There are times when even us lone-wolf runners like to get out there with the pack and celebrate being alive and being a runner. The Bupa Great Winter Run is one of those times when I am very happy to be out on the road with the tribe.
My running plan this year is to build on the lessons from marathon training and in particular to focus on strengthening the weaker aspects of my running. There's nothing like a marathon for highlighting areas for improvement!
I'm using several shortish runs to structure and focus my training. I have a tendency to push myself in races and so as well as providing a bit of incentive, I'll use them to test progress round form improvement. I know I can run fast and I can run long, but I can't run either fast or long and run well. If I want to keep running, I need to get back to basics. 2014 is for improving form, building strength and testing my discipline and progress in races. The Great Winter Run 5k on Saturday was too good an opportunity to resist.
The Great Winter Run is based in Edinburgh's stunning Holyrood Park over a well trod and well kent run round Arthur's Seat. I must have run it hundreds of times over the years and I never ever get bored of the views and the park itself. It's a natural arena with lots of space for all the people and paraphernalia of mass running.
I know it's a bit unfashionable to say it, but I like the Bupa races. They're not cheap, but they are beautifully organised. My number and guidance arrived in good time, the training schedules and support are all available and accessible on line and everything was clearly explained so even I didn't have any nagging questions. I was particularly pleased that the race was on a Saturday morning as it meant I could get the train in and wasn't dependent on a lift. There seemed to be plenty of toilets, lots of signposts and lots and lots of runners, supporters, dogs and smiley helpful people. It ran alongside the Cross Country Championships and was preceeded by a race for young runners, some of them looked very young!
Arriving in Holyrood Park for a race is always exciting and I was particularly delighted to see the young runners heading home with their medals and goody bags. How lovely to think of the life of running ahead of them. All the roads were well gritted, essential given it was such a bright and frosty morning. So the mood was warm and really lively as we got into our pens. The pre race warm up was brilliant, more like a dance and it definitely warmed up all the running muscles in the right way. And we got off almost exactly on time, I'm a stickler for punctuality!
Although it's quite a large race - about 2,000 people I think, the atmosphere was electric and very friendly. People smiled at each other, helped each other over the barricades to get to the pens on time and apologised - yes apologised - when toes get trodden on. I even got apologies from one or two of the very tall men that bumped into me on the way round - that has never happened before! I must remember to take of my invisibility cloak when I'm racing! But thanks guys, it was much appreciated.
If you're not familiar with the route, it's tarmac all the way round. We started with the (gentle) wind behind us as we headed past the loch and up the long hill that lasts about 2 miserable k. The only positive thing is that it gets it out of the way, but it's a pain for folks like me who take 2 miles to warm up enough to enjoy running! It's then more or less flat for 1- 1.5k as you cross the top past the upper loch and then down hill with a flat .5k finish. Lots of friendly marshals too which I like on a race and a good crowd. Because of the earlier races there were lots of young runners waving and cheering us on, very poignant.
My aim for the race was to make my lazy glutes earn their keep. Whether because of my deformed feet, or the calf injury the other year or lots of other reasons, I am a lazy a**se. My glutes aren't firing much at all, so I'm re-training them. I've got into some pretty bad habits which I think have been exacerbated by the marathon training and so I have to work hard to make new good ones.
So my race goal was to focus on my glutes for as much of the 5k as I could. Good habits start with good intentions, so even if I only thought about them, that was all I had to do. If I caught myself slipping into a glute-free way of running then I had to slow down and walk, this would stop me reinforcing old behaviours. It's much the same in Yoga and phsyio, the first step is to set the intention and focus and then things start to happen. I ran without my ortho insoles because I want to re-train my body and strengthen the weak bits so I can run naturally.
The first uphill 2K was not fun. I puffed and panted and willed those glutes to get me up that hill. I must have looked a sight as I sort of minced up the hill, trying to make those butt cheeks work and look as elegant and effortless as John at Chi Running Camp. Luckily no one cares!
It wasn't long before I realised I was cheating and so I made myself stop and restore my form, those glutes have grown very lazy indeed and it was a struggle. I was even out of breath much earlier than when I usually run, which was a bit odd. I ended up doing 3 short walks on the first 2k. It was a struggle to make myself stop; it would have been so easy to give in and run in my usual way, but that would have defeated the purpose.
So I was mightily relieved to hit the flat bit and it was much easier to focus on form when I wasn't struggling so much. Downhill was even easier and I felt my glutes really moving like they should have. I felt really relaxed and comfortable and nothing hurt. My knees, my hip, nothing hurt. As I relaxed into the hill, it suddenly became clear to me that my glute-free running is one of the reasons I struggle so much with the Chi Running Gears. Now when I changed gear, I did actually speed up. I haven't worked out the physics yet but I'm pretty sure that this is one of the reasons I don't actually get out of first gear, any ideas on that would be most welcome!
On the last straight, as the finish line came into view, I started speeding up for my usual sprint finish. Immediately the glutes sat back and let the quads and calves do the work. Summoning up all my will power, I slowed down and walked til I was back on form. 'This isn't giving in' I wanted to shout at all the spectators shouting us all on. I didn't allow myself a sprint until the last few yards when I just couldn't resist it! Boy did it feel good.
I came in at 32.26, 8 minutes outside my personal best; 1366 overall and 23rd in my age and gender group. The goody bag was excellent with a tee shirt, medal, galaxy chocolate, nuts, biscuits, health bar, toothpaste, water and energy drink, oh a silver cape for the cold (no cuddly toy in mine). I opened it on the train on the way home.
Despite the less than exciting stats I was really pleased that I'd stuck to my rules; made some progress on re training and had a bit of insight into how I can improve further. Most importantly I had fun at a great race with some of the best views you could possibly hope for.
The Bupa Great Winter Run was a great way to start my running year. and I'll definitely do it again. It's given me a real incentive to get some hard work in this year. I've booked a second Chi Running Camp with Nick in May and I'm really looking forward to what happens next.
I wish you a very happy, healthy and exhilarating 2014, whatever your life goals!