The Speed Project Training Week 1

The Speed Project Training Week 1 - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running Blog

The Speed Project, a crazy 340 mile run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas through Death Valley, fascinates me. I wrote my masters thesis on the race, digging deep to understand the experiences of Oiselle’s team Birdstrike. There’s something about a team coming together and pushing themselves beyond what they know is possible, risking it together, doing something amazing. And now I get to experience it for myself. Eight women, three crew an a photographer in an RV doing their best to hurtle across the desert and make it to the City of Sin in time for a pool party, dodging feral dogs, snakes and all manner of other dodgy sh*t just to do something epic.

The Speed Project is a serious undertaking. It is physically extremely tough. The gradients are insane, especially towards the end. The temperatures are unforgiving. The terrain challenging. And that’s before you factor in the challenge of 12 people crammed in an RV that smells of socks packed with more sports bras, snacks and foam rollers than is ever reasonable. Injury, snake bites, dehydration are all things we have have to prepare for. Fatigue is real. Traffic is real. Dodgy towns are real. We’re out there as a team, we’re out there on our own. It’s terrifying to think too hard about it all, but you need to because you need to be prepared.

The Speed Project Training Week 1 - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running Blog

The most obvious preparation is training to run a relay over more than 48 hours. Being totally honest, I had no idea where to start. Seriously, how do you even work that out? Hal Higdon definitely doesn’t have a plan. There is no guide to running 40-50 miles over three days in the desert up massive hills, punctuated by naps and snack breaks where you eat more sweet potato and Twizzlers than is sensible. I know, I googled it. All I knew what I was coming from a strong base, a marathon in my legs and form I’d spent a year working on. It was relief when the guys behind TSP said they’d share something we could use. These are guys who know what they’re doing in every sense. They’ve run this route. I trust that this plan will get me to Vegas.

The plan is being released in two week blocks. We’re given three runs, the rest is up to us. It’s enough to structure a plan that takes commitment and grit, but is doable. Of course, three runs a week alone aren’t going to get me through the desert. A year of working with Chevy has left an imprint, strength is king and I’m working with Megs at Kimi Ora to build a programme that’ll get me in the gym twice a week working on upper and lower body, as well as covering off mobility and core. Finally there’s yoga. I’m working with Fierce Grace Brixton to bring a couple of hot yoga sessions into my routine, giving me time to ease out my body, centre my mind and start to acclimatise me to the types of temperatures I’ll be running in.

The Speed Project Training Week 1 - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running Blog

Week 1 is only week 1, there are 17 weeks to go, but this week has felt good. Really good. My runs have been strong, I’ve challenged myself and pushed myself, taking on things that scare me. Seeking out hills instead of avoiding them. Pushing hard. Making pace my normal. It feels like it felt when I started running. I feel happy and challenged. I know this is the dream, it won’t be like this all the time, there’ll be days and weeks where I hate running. Where I’m knackered. Where I just can’t be arsed, or my work is too busy, or I don’t want to. That’s as much a part of the challenge as the days I’ll spend in the desert, the perseverance to push through, keep going when it’s all gone to sh*t. It’s a change of pace for me, but I’m really excited.

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

** images: Anna Rachel Photography



Should I Sign Up For That Race?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

I don’t know about you, but for the last week or so my feed has been a flurry of excitement as people hear whether they’ve secured a place for London Marathon, take the plunge and sign up for races inspired by friends who’ve raced recently and set themselves training goals for next spring. When your feed is awash with bling, PBs and race pictures it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and start signing up for everything under the sun.. It’s got me thinking about how hype influences our choices, and whether we’re really doing the right thing by our selves if we’re constantly racing? When we race too often we risk burn out, our bodies and our minds get tired. There are risks if we’ve not trained sufficiently, we could get injured or end up having to deal with the psychological impact of a disappointing performance. Plus it sucks to train for and run events that, quite honestly, you’re just not that in to.

I know I’m not immune to the noise, in the past I’ve been known to race every weekend for months, and even now it takes so much will power not to sign up for races. It’s hard when everyone around you is excited, when you feel like the only way you can push yourself is in a race environment and where there’s some seriously enviable bling on offer! So how do you make sure you make the right choices for you? I’ve asked PT, Backpackers Queen and all round brilliant person Megan Beggs to chat through the questions you should think about asking yourself before you press ‘buy’ on that race entry.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

There seems to be key times of year when ballots open, ballots close and places become available for the next wave of races, and the running community tends to go a bit crazy. Suddenly everyone is talking about what races they’re doing, how excited they are and generally stirring up all sorts of excitement, and unfortunately too often people get caught up in the hype of it all and sign up for everything, due to  the FOMO, without actually thinking. 

Now as runners we all love to get involved but there a few key things I urge you all to think about before entering that next race.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sign Up for A Race - A Pretty Place To Play

What other events do you have around race time?

Yes the race might be on a free weekend but are you stacked up with social events and other races around it? 

Great, A half / marathon in early March, that’s a free month but in the 3 months prior you have Christmas with the family, News Years with friends, two other fun races you’ve already signed up for and a skiing trip. Now that sounds like a wonderful 3 months but (1) how much energy are you going to have left over to run another race at the end of it? and (2) when will you fit in your training (see point 2 below)? 

Yes events are exciting and fun (both social and races) but they take a lot out of us mentally and physically. Put that on top of everything else going on in your life, plus the months of training for the event, and your body will be at breaking point! Cue injury and exhaustion! 

So grab yourself a yearly calendar, plaster it on your wall, write up all your events and use this to help you plan, before you sign up for that next event.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Will you be able to put in the training required?

Although a race is only one day, as I mentioned above the training should roughly cover the 3 months prior. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner, you should always be putting in the training to prepare your body for a race. Even if you’re not after that PB (and who are we kidding the majority of us are!), your body needs time to adapt and prepare for the challenge of racing. If you want to come out the other side injure free, you need to be putting in 2-3 mid week runs, strength training, mobility training, weekend long runs and rest - all of which take up a large chunk of your life. Are you willing to make sacrifices to fit it all in? So again, make sure you check the months prior to ensure you can give your training and race 100%.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Is this what YOU actually want to do?

Will this race actually benefit your goals? It may sound great to sign up because everyone else is and the pressure / FOMO is real, but if it’s not a goal of yours or if it doesn’t help you progress towards your goals is it really worth it? Why run a marathon if your dream is to do a sub 2 hour half marathon? Yes a marathon might be right up there for your mate, but it doesn’t have to be on your bucket list. Why not tackle something that’ll help you smash your own goals, like some shorter distance races to work on your speed, and then a couple of halves throughout the year? Sit down, write out what you want out of running and use this list to make your choices every time a new race become available [pro tip - stick it up somewhere obvious at home, not only will it help you make smart decisions about race entries, it’ll also inspire your training!].

If you can follow these steps your next race year will be a stress free, fun and goal smashing time.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

Preparing your body for a marathon is easy. You follow the training plan you’ve chosen. You eat sensibly. You cut back on booze. You prioritise sleep. You try to manage stress. Do all of that and you’ll make it to the start line. Preparing your mind is harder. Your mind is a much wilder beast than your body, it’s reluctant to be trained and controlled and if anything’s going to floor your marathon plans, it’s your thoughts. So how do you manage that?

Bournemouth Marathon was so good for me because I managed to keep my mind in check. It wasn’t easy, it took practice, but on the day the effort paid off in spades.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

The trick to mental preparation is starting early, right at the beginning of your training cycle. When I’m planning my training I also like to take some time to think about why I’m running the race. What do I want to get out of it? Is there something I’d like to learn? Something I want to test? From the moment I signed up I had Bournemouth Marathon earmarked as a test ground for the work I’d been doing with my coach. It was planned as a milestone where I could assess my progress and identify what needed more work when it came to my relationship with running. I knew that my priorities would be to stick to my race plan, watch my form and test how it felt to run for a long time so that I could spot any weaknesses. When it comes to The Speed Project my objective is to be as mentally and physically strong as possible so that I can give as much as I can to my team. My priorities will be strength training, recovery and working through some of the fears I have around physiological pain. Once you work out the ‘why’ you can use this to mentally prepare for your marathon.

As I train I try to connect with my why during every workout. When it gets tough I draw on what I’m doing all this for. It helps focus me. It also lets me rehearse how I’ll deal with challenging moments during the marathon itself - coming back to my why, coming back to my breathing. There are so many ways to connect with your why - repeating mantras, practicing breathing protocols, physical cues - try out different techniques and find what works for you. During Bournemouth I repeated my mantras (‘I am unscared’, ‘I am an intelligent athlete’, ‘this is my race’) in my head, focused on nasal breathing and checked in on my form whenever things started to feel tough. Coming back to these little physical and mental prompts kept me focused and brought me in to the moment.

Mentally Preparing for a Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play

Getting real about the challenge I’m taking on has really helped me prepare. The week before Bournemouth I wrote a list of everything that could go wrong. Injury, blisters, broken headphones, sickness, a dodgy tummy, it was all covered. Then I went through and wrote down how I’d deal with each scenario, and then how I could mitigate each scenario. This exercise reminded me to respect the distance and quelled any anxieties I had about the unknown. It reassured me that if things didn’t go to plan (as often happens during a marathon) I could adapt, I had a plan B.

Talking of plans, planning my race strategy was a big part of my mental preparation for Bournemouth. There was no point in that marathon where I was without a plan. I wrote it all down in detail, visualising each mile and then visualising my reaction to challenges, to things going wrong. I visualised the barriers, the noises around me, the things that could distract me from my plan, visualising how I’d deal with the wall, with pain, with feeling like I wanted to stop. These visualisation became part of my routine. Sitting on the tube, sitting in bed, I’d take the time to get comfortable with everything that could happen, so when it did I was ready and it wouldn’t undo all the work I’d done to get to the marathon. By marathon day everything I needed to do, in every scenario, was second nature.

I’m right at the start of my journey to The Speed Project, and although I’ve worked out the ‘why’ behind my training I still need to work out exactly how I’m going to prepare mentally to train for and live through 3 days running in the desert. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before, but I know some of these tools will make it on to the roster.

How do you mentally prepare for races?