Friday, 1 October 2010

Slovenia and my best run ever

Packing for Slovenia, I questioned the sense in taking my trainers and running kit. After all, this was meant to be a relaxing holiday with plenty of sunbathing by lake Bled and a few gentle walks through beautifully-tended cowbell meadows. But as usually happens in these circumstances, the trainers won and I somehow managed to find a few extra cubic centimetres in my case to squeeze them in.

It took a whole five days before I eventually gave in to the urge to get out there and work up a sweat and this in itself was no mean feat. Usually, irritability due to lack of exercise sets in after only a couple of days so in Slovenia I was doing well. It must have had something to do with the fantastic place we were staying in, the mind-blowing scenery, the great food and fine company. Save for two days when it absolutely chucked it down - we were all having a great time.

The run itself took me through Zasip, the local village, and two kilometres or so down to Bled itself. This small town is Slovenia's most popular tourist resort and it isn't hard to understand why. Talk about picture postcard - this place is utterly stunning. Built at one end of a large, naturally-heated glacial lake renowned for its healing properties and world-famous for its rowing facilities, it's a classy, unspoilt retreat where gambling, eating, walking and, well, chilling out are the order of the day.

Hitting Bled, I headed straight for the lake and the well marked path that circumnavigates it. It's about five miles round and when I reached the water's edge I wondered if I was going to struggle a bit. I hadn't run properly for a couple of weeks or so and here I was talking an eight mile run in a foreign country having gorged myself on pizza, pizza and more pizza for the past five days.

I carried on nonetheless feeling comfortable and enjoying the views of the Julian Alps in the distance. Half way round and I still felt great. The air felt cleaner here than back in the UK and my lungs were loving it. I picked up the pace a little and before I knew it I had completed one lap of the lake. Now all that remained was the two mile uphill schlep back up to Zasip.

I was expecting pain but all I got was pleasure. My energy levels were sky high and this was a doddle. Even the steep finish up to the church was easy and in no time at all I was back at our lovely Alpine Retreat What a run. Have I ever felt as comfortable doing eight miles? Probably not. Maybe it was the fresh Alpine climate that agreed with me so much. Perhaps the beautiful scenery. Or maybe the fact that I was relaxed and having a wonderful holiday. To be honest, it was all of the above.

Slovenia is a top holiday destination but as I am finding out it's also a quality place to use as a training base. So much so that I'm already planning to go back - with both flip flops and trainers packed neatly side by side. 


Friday, 10 September 2010

Brighton Marathon Rocks

Earlier this year I took part in the first ever Brighton marathon. It was my first attempt at running 26.2 miles and I wanted to post a decent time so I took my training seriously. Starting in the beginning of January, I completed three runs each week - two of between seven and nine miles and then a gradually-increasing longer run at the weekends.

By the end of March I was feeling good even if some of the training had been particularly brutal thanks to the harsh winter. One run that sticks out was a 10-miler I did from Ditchling Beacon to Lewes and back over the very hilly South Downs. It was freezing cold and absolutely pissing it down with rain and by the time I reached my car back at the Beacon my hands had seized up. I had to wait a while before I could even begin to untie my laces.

In contrast, marathon day in mid April was gloriously sunny. I woke early and had a large bowl of porridge before getting into my kit. As I joined the thousands of runners all making their way to the start I began to see what a big deal this really was. And that's when the doubts started to creep in. Have I trained enough? Have I taken on enough carbs? Will I be okay in these conditions? I lost count of the number of times I went to the loo during the hour before the race.

We got underway and I deliberately went off slowly at around nine minute mile pace. Four miles in and I bumped into an old school friend and we ran with each other for a while which helped me to relax. By the ten mile mark I was feeling comfortable and enjoying being part of such a great occasion. I crossed the half way mark in just over two hours and felt confident I could keep my pace up during the second half.

It was at 16 miles that I felt the first pangs of tiredness so I made a point of getting as much fluid and energy gels down me as possible in preparation for what was going to be a painful last hour and a half. The sun was getting more intense which was great for the crowds who came out in their tens of thousands to support us, but not so good for us runners. As I looked around I could see people were starting to feel the pain. This was getting tougher by the minute.

I passed my wife and parents at mile 18 which gave me a much needed boost but by the time I hit mile 20 I was hurting big time. It didn't help that the business end of the course was the bleakest - a dead straight road with an ugly power station at the end of it. "The road to hell" said a sign draped across the tarmac. It wasn't joking.

The final six miles were sheer agony. I had never run this far in my life before and my body simply didn't know how to cope. It felt like the bones in my legs were bursting through the top of my pelvis they were so sore. But with each step, the closer I was getting to the finish. I could see it opposite Brighton pier. Come on Ben. One last push.

As I crossed the line, the relief was immense; and when I spotted my wife the emotion and mental exhaustion became too much and I burst into tears. I'd done it. I had completed my first marathon in a time of 4 hours and 15 minutes. Was I happy with that? Oh yes. Over the moon, in fact.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Why do you run?

My name's Ben and I enjoy running. Not massively. Not enough to purchase a pair of wafer-thin shorts with that tricky-to-step-into inner lining that tends to smell a bit whiffy and perishes quickly. Not enough to join a local running club and get into conversations about how much the latest pair of Adidas trainers weigh. But enough to hit the road a couple of times a week for an hour or so and work up a sweat.

So why do I do it? Well, the obvious answer is to keep fit. Keeping fit is important and I want to stay healthy. Running helps me achieve this. Vanity also plays a part though. Running burns calories - shed loads of them - and the more you burn the closer that six pack becomes (in reality, I'll never make it that far but hey, it's good to have a goal).

Another big reason why I run is because it helps to relieve stress. Stress is something we all suffer from occasionally and we all have different ways of dealing with it. Me - I find that running lets me forget about that deadline, that bill, that squabble I've had with my wife; and the buzz I get from finishing a run puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

I've been running for about seven years now and I'd like to think I'll continue for many years to come. The purpose of this blog is to share experiences with other people like me - those who run. I'm interested in pretty much anything to do with running. What do people think of when they run? What music do you listen to? What supplements do you take? What kit do you wear? What events can you recommend? What routes have you completed? Anything to do with running - let's talk about it and share our experiences and knowledge.