Interval Alley **

Rep 1 I set off at a pace I know I cannot sustain over 8 reps. Am I going hard enough? I am pumping my arms, lengthening my stride, breathing hard. So hard. How do I know if I can do more?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Is that a beep? Oh, yes it is, wait, there’s another one. Thank fuck.

Recovery 1 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard.

 

Rep 2 Can I do this? For 7 more reps?

Keep going, keep breathing in rhythm, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Trust that they will come.

Count to 20 over and over. Am I going hard enough?

And there it is. My lungs feel like they are going to burst out of my chest through the back of my throat. It’s going to be horrible.

Yes, you are going hard enough.

Recovery 2 Walk a little, try to run slowly. Keep breathing hard. Look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 3 I think I’m going to be sick. I actually might be sick right here. There’s someone coming. Oh arse. I’m going to be sick everywhere and someone’s going to see and ask if I’m alright and what I’m doing and why.
Trying to get faster.

Just to see what it’s like and if I can do it and for how long.

Back off a little, keep going, don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Recovery 3 Walk a little, look at the stars and the lights and the hills.

 

Rep 4,5,6,7
Don’t look at your phone, just wait for the beeps.

Lungs need to slow down, fine but keep going, just keep trying to lift your legs a bit and keep using your arms.

Shoulders back and down. Where are your elbows, your neck, your arms, your fingers, your head, your pelvis. God this is like harp practice.

But instead of thinking about the position of every single bit of your body to avoid injury and make a great sound, this is about something different.

This is about learning to go faster. PRACTISING going faster (thank you awesome coach last year who put it into musical terms and helped me get it)

This is about learning to explore, and learning to trust that your body can do it if you let your mind just try.

Rep 8 is barely faster than my normal slow run.

Finally, there are the last beeps.

I’m back in proper training and it feels good.

 
My legs are wrecked. They’ve never felt like this before, I’ve never tried quite so hard before. The slow plod back to the house feels weird, my legs feel like jelly and lead all at the same time. The short slope back to the main road that I always run up even at the end of the longest run feels like a mountain.

It’s over.

Until next week.

It is next week now.

Tonight, interval alley awaits. It will probably be raining or snowing. But I quite like it like that.

** Interval Alley isn’t really an alley. It’s a section of path near my house, but it’s quite enclosed by trees and hedges and is often dark when I tend to go, so feels a bit like an alleyway. There are rarely any people on that stretch at the time I go so I don’t feel too silly.
It goes through a farm, and usually there are only sheep for company, occasionally a couple of horses or cows or even deer, and every now and then I’m joined by an owl or a bat. I can’t even remember why I picked it now but having a silly name for it now makes it feel a little bit gladiatorial. I quite like that.
I never thought I could do intervals but I worked with an amazing coach for a little while at the start of last year and he made me make myself do them. I was stunned by how much I enjoyed them (afterwards) and how they made me feel so strong after, literally like I could do anything I set my mind to, maybe even take on the world.

Changes

For the last 29 days I’ve been doing a running challenge called Marcothon. Briefly, it started when one person decided to run every day in November. The next year his wife decided to run every day in December. Since then, it has gathered momentum and is now a firm fixture in the running calendar.

Two years ago I decided not to try it as due to my asthma, I wasn’t sure if I could run every day through winter. I went for an 80 mile month instead, and at the time this was my biggest ever mileage.

Last year, as a more experienced runner and knowing my asthma a bit better, I reluctantly threw in the towel after my run on Day 17, coughing, spluttering and knowing it had been really stupid to go out feeling so ill. The next day my peak flow had dropped by nearly 50%, I had the death rattle so much feared by asthmatics, and it was straight off to the doctors where I was diagnosed with the second chest infection of the winter. There would be two more to follow that one.

This year, despite practising like mad for a solo concert late in the month and attempting to save my legs for an ultramarathon on New Year’s Day, I find myself still in the hunt after Day 29. Even more unbelievably, despite feeling plenty of warning tickly throats, so far (touch wood) I haven’t succumbed to a lurgy. And yes, I did just touch my head with my hand.

The lasting reflection I will take from Marcothon is how noticeable even small changes can be.

Due to time constraints, a lot of my runs have been along the same route at a very similar time of day.

I run along an old railway track next to a small stream that has moved from a trickle to a raging torrent during Storm Desmond, and now back again. At the height of the storm it was truly frightening running next to it – the path is normally a good distance from the water, but as the rain continued to fall, the power and strength of the water rushing by was hypnotic and I felt myself being drawn towards it. I saw how near the water was to the bridges I ran over, and the force the bridges had to withstand.



I’ve noticed how the niggles move around my body. Something that one day has felt quite worrying has completely gone the next day. The outside of my right knee, then underneath my left knee. And then a worrying lump on the outside of the really bad ankle.
I felt dangerously tired on a couple of days, even early in the evening. My legs were fine but I struggled to keep my eyes open. I made it home without even remembering these runs, but I know I must have done them because Strava tells me I did.

I’ve run early in the morning, late at night, whatever I could squeeze in.


Some days have felt easy but have been fast. Other days have proved to be a huge effort for a slow time.

The weather has changed drastically, from being utterly soaked from the moment I locked the front door to the moment I returned three hours later, to picking my way neatly along frozen footpaths a few days later, to running in a vest in the middle of December at a distinctly northerly latitude.


My longest run was several laps of my local forest. I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to it, but I needed the miles and the hills so off I went. I was amazed at how different each lap was. I only met a couple of people during my run, but each time round I noticed extra marks in the mud next to the distinctive marks of my new Terraclaws. Bike tyre trails, a buggy, horseshoes, wellies, more and more paw prints.


I watched as the trees bent and twisted in the wild, biting winds. Every time I run down that particular path I am amazed the trees still stand after each storm, and yet they do. They shed leaves, and lose the odd branch, but otherwise they stand firm while the chaos blows around them.

There have been other, bigger changes as well.

At the start of the month I rather nervously went out on a date.

A few days later, said date and subsequent second date having gone quite well, we were out in the hills, running in the dark with snow, wind and hail battering us and agreeing this was quite a good way to spend our time. First thing on Christmas morning, we ran 8 rather chilly miles round the forest, laughing, joking, busting our lungs on the hills I could run (safe to say there were less of these than usual after running every day!) and eating sweets on the others, before heading our separate ways for prior work and family arrangements.

I can’t quite believe where the month went, it has been hectic beyond belief. I started the month desperately willing the year to finally come to an end so that I could put it behind me and start again with a new one.
But now there are just two runs left before the bells ring tomorrow night, and once again another fresh start is just around the corner.

Grey, green, orange

Autumn is out in all its glorious colour in Scotland. We’ve had a beautiful few weeks with only a couple of really soggy days. The combination of shorter days, turning leaves, migrating geese and lower sun in the sky mean that winter is firmly on its way. But the landscape is absolutely stunning.

I’m going into my fourth winter up here. Bad things still happen in the ‘new’ life, but I am much more resilient and able to cope with the knocks when they come. A tough hill race nearly finished me off emotionally for a few days, but I got through it and will live to fight another day. Difficult days at work are shrugged off relatively easily, and there is a freedom and a lightness that I didn’t have where I lived before.

I’ve had my head down for a few weeks but I emerged a few days ago, having had a pretty much perfect week and a visit from my parents. I’m back running again, and while Saturday’s run was grey, damp, hard and badly disrupted by my asthma, the miles out on the Antonine Wall yesterday morning with friends were the exact opposite. 

My entries are in for my races next year. This gives me some of the focus I need to keep going through the winter. There are three new ones, and an old one I didn’t complete the first time around. 

Three of them are south of the border, two are totally different to anything I’ve done before, and one of these will yet again be the biggest scariest thing I’ve ever contemplated doing. 

As a result, I’m tremendously excited while being ever so slightly terrified at the same time. But this is what I love doing, and I do it for the moments where everything stops around me and all I am aware of is my lungs working and the scenery around me.

I’ve had to rope my parents in to help with the big one, which will be a new experience for all of us. Dad is a long distance cyclist with a love of 24 hour time trials in bad weather, and Mum is really good at tough love and not giving in when you’re scared. 

I’m learning a new piece on the harp at the moment and it has become a bit of a mantra. 

Everything will be all right. 

taken from Croy Hill early yesterday morning
  
lookimg towards home from Croy Hill