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Thank you to everyone who entered my giveaway for a place in the Leeds Christmas 10k.

The winner, chosen at random by the Rafflecopter bot, is …. Patrick! Congrats! Looking forward to seeing you on the day – you will get an extra loud cheer!

Patrick is a fellow active blogger – you can read about his adventures over at 1000kms to Windermere.

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One of the features on my TomTom Cardio Runner watch is a race setup, where you can pace yourself against either a previous run you have recorded or one of the set time/distance challenges in the MySports dashboard (5k in 26mins, 10k in 50mins, half mara in 2hours etc etc).

With the aim of seeing how it works I went out and set a time on a 3-mile loop from my house. It was nothing special, just an easy jog on a circuit I do often. It takes me along the main road, down a hill and on to the canal. I usually stop my run just as I get off the canal and walk back up the hill to my house.

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To set it up to race this set time you head into the run option then click right to find the race screen. Then you choose from either MySports or your history. I had to go back into the app on my phone and check which date the run I wanted to race was set. It is also possible to rename your activities and save them in MySports, which is particularly handy for parkruns – I have my recent ones saved so I can try to beat them next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Select the activity you wish to race and then start your run as usual. The main screen shows a road, with a banner at the top that counts down the distance you have left to go, and two arrows showing if you are ahead or behind you previous effort. At the bottom you see + or – however many yards. Whenever you change position against your ghost the watch vibrates and shows a big #1 or #2 on screen for a few seconds so you are aware you have either got ahead or dropped back. It was weird at first as it seemed to be buzzing a lot, but for most of the run I stayed ahead of my previous self so the watch stayed quiet. It’s kind of like a Pavlov’s dogs experiment but for runners though!

You can still click left while running and see all the usual data options.

 

 

 

 

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When you reach the total distance for the run you are racing the watch vibrates again and you stop it as usual. Or I suppose you can carry on. I can’t actually remember if I had to stop it or if it did it automatically!

Anyway, I beat my previous time by just over a minute and was awarded a rosette, as you can see.

It’s a cool feature and the graphics are clear and good-looking. I definitely pushed a little to make sure I stayed ahead and beat the set time, even though it was just for fun.

At the moment I don’t really like working in my min/mile pace as it is has gotten a lot slower, so this is a great way to set a challenge to push myself without having to see those actual numbers. It will be good to set a goal to beat myself by a few seconds at parkrun every week yet not have to do maths on the move!

 

 

Leeds Country Way is a 62-mile route around Leeds, taking in some of the stunning countryside to be found just outside the city. The running relay version, organised by Kippax Harriers, is slightly longer at 64 miles and starts and finishes at Garforth. The route is split into six legs, and clubs enter teams of 12 – a pair of runners per leg.

I did the race last year and thoroughly enjoyed it so I was eager to sign up again. I asked to do the same leg (the second one, from Stanley to Morley) in case I didn’t find time to do a recce, and that request turned out to be very wise.

My original partner was poorly and couldn’t run, but with three teams to fill and the usual injuries cropping up our reserve list was depleted and I only got my partner the week of the race. I was about to have kittens – as well as knowing your leg you also have to coordinate getting yourselves to the start and leaving a car at the finish – so the logistics can be tricky. But Becky and I arranged ourselves with no fuss once we figured out what we needed to do, and we got to the start in plenty of time for a pee in the woods and a catch-up with our fellow Purple Posse runners doing leg two.

Actually we had almost an hour to wait – the leg one runners all set off together at 8am, but we didn’t really know what time our pair would come through. It was great to see the others handover their batons though, and we even had an early win for Kirkstall Harriers, with Ben and Jen the first mixed team to finish the first leg.

Becky and I took on the baton from our team-mates just ahead of the mass start for leg two, and we set off steadily. I found it tough going at first, and it didn’t get any easier. But we continued steadily enough, taking regular walk breaks (for my benefit) and enjoying the scenery.

Overall it was a very pleasant morning run. It took us 2:35 to finish the 11.2miles, but we didn’t get lost. It is a nice route, not horribly tough but with lots of variations in terrain. All but our purple club friends and the marshals had gone by the time we finished, and I was very glad of the Fudge I had left in Becky’s car to scoff as soon as I finished!

Then it was more car manoeuvering and home to eat and shower. The best thing about the LCW Relay is the reception at the pub afterwards. I headed back out with Emma and Becky to cheer in the leg six runners (another winning pair in Adam and Shami for the Kirkstall Harriers), pick up my awesome pottery memento and take advantage of the carb buffet.

It’s a long day with a lot of driving if you go at it the way I did, but a lot of fun with plenty of opportunities to spend time with running friends.

 

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I’ve now used my TomTom Cardio Runner (kindly given to me by The Running Bug) on several outings so here I am to give you some thoughts on its capabilities! My “other watch” is a Motorola MotoActv and I have been using this since March 2013, so where I’m comparing to another gadget, that’s what it’s up against!

Just so you know, when researching which GPS device to buy I ended up with MotoActv over a Garmin because:

  • I prefer the way it looks – squares are better for watches than circles to me, don’t know why!
  • I didn’t have an MP3 player at the time and the MotoActv has a built-in MP3 player and you can either use plug-in headphones or wireless ones.
  • I like to be different.

Don’t forget you can see what I and other reviewers are saying about the watch over on Twitter by searching #getsmyheartracing.

 

First run with the RunnerCardio was just a little morning bimble. It found GPS signal quickly and buzzed to tell me it was ready. Press right and I was off. I had set it up so that pace and distance showed in the top of the screen when running. The majority of the screen is then taken up by one bit of info, and you can scroll up and down to change this (elapsed time, pace, calories burnt, heart rate, distance etc). I looked at my heart rate a couple of times but went back to distance as that is what I usually run for (as opposed to running for time) and it was handy to see it in big while moving.

At traffic lights I held the left button to pause, then hit the right button to go again. At the end of the run hold left and left again to complete the run. At first I was a little worried I hadn’t done this right as it didn’t give me a workout review – I had to go back into the run menu and find the “history” to check my run had been registered.

Back home it was easy to upload the data via Bluetooth to the iPhone app (note to self: remember to turn Bluetooth on phone off again to help with battery life).

 

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The next run was Leeds parkrun and I wasn’t going for a time so I just kept the big screen on heart rate to see what would happen. It went up to 90 on the start line (pre-match nerves!) and got up to 180 at one point – scary! Afterwards the data on the app said this put me in the “sprint” range for heart rate. I definitely wasn’t sprinting! Just shows I need to regain my fitness!

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By the way, the heart rate monitor uses green LEDs on the back of the watch. These shine through your skin and register how transparent it is – this changes depending on blood flow (ie, heart rate). And that’s the (very basic version of) how it works! You must ensure the watch has good contact with your wrist – wear it too far down on the bony bit and it won’t work accurately. I must look into heart rate training and try some runs based on that (yet another blog to come then!)

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Next up was the Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association Race at West Park. I knew the route was 5 miles so I set the distance challenge to this to see what would happen. In this mode you get a big wheel on the screen and it slowly fills up like a pie chart telling you the % to go (but you don’t see total distance on this screen, so if you want to know exactly how far you have done you have to scroll through to the usual screens). It buzzes at 50%, 90% and 100% to let you know how you’re doing.

 

I got another couple of sessions out of the watch (about 3.5 hours of active use) before the battery went. When it died I was in the middle of a bike ride and it just stuck on the time. I didn’t twig for a while that it had been showing 10:02 for ages and thought I had cycled into a worm hole!

 

 

So far I’m finding it comfortable to wear and easy to use. As with any new gadget, after a few uses you quickly pick up how the menus work and can find the bit you need with no trouble. A couple of times I have noticed that it has stopped showing heart rate for a few seconds, then it comes back. Not sure why that happens.

I like the sync via Bluetooth as that means I can do it straightaway as long as I have my phone – with MotoActv I have to wait until I’m in WiFi to sync my activity. But with both I can see the basic info on the watch anyway.

The MotoActv is the winner in terms of how much data it displays while running. I can set up to six different parameters to all show at once on the screen (I have time of day, distance, average pace, current pace, step rate and time elapsed), whereas with Runner Cardio I get two little ones at the top and one big one, with the option to scroll through to see others. In particular I miss seeing my step rate in real-time – I find that this drops when I tire, and this generally means my form has got worse. When I see this happening I can make an active effort to pick up my feet quicker and take smaller steps, thereby improving my form and reducing the risk of injury. The screen sizes aren’t vastly different – MotoActv is square whereas Runner Cardio is more of a portrait rectangle.

The built-in heart rate monitor is probably the Runner Cardio’s main selling point. Having never trained by focusing on this I can’t yet say how important this is to me personally, but I will be giving it a go! If training by heart rate is something you do then this could well be the watch for you. However, one thing that did strike me is that in winter I wear long-sleeve tops with thumb holes that come down over the backs of my hands – I’ll have to keep one “unhooked” and pulled back a bit so the Runner Cardio can still make contact with my skin if I want to track my heart rate on cold runs.

On my early morning run today I wore both Runner Cardio and MotoActv (on the same wrist) to see how they compare. As you can see the figures are very similar except for the step rate.

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I still have more things to test on the Runner Cardio – I’ve set a time for a 3-mile loop so I’ll “race” that next week to try out that feature. And I’ll do an interval session too to see how that works.

A little while ago I won a competition for a pair of new running shoes that claim to help you run faster. Called Airia One, they are designed by a Swedish company that has more than 170 years’ experience in shoe making. I actually ended up getting hold of my shoes a little quicker than the expected delivery date as they sent me a test pair to review. So far I have only worn them a few times, but there will be more to come.

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Here’s what Airia Running says about the shoes:

After years of development, Airia is about to launch a concept that will revolutionize the way we look at running shoes. Airia One’s construction is inspired by the wheel, to ensure runners achieve that perfect feeling of flow. The shoe has a unique design … It harnesses untapped power in the human body and doesn’t leak energy like other running shoes do. In fact, it unleashes the power of a stride for a faster and more enjoyable running experience.

Tests show that runners wearing Airia shave times by 1 percent on average, and some of them up to 7 percent. To develop the shoe Airia has used scientific methods to find out what does and does not work. The shoe is light and features a biomechanically optimized geometry with an unstable and irregular, sharply angled sole to help you move forward as fast as possible.

Airia One has an asymmetric design which combines a zero drop with a 6mm drop sole. This allows you to run with less ground contact time and helps to keep the power in the stride more in line with the running direction.

Runners who tested our shoes not only run faster, they get a different and better feeling from running. Most people report that they feel stronger and have an improved posture.

 

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It all sounded rather grand and exciting, and I was skeptical, but open-minded (is that even possible?!).

 

Run one was 3.4 miles. It was mid-morning and rather warm, muggy and therefore sweaty. I headed out along the main road, down the hill by the golf course, on to the towpath and back up the hill. This is an easy circuit I do quite often, and I always enjoy the downhill section about a mile in.

At first the shoes felt very weird. The bumps underneath make them strange to walk in, but not “impossible” as Airia say. Although I agree that you wouldn’t want to walk any real distance in them. I try to have a brisk walk of a few minutes before starting a run and that was OK, just a bit like wearing cleats.

When I fist started running I could still feel the lumps and I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing with my feet. I certainly had to think about where I was landing. But after a few minutes I managed to switch off from consciously thinking about placing my feet and let my body do what came. Downhill I really did feel like my legs were wheeling, but then I often do on that section, and I got a good pace up along the flat part in the middle and felt great.

I had no soreness or weird feelings afterwards and was pleased with my run.

Time: 34:07

 

Run two was slightly longer at four miles. I started out on the same route – along the road and down the hill, but then went further round to Kirkstall Road (a smooth and flat busy main road). I felt particularly fast on the middle section of this one – like flying!

I settled into the shoes much quicker and didn’t feel like I was being forced to run any particular way or any differently than normal. I am a light-footed, mid-foot/fore-foot runner anyway, so I tippy-toe around in all my running shoes.

Time: 42:06

 

Run three was tough, mostly because I had a wicked hangover! It was the Otley 10mile road race – an evening event on a very warm day. I wasn’t sure I would even make it to a mile without being sick, let alone finish, but I forced myself to do it anyway! I was sweating like made after not very long but at least I got rid of all those alcohol naughties in my bloodstream by the end!

Anyway, the shoes felt fine at first, but after about 5 miles my toes started to hurt. Like, really hurt. It was the same sensation as when I tested the Brooks PureConnect a while back. Almost like stones in the shoe rubbing from below, but almost a kind of cramping twisty-turny toe thing. Weird. I had to walk and hobble a few times so that I could place my foot differently and relieve the pain. It was quite annoying. I came to the conclusion that it was a combination of me not quite being at my best and therefore my form being off, but also that the shoes are a bit too manipulative for longer runs. I often go around barefoot and occasionally run with nothing on my tootsies, and I don’t think my feet appreciated being coerced into a specific position for too long – they like to have the chance to be flexible and free-moving.

Time: 1:57:29

 

Run four was the Hyde Park Harriers Summer Mile. I ran this race last year and went much faster than I predicted, but given my lack of speedwork recently I wasn’t expecting a PB.

I did, however, feel good in the shoes. A mile is a difficult race as you just have to get into it and get on with it, so I did few warm-up strides. My feet and legs felt good, but my breathing was so laboured and I was absolutely knackered!

My time was decidedly average, but I still counted it as a win for the shoes.

Time: 8:47

 

It’s a small sample to make any real conclusions from, but one thing I know for sure is that Airia One are, for me at least, reserved for short distances. They look cool (I will change my mind on that when the white gets grubby) and feel smashing when running.The quality seems good – Vibram soles feature on several of my other shoes and I have always been happy with their longevity.

I’ll be using my Airias now for shorter runs, especially speedwork, and PB efforts at one mile and 5k. Whether or not they really will help me get faster times remains to be seen, but they sure feel good and the notion of them being my “fast shoes” might give me that extra push anyway.

Oh dear, nearly two months since I last posted! Shocking!

I’ve done a few races, but my training has been hit and miss, to say the least. Kielder Marathon is creeping up rather quickly and I need to get back on track and put some proper effort into running. It just seems so hard at the moment! There aren’t enough hours in the day, and it’s too hot, and I’ve discovered cycling …. the excuses go on!

But I do need to make more of an effort, not least because my jeans are getting a little tight and I’m losing fitness rapidly.

So apologies for falling off the radar, and do stay tuned! I’ll get round to writing up my recent race reviews soon, promise!

It’s been a month now since I completed the London Marathon. I’m still digesting, analysing and generally getting to terms with the whole thing.

People keep reminding me that I’ve run a marathon. Which is great, except that technically I ran most of the 26.2miles, but walked several bits towards the end. Not that this bothers me or makes me feel like I didn’t do my best, but it’s an important point and one I am very aware of.

I don’t feel that I’ve completed a marathon. It’s almost like it didn’t happen. I did try how to explain how it went and put into words the noise, crowding, and intensity of the thing in my London Marathon review post. And now, the more I consider it, the more I think that because I didn’t feel part of it at the time (because it was all too big and overwhelming and there was too much sensory input for my boor brain to compute), it makes sense that I don’t feel like I’ve run a marathon. How can I have memories of something I didn’t feel part of at the time?

And another thing has occurred to me – the monotony of the flat, urban course did not help. Running puts a lot of stress and strain on the body – it is repetitive enough as it is – but doing it for 5.5 hours and all on the flat makes it worse still. I think that’s why I walked a lot towards the end – my body just needed to feel a slightly different movement, to allow for a bit of easing off. I probably should have stopped to do some stretches.

What this all adds up to is that my head is still a bit mashed and I have absolutely no emotional connection to that day. I enjoyed it in many parts. But I still recoil in near horror at some bits. In particular – a group of women outside a pub who were encroaching on to the road, Champagne in hand, leaving us weary runners very little room. I could have smacked them, not only for making me feel boxed in, but for having the nerve to stand there with such delectable refreshments that I could not have!

I am now also a bit annoyed at the marathon for stalling my progress – I am definitely getting slower at the moment! On the one hand I don’t mind too much as mass road races where I chase a time are falling out of favour with me anyway, but on the other hand I would like to set at least a couple of PBs this year! But I do have to remember that a month isn’t really a very long time in terms of recovering from a marathon. I still get very tired quite quickly on days after running and I need to work on putting more good things into my body to help it get back on track.

Although I have been continuing my usual road and towpath runs out of necessity, what I really crave is greenery, hills and changing terrain. Which is why recent races like the Hot Cross Run and Bluebell Trail have been so damn brilliant, and why I’m running the Ilkley Trail Race next week.

Marathon distance remains a challenge and a source of huge excitement for me, and for this I am very grateful. I LOVED my long runs in training and am very glad I have already signed up for another marathon. I will be doing Kielder Marathon in October, which is an incredibly scenic, and hilly, route around Kielder Lake in Northumberland. It will be quiet and pretty and so not dull. Training starts next month – the countdown is on and this makes me very happy!