As part of my Miles for Wishes challenges I signed up to the Race at Your Pace virtual race, aiming to complete 200 miles in a month.
It’s now June and the results are in – I managed to complete 171.5 miles, so I fell approximately 30 miles short of the 200 mile challenge.
For those who know me well will understand that I am hugely disappointed in not achieving the 200 miles – I don’t do excuses, I just couldn’t quite get my body to match my desire in this instance. Disappointment aside, I am proud – I’ve ended up pushing myself harder, further and faster than at any point in my very short running ‘career’. So for a bit of context;
I have really only been running for around 8 months and am an amateur runner, at best. I decided last year that I wanted to get back in to regular running and fitness in general, but that I needed a purpose for it – and so Miles for Wishes was born. A way to focus my efforts, to challenge myself in lots of new ways and to raise money for a fantastic cause in the process. So I just got out and ran – mostly starting with running to or from work – but also in preparation for the various running challenges I’ve set myself.
To date I’ve run two half marathons (Wokingham in February and Silverstone in March), but my mileage over the last 3 months has dropped significantly, due in part of a shoulder injury which made running painful for a good 6 weeks. The virtual race was really a way to get some focus back in to my training and some additional motivation to get out there and run. Over the last 3 months my running activity has looked like this;
- Feb – 6 runs / 42 miles
- Mar – 5 runs / 28.5 miles
- Apr – 4 runs / 12.1 miles
So May, which saw 28 runs and 171 miles, is a 500% increase in mileage terms and this can’t be too bad right? But I guess looking back has shown that I really have only been playing at this and that by working harder I can go further and faster. So to drop in a well-worn cliché – only look back to see how far you’ve come – in my case this is right, I’m happy and I’ve got some valuable experience out of this challenge.
So what did I learn?
Set a goal, but don’t let it become a chore
Whether you want to go further or faster or start you own journey having a goal is a great way to motivate yourself. For me trying to run 200 miles, in hindsight, was maybe a little ambitious considering how frequently and how far I’ve run to date. But it wouldn’t be a challenge if it could easily achieved, right?
Week 3 really got me down, running had become a chore – I was forcing myself to go out and I was running in quite a bit of discomfort and frankly it just wasn’t fun. For a competitive person like me its hard to go out and run slow miles – my Strava segments and times plummeted and that further affected my motivation. So there is clearly a fine line between setting something ambitious and something that is achievable – don’t let your running become a sheer matter of chasing a number in your running log.
Your weaknesses are quickly, and painfully, exposed
Most training plans and blogs about running will give you a plan on how to increase mileage – whether it’s the 10% rule or something else – to ensure your body adjusts and copes with the extra strain. In my case such an aggressive increase in volume was not easy – as the weeks went on my muscles and joints become increasingly painful and exposed some weaker muscle groups that I now need to boost with some additional, focused strength training.
The key areas where I suffered were my knees, although this has always been an issue for me, hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings. Managing your body and muscles is key to keeping going, not losing your form or worse getting injured. So I now bring in a lot more stretching, yoga and foam rolling in to my routines. I’ve been managing a tight hamstring and glute on my right side for a couple of weeks and during a long run on Sunday I had to stop about 3 miles from home – when the muscles seized. That was pretty much the end of the challenge for me and again a reminder that this was not the right way to do increase my mileage.
Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat
Training with a stretching goal means preparation and designing your life around your training needs – for me the largest part is fitting runs and rides in between the time I have with my two girls.
The physical effects on your body are marked, for me there were 3 main learning points;
- Hunger strikes – eating right is half the battle, increasing my miles meant I was constantly hungry and getting the right fuel in at the tight time becomes hugely important. Running after a night out or after a roast dinner never ends well. Reading fellow runners blogs about recovery particularly I learnt that there is a 30 minute window following your workout within which you should be refuelling your body correctly. It seems to me the ideal way to recover is to have an easy snack immediately after the run (PB&J became a go too snack for me) and then a proper meal within the next couple of hours. However, I’ve been increasingly using Science in Sport Rego Rapid Recovery Powder as a post run drink – Vanilla – to help replenish the glycogen (energy) stores quickly.
- Energy and tiredness – your body loses a load of key vitamins and minerals through sweat and it’s good to replace these during or post run. I personally favour High 5 Zero (Citrus for me) for both running and cycling, which is another way to top up a number of key vitamins and minerals;
- Zinc – lost through sweat – is an antioxidant, immune booster and fighter of stubborn viruses and as such its worth making sure you get enough no matter what you sport,
- Magnesium – prevents cramps, improves mood and can prevent headaches and is again a must,
- Sleep – getting enough z’s can never be understated, getting 7 or 8 hours is massively important for injury prevention and to allow the body to rebuild muscles.
Basically, listen to your body – fuel and rest when you need to, just don’t quit!
You need to have a clear idea of what your prepared to sacrifice, or not, in order to meet your challenge and this will vary depending on what your end goal is – to do the very best you can or just to finish. While all the challenges are new to me I want to do the very best I can at each and as such I’m not in them just to finish. However the events and the training have to work around my responsibilities as a parent and the time I get to spend with my children at weekends.
That’s not to say you can’t incorporate the two – my daughters and I are going to run together later in the year at the Milton Keynes Big Fun Run and will likely get some Parkruns in before the big day too.
Similarly chasing a mileage target can mean you sacrifice consistency and other, more helpful training programmes – such as Yasso 800s, tempo efforts, fartlek’s etc.
“You’ve got this!”
Motivation is the key to completing challenges – last week I found I was shouting at myself to not slow down or to just keep going. Bit extreme, but having the mental ability to keep yourself going is important if you don’t have a regular running buddy.
Again, if you’re not running in a club or a group it’s still easy to find inspiration and motivation – there are some really excellent running blogs out there and if you’re an Instagram user there are literally thousands of people just like you, so get out there and connect and share. Just a warning on social media – it’s easy to get obsessed with it – be your ow benchmark and use social media as a way to connect and motivate (but not measure) yourself.
So as a final thought, would I advise anyone else to do this?
The Miles for Wishes challenges, and taking on the virtual running challenge from Race at Your Pace, was about testing and pushing myself, getting outside of my comfort zone and trying to be better – in doing so I hope to be able to raise awareness and money for what is an amazing cause. My advice would to sign up to a challenge that suits your own abilities and give it a go – you will be surprised at what you can achieve. Race at Your Pace offers a great value way of doing this, with a really good range of distance on offer – so go for the glory and bag yourself a medal and a compression top as well for good measure.
Find out more at http://www.raceatyourpace.co.uk
You can donate to the Miles for Wishes challenge, in aid of Make-A-Wish UK through our Just Giving page – http://www.justgiving.com/milesforwishes