Training for the Speed Project - week three

Training for the Speed Project - week three

I’ve had two big things on my mind when it comes to my training this week - nutrition and recovery. Nutrition is something I find really intimidating, simply because it’s so far outside my realm of knowledge and there’s loads of conflicting information about. I spent Saturday scurrying around the National Running Show trying to understand all the options out there, but I have no idea what or who to trust, and it’s all a little overwhelming. I’m planning to do some serious research and testing over the next few weeks before I share more, so watch this space.

Recovery is something I’m better at, but given I’ve been a bit knackered lately, and the stop start nature of The Speed Project, it’s something I want to really nail. My two problem areas are soreness and fatigue. Seriously, today I feel a bit like I’ve been hit by a truck, especially around my hip flexors and the soles of my feet. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be like this, and I’m pretty sure that a decent recovery strategy would help a lot.

A Pretty Place to Play - Training for The Speed Project, week Three

soreness

yoga and mobility

This is why I keep a training log, because looking back I can see that during weeks where I’ve practiced consistently I’ve been much less sore and stiff. Totally logical, but so easily overlooked and a good reminder to make time for myself on the mat because my body and my mind will benefit.

One of the effects of not being consistent in my practice is that I’ve noticed more soreness in my calves during my runs. My calves are a real trigger point for me and a part of my body that I really need to look after. After all sorts of experiments I know that a good warm up focused on mobility makes a big difference to me. Yes it’s a bit dull, but it’s better than having to quit a run because my calves hurt like hell.

pulseroller

I hate foam rolling and I’m terrible at remembering to do it, but I know that when I do put the effort in I see results. The best routine for me is to roll before I run and then to have a few independent sessions with my roller each week. I don’t always do this and sometimes my technique is terrible so at The National Running Show last weekend I took the plunge and invested in a Pulseroller. I’ve been eying up these vibrating wonder tools for awhile, but they are not cheap so I wanted to make sure the investment would be worth it. Turns out trying one out last weekend was all it took to get me to part with my cash. I’m really looking forward to seeing what difference the Pulseroller makes to my recover, even after one use I’ve noticed my calves are much less tight, which bodes well.

epsom salts and magnesium

I love a bath and back before Christmas Vie Healthcare sent me a huge bag of their Epsom Salts to help my body recover from everything I put it through. In water Epsom Salts break down into magnesium and sulphate which are absorbed through your skin and, alongside the joy of wallowing in warm water, can help relax muscles and loosen stiff joints. I like to add a drop or two of essential oils to make everything a bit more luxurious, but I’ve been out of salts for a few weeks and I have noticed everything is tighter, so probably time to reinvest.

Training for the Speed Project week three - A Pretty Place to Play

fatigue

rest

Rest is so important to me as even when I’m not training I do suffer from low energy and fatigue. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it is possibly linked to anxiety disorder and the medication I take to manage my condition, both of which can mean my sleep is disrupted. I also get tired more quickly because it takes quite a lot of effort for me to deal with very stimulating situations (after The Running Show I was exhausted simply because it was so full on!) and also to concentrate for long periods of time. Although I’ve got better at managing these things with time (including developing a strong sense of NFOMO - no fear of missing out) as my training load ramps up I need to be more careful and even more focused on making sure I get enough rest and avoid too much stimulation. So more naps for me!

nutrition

I really believe that if I want to perform I need to make sure that my body is getting what it needs, before, during and after my training. Discussing this with my coaches we already know I’ve not been taking on enough calories during my runs and I’m now exploring what fuel might work for me (I’ve got a few ideas I’m testing out - will share more later!). Mike and I have also recently changed our diet a bit as we’ve stopped eating meat. This is taking a bit of getting used to and we’re having to work quite hard to make sure we’re eating a balanced diet and that I’m getting enough of the right sort of calories. It’s all a bit trial and error so far, but I’m sure it’ll come together and I’ll share more when it does!


When I’ve not been thinking about nutrition and recovery I’ve been dealing with the first week of a new term at university. Everyone comes back off the break all fired up and keen to put plans into action, or at least talk about putting plans into action. Which means I spent pretty much the whole week in meetings! As a result my training took a little bit of a knock - it’s that combination of stimulation and needing to concentrate again - but my pace is really picking up on my long runs and my speed work is pushing me in the most painful and enjoyable way possible, which is amazing!


Monday - an hour pottering around London with Doris, the perfect way to recover from the weekend’s training.

Tuesday - more pottering around with Doris - probably need to remember that I’m training for a running event, not a cycling event!

Wednesday - REST DAY

Thursday - 50 minutes of intervals, 1 minute on 1 minute off with 15 minutes warm up and 15 minutes recovery. I love these sessions so much, they push me so hard and are total sweatfests, but they’re the sessions that change things. Also squeezed in a 20 minute upperbody workout.

Friday - REST DAY

Saturday - such high hopes of a hill session after The National Running Show, but I was exhausted and quickly fell in to a drooly sleep

Sunday - just shy of 9 sub-10 minute miles along the canal on the most beautiful day - exactly why I run!


If last week’s focus was recovery, I guess this week’s should be nutrition, which terrifies me. I know so little about this area, and it’s bound to be a bit of an adventure learning how to nourish my body better.  

Are you curious about how I’m training for the Speed Project? Is there anything you’d like to know? Let me know in the comments and I will see what I can do! In the meantime, you can read all my posts about this adventure here.

* Vie Healthcare kindly gifted me a bag of Epsom Salts, but all opinions are my own.

* images: Anna Rachel Photography

Iron Girl

Iron Girl - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

This is a post I found a bit hard to write, so stay with me. If you’ve ben around for awhile you’ll know I have some big thoughts on issues around women in sport. My career is built around understanding the experiences and identities of women in sport, the barriers to participation and educating others about these issues. I am outspoken, and passionate, but I am also an academic and am trained to be critical and reflective about issues and, especially, my own thoughts. Earlier this week there was an explosion of comment on social media about the introduction of an Iron Girl race as part of the IMUK weekend in Bolton. A sister event to Ironman, Iron Girl is (at least in Bolton) a woman only 5km that will run parallel to Ironman Bolton. As you can imagine this provoked a lot of feelings. People were outraged about nearly every aspect of the event, and when I first heard about it so was I. In many respects I still am, but I also want to understand WHY the event organisers made the choices they did about this event. Yes it could just be out and out sexism, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and consider how gender ideology might be at play.

The Science Part

A quick refresher on gender ideology. Gender ideology in sport is pervasive. I would argue that modern sport is a symbol of masculinity that creates a powerful form of sexism in society. As a result women's participation is deemed inappropriate and unwelcome outside of narrow parameters designed to protect the interests of men. While historically the exclusion of women has been based on biological facts, it can be argued that social and cultural ideas around gender roles and behaviour in society play a greater role. Ideology around gender is problematic and impacts on how we think about our selves and others, creating inequalities. 

It is vital through all of this to remember how our own experiences and lens on the world. Just because we’d have no problems entering an Ironman doesn’t mean that everyone would have the same confidence. Arguably women who are already heavily involved in sport are the exception, and there are many more people who see the idea of participation in a very different light and who experience other barriers to their participation.

Now to pick apart Iron Girl…

The Name

Iron Girl.

Girl.

This is probably the element that caused the most contention on my Twitter feed. Iron Girl is aimed at women over 16, yet it refers to them as girls, a phrase that is both infantilising and patronising when directed at adults. Think about it, the statement 'throwing like a girl' has become synonymous the the idea that if you're doing something like a girl, then you're doing it the wrong way. It's an insult. A slight. It emphasises the idea that for sport to be legitimate it must encompass masculine traits. Statements like this perpetuate the idea women's sports are second rate, it trivialises it and undermines steps towards equality. It can be argued that the use of negative language can also be seen as re-emphasising the repressive stereotype that women aren't as good at sports as men, thus perpetuating the idea that endurance events like an Ironman just aren’t for women because they’re not as athletic as their male peers.

So far, so fair. However my question is why isn’t the community as outraged by the idea of This Girl Can? The concerns are just the same - I’ve written about them before, and even lifted some of the arguments I’ve made above from this post. Yes the world is much more awake to this type of causal sexism than it has ever been, but This Girl Can is still praised with little thought given to its name.

Bottom line, if we’re going to criticise events and initiatives for using phrases that infinities and patronise women lets be consistent.

The Distance

Ironman is actually just a brand which offers a variety of different races, but the longest is 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112 mile cycle with a marathon as a finisher. Iron Girl is a 5km fun run. They are starkly different events and the gendered nature of Iron Girl has provoked anger at the idea the event is suggesting women aren’t up to or for the more arduous Ironman events. I can understand this, but I don’t think it’s the organiser’s intention. Iron Girl is aimed at a very different crowd to the Ironman, outside of the UK it offers sprint distance triathlons and is designed to encourage and empower women in sport, not to tell them they’re not good enough to do an Ironman. It is arguably an effort to increase the diversity of events on offer over the IMUK weekend. It is disappointing that Iron Girl aren’t offering more than a fun run, it would’ve been good to see a sprint triathlon on offer and hopefully this will be the case in future years.

Bottom line, I’d argue that we should think of the events as a gateway to an active lifestyle, after all many of us started our careers by taking part in a fluffy fun run like Race for Life, Iron Girl isn’t really that different.

Women Only

Women only events are polarising, but personally I think that women only spaces are important. Ideology is taken for granted in society. It's a form of cultural logic that we use to make sense of the world. This is especially true in relation to gender, and as a result it can be hard to transcend traditional assumptions about difference between genders and the notion that sport is a traditionally masculine domaine. We know that fewer women then men participate in sport, and Sport England has suggested that this isn’t because women don’t want to participate, but because they’re afraid of people judged when they do. This is where gender ideologies come in - while as a society we're pretty on board with the idea of women getting physical, we've still got pretty traditional ideas about what 'appropriate' behaviour looks like, and some sports are more 'appropriate' than others. As ideology is ingrained it can be hard to persuade women that they can breach the boundaries of what is perceived as appropriate, and to persuade men to allow them into these spaces. In fact, if you are a woman in sports that aren’t traditionally considered feminine then you’ve done something pretty radical by pushing against established ideology, and not everyone has the confidence or support to do that.

Ironman is a particularly macho brand (the cut offs! the tattoos! the bravado!) and arguably an event like Iron Girl which is marketed as less aggressive could introduce women who haven’t previously been active or who may have been put off by the image of events like Ironman. It has been argued that this logic is flawed because the people who would hear about Iron Girl have some sort of link to the Ironman community (perhaps a friend or partner who is participating) and therefore are less likely to be put off, but I’m not so sure. It looks like the 5km is being supported by Bolton council and marketed outside of the endurance sports world. Even then, we can’t assume that those who have connections into the Ironman world would necessarily consider these events within their grasp.

Again, we can arguably think of these events as a gateway to an active lifestyle or participation in competitions, and they could be a key stepping stone to participation in mixed events for some women. Of course there are great mixed events that are perfect for those who’ve never taken part in something like this before, but I see it as positive that a wide variety of events are available to meet everyone’s needs.

The Branding

Really no comment here other than it is shit. Pink. Insipid. With a butterfly. Grim.

Final Thoughts

I know I sound like a wonk when I say this, but the issues surrounding women in sport and participation are complex, and there are no easy answers (if there were I wouldn’t have a job. So on reflection maybe I am a bit bias). We continue to struggle against sticky ideological issues and it is right that we draw attention to and discuss these, but we also need to be balanced and from time to time work with the system to benefit our long term aims. There is a lot not to like about the way Iron Girl is presented, and I think the recent discussion across social media have made that clear to Ironman, but there is also value in events like this if they are successful in reaching women who may not have engaged in sport otherwise. I will be curious to see how Iron Girl goes in July, but for now I’ll be mindfully critical while also seeing the potential benefits.

Many thanks to the glorious Lisa for her input on this one, I couldn’t have written it without her. Read all her thoughts on all sort here.

* image: Anna Rachel Photography

Training for the Speed Project - week two

Training for the Speed Project week two - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

Running has a way of keeping you humble. Last Sunday I ran just shy of 10 hilly miles at a really comfortable pace and felt amazing, last Tuesday I headed out with Charlie and the Westin team for a gentle 5km and within moments my calf had seized up. It was like there was a block wedged in there and I ended up having to walk a good portion of the run. Of course my ego took a pounding. There is nothing worse than being invited to a launch event because you are a runner and not being able to run. You feel like a total fraud and your ego really takes a pounding. I found myself wanting to scream ‘I can run, I can run’, but I pushed it aside (which took everything I had) and did the sensible thing, walked it out and jogged lightly - with just over two months until The Speed Project I can’t take risks with my body.

Texting with my coaches we decided I’d rest up and go for acupuncture as soon as possible. Acupuncture is something I’d been curious about for a long time, I knew loads of people who’d found it really beneficial and weirdly I was pretty excited to get some pins stuck in me! I was warned at the outset that acupuncture is a bit like marmite - you’re either in to it or you’re not. I’m in to it. With the exception of one sticky point in my ankle (loads of scar tissue from previous injuries and the needle just wouldn’t go in) the whole process was totally painless and so relaxing that I fell asleep! Plus it really eased up the discomfort in my calf. On the advice of the therapist Tracy I took the next 48 hours off, rested up and then tested my leg with 20 minutes on soft muddle trails on Friday. My legs were a little stiff, but no more that they’d normally be after a few days off, and I think the combination of acupuncture, rest and foam rolling/glut activation before I ran really did the trick. So much so by Sunday I smashed out over 8 miles without any problems beyond heavy legs. Winning.

Training for the Speed Project - week two - A Pretty Place to Play, London running and fitness blog

My focus for this week was CONSISTENCY. Training consistently, consistently eating well and getting consistent rest alongside listening to my body and adapting where I need to. This week I really feel like I did that. No I didn’t do much training in the conventional sense, but I did listen to my body consistently and gave it what it needed, which I think is just as (if not more) important.


Friday - REST DAY

Saturday - over an hour of intervals on the treadmill - a touch but enjoyable session, but I had a little niggle (I had to swap out my trainers because my usual ones were too muddy to wear in the gym!)

Sunday - 10 easy hilly miles which felt tough at points (expected due to the hills, but also because my fuelling wasn’t on point), but overall it was awesome!

Monday - REST DAY - it was Mike’s birthday so we hung out all day

Tuesday - 8 miles pottering around town with Doris and a run with RunWestin London City - this is where all the problems started, my calves haven’t felt this tight in a LONG time.

Wednesday - 2 gentle miles with Doris to my acupuncture appointment (on the advice of my therapist we got the tube home - the beauty of having a folding bike!)

Thursday - REST DAY

Friday - two easy test miles on soft muddy trails - my legs felt heavy, but no worse than they would normally feel after a few days off

Saturday - REST DAY - so tired today! In part it was the wine I drank on Friday night, but I’d also been having a few post-concussion side-effects so was mega lethargic. Literally spent all day in a heap.

Sunday - 8.5 easy miles on flat which felt good. It was a little stop start (I had to run errands, literally ran in to Superdrug to pick up vitamins!), but overall I was pretty happy with it. I spent the evening unwinding with a beautiful yoga nidra class at Fierce Grace Brixton.


Each week I like to set out my focus for the next week. Reflecting on the problems I’ve had with my calves RECOVERY is going to be this week’s focus. Being able to recover between legs is going to be key when I’m out in the desert, so I’m going to be hitting up all the experts I know for advice and really working on looking after my body so it can recover as efficiently as possible.

 Are you curious about how I’m training for the Speed Project? Is there anything you’d like to know? Let me know in the comments and I will see what I can do! In the meantime, you can read all my posts about this adventure here.

* I am an ambassador for Fierce Grace Brixton, but all opinions are my own.

** I was invited along to the launch of RunWESTIN London City, but all opinions are my own

*** images Alex Dixon Photography