Taper Madness

We’ve moved out of our house, the kids are on school holidays, the weather is cold, frequently wet and windy, and apparently my training is done. I won’t go on about the ridiculous position of being a tenant in Australia whereby one is expected to improve a property and return it cleaner than when it was received. No I’ve left those rants ringing in the ears of every person unfortunate enough to meet me last week. Now it’s time to look forward (to the next time I have to move out of a WA house, not!), but also to more pleasurable things. First though I have to do my marathon – this weekend!

I’m torn between being grateful that I completed a marathon training program without getting injured (the niggle in my left quad does not indicate an injury, no it does not) and wondering if perhaps I didn’t train hard enough. Or maybe the latter thought is tapering crazy thinking. To be honest, I really don’t know what to expect on Sunday. And that I think has got to be the one of the best things – besides fitting into skinny jeans a size smaller than last year – about this experience at this point. I have never done a marathon before so the only thing to do, having done the training apparently, is to get philosophical.

If it was easy to run a marathon, everyone would do one, wouldn’t they? Okay, I can think of a few of you who wouldn’t but you know what I mean. It is designed to be hard. I read somewhere that only 20% of marathoners run 42.2km in under 4 hours and that statistic does not take advanced age into consideration. So a sub-4 hour marathon is a big deal. And there is a big chance that I won’t achieve that, as much as I’d like to. And you know what? That’s going to be fine. More than fine.

I hope I can make this run a celebration of good health, of freedom, of friendships – there will be many familiar faces both on and around the course – and of simply being. Running 42.2km is a silly think to do really. And I know for a fact that there will be a number of hours this Sunday when I will wonder why the hell I have chosen to do it. I oscillate between calm acceptance of what will be will be and oh my gawd this is going to be wretched and I’ll be lucky to finish.

Finishing will do though. I still remember finishing my first half marathon in 2012, crying with joy as I crossed the line in 1:59, the lady presenting me with my medal trying to console me, telling me not to be sad, that I’d win the race next year. I fully expect to bawl my eyes out on Sunday too. I just hope it’s not until after I’ve finished!

We are currently living in temporary accommodation in a building inhabited mostly by octogenarians. The decor has a certain 19th century vibe to it but hidden amongst the trinkets was this little gem of wisdom. Words to abide by even when running a race:)

 

Moving & marathoning

Several of the thousands of people I’ve informed about my upcoming marathon aspirations have wondered why, if I’m only going to do one, I haven’t opted for an iconic event such as the Melbourne or London Marathons. I want to play it safe, I’ve said. I want to keep the stakes (and costs) as low as possible lest I don’t make it to the start line due to illness or injury. And I want to sleep in my own bed, eat in my own kitchen, minimise the variables (and stress) as best I can if I make it to race day intact. Best laid plans, as they say.

Just over three weeks to race day and one thing I know for certain. I will not be sleeping in my own bed the night before. My bed, and the rest of our furniture, will be in storage in Welshpool and our family of five will be living out of a couple of Samsonites and a few cardboard boxes. Our landlord is not renewing our lease and thanks to a shortage of decent properties in the rental market and the glacial pace of productivity of those tasked to ‘help’ us relocate, we have not secured a new lease before the expiry of the old. Hence the storage and the suitcases, and as yet booked temporary accommodation. In two weeks time the packers will be let loose with their rolls of brown tape and cardboard boxes, while I double and triple check that all my race gear (and the three kids) stay out of their reach. So it seems that I will end up having to plan marathon day accommodation and travel, and make a race weekend packing list after all. It will be like having the excitement of an out-of-town race experience without actually leaving town. Best laid plans indeed.

Faking it

Two weeks after my falling out with running, two weeks of assuming that any morning now, I’d wake up and have a desperate urge to run, and I’m in danger of becoming a non-runner. After pushing myself to do two short runs on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekend is sliding by in a very stationary manner. I’m down to 25% of my normal mileage. I’m still wearing running clothes mind you – it turns out that some habits are harder than others to drop. I’m still clicking ‘Going’ on future running events on Facebook too, another habit. But really at the moment I ain’t going anywhere unless it’s in a car or via Netflix.

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I do still want to be a runner, and to some extent recognise that a few weeks’ rest, can’t be a bad thing. However, there is a danger that when I finally snap out of this fug, I discover that my fitness has taken a nose-dive, and end up totally frustrated. Well that IS what’s going to happen if I don’t get out there. So I have a choice: let this passion of mine that has served me so well for the past three and a half years slide into muffin-top, saddle-bag-sporting oblivion, or fake the love until it blossoms again for real.

And I think faking it in new environments, without a training plan, while reminding myself that I’m very lucky not to be injured, is the way back to joy. So, much like someone who hasn’t developed a gym habit but has paid up their membership and really does want to get in shape, I’m going to have to push myself to pound the trail, beach or pavement but without any target pace/distance/performance expectation. I probably should say without a Garmin watch too but come on, who am I kidding?! If it ain’t on Strava, it doesn’t count. Right?

So in the coming week, I am making a promise to myself to ignore the loud voice that urges me back to my computer and the post-breakfast kitchen mess (in that order unfortunately), and directing my car towards Bold Park, Kings Park, or some other goddamn park, or beach, or river path. I’m going to fake it until I make it back to pure running joy.

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SCKLM Preparation & WAMC Lake Gwelup Race

Lake Gwelup
Lake Gwelup

So now that all the hooha has died down over the change of date and re-change of date for the SCKL Marathon, the countdown to the race has begun. Only four weeks to go! Coincidentally I am going to be in KL with a friend that weekend as it’s school holidays and our respective spouses are taking our six children camping and we would rather pull our teeth out than sleep in a tent that doesn’t have ensuite facilities. In fact what we’d really rather do is stay at a five star hotel with ensuite facilities, and toilets where there are no snakes or deadly spiders lurking, and staff that open doors, and pour coffee, and carry your bags. We’d also rather have much-needed pedicures, and eyebrow threading, do no cooking or cleaning  – well you get the picture. We’re going to KL for a taste of the good life and now it turns out, I’m going to race.

Don't let the blue sky fool you - it was cold at race registration!
Don’t let the blue sky fool you – it was cold at race registration!

Last week, I was offered a media bib at SCKLM and it took me exactly zero seconds to say ‘yes please’ and only another few seconds to allow sense to prevail and choose the 10km race. Given the temperature and humidity, trying to race any further could be a disaster. Even when I lived and trained in Malaysia, the heat and humidity ruined many a race attempt so 10km on Oct 4th will be more than plenty thank you very much. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be returning to my old stomping ground, the place where I first fell in love with running, and to hopefully get to see many familiar, friendly faces in the KL running community.

So, this morning, in preparation for this tropical race which is no big deal, no big deal at all, I ran a local 10km race here in Perth. When I say in preparation I mean mental prep rather than physical. Bar running while wrapped in cling film and a heated body suit, there is little I can do to prepare for the conditions in KL. But I need to train my brain to push though the 5-6km mark slump and stay strong to the finish line, so this morning’s race was a stab at cognitive therapy if you like.

It was the West Australian Marathon Club (WAMC) Lake Gwelup 10km. It was 7ºC when I left the house and only a few degrees warmer at the start line. So, it was totally unlike any start line in Malaysia ever! It also turned out to be a multi-terrain course which was more challenging than I had expected but at least it wasn’t as hilly as last weekend’s City to Surf 12km for which my legs are still not thanking me.

FullSizeRenderI think I was the 9th female across the line which was very pleasing as the standard is really high here and I’m pretty old. Yes, I am. The winner of the 5km race this morning is 12 years old.12! Not even a teenager! She ran the course in sub-20. To be fair, she has probably been running longer than I have but I don’t think that’s the reason she’s so much faster! Bar placing little rockets in my shoes, I will never attain the racing speed of a fast teenager. Oh, that’s a bit depressing. Still, I should be grateful to be able to run at all I suppose, and I am! And I’m even more grateful to be able to return to KL, have an affordable pedicure, and run there. (Though perhaps I should run, then have the pedi?).

Now, I wonder where I can bulk buy cling film and find a heated body suit…

Ireland 2015

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Yesterday I did my first non-Australian parkrun in my home town, Kilkenny, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. But I’m not going to write about it yet. I can’t, because I forgot to take a photo of the delicious scones topped with fresh cream and jam which we ate at the Castle Cafe afterwards and being a diligent blogger, who likes things to be complete, I plan to return to Kilkenny parkrun next weekend and take a photo of the after-run delights. I’ll probably run as well:)

IMG_1014I’ve been in Ireland a week and I’ve done much of my running around the Castle Park where parkrun is held. Today though I ventured a bit further afield, and actually ended up IN a field. There is a trail that runs along the River Nore from Kilkenny to Bennetsbridge, and beyond, for around 11km I think but I did not end up on that trail today, despite my best navigation efforts. I was, it turns out, on the wrong side of the river. Still, I took lots of lovely photos of the scenery I took for granted as a child. I was mulling around in the ruins of the old mill when I got an SMS to say my lunch was on the table at my mother’s house. The delights of being home.

I’ve posted the rest of the photos on my Facebook page. Tomorrow I head to Paris with my daughters for a few days. I don’t know if I’ll manage to persuade them to let me run but I’ll try as we’re staying very near the Bois de Boulogne which must be a good place to run. No doubt there will be plenty of Eiffel tower snaps to follow. Á Bientôt:)

Busselton 70.3 Relay 2015

Finally I ran a half marathon in which I felt undefeated by the distance. That’s HM:9-Me:1 Yay! It was the run leg of the Busselton Half Ironman Relay and it finally put to bed the threat of my headstone reading: Here lies the Expat Runner who never ran a half marathon without a tonne of excuses for why she should have done better. 

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Last saturday, not only did I put one foot in front of the other without stopping for 21.1km, but I didn’t complain about doing so either. For once, I was not swearing ‘never again’ under my breath – or worse, aloud. I didn’t stop to go to the toilet either which alone merits a medal. I shouted out ‘so far so good’ to my team mate around the 15km mark which I can absolutely, categorically say never occurred to me to even think, not to mention say, during any other race ever before. Her reply, by the way was ‘remember the roos’ referring to the fact that we needed to get on the road for the three-hour journey back to Perth before twilight to avoid colliding with kangaroos, several of which we’d seen in the form of roadkill on the journey to Busselton. I laughed and ran on with renewed, roo-avoiding, determination. Love my team!

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Finish line HAPPY!

The course was very flat which helped. The weather conditions were also perfect – sunny, with a breeze, and low humidity. Our team name, ‘I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in KL Anymore’ couldn’t have been more apt. Unlike the other two Half Ironman team events I have done, the Busselton race holds the teams back from starting until most of the triathletes have finished the course. I anticipated this as a negative as I’d previously loved running amongst tough  – and slightly insane- triathletes. On saturday, most of these guys and gals were knocking back a beer or two by time I started running, turning the team event into a team race. Which worked out pretty well in the end as it obliterated the guilt over being a lightweight and not attempting the full triathlon. The fact that the course was three loops turned out to be mental bonus rather than a challenge too as once one 7km loop was complete, you knew exactly what lay ahead.

And so finally, I ran a half marathon that felt like a celebration of my training, that relied on my legs, lungs and mind without being undermined by a miserable digestive system.  I crossed the finish line happy, even before looking at my watch. The fact that I knocked over 2 minutes of my previous HM time was a bonus though it really felt like it was my due. I was capable of running that time – 1:47:45 – a year ago at Borneo International Half Marathon in much higher temperatures and humidity but my stomach let me down, I suspect because of dehydration, leaving me limping over the line at the end.

At Busselton, I was very, very diligent with my hydration. Perhaps starting at 13:45 helped too as I had hours of fuel – and nervous waiting – in me as I started which is never the case for a morning race. And of course it wasn’t really hot or humid.

I actually could have run faster but didn’t want to risk it lest it backfire in my intestines. I finished strong, passing a guy only a few hundred metres from the finish chute. I managed the same at the ASICS Bridges 10km a few weeks ago, passing people on the home Busso_finish2straight whose butts I’d been eyeing up for several kilometers. Mind you, at Busso, a girl half my age if even, ran past me 200m from the finish line, robbing my all-female team of a top-10 finish by 9s so I can’t be smug. Still, to get 11th out of almost 70 teams for three women in their mid-forties, with seven children between them, in an environment as competitive as Western Australia, racing against ‘kids’ in their twenties and thirties, was astounding. I’m certain we got first place for the team, irrespective of gender, with the longest team name. I was lucky to have a really supportive, sporty and good-humoured team.

So, the easy course and weather and the mid-day start aside, why I am feeling stronger than before towards the end of a race, when I have a history of flagging, and flagging badly at that?  I certainly didn’t train any harder for this event than for previous races though I was free of the ITB injury that affected my previous two half marathons. Essentially, I think I trained smarter.

Running 80% of my runs slowly, and 20% fast seems to be paying off. Besides giving me the ability to run faster on race day, the 80:20 system has improved my fatigue resistance and kept me injury-free. I’m also doing one or two gym sessions a week to build up my core, upper body, and glute strength.

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Will I be trying to run faster next time? Of course I will try but I won’t be disappointed if I don’t achieve another PB. If I run a good race that reflects my training efforts, that doesn’t upset my stomach, that allows my legs to do their best, I’ll be happy. If I run another 21.1km without saying ‘never again’ at the 14km mark, I’ll consider that an achievement. If I cross the finish line smiling, instead of grimacing and complaining, I’ll be feeling like it’s a personal best, irrespective of the numbers on my watch. Roll on Perth Half Marathon in August.

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Running Slow to Get Faster

Yesterday I started a Training Peaks Half Marathon plan designed to get me across the finish line at the Busselton Half Ironman relay in 1:45. Well, I signed up for the plan two months ago when May seemed a long way off and I still believed in miracles! The schedule for Monday said 8km easy, so I ran 8km maybe not easy but strong, but not pushing too hard. It was one of the best training runs I had done in weeks. My Garmin watch, which is still under warranty, is out of action at the moment. I had to send the faulty charging cable to Garmin Australia in NSW for repair/replacement. So yesterday, I couldn’t actually see my pace as I ran. I was running purely by feel, recording the run using the Strava App. I felt great! My average pace turned out to be 5:10min/km. My last kilometre was sub 5mins. I guess I got a bit carried away with myself but it felt so good!

When I got home I checked the training plan again and noticed for the first time that the pace indicated for the run was just under 6min/km. Not only that but this pace doesn’t increase for any of the non-interval runs throughout the 10-week plan. Surely this must be a mistake. How can you go out and run 21.1km at 5min/km pace or faster when most of your training runs are done at a minute slower per kilometre!? I dismissed the plan as lightweight.

As Monday progressed, my energy levels did the opposite. I was zonked. Today’s planned interval session didn’t happen at all. It’s almost 3PM and I’m still dressed to run but the only run I’m doing soon is the school run, in a car. So as fabulous as I felt in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s 8km, I’m not feeling somewhat deflated. Day two of a plan and I’ve already skived. Day 1 and I’ve already over-trained. So what to do?

Well, buy a book of course! And finish a novel. I should slip that in too that instead of running today, I had a little nap then finished a novel I’ve been working on for three years. No one has read it yet so it could be complete tosh but at least it is completed tosh.

Back to my purchase. It’s called 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower. Its main message is that in order to run faster, runners need to train slower. Yes, its counter-intuitive but the premise is based on scientific studies and analyses of athletic performance. I’m still sceptical but I think it’s worth a read. Certainly, the press coverage for the book has been very positive.

fitzgerald Book

It’s hard to run slow when you feel you can run faster. It’s also hard on the ego to deliberately run slower that you are capable of 80% of the time, then display the fact on Strava. Well it is for me! That said, my constant attempts to run every run as fast as is comfortable without pushing too hard isn’t paying dividends other than in measures of frustration as I’m not actually getting any faster. I’m feeling tired and heavy legged a lot of the time, and I am developing new aches and pains on a weekly basis.

So, I’m ready to try something new, ready to slow down if it really means I’ll stay injury-free and run faster in the long run. I’ll let you know what I think of the book. I’ll let you know too how long it takes Garmin to return my cable!

The One Where I Admit That I’ve been Foolish

One of the many things I love about running is how strong and powerful it makes me feel, and the fact that that I always feel better after a run than before one. Or nearly always. Today, for the first time running since my Angkor Wat Half Marathon on Dec 1, I neither felt strong nor powerful, and I finished my run 1km short of my 21 km target feeling sore, worried and annoyed. Annoyed with myself because over the past week I had pushed my pace so hard on three 13, 10 and 10km runs that not only are my legs tired even after a rest day, my foot hurts at the site of my PTT (Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis) injury. Annoyed that I may have been a bit foolhardy. This isn’t good news two weeks before my first Half Marathon of the year, the Malaysia Women Marathon (MWM).

My training program has been flexible to say the least though I do try to alternate easy and hard days and run no more than 60km a week. I love to run every day, and rarely think of it in terms of race preparation but rather as a wonderful experience in itself. The trouble is that in the past two weeks I’ve developed a taste for pushing my pace far more than I ever dreamed possible and this need for speed has become addictive. It’s hubris really, and a desire to feel good about myself, that pushes me to run faster – and of course those little crowns on Strava are also very addictive! And to be honest running fast (for me) felt good!

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But my foot is complaining now so my ego has to take a back seat and I have to rest. I had physio on Friday and though my hamstrings were soft, the muscles in my calves, ankles and shins were very tight and my left Achilles Tendon was screaming (actually it was I who screamed when my PT touched it). The Achilles feels ok today but the right Posterior Tibialis is sore to walk on.

I didn’t write this post to bore you with my injury niggles, nor to entertain foot fetishists, but to serve as a warning against doing too much, too fast. I hated the way I felt running this morning – heavy legged, and ultimately sore footed – and it means I can’t run tomorrow unless my foot feels significantly better in the morning and even then it can only be a short, slow recovery run. I know, I know, I probably shouldn’t run, even if it does feel better.

Exactly four weeks ago, I ran a personal best 21km which inspired hope of repeating the effort at MWM. After today, I am concerned that I may not be able to run the race at all. Another of the great things about running is that you learn a lot of things  – humility, resilience, respect for your body’s power and limitations, and how sometimes if you get carried away, as I have done (a few times!), that a price must be paid. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Tips:

  • So, runners, remember rest days are very, very important so find some low-impact activity to do on these days if you can’t bear not doing any exercise at all.
  • Alternate easy and hard workouts. Hard workouts would be tempo runs, long runs, interval training, hills etc.
  • Strength and stability training of ankles, calves, quads, and glutes is a no-brainer (yeah, I’ve been lax on that one too). The core and upper body should not be neglected either.
  • Stretching out those tight leg muscles after a run is essential to aid recovery and prepare your body for your next run. Not doing so will lead to the formation of adhesions and scar tissue which will ultimately lead to pain. I’ve got into the habit of stretching my calves while I’m waiting for the coffee machine, microwave and brushing my teeth. I assume I’d be even worse off today if I hadn’t.
  • Listen to your body, preferably before it starts shouting abuse at you as mine is doing now.
  • No matter what your race goals are, if any, ultimate responsibility for your health lies with self. Running isn’t bad for you (it’s the best thing evva!), running irresponsibly, as I have done recently, can be.
  • Do as I say, and not as I have done.

When an LSD turns into a PB

Smothering with a head cold, and cursing the loss of my MacBook Pro which simply went to sleep last night and couldn’t be awoken this morning, it seems like the best thing to do between vicious sneezes and nose blowing is dwell on the past. The immediate past that is. Before my nose started to run, I had my best long run ever. Perhaps the two are connected. One was certainly more fun than the other.

laptopYesterday I ran 21km, for the first time since Dec 1, with only a brief stop at 7- Eleven to buy Gatorade, on a very hilly route, in just under 1:52. Yep my LSD was faster than any of the three half marathons I’ve run despite the route being much hillier than each of the race routes. So, why?!

Firstly, my husband ran with me for the first 10 km. At 6’4”, he’s just a bit taller than me, and his legs are at least a foot longer than mine, so he can run faster without having run more than a few kilometres in the past few weeks. It’s not fair I know, but it was helpful for keeping me paced around the dodgy 7-10km mark when there is still a LONG way to go.

The temperature was only a chilly  22˚C, the humidity a mere 88%, so the weather probably had a positive effect on performance.

I didn’t feel nauseous, nor did my stomach lurch as if a small animal had just awoken from hibernation in my stomach. This is excellent news as anyone who has spoken to me about running in the past few weeks has heard ad nauseum how mid-race nausea/stomach upset is my biggest concern.

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I had a cup of coffee and a few glasses of water, and munched on three thin gingersnap cookies before running. I ran with two 8oz bottles of Accelerade, slightly more diluted than manufacturer’s instructions, in a fuel belt, then refilled the bottles with Gatorade at 15.5km. I know the fuel stop of 2-3 minutes did allow some recovery but I couldn’t risk continuing another 6km without anything to drink. It may only have been 22˚C when I started running at 7:30am, but the temperature and sun were certainly edging up by 9:00am.

As it was Chinese New Year there was very little traffic and I did not have to stop at any road junctions; this is extremely rare and offered a great endurance training opportunity. I had a run-free day on Friday so my legs were rested. I guess this helped.

I ate two large pasta meals on Friday as it was a holiday so we ate out for lunch which I rarely do. I’m a lazy cook so lunch is often a bagel with peanut butter or if I’m feeling very culinary, I microwave two poached eggs and stick them between some toast. I’m sure Friday’s carb-rich combined with fish protein meals helped me on Saturday morning.

I drank no water during the run. I think this may be important as often I drink out of fear of getting dehydrated. I think though that too much water in the digestive system can be bad news.

What’s more, until this stinking head cold hit last night, I felt great for the rest of the day. I sprinted the last 500m of the run which means there was still something left in  my legs. All in all, yesterday’s LnotsoSD was a great confidence booster, and a worry queller, that I will dredge up from memory the next time I try race a Half Marathon (on March 16th if all goes to plan) to convince myself that yes, I can in fact do it – as long as my husband runs with me, I carry three bottles of Accelerade and Gatorade, drink no water at all, the weather is cooler than at any other time in the previous 50 years, I stuff my face with carbs, shrimp and spinach the day before, and run not too fast, on rested legs, after eating three cookies and a strong coffee for breakfast.

So that’s the post-mortem on the best run evva.

I’m hoping that a visit to a Mac store tomorrow will enable an equally essential post-mortem and file retrieval on the MacBook. I had just discovered some hilarious videos the kids had made while we lived in Norway, and was in the process of organising them to back them up, when the grim reaper from Apple heaven struck. I’ll be very upset if I’ve lost them. At least I had backed up my novel-in-progress though it was sobering to discover that in the past year, I added a mere 10,000 words to the draft. Yes, I’ve been 80% (and now 90%) finished the first draft for the past 12 months. Yikes! I blame this running lark for making me care much less about this fact than I should. Or maybe it’s the damn head cold that’s dulling my senses. Let’s see how I feel tomorrow.

P.S. In the very unlikely event that anyone from Accelerade or Gatorade’s distributor in Malaysia is reading, please don’t feel obliged to send me any freebies or testers. No, there’s no obligation at all. However, it is my birthday next month. Just sayin’. 

UPDATE Feb3: The mother board on my laptop is dead which means that effectively my MacBook Pro has gone to Apple Heaven after 5.5 years of service. The hard disk is however thankfully intact so I should be able to transfer its contents to another computer which I will fastidiously back up. I still have a wretched cold.

A Tourist in Thailand

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They say only mad dogs and Englishman brave the midday sun, but today, I joined them. Having grown bored of my usual routes in KL, this trip to Thailand has after only one run left me feeling rejuvenated and exhilarated. There’s nothing like only having a vague idea of where you are heading, based on a cursory glance at Google Maps, to fill you with a sense of adventure. As you can see from the photos, the road I chose was wide with some spectacular cliffs visible in the distance. I’m sure every car and bike that passed thought me a crazy white woman running in the midday heat, but as my husband pointed out, I need to do such training to get prepared for my 21km leg of the Half Ironman we’ve signed up for in April. Thankfully, a Gatorade bought at 9km sustained me back to the hotel and though I spotted many an Englishman, there were no mad dogs chasing my heels today.