your mind by using visualisation. Relax, breathe slowly, close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving your goal, is there a colour or sensation connected to it? Now make that colour or sensation more vibrant and more compelling. Do this everday to install new behaviours.

Ask yourself are you literally running away from your problems? How happy are you with your life? Are there negative situations that you should be addressing?

Listen to your inner voice, do not allow your ego to push you towards an injury.

To find out more about how NLP and how Emotional Wellness Coaching can benefit you, visit www.emotionalwellnesscoaching.co.uk.

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The Butterfly Within

A Triathlete’s race against a brain tumour by Rachel Bown

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She’s an unordained vicar who uses sport to reach her audience and her personality to reach out to her online parish. Rachel is a daughter/sister/partner/friend, but she’s something more than this – a triumviarate of sporting personalities that gets unleashed in that hardy multi-discipline sport, triathlon. And she’s pretty good at what she does.

When Rachel finds out she has a brain tumour it can mean only one thing – the battle to survive surgery becomes another race that has to be taken on, endured, and survived. Her brain tumour becomes Rachel’s most difficult opponent she has ever faced.

This isn’t just a story about survival, and one woman’s battle against the tumour that is growing in her brain. There’s another ‘battle’. One where the ‘evil’ is depression and the sufferer is Rachel’s mum, who is fighting her own devils in her life, alongside Rachel, and how dramatically this impacts Rachel’s journey through her own illness.

Alongside the swirling doubts that Rachel fights to keep out of her mind, there’s a desperately sad story in the background of a family rallying to help their mum cope with her own disease. So often hidden behind closed doors, Rachel refuses to pretend that her mum wasn’t facing as much of a battle as she was. Instead of dealing with a physical symptom, that ultimately could be overcome, Rachel’s journey back to health is paralleled by her mum’s battle with her own mental health illness. As if facing surgery on a brain tumour, and rebuilding her life after, wasn’t a big enough challenge, Rachel couldn’t turn to her mum for the support she desperately needed. Other family members had to cope with both women fighting their own battles. And they did.

Rachel’s is a powerful story of resilience, positivity and also a good dose of bloody-mindedness. Everything Rachel takes on in life she does with 100 per cent commitment. And so the journey to defy her tumour is exactly the same. There’s little self-pity, even though there’s some moments of sadness and confusion. Maybe more than anything Rachel’s personal journey is testament to how sport, and living a life where you purposefully go out to be the person you know you can be, meaning you strive to achieve your goals and commit yourself, means that you can bring an inner conviction to your ability to survive. And beat a physical condition that could mean the end of your life. Rachel approaches tackling her tumour as a race, and talks us through the preparation, execution and recovery of her ‘race’ against her tumour.

It’s like most races though… how many go exactly to plan? How often have you run a PB when you felt there was no way you could, or have you thought you were perfectly prepared for a spring marathon then an unexpected event in the race shattered your hopes and plan? After her initial operation, and as she is recovering, Rachel suffers an infection in her brain and finds herself much more poorly than she had thought possible, or planned.

Though at times consumed with feelings of being scared, worried and frustrated Rachel always holds on to her hope. Rachel’s body fights the secondary infection, but as a consequence of post-operation complications, Rachel is left visually impaired.

Does this mean her career as an athlete is over? Of course not; it means that Rachel has even more determination to return to health and fitness – so much that she defies her doctors in her rapid recovery. It’s not long before Rachel is competing at triathlon (and that means competing not completing, representing Team GB in the age group category) and last year she set a world record at the London Marathon, running in fancy dress. Even when we are faced with an unthinkable challenge Rachel shows that we can all be the creators of our own destiny.

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Rating: ****

The 401 Challenge marathon #392

You know how the water in a sink will swirl one way down the plug hole in the northern hemisphere and the opposite way in the southern hemisphere, but it doesn’t really matter which way the water travels; gravity always wins. That’s how it is running with Ben Smith from the 401 Challenge. When you run with Ben on one of his 401 marathons, wherever you run in the pack, you just want to swish yourself this way or that, so you can be near him. Ben draws people to him. His force is strong. You want a little bit of him to rub off on you, which is selfish as running hundreds of marathons back to back has got to be quite tiring. I mean, how many people have you met who have run (just about) 401 marathons in consecutive days?

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Running alongside Porchester Castle

Ben – in picking running as his massive challenge – made a canny choice. He’s a clever man. Every village, town and city in the country has a running group of some sort, and have you noticed how a lot of people in these groups are, mmmmmmm… how do you say it, slightly *different* (…crazy/bonkers/sometimes out of the ordinarily, unbelievably mad…) in that once you draw them in then you’ve got them for life. I mean, have you seen this group of mad people in the winter? Are we at home getting our Christmas presents wrapped early just before we brush a wet cloth over the blinds/radiators/skirting boards so that we can go on to clearing out the garage, raking away the winter leaves and checking we have enough loo rolls/packets of pasta and tinned rice pudding in case of a national emergency? Before we hoover the car.

Love Laura's face, whatever...

Love Laura’s face, whatever…

No, we’re up at the crack of dawn driving with droopy eyelids to some wood or forest or other place in the middle of God knows where to run around a muddy, frozen track for about five miles and then after, after we stand in a large space (usually quite chilly and definitely not toasty) and talk about how wonderful the whole experience was as our fingers slowly defrost at the same time as the mud on our legs claggily dries so that we know even after the first shower when we get home it won’t come off. These are not average human beings. It’s a tribe; all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, ages, but with a strange and steely obsession about getting from one line to another and low and behold anything or anyone who prevents them from doing so (and don’t muck with our GPS signals either as there’s this really crucially unbelievably important element of time from one line to the other that can lead people to do crazed things). We are family. We look after each other.

We are DIFFERENT. Be proud as being normal is over-rated. Then one rises above the rest. He’s got a REALLY big beard. He looks kinda cool in a bandana. He’s obviously not only been born with the ACT1 gene (no, that doesn’t mean he’s good at drama, it’s what makes you an endurance king), he was also delivered in to our world with an extra something tucked away in his soul. He wouldn’t have known it was there. I’m sure his mum and dad had no idea (or maybe they did). Life gave him a few knocks – and he had choices, some very tough. He made them and this shaped who he became. Then a flicker of an idea must have grown, as these things do, probably silently at first, just thoughts starting to stick together like the ends of sellotape do, when you don’t want them. They created their own glue that held the thoughts together so they could become something greater, and a challenge was born. Did Ben create the 401 Challenge, or did it create him? His life was probably hurtling to the moment, in about one week’s time, when he finishes his 401th marathon, right from the first breath, whether he wanted it to or not.

Some of the Gosport Road Runners contingent

Some of the lovely Gosport Road Runners ladies

When you’re a runner a marathon is a BIG challenge, whoever you are, however fast, thin, fat, tall, short… there is no easy marathon. Who would ever think of running 401 on 401 consecutive days? No one of course. Because it’s madness. What a ridiculously large challenge to ask of one body, its 700-odd muscles and 206 bones. Your Neanderthal grandmother and grandpa had already genetically evolved to run about 10K (that’s six miles) a day to fetch food. Why would they have added an extra 20 miles on top when they had Stone Age chores to do like sweeping the cave and hanging out the newly laundered bear skins?

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

Taking instruction from the BBC on how to run round a corner. It was very useful

We’re not meant to do these miles every day. It’s not just worrying about dodgy knees and a tight ITB band, either. How do you get the brain and heart, the physical and emotional engines, to keep driving those muscles and bodies day-in, day-out, over and over and over and over? You don’t. I don’t. Ben does.

The Fareham Crusaders

The Fareham Crusaders

He can’t say ‘I just can’t do this today. I’m ill. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m just fed up. I don’t want to run any more. What was I thinking when I thought I could do this? I want to go and sit on the beach all day long with my mates. I want to pull on my compression tights, pour a massive glass of wine and just spend all afternoon cosied up with Mr or Mrs Netflix. I just can’t be bothered today.’

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

The gorgeous Anna and Sarah

Ben has to turn up and smile at a big bunch of people who just gaze at him with a slightly dumb look on their face when they say ‘Wow, you’re really amaaaaaazing,’ like silly love-struck teenagers with their first girl/boy crush. He’s got so much better at dealing with that since I ran with him a year ago.

The Boss... this man bravely guided us along new trails

The Boss… Tony from Portsmouth Joggers bravely guided us along the trails

We know that when our excuses create our daily boundaries, we’re not really living, we’re existing. If you stand at the end of any race and you see…feel…taste that life doesn’t happen in our comfort zone. Force yourself out of it and, like an explosion of magic dust before our eyes we see sharply how beautiful life can be (and painful, but it’s always a good pain, right?). Then we realize we can share this beauty. We can do something that somehow helps someone else see it, and their lives are then changed forever. This is what Ben has done for us all. He shares this life-love. Surely we should all be giving him money just for this as we say: ‘Thanks. You made me realise there is so much more than just me in my life.’

Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

The gorgeous Sarah representing Run City! Portsmouth

All of us can bring that brightness into other’s lives; we can sharpen the focus so that new paths become clearer, and other choices can be made. We live in the age of empathy, and the only way through is to respond. Each of us may be but a grain of sand on the beach. Ben – and pioneers like him – they are the moon that can help us turn the tide. People… if we let these challenges sweep us together, between us we can be deeply powerful. Raising massive amounts of money together, by donating just a few precious pounds individually, can help build a beautiful palace, free for all to live in.

I cant even run two marathons in a row so I’ve no idea what it can feel like to run more, again, again. Again. Ben has though. He doesn’t complain. He listens. In fact, no one could have been more inclusive and supportive for those who were struggling to carry on yesterday. No jaded looks shine from his eyes. Coach/mentor/motivator/life shaper/life changer.

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Just a quick note for Ben’s support crew. I’ve figured out a way Ben can double his quarter million to a half. It’s easy! Do the 401 Challenge all over again, and make people pay a fine (£5, £10?) for being privileged enough to join in one of the runs. It’s got to be a winner.

The school run and normality called us back… but we escaped for a whole five hours

Come on, you’ve done 401 marathons Ben, you can’t tell me this isn’t possible…And I’ve also figured out a way I can do this with you, without feeling let down by my inferior, slightly smaller very less hairy body. Yes, I’ll not have a bath for 401 days. It will be tough, but it’s the least I can do to support you.

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He’s nearly there! You can help Ben in his final push to raise the last thousands he needs to make his £250K total by taking part in the 401’s virtual challenge, either 10K, half marathon or marathon, which you can run on your own, any time, any place. The closing date is 8th October. Enter here

Support Ben by donating here

Buy a 401 sweatshirt/tee shirt here (I quite like the blue…)

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The Road to London #Week 13

Or ‘What you learn during a 2.5 hour run in the pool…’

I knew I needed a rest day at the beginning of the week after my two-hour bike as I had a 2.5 hour aqua jog/run planned on Tuesday. I didn’t really feel tired after the long bike so I went into the pool session with fresh legs and an open mind (I’ve only done about 30 minutes running in the pool previous to this injury).

Every runner's second best friend, their flotation belt

Every runner’s second best friend, their flotation belt

However, I knew I would find the pool run mentally tough. I wore a heart-rate monitor as I wanted to try and keep my heart rate at about 75 per cent of maximum heart rate, a tough ask as you are using your whole body so differently in the pool. I set off and the only waterproof heart rate monitor I could find in the house was a bit cheap, so the reading was all over the place, going from 130 to 60. Eventually it settled to about 125-130, but I wasn’t sure of my perceived effort during the first half hour. I knew it would be a long session so didn’t want to ‘go off’ too quick, and find I could only do an hour or so. I just didn’t know what to expect.

Back on the bike in beautiful spring sunshine

Back on the bike in beautiful spring sunshine

It doesn’t take long to get an idea of how fast you should be going to reach your target heart rate, but what I found quickly was that if I lost concentration I stopped running properly. So I had to keep focused on moving consistently. I learnt that as I turned at the end of each second length I could see the motorway out of a tiny corner of one window for about 20 seconds each time. I learnt that some pool guards are restless pacers, others stalk you with their eyes only. I learnt that if you come to use the pool in a full body suit (two teenage girls) EVERYONE in the pool stares at you. Then when you walk the wrong way across the middle of the two pools to leave and the pool guards blow their whistle at you to stop you EVERYONE stares at you again. (Will those girls ever come to the pool again?)

Can't stay inside when this is calling me

Can’t stay inside when this is calling me

I learnt that a few people don’t realize you are running (“Do you think she uses that to help her swim,” one older lady asked her swim buddy as they (only a little quicker than I) had their weekly natter up and down that pool. I also learnt you can only earwig on snippets of a conversation, and you have to string together what you hear then make your own conclusions…. Another swimming duo (again only just ahead of me with their breaststroke) “You don’t know if you’re safe, I mean, it’s not the worst place in Turkey but it’s a risk…” “He was just so mean, and selfish, what can you say…” “What do you want me to get her for her birthday? If it’s the pink one I’ll get it…”

Taxiing the birthday girl

Taxiing the birthday girl

So went 2.5 hours and it was like the school summer holidays; at the time you never think you’re going to make it through to the end, then suddenly they’re over and they seemed to go really quickly. My arms and legs ached, so it was a result.

Dancing girls

Dancing girls

Wednesday I definitely felt as if I’d done a long run, so only did 30 minutes of conditioning. I was back at the physio and Lawrence stretched my foot and ankle every way possible, got me doing lots of single legged exercises, then declared I could try 10 minutes of running, on the treadmill to play safe, on Friday. I wasn’t expecting him to be so upbeat and positive so left Absolute Running with a strange feeling. I was excited that I could try a run but scared about how it would go (and what this would mean). I was exscared.

I love Lola. Even more when she makes cake

I love Lola. Even more when she makes cake

Thursday was clear, sunny and not too chilly so I dashed out on the bike at lunch time for a quick 12 miles along the coast and came back fully charged. Then it was lovely Amelie’s 13th birthday evening, though she chose to go to dancing instead of hanging out at home. We still found time for birthday cake at 9pm, when all three girls were finally in from gymnastics and dancing. It was amazing, made by Lola. I give thanks every week that Lola took GCSE Food Tech.

The most important part...make a wish

The most important part…make a wish

Friday I cycled around with my group while they did a rural pyramid of 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1 (off 60 seconds, with 2 minutes recovery after the four minute effort). Then, it came. My 10 whole minutes of jogging on the treadmill. It was painless and slow but felt weird.

Crazy seagulls fighting for a chip

Crazy seagulls fighting for a chip

Saturday was crazy busy with no time for exercise, and also I felt a bit paranoid. Was my foot aching? Would I be OK to run again next week? How the hell would I pull myself together mentally to do another long pool run if I couldn’t? I am a fiery Aries after all! Any more water and I feared I would evaporate.

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The Road to London #Week 10

What a strange week! It started off quite slow, with some 1K reps on Monday night at club. I didn’t want to go all out, and had thought before hand I would do only four, but in the end I managed six, with the last two not as fast (still better than not at all). I’m feeling a bit tired, but this is marathon training, and I bet you are too, right? This week I decided to invite Paul McKenna into my bed. It was amazing!

We’ve been together, on and off, for a few years – mainly he does all the talking, I do the listening. One day he told me ‘I can make you sleep,’…I can’t remember what he said after this. Yes, I listen to one of his downloads and have the book. If, like me, you have always had issues sleeping, it’s a brilliant investment. I started doing it again this week during the day, just to try and relax/rest for a short while (after Mara Yamauchi talked last week about having naps in her training). My energy often seems to have disappeared by early evening, and most nights my youngest doesn’t get home from Portsmouth until nearly 9pm – it’s a long day.

It’s a luxury taking half an hour off at lunch time, but whether you meditate, rest or exercise, it makes a massive difference. Once I did Paul’s MP3 I was straight back into the McKenna routine and have returned to doing it every night (it’s only 20minutes and I’ve often drifted off to sleep before it finishes, it’s that powerful).

This benefits training so much, especially speed. Any speed in my legs is so welcomed, and after years of being miserable on the sidelines, I’m always so grateful to do any quality training, even if it’s never quite what I know it should be, or as much as everyone else. And 1K reps are soooo much easier than one mile. My average pace was about 6:30s.

They're inspiring, aren't they?

They’re inspiring, aren’t they?

Tuesday was a lovely rest day, then Wednesday I wanted to do an easy six miles, as well as check out a new route for my Friday morning group, so I did a few up and downs along the shingle figuring out a challenging session. I don’t think I can actually just do something like an easy run along the paths/roads, I am drawn to either a field, track or the beach just to break up the monotony. Hate cars. Hate roads.

This is our gym...

This is our gym…

I had a busy evening. The next round of gym competitions are coming up, Sienna is doing her National Grade 4, which means she’s starting the usual wobble and says she wants to quit as she can’t get the right moves, so I drove her over to gym and stayed for moral support and cancelled the other activities I could. My mum steps in and helps with Amelie on a Wednesday as I can’t be in three different places at the same time. Once Sienna sticks the competition routines she regains some confidence, for a few days at least. We will all live on the edge for the next few weeks. I never thought life as a gym mum would be so stressful!

Hard efforts

Hard efforts

Thursday was rest with a few strength exercises; with Brighton Half Marathon looming on Sunday I didn’t want to do much during the week. Friday I lead my group and I was so excited for everyone! I had devised a good endurance session with a steady warm-up down to the beach, a solid stretch of shingle leading right up to a hearty climb up some hidden beach steps, a short recovery back down to the beach, more shingle back to the steps, up again, with another recovery back to the beginning (think of a lopsided figure of eight with shingle on one side of the eight, road recovery on the other). It was tough, no one moaned though and everyone gave 100 per cent. Chasing down your running buddies is the only way to draw out your inner winner. I love leading this group of people and watching them as they leave behind the usual daily grind to focus on pushing themselves.

There was only five minutes to the start of the race but we had to get a pic of the pier

There was only five minutes to the start of the race but we had to get a pic of the pier

I went over on my left ankle slightly on the shingle, after a few steps it was OK, so I carried on. There was a tiny window for a quick swim at lunchtime so I rushed off; I only did 30 lengths, and my left foot felt a bit crampy but I didn’t think anything of it.

It felt cold...

It felt cold…

After a few hours at my desk working in the afternoon it suddenly started to hurt, with pain levels rising rapidly in an almost comic fashion. By tea-time I couldn’t put any weight on it and was in agony! David had to step in to drive over to Portsmouth for the gym run and I thought any chance of running on Sunday was out. I had to cancel helping out at Lee parkrun Saturday morning as I couldn’t walk. And yes, I did have a few tears. I was so frustrated and wanted to shout to life: “You bitch! Every time I get fit something gets in the way!”

Seriously, are my legs shrinking?

Seriously, are my legs shrinking? I used to be 5ft10

“Calm down,” David told me as I started moaning about how every time I want to do a PB at a half something happens to stop me – I’ve run 1:40 so many times it’s ridiculous. I was in PB shape for the Gosport Half in November, but winds from hell in the first half messed up my breathing so much I just couldn’t get over it (plus I foolishly ran too fast in the first mile which I didn’t realise until my watch bleeped at me). I know I am in as good shape, if not a bit better than the Gosport Half – my ankle pain couldn’t be happening!

Love, love, love Brighton Half

Love, love, love Brighton Half

I raised my foot for the rest of the evening, iced it and put on some Aloe MSM Gel to soothe the area, supplemented by an ankle support when I went to bed. That was a big mistake! The support seemed to burn my skin; after a restless night I took it off and my Achilles area was red, as if burnt, with blisters on it. I couldn’t belileve it! It was Saturday morning, and once the girls’ activities were done we were due to drop them to my mum’s and drive to Brighton. Now I had a burn on the back of my foot. My friend Marina’s voice popped into my head (she being the font of all wisdom) and so I got out my Aloe Vera Gelly (it’s probably the most healing skin lotion I have) and started applying it as much as I could; every time it was absorbed I reapplied, along with the MSM Gel to the sore areas around my ankle. Despondent I was.

There was great support from these guys

There was great support from these guys

David, however, encouraged me to just wait and see. I don’t like to be like this – I much prefer becoming semi-hysterical with panic. I limped off with him in the afternoon, and our plan was to arrive, park, eat and rest in the evening. Then, Sunday morning, I would do a warm-up and see if I could put pressure on my foot. I was desperate to run Brighton Half as it’s one of my favourite races. I love the way you finally turn at about 10 miles and can see the pier three miles away. It’s always in sight as you push through the last few miles, making it psychologically so much easier to keep going.

Proof that runners are crazy

Proof that runners are crazy

We got up quite early Sunday to get ready, but my brain and body don’t function well in the morning so I was late eating my porridge pot (at 8:30am, race starts at 9am) and we had to hot-foot it to the start for our warm-up.

Can I go to bed now?

Can I go to bed now?

It was a mile away; my foot was a tiny bit sore but felt OK, there was no awful pain or sense I was striking down wrongly. After a mile it was moving OK and I made the decision to try and run the first mile of the race; if it was too sore I could easily bail out as it starts with a small loop. We made it to the VIP tent with about 1.5 minutes to spare, perfect, as there was no time to get nervous or dwell on ankle issues. I wasn’t exactly optimistic and felt a bit stressed too. It wasn’t a relaxing race! Running in the cold is miserable as well. God, I thought, what am I doing, I am too tired for this. How am I going to drag my body around this and not damage my ankle?

Local Hampshire runner Sarah Hill, second female in an unbelievable time

Local Hampshire runner Sarah Hill, second female in an unbelievable time

The first few miles weren’t too bad though (apart from feeling stressed and tired) and my ankle didn’t play up. It was a little sore but each stride wasn’t painful. David had said he’d run the first six miles with me, then see how he felt, due to his knee pain. I know the course and those miles passed quickly, and David started mentioning stopping. Which I reacted really badly to. I was struggling a bit with the effort, and definitely wasn’t enjoying myself. But I really wanted a PB! Suck it up woman I kept saying in my head, just get on with it. I hoped David would be OK to carry on, but at mile eight he said he would stop, cut across to the last stretch then jog in with me without crossing the line. My reply went like this: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” in a feeble ‘please don’t make me do this on my own’ tone that was, well, incredibnly pathetic. I have this side to my personality. It sounded like I was going to cry, without actually crying. Poor David. (I’d like to add that I didn’t swear once though. In the whole race.) He kept running with me, and sure enough every mile passed and each one I was on target pace. I knew that I could end up walking the last mile or so if my ankle gave in, so I couldn’t be complacent that I would get under 1:40. It was a case of battling on, and in Brighton there’s so much support all around to draw on, with a narrow road so you feel cosseted and if you are being dragged along.

Naughty but nice, post-race recovery meal in the car - essential for replacing your sodium

Naughty but nice, post-race recovery meal in the car – essential for replacing your sodium

And I did it. Ankle didn’t collapse, David kept going (on no training, how annoying is that), the wind didn’t get too strong, and I kept up the pace to the line. Thirty years after doing my first half marathon I finally got sub 1:40. What a massive relief. I can now move on.

Soooooo love running in my EGloves

Soooooo love running in my EGloves

Marina’s magic lotions and potions got me through.

Marina's chickens. Of course!

Marina’s chickens. Of course!

Once I stopped my ankle felt sore so I didn’t do a warm down. It was much better once I took my trainer off, so I walked back to the car in a sock with an icy foot. We joined thousands for a slow exit from Brighton. I was relieved to get home and get stuck into some homework with Sienna straight away. This week it was make a river monster – of course! Who would want to rest or relax after a race anyway?

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The Road to London #Week 6

After our life hiccup in Week 4, which impacted into Week 5, I’m trying to catch up and do Week 6 on time! Always being behind is not good for the soul.

What did Week 6 have in store for me? My training week didn’t go to plan, but that’s what marathon training is all about, right?

I'm not going to argue with Jack

I’m not going to argue with Jack

After Sunday’s long run home from Manor Farm XC I was a bit tired, but I still made Monday night club session, I just ran it as a recovery run. I was sensible and stayed at the back. When did I become so grown up? It was one-mile reps, which I didn’t want to hit hard, so I paced Russell, another Monday night runner.

We did a mile warm up with four sets of progressive strides, then I did three slow reps before the clock struck midnight (well 7:30) and I had to fly. Well done to Russell who was looking for 8-min/mile pace, and did 7:53, 7:33 and 7:35. He confessed last night that his last effort wasn’t quite as fast.

Even though I was tired my legs were spinning round quite well. That was a surprise.

Well it is creamy and delicious

Well it is creamy and delicious

Then Monday night I didn’t sleep much (random cough), and Tuesday was blah. Still, despite having a body hangover, I’m starting to feel like I used to feel with my running pre divorce. As far as trainability goes I still seem to have the raw materials to get back up to speed.  For the last few marathons I’ve done, at a similar stage in training as I am now, I was already not doing the runs I needed to. So I feel I am doing better.

Then what happens? Life has some curious timing issues, and I found out my youngest Sienna will be doing an extra night at gym in the lead up to her National grades. This is great for her! This isn’t great for me! Keeping up with the children’s activities feels at time both ridiculous and unsustainable. What I do? Tell my 15-year-old, who’s been doing ballet since she was three, she has to give up? Tell my 12-year-old, who wants to be a dancer, she has to quit one of her 50 million dance classes? Tell Sienna that 18 hours of gym is great but sorry, it’s too much effort to get you there?

I’m so lucky to car share with all the activities, so, carry on I must, for now, knowing that at some stage this crazy busy life stage will stop. Not before race day, though. And, honestly, who wants their kids to be gone and be rattling around in a house all alone? I’d rather we were all busy than staring vacantly at various screens. I’ve told Sienna she has to live with me forever – this is only fair after taking her to gym for so many years.

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I also thought it was time to try the scales as I haven’t used them in about a year as I’m not really interested in what I weigh. Saying that,  I think I’m the only person in the country (apart from my friend Emily) who puts on weight during marathon training, despite eating a tin of rice pudding every night for supper. This isn’t my only daily sustenance, I also have first breakfast, second breakfast, lunch and tea plus multiple snacks. So I’m gaining weight nicely, and I can guarantee I will finish the marathon and won’t have lost any weight on race day. I never do. I may even gain a pound. Yes my body likes to be unique in every aspect of existence.

Wednesday I had to give in and use the treadmill for the first time in nearly a year, as the cold and damp are making my lungs sore. I relish every run outside but I’m just starting to cough more at night. Spring, I need you! Runs on the treadmill are not reality, and my short legs never seem to be able to keep up with the belt at faster speeds, but I stuck to my plans and did a one mile warm up followed by 4 x 1mile reps, adding an extra one compared to last week.

They looked like this:
Rep 1 AveHR 158, speed 7:05
Rep 2 AveHR 164, speed 7:02
Rep 3 AveHR 170, speed 6:55
Rep 4 AveHR 173, speed 6:52

I’ve been avoiding mile reps for at least a year so I’m suspicious of what is going on. I’ve done them two weeks in a row…and I’ve enjoyed them. Strange.

I can't stay indoors on days like this

I can’t stay indoors on days like this

Thursday I rode to Absolute Running in Gosport, my local running store, to see Lawrence for physio. My left glute and hip is temperamental and causes issues in my lower back, or vice versa, I’m not sure exactly where the problem originates. Having your vertebrae manipulated is quite painful, but I need this to sort out the issue for when I hit longer runs. I didn’t really mind, the sky was clear and it was a beautiful day for cycling.

Friday I lead my lovely group of runners. This week was an INSET day so I adapted the session so we could do our efforts round our local park, so children could come along, and we did 10 x 1min efforts in wind and rain. January, I will not miss you.

My long run on Saturday should have involved running to my local parkrun, doing it at tempo pace, then taking a long route home, to add on extra miles. But I didn’t feel right, struggled on the way, took it easy instead and ran with my friend Sue (again in the wind and rain) then pottered very slowly home. Well done Sue for a top run in a gale.

The amazing Friday runners

Friday runners

Sunday therefore was another day of rest, with me feeling out of sorts. I was so disappointed not to do a proper long run, which is a truly beautiful thing, as I haven’t felt this strongly about NOT running, or running, for years.

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Running can be a powerful and strange force in your life, and having it back in my life these last six weeks has been amazing.

What do you think about using the treadmill?
Do you like mile reps?

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