How beautiful is this?

Now my long runs take place during the week I don’t get to see much of the river.

Although I’m seeing Harry the personal trainer midweek this week as he’s got weekend conferences, I’m usually with him on Sundays and so long runs take place midweek when it’s too dark at 5.30am to run safely along unlit pathways.

So it was a delight to see the river this morning, a bit later at 7.30am and run through the park near Didsbury and breathe in the smell of roses in the early morning air. Hints of autumn in the woods, grasses turning red along the river bank. Lovely.

my river running route

My river running route

Roses on my run

roses on my run

Hints of autumn

Hints of autumn

I think this is my favourite run in Manchester. Bit flat, too many nettles at times but for an ‘urban’ run it’s as rural as you can get.

Oh joy, my running mojo’s back

I am a bundle of smiles and bouncing cheeriness.

The sky is grey and rain is pending, the cat has picked a fight with a neighbour’s cat, though thankfully her fury was only vented through the closed kitchen window where she hung from its frame, growling and puffing like a feline boxer.

Mr M snored half the night and wheezed most of the rest while I had a most unpleasant nightmare featuring a cast of people I’ve no desire to see in reality or dreams.

But all this is nothing; my first post-holiday run was a one-off, my running mojo’s back.

I set off at 7.30am this morning and decided to take the river route, along the Mersey and up into the park in Didsbury, round the woods and through the marshlands before jogging home.

Not fast, but not wheezing, not pushing hard but not feeling like my legs are like jelly.

So I ran for an hour, though I stopped to take some snaps of a glorious morning – before the grey clouds loomed to cast their shadow over Manchester. Harry the personal trainer may not approve of this as a training technique, but sometimes the joy of running and sharing the joy is greater than the science of training. Which I may use as my defence next week.

The loneliness of the long distance runner

All right, running for an hour isn’t really long distance running, but for me running an hour is a long run. It’s my longest run of the week and it’s also my longest run to date, so feeling supersonic today, all glowy and choosing to ignore my aching thighs.

So would I say using a personal trainer helps you run faster after this morning? Well it’s certainly impacting on my stamina. And I didn’t feel like my lungs were going to explode at any point, and I knew I could do the hilly bits AND I didn’t wheeze.

I am, pretty much, cock-a-hoop.

Of course now I should really start measuring my progress with more than a standard wrist watch. Harry said you can get a sports watch with a heart rate monitor for a pretty decent price these days so I’ll check that out soon. Because it’s now dark when I set out at 5.20am and I can only see what my watch says if I’m under a lamppost. Not ideal.

I did wonder where everyone was this morning as I jogged through the empty streets trying not to think about 28 Days Later. I usually see people going off to work or waiting for buses but I didn’t see a soul until I passed a blind woman at a bus stop in Didsbury at about 5.50am when it was getting light enough to run around the park.

Wooded areas are all a bit too Blair Witch for me unless it’s daylight, but again no one about and it was only as I headed up for home, past the river, that I saw a car parked by its path. I assumed it was a dog walker parked up, but as I passed it became apparent there were two people in the car, in the one seat. Let’s just call it ‘courting’.

So I’m not the only riser in my neck of the woods!

Intervals: key to running faster

So I stumble out of bed this morning at 5.15am and think, ‘yes, I’ve recovered from Sunday’s session with Harry the personal trainer. Nothing’s aching. Crack on.’

Actually, to be honest  there are bits in there like ‘mmm, but duvet is soooo cozy’ but I’m a morning person so I know trying this in the evening wouldn’t work for me.

Interval training. I do at least one session a week, maybe two if work isn’t too demanding.

The theory is that if you practice running out of your comfort zone, so you’re wheezing a bit and in my case, just running as fast as you can, you will improve your ability to run faster over all your run. Given time.

Time + running as fast as you can in short bursts = increased overall speed.

My intervals

  • 5 mins warm up run/jog
  • 30 secs like the clappers
  • 3 mins recovery run/jog
  • 1 min like the clappers
  • 3 mins recovery run/jog
  • 90 secs like the clappers
  • 3 mins recovery run/jog
  • 1 min like the clappers
  • 3 mins recovery run/jog
  • 30 secs like the clappers
  • 5 mins cool down jog

Whole set takes about 30 minutes, providing I’m reading my watch correctly.

Looks quite easy, doesn’t it. It did to me until I tried it. But I am improving. When I began these intervals about four weeks ago I really struggled with the recovery jog after running as fast as I could for 90 seconds. It’s the running from full tilt to running at a jog that takes getting used to, it’s your natural inclination to walk you have to fight. But with more repetitions you realise that being out of breath won’t kill you and it is physically possible to jog and recover, even if your brain is screaming: ‘STOP, you crazy woman, you’re going to kill us’.

So this morning’s intervals went pretty well. it was dark in Manchester at 5.20am so I did a road run, which isn’t ideal. I also went too far out so had to jog-walk home for another 10 minutes after I’d finished, not ideal.

But I would say my intervals are getting easier so I am making headway in learning to run faster.

And Stretch…

We all know how our muscles tighten up after runs. And we all know we should stretch properly after our runs. How long do you give stretching, maybe five minutes?

As well as those post-run stretches, have you considered yoga as a real asset to your running schedule?  As a rest-day alternative, if you really can’t sit still, it has so much to recommend it.

I mentioned yoga to Harry the personal trainer and he nodded enthusiastically and mentioned ‘downward dog’. Downward facing dog has the calf stretch to beat all calf stretches – and it’s stretching hamstrings, arches, shoulders, hands and your back, to boot!

But there are a myriad of yoga positions you’ll move through during a class so all of you gets a treat.

Runners World featured yoga in their magazine’s August issue, showing a variety of stretches you can achieve with the aid of a pillow (no, not putting it under your head and falling asleep).

But there are also styles of yoga that are pretty testing on the muscles, increasing strength as well as . I’m a big fan of ashtanga yoga and there are classes all over South Manchester where you can drop in at classes. It’s an hour and a half work out but my goodness, you’re floating by the end. Metaphorically speaking.

There are many different types and yoga fusions out there today, you are bound to find something that suits your temperament, whether you like fluid movement, from one yoga position to another, or whether stillness suits you well.

But one thing’s for sure. A relaxed, stretched out body can only help in the quest: to run a bit faster.

Namaste, runners everywhere.

Sunday, day of rest… for some

What were you up to at 7.30 this morning. No, don’t tell me, let’s just pretend you were sleeping.

Me? Meeting Harry for our weekly one-hour sessions at the local park in south Manchester. I’m on the third one now, so I’ve learned to be apprehensive about what he pulls out of his car boot.

Medicine balls, kettle bells, dumb bells, big blue balls you lie on. Oh, I’m familiar with them all.

This week, nothing. This week we’re using a picnic table. No hamper, either. Straight down to business.

Exercise 1 – step up onto the bench seat with the right foot and then down, leading with the left. x 10. Repeat stepping up with the left.

Exercise 2 – step up onto the bench seat, just pushing with one leg and put the left leg straight back down. Repeat x15 times on each leg. This one is murder on the top of the thigh. Trust me.

Exercise 3 – press ups. So it’s hands onto the bench seat, out on plank position and press ups x15. Don’t go too low, you’ll never get back up.

Exercise 4 – dip things. Face away from the bench seat, bob down, hands on bench and do 20 dips. I can do these, I don’t know why. Harry pushes me to the point I’m keeling over on everything else.

Repeat the whole set again.

Sound exhausing? It is, but it’s all about strengthening muscles to give you more power when you run. The more strength on your arms, legs, core etc the easier you’ll find asking your body to do more.

Next – find a 20m length of grass.

Exercise 5 – side steps. Like sideways skipping but when you get to the end you do 5 squats and skip sideways back and repeat.

Exercise 6 – walking lunges. Walk the 20m length but lunge on each step Don’t go too low and do keep your back straight. This is something to do with your pelvis but I was on the verge of collapse here so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Straight back, not too low. There and back x2. There will be Jane Fonda-style ‘feeling the burn’.

Then repeat exercises 5 and 6.

This little playground of torture has taken 40 minutes. We now go for a run round where Harry keeps making sure I’m alive by chatting to me while I manage short sentences followed by a wheeze. This is pretty close to tempo running for a woman whose legs are mostly made of jelly now.

He then sets off in his car to go do something else athletic while I stagger home and lie in the bath. A small comfort, he was sweating after running for 20 minutes with me.

The method in the madness

I’ve been running for years. Well, I say running but what I mean is jogging slowly.

Ten years I’ve been dawdling/jogging, off and on and have I ever got any better, really?

I’ve learned endurance. I do Race for Life and I ran a 10k a couple of years ago with a friend. That was a blessing, she was even slower than me and so we puffed, jogged and walked our way round in 1 hour 15 minutes. Not fast.

So now I’m putting my foot down (and picking it up a bit faster) and enlisting some professional help from the professionals in Manchester. Because I need it, let’s face it.

Now I now what you’re thinking – personal trainer, bit over the top.

  • Yes, it’s costing me a bit of money
  • Yes, having an hour one-to-one feels indulgent
  • Yes, it’s what WAGS and people on tele do but
do you know, what? It’s not ridiculously expensive, you get 100% attention on what you need to improve and frankly, pouring with sweat while someone shouts ‘come on, one more lunge, you can do it’ is about as far away from glamour as you can get.
So I’m going to be sharing what I do with my running coach, Harry, who works at our local gym. I get homework too so there’ll be updates during the week and if I find anything useful on running faster tips I’ll happily share.