I Believe

Confidence is intangible. Difficult to build-up. As challenging to retain. And easy to lose. It is something which can impact on almost everything that we do. But one thing that my running has taught me in recent months, that I need to be more confident based on my achievements, and I think this is something that could apply to many others as well.

Setting a goal and achieving it is one of the biggest confidence boosters anyone can get. The struggle to reach the target and the sense of relief when it is realised should transform itself into a greater belief about your own abilities. But it is not necessarily something that is gained immediately.

“now that might sounds nuts, but it was true”

One of the more bizarre things that I found after I ran my marathon earlier this year was that, when I signed up for a 10k just a few days after I had completed the race, I was suddenly hit with this worry about whether I would be able to achieve the distance. Not running for a week after the marathon race simply amplified my anxiety, so around a week before the 10k itself, I actually went out for a 10k training run just to prove to myself that I could actually do it. Now that might sound nuts, but it is true. Even though 10k (and much further) was a distance that I had run many, many times in my marathon training it took a while for that confidence in my own ability to seep through to me.

I cannot really explain why that has taken so long. Perhaps it was down to how tough I found the marathon distance, without actually recognising what an achievement it is. It took other people to tell me how great I had done before I began to appreciate that I had really, really done it. I had achieved something only a small percentage of people ever do. Now, three months on from attaining that goal and back training for a half marathon in a few weeks’ time I think I have finally gained that confidence in my running ability.

“running the marathon has changed forever how I perceive distance races”

I am not fast. Am never going to be fast. I am faster than some, but slower than many. At almost fifty, going super fast is not my aim. I aim to go as fast as I can. It is me against the distance, nothing else. But running in the marathon has definitely changed forever how I perceive distance races and this has been made clear through my running this week.

Though I have known about Parkrun for a long time, I finally got around to attending my first last weekend. The Aberdeen Parkrun is on a very flat course at the beachfront in the city – good for anyone looking for a Parkrun PB – and so I registered, printed off my barcode and set off among almost three hundred runners participating in this great social event. It was very warm, with quite a headwind for the first half of the run, but I managed to set a personal best for 5k of 26.03. This builds on my 10k pb of 54.00 which I set at that run just after the marathon, and of course, my marathon pb of 4.38.31. It is in reflecting on what I have achieved, and those pbs, that has also boosted my self-belief.

I had always planned that Sunday would be a long run day, even though it ended up being probably the hottest conditions I have ever run in here in Aberdeen, and that was even though I was out of the house just after 8am.

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The temperatures rose quickly, even in the early morning

It was a fabulous day and I decided to run at least part of the half marathon course that I will be doing at the end of August. I wanted that confidence boost, even though I was confident I could do it. In the end, I finished up running more than the half marathon distance! I would never have had the confidence to do that before, but after everything else, running for more than two hours no longer phases me. My pace was ok, on target for around two hours ten minutes, even though I was not pushing things at all. However, my running cap afterwards did testify to how hard I had actually been working.

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The salty evidence of a hard run

After Sunday, I took a rest day on Monday, but then have run every other day this week. I vary my running. Not just the routes that I run and the distance, but also the effort. On Tuesday I ran hard for four miles, on Wednesday ran easy for three, on Thursday ran hard for four and then on Friday did a balanced run in the morning to get in a further three and a half. Thursday night’s was my favourite, with this fabulous view as I headed out on to the moors as the evening light began to fade.

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The stunning views are one of my reasons for running

The half marathon is in five weeks time. I feel I am in a good place. I plan a couple of more runs of up to half marathon distance in the coming weeks, before probably a two-week taper ahead of the race itself. I have a lot of travel between now and the actual race, so that will raise its usual challenges, but one of them will not be confidence. Confidence that I can do it. I will get to the end. I am not arrogant. I respect the distance, but I have belief. I know I can do it. And if you are challenging yourself with your running. Trust in yourself. You can do it too.

 

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Roam (if you want to)

Being motivated. Making the most of opportunities. Forcing yourself to get out and do things. All of these are necessary attributes if you want to succeed. Trust me, I am no expert when it comes to these things, but there is no doubt, all of these things are linked to your mental health and well-being. A positive attitude can get you a long way, regardless of ability.

I am incredibly luck to travel a lot with work, but for many years I did not take advantage of these opportunities to explore the places I went to visit (other than in a taxi ride or being driven around by a colleague). Getting the chance to run in various places around the world is an amazing opportunity, and I now see running as an almost essential component of any business trip. Last week I went to one of my favourite cities – Rome – and made sure I ventured beyond my hotel room to see the sights.

The only problem was, I was only going there for two days. I was going to fly in, stay overnight, then fly out the following evening. A tight schedule, plus the baking hot temperatures in the Italian capital were always going to make it a bit challenging to fit in a run. This was where the motivation bit came in to play.

The only way I was going to make it out for a run was to get out early in the morning. I have visited Rome a number of times before and knew the hotel in which I would be staying, so I did a quick google maps search of the distance from the hotel to the Colosseum. It was slightly more than three and a half miles  on the most direct route, and a bit more if you did other routes. So basically, this would be the equivalent of doing more than 10k before going to work. And in order to make sure I had time to stop and take photos I had to factor that in as well. The result? Setting my alarm for 5am to get up and out almost before sunrise. But it was so worth it in the end.

While the temperature was still warm – around 20c when I started – this was nothing to the temperatures in the 30s later in the day. And the other great point? The streets were almost deserted and the traffic was virtually non-existent, which in Rome in the summer is a rarity.

My route took me down past the Vatican City and St Peter’s Square where I arrived before 5.45am – so early in fact there was no-one there save for the police on guard. The first part of the route was predominantly downhill and the majority of the entire route was flat, so it was a comfortable run at an easy pace.

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An empty St Peter’s Square with only the police in evidence

After this I headed down towards the Tiber River. The route was really easy to follow – if you have read my blog before you may recall I have a terrible habit of getting lost on runs – and it was such a beautiful morning as the sun came up.

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The stillness of the River reflected how quiet the city streets were

After crossing the river, and passing through more quiet streets as the city began to wake up, the next monument I came to was the Altare della Patria – also known as the Wedding Cake. This was the first slightly challenging part of the run, mainly because I could not quite figure out where was the best place to cross the square and get the best picture. On a normal traffic day, I would not have dared to go basically in the middle and stand there to get the shot.

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Only a few cars were on the street at around 6am

This monument is also just around the corner from the Roman Forum and a few hundred metres from the Colosseum. This is the thing that has always amazed me about Rome, the fact that these incredible places from thousands of years ago are right there, right in the heart of the city, next to busy roads and modern buildings. It is an extraordinary sight. The ancient and modern.

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The Colosseum as daylight broke over Rome

From the Colosseum, I took a slightly different route back up towards my hotel, this time running down towards the river, then along the riverside. This was partly to ensure that I continued to run in the shade as the sun was beginning to come up and the temperatures were slowly climbing into the mid-20s. It was wonderfully cool to run beside the river, though the surface was not the best.

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The cool of the river and the shade was one of the attractions of running this route

After the riverside stretch it was then back up towards the Vatican city once more and into the sunshine and rising temperatures. It was still quite quiet at this point, shortly before 7am, but even by then Rome was starting to come alive and the tourists were already beginning to queue to enter the Vatican and gather in the area around St Peter’s though it was still so much quieter than at any time during the day and evening.

So when I got back to my hotel at around 7.15am (after the only serious uphill stretch of the run, well Rome is built on seven hills is it not, so I was never going to get away with a totally flat route was I?) it was with a fantastic sense of seeing the city in a way that just a few years ago I would never have even contemplated. I would not have even thought about doing something like that, and I think that demonstrates how my mental attitude has changed as I have become fitter. Running is not just about the physical side, there are undoubtedly mental health benefits to running as well.

After returning home, my training this week was fairly standard, and I have settled back in to my training plan for the Aberdeen half marathon in six weeks time. The only problem I have for my training plan is that I go on holiday this weekend, so how to keep things on track when I want to chill out and relax? That’s next week’s blog.

 

Find the River

Sunday morning running used to be one of my staples of training. For the marathon in Stirling earlier this year, Sunday was always my go to day for my long runs. Getting up in the dark, having some breakfast, going back to bed for an hour, then getting out to run. Through the cold of December and the wind of January, on to the cold of February, the cold of March and even the cold of April!!

But I have not gone for an early Sunday morning run from home in a long time. Most of my training these days has been in the evenings, weekends included, and that has been fine. Now, as I begin to seriously build up to the Great Aberdeen half marathon at the end of August, I decided last weekend that the time was right to return to the Sunday morning routine once again.

However, and this comes back to the theme of motivation that I have written about over the last couple of weeks, I decided this time that I wanted to vary my running route, and take in some of Aberdeen’s best views, to make things interesting. When I run in other cities, I always make a point of attempting to see the sights, so why not at home? The other thing, of course, is that the weather has been so spectacular lately, that getting out for a long run and doing it first thing in the morning before the heat of the day was also going to be a bonus.

It could not have been a more amazing day weather-wise – a true contrast to my previous marathon training runs through the long winter and spring months – and Aberdeen really did not let me down.

Firstly, my run took me down and over the Diamond Bridge. This is a relatively new bridge in Aberdeen spanning the River Don and the site of the first picture stop.

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The River Don to the north of Aberdeen

This came at the end of a long downhill section, followed by a short uphill stretch and then on towards the area known as Old Aberdeen towards the University of Aberdeen and the most historic part of the city. There are some fabulous buildings down here so the run was really just rolling along as I took in the views of St Machar Cathedral and King’s College at the university.

As I ran down the High Street and through the university grounds, I had forgotten about the rather steep uphill section that would take me on towards the city centre area, about five miles into my run. Various parts of the run incorporated the course for the half marathon so it was good to re-familiarise myself with this, as these are not parts of the city that I have traditionally run in. I think was I build towards the half race itself, I will attempt to run most of the course to give me more confidence about the challenge ahead.

Part of the city centre is blocked off for traffic but you can still run past Marischal College, the second-largest granite building in the world, and one of the city’s most magnificent places.

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The historic Marischal College

After touring through the city centre, I turned for home and headed back along the beachfront, which in the half marathon you run along in both directions out and back. I was running quite early on Sunday, so was coming along this stretch around 9.15am, but it was still pretty warm. The race starts later in the day so it could be pretty hot by this point.

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Ships and an offshore wind farm in the distance off Aberdeen beach

My route finally varied away from the half course and the long, uphill section towards my house. Basically around a mile and a half uphill to get me home. In total, my run was around ten and a half miles. Having done the marathon, it is really weird to train for shorter distances. The distance itself is not the issue. The issue is the time, and being motivated to do it, not being too arrogant to believe that it will be easy.

So remaining motivated means not just doing the long runs, it means doing the shorter runs, doing the work. I managed to make it out for two other runs this week – family celebrations for my son’s 18th birthday and work commitments precluded anything else. And that is fine. Running will be, for me, an enjoyable pastime and nothing more. Let’s run for fun. Because we want to. Because we know the good it is doing us. And for me, last Sunday, to explore my beautiful city in the most amazing spell of weather I have experienced in the twenty eight years I have lived here.

 

 

Sing

The ability to maintain motivation has always struck me as an interesting concept. How do you remain enthusiastic about something you do regularly? How do you avoid becoming stale? Or worse, how do you ensure that you do not turn yourself off from the activity itself by overdoing it?

Now this can apply as regularly to work as it can to something you do in your private life – I realise that – but I guess that for work there is always the monetary imperative to keep going. There are bills to pay, food to put on the table, petrol required for the car and, if you are lucky, holidays to be afforded, so that always sharpens the mind when it comes to staying keen on the task.

“for years I did little exercise and lived a very unhealthy lifestyle”

But when it is something in your private life – and for this in particular I am of course talking about running or exercising – then I think it is trickier to rationalise. It is clear that there are benefits to a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise, but that does not mean that we always follow through. For years I did little exercise and lived a very unhealthy lifestyle, even although I was very well aware of all of the dietary and health advice that was instructing me to do otherwise. It all comes down to choice.

No one is going to force you to eat more greens – well maybe your mum when you are younger but other than that, no one else. No one is going to force you to go for a run. No one is going to force you to go to the gym. No one is going to force you to walk up stairs rather than take the elevator. No one is going to force you to take a walk rather than take the bus or the car. No one is going to force you to buy a bike and start cycling places. Everything that you do is ultimately up to your own free will. It is down to you, and you alone.

“It is pretty tough to keep on doing them”

But even if you make the decision that you are going to do one, some, or all of these things, it is also pretty tough to keep on doing them. There is maybe that initial burst of enthusiasm where you tell yourself that you ARE going to do these things. Maybe there is some further impetus when you see that doing these things ARE making a difference to how you feel, what you weigh, or your own perception of how you look. That in itself can add further impetus and keep you going towards a target or a goal.

However, what happens if you keep on going and do achieve target? What then? What is it that keeps up that enthusiasm when that thing you have been striving to achieve is no longer there? I always marvel at top level sportspeople who keep going for years even when they have done everything there is to achieve in their chosen field. That passion, that desire, that hunger has nothing to do with money. It is about the glory. The sense of achievement. The constant desire to improve and be better. It is about them as individuals.

“a desire not to go back to being that unhealthy guy I was”

And I guess that is just it – the key part of motivation for me. It is about me. It is about who I am, who I want to be.  I am not pretending to be some kind of superman. I am not suggesting for a second that I am more motivated than anyone else.  I have plenty of days where the thought of getting out for a run is well down my priority list. So how do I keep myself motivated? At work it is personal pride in the job I am doing. In my private life, now it is a desire not to go back to being that unhealthy guy I was for so many years. So while this year I have already completed my main goal – running a marathon – the reason I have signed up for other races (my next is a half marathon) is to maintain my level of motivation. It is about setting another target and striving to achieve it.

You might think that, after running a marathon, that any other, shorter distance would actually be a demotivating factor. You might believe that a shorter run will be a piece of cake – certainly the training programme for the half is nothing like as intense as the marathon plan was. But whatever race you run, you need to respect the distance. A few years ago I had done little training and I went to do a 5k. I was embarrassed at how out of breath I was and I had to walk a fair portion of the course. This came down to not really appreciating the challenge.

“a fantastic chance to explore parts of the cities which I visit”

So I use the races to keep me motivated. This week has been a bit of a case in point. I have traveled to Singapore for work, flying more than six and a half thousand miles and with a seven hour time difference. It would be really easy for me to use the jet-lag, the time difference, the work schedule as excuses to not do anything or sit in the hotel bar with a beer and watch the World Cup matches. In reality, I find when I do travel like this I am, in fact, more motivated to get out and do stuff. At home, I rarely run in the morning. When I am away, it is the ideal time to get the job done, because I may not have time in the evening itself. It is also a fantastic chance to explore parts of the cities which I visit that I may not get the opportunity to do so otherwise.

Singapore has some fabulous sights and as I was staying close to the Marina area, near the incredible architecture of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel this was my favoured route. On my first full day there – Sunday which was a day off – went out during the day. This was a total sweatfest due to the intense humidity in the Tropics.

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The Merlion with the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background 

That was why I found myself setting my alarm for 6.15am the rest of the so I could get up, get out and get in a 5k run pretty much before it was even daylight. Part of this motivation too is to do it before it gets too warm. The humidity is a lot less first thing and the heat can be intense later, particularly if it is a sunny day, but by running at that time it was at least bearable. To be honest, seeing some of the weather back in the UK this week, I think I might have got off lightly.

So I ended up running every day when I was in Singapore, getting up in the dark, getting out and keeping my training going when I am on the road.

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The spectacular skyscrapers which dominate the Singapore skyline

What surprised me was that one morning I did one of my quickest runs in a long time, despite the humid conditions. This was a double-edged sword. I was super pleased with getting down to sub-nine minutes, but on the other hand I think it also made it harder to get up for the two runs I did after it, because I had achieved my goal.

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Sub 9 minute mile pace is fast for me

For my last couple of days  in Singapore it was then a bit of a struggle to keep going, to force myself out. But for my last run I persuaded my boss, Rob, to join me, and that is clearly something else that can really help. If you run with others, then there is that desire not to let them down. When one of you does not fancy it, the others can motivate you to get up and get out.

Rob and I have now signed up for our first race together – and for Rob his first ever 10k – at the end of September. So that is another target for me to aim at and to keep me motivated beyond my August half marathon. I returned to the UK on Friday and will take a couple of days off before a long slow run on Sunday morning. It is time to kick in to this training plan proper. I am right up for it.

 

Finest Worksong

This week has been a struggle. Not a struggle to motivate myself. Not a struggle to force myself to go running. Not a struggle to get to work. Not a struggle to deal with family issues. Just a struggle to fit everything in. Which has prompted me to put together some thoughts on work/life/training balance.

I am finishing this off while at the airport in Aberdeen. In the past eight days, this is the sixth airport I have been to, with the seventh, Heathrow, just one flight away. I started off at the end of last week in Ljubljana in Slovenia before travelling home via Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Then this week I flew from Edinburgh to Frankfurt in Germany and then on to Belgrade in Serbia and then back via the same route. Long travel days, queues for security, delayed flights and stressing about connections, long working days, staying in hotels, customer meetings in the evenings. Just now? I am waiting to board a flight to Heathrow and then on to Singapore. My travelling life for work is pretty crazy sometimes.

If you combine this with a week of family stuff where we have had Father’s Day, my birthday (spent travelling to Serbia) then our daughter’s graduation from university on Thursday night, then as you can see, it has been pretty full on. Now I am not arrogant enough to think I am unique, as I think we all have lots of challenges that can get in the way of running, or training for an event, or just relaxing. I also want to make it clear that I view running very much as an enjoyable hobby. I am not, and am never going to be, someone who harbours ambitions to be a professional. That ship sailed many years ago, but as it is something I enjoy doing, then I think this gets to the nub of the matter. How do you fit it all in, and particularly, how do you avoid making excuses that you cannot do the thing you like?

Before I started exercising I had loads of bad habits (in fact I still do, but maybe now I just counteract them a bit better). Eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much time in front of the TV, being overweight, living an unhealthy lifestyle, but also arguing that I was too busy to do anything about any of these things. And I think if we are all honest, it is very easy to be in that mindset. That there is nothing you can do. There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done and leave you with time to do something for yourself. I absolutely felt that way for a very long time. Habits are easy to get out off, but also, I believe, something you can get in to.

So how do you change that kind of mindset? It is not easy. I read something recently which pointed out that no one speaks to you anything like as often as you speak to yourself, and as a consequence, you should always be kind and supportive to yourself. I had never really thought about it in this way before, as I know I am guilty of being very critical of myself and always feeling I could do better, but I think this is a good place to start. Tell yourself you can do things. Tell yourself that you can make a difference. Tell yourself that you can change things. And tell yourself that even if you try but ultimately do not change things, then you are not a failure, at least you have tried.

I am not advocating that you set out to run a marathon. I am not even advocating you go out running or do any strenuous exercise. All I am advocating is that you look out for yourself. Go for that walk when it is a nice night. Make the effort to enjoy the fresh air if you can. And if you want to go to the gym, then go for it. Trust me, no one is looking at you, other than yourself, even though you may feel that everyone is. At the gym, everyone is self obsessed they do not have time to worry about the rest!!

So having preached a bit, and listed out all of my excuses for not doing any exercise at all this week, what have I actually done?

Well on Fathers Day I got up and out early morning to go for a nice three and a half mile run around the moors close to where I live. It is always lovely getting out on a Sunday morning when things are nice and quiet and even better when everyone that you pass says hello as you go by. It was actually quite warm as well, warmer than it looked.

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The moors are really blooming just now

I also went running in Belgrade in Serbia, after I eventually made it there. This was really crazy. As Lufthansa no longer fly out of Aberdeen, I had to drive almost three hours to Edinburgh Airport to get my flight to Frankfurt then on to Belgrade. Unfortunately my flight to Frankfurt was almost one hour delayed. As I had slightly over an hour between flights, I feared that I was going to end up stuck at Frankfurt, but when I was on the flight I asked the steward if I would be able to make it. He looked and me and told me not to worry, the plane I was on was THE plane that was going to Belgrade. Unbelievably, it was. So my flight to Belgrade was going to be as delayed as my flight to Frankfurt. Now Frankfurt Airport is like a small town, so it is not as easy as just getting off the flight and sitting at the gate to make the connection, but about twenty minutes are getting off I was back at the same gate and ready to get back on board again. This all meant that I did not get to my hotel in Belgrade until around 1am, but that did not stop me getting up at 6.30am to get out for a run that took me down towards the banks of the River Danube.

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Early morning running in Belgrade down towards the River Danube

The following day I flew back from Belgrade via the same route. So I had to get up at 4am for a 6am flight to Frankfurt, then an 11am flight to Edinburgh, then a three-hour drive back home, then work for a couple of hours, have something to eat, and then go out for a five-mile run at 8.30pm at night. And you know what? All the way around that five mile run, particularly the uphill part towards the end, I REALLY was not feeling it. It was all a struggle. But I made time for it. I went out and I did it. And this is really what it is about.

If we really want to. And I mean really, really want to. We can make time for anything. We can make time to sit and watch TV. We can make time to sit and study our phones. We can make time to trawl through stuff on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. And I do all of that. I really do. Plus all the work. Honestly, I really do. But I also make time to go for a run. Sometimes I am forcing myself out of the door. On Wednesday night it was raining for god’s sake, and I had been up for hours but I still went out. I guess what I am saying is that we can make time for anything we want, we just need to get out and do it.

I have done a morning run, a 6.30am run and an 8.30pm run after a long day of travel and work this week. I am no hero. I am very ordinary. If I can make the time, honestly, anyone can.

So now I am waiting to board my flights to Singapore. For the next twenty-four hours or so I will not be able to do anything, but I have my stuff packed. My jet lag will guarantee I am awake early and I plan to go out and run. Before I have the distractions of work, long days and customer meetings in the evenings. As for the humidity? I may be a puddle on the ground before I am one hundred yards into my run, but the best bit? At least I will be out doing it, because I have made the time to do it.

Easy Please Me

Sunday. 9pm. I am more than six miles in to a run and I have just reached the beachfront in Aberdeen. A two-mile long straight right along the promenade stretches out in front of me. I had set off hoping to do eight miles. I am around five miles from home. And I feel fantastic.  This is what running is all about.

It is a sensation that is hard to capture, impossible to bottle. That feeling that you are in control. Your legs feel light. Your breathing is easy. The road may stretch out in front of you but it holds no fears. There is no doubt that you are going to make it to the end. Your mind is clear and you can take in the sights which are around you. It feels almost effortless. It is a part of a run where you have got through the initial breathlessness, got through the initial thoughts that you will struggle with the distance, got through the doubts in your own head. It is a magical time.

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The ships sitting off Aberdeen beach from my Sunday run

It is not always like this, of course, but the times when it is? Boy, does it strike home. This is why I began to change my lifestyle almost two and half years ago. To feel like this. To be positive. To make a difference to me. To be like this.

Since the marathon at the end of April, I feel like I have been beating myself up a bit about my running, and I have no idea why. The marathon was my first so it is such an enormous achievement and a PB of course, then three weeks later  I ran my fastest ever 10k, so I have no reason to be down. I think it has been letting the enormity of all of the training building up to the marathon and then managing to do the run all just sink in.

Over the past couple of weeks I have rediscovered what I had been missing. That urge to go running, almost all the time. Running in Dublin last week was just great fun, and now I intend to capitalise on this.

It may also have to do with the fact that this week also marked the start of my training programme for the Great Aberdeen Half Marathon that I am planning to do at the end of August. Sunday was the first date in my programme. The programme suggested 35 minutes of easy running. I smashed out eleven and a half miles in just under two hours.

It is so crazy that I can just crank out a run like that without any special preparation, any carbo-loading, any special gels. This was a normal Sunday with the family, doing normal things, eating normal food, and then just going out at around 8pm for a run on a perfectly still, slightly cloudy night. The recent heat had begun to dissipate from Aberdeen on Sunday so it was ideal conditions. This is all about trusting your training. all those months building up for the marathon do not suddenly disappear from your system. no matter how much you may doubt yourself. Could I run a marathon this week? Maybe not, but I could give it a damn good try. And if I can run like I ran on Sunday, where it feels like you could run forever, you could just keep going, then who knows how far I may go in the future.

After Sunday, I did a short, recovery run on Monday night, then on Tuesday I flew to Ljubljana in Slovenia for work for a few days. When I touched down it was really humid, far more so than it has been in Aberdeen over the past few weeks. I managed to squeeze in a couple of miles between work and heading out for dinner with work colleagues. The centre of the city is really pleasant, with lots of eating places dotted around the riverbank – and with many tourists in the area it was as difficult to run at times as it was in Dublin the previous week.

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The area around the river in the city of Ljubljana

So given how busy it was I decided to venture out for an early morning run the following day. One of my colleagues is from Slovenia so she had suggested running up to the castle, which I could see from my hotel. I had a look on Google Maps and the route suggested it was less than a mile up to the top, and that you could drive up so the road would not be too steep. Was this was great in theory, the practice was somewhat different.

I managed to choose a different route from the one suggested on Google Maps. The most direct one. And one that was basically two hundred metres almost straight up. There is a funicular railway that can also take you to the top. This is the gradient it goes up. Some parts of my route were almost as bad as this!

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My route to the top was not quite as steep as this but not far off

The views from top were lovely, but I have to confess that I had to pause a couple of times on the way up to gather myself. It was very early in the run so I probably had not really warmed up, but my god it was tough going. I am very much in awe of runners who do a lot of trails and hill running and this experience only emphasised my admiration for their efforts.

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Almost the whole of Ljubljana can be seen from the castle

This was the hill elevation profile from my Strava. The downhill bit was even steeper, in fact for a little part I thought I might be better off with crampons to get me down!!

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The climb up to the castle, and then the vertiginous downhill route

The rest of the run was on the flat around the river and the city centre near the hotel. It was  beautiful and empty at that early hour of the morning, but that bit at the start? Boy, oh boy.

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The quiet streets early in the morning were ideal for running

I have had a couple of rest days since then, and this week I will only have limited chances for running due to my work schedule and some family commitments, but that is fine. I am going to be realistic about what I can and cannot do and not give myself too much of a hard time about a session that I miss or about whether I have an extra beer or a bit of cake. I am hoping that the last couple of weeks have marked a turning point and that from now on I can experience the simple joy of running and feeling good about myself.

Mirror Man

I am going to start off this week with a question. When you look in the mirror, what do you actually see? Not who do you see, but what do you see? Do you see something positive, or do you focus on the negatives?

The reason I pose the question is to prompt a discussion about confidence and self-belief. When I look in the mirror, I still see an overweight, unfit guy looking back at me. Now this is despite the fact that I have lost more than three stones in weight and am now fitter than I think I have ever been in my life, so why do I think this way?

I have always struggled with my weight…

I think it is about feeling that the other guy – the overweight and unfit one – is ready to come back at any moment and take over my life again. I have always struggled with my weight, even going back to childhood. I became tall and fit through my teens and twenties, but as I moved into my thirties then forties the struggles returned and the pounds piled on. I used lots of reasons as excuses, working too much, travelling too much, flying too much, free food in airline lounges, eating out when staying in hotels, going to the bar when I was away, and so on. All of this sits in my psyche and lurks at the back of my mind.

When I lost weight three years back, and then subsequently took up running, I did it for my future. I did it because I wanted to be healthy, to prolong my life, to do something positive and make a change. Now I have done all of that, and succeeded at what I think will be the ultimate physical test for me – running the marathon earlier this year – it is really about just keeping things going.

I found it difficult to keep going

I have to confess that I did think my marathon training would help me lose even more weight, but as things transpired by weight really did not vary all that much even though I was running up to five or six times a week, including serious distances. I found that the discipline of running plus also trying to stick to a diet regime was too tough. On the weeks I was very strict with what I ate I lost pounds but was pretty miserable. I found it difficult to keep going. So I traded off the running with being a bit less worried about what I was consuming. Now this did not mean I went back to what I was eating in the fat old days, but I took off the shackles a bit.

But there were times when I looked in the mirror and thought, my god Craig, you have actually got cheekbones. The funny thing about this has been that various people said to me they thought I looked too gaunt. People who I maybe have not seen for a few months do come up to me and say, “wow, Craig you’ve lost even more weight!”. While my marathon running did not result in me losing weight, it has definitely changed my body shape so I think I look thinner and leaner. Some of that fat has definitely transitioned into muscle mass.

I need to focus more on what I have achieved, and am still achieving

But why do I still think I look fat? I believe I will always think this way. I am constantly striving to do better, to improve. I focus too much on what I do not do well rather than what I get right. I think it is also related to comparing myself to others. I think, “I have run a marathon, but oh my god look at these people doing triathlons or ultra-marathons. They are amazing!”, and I downplay my own achievements. I need to focus more on what I have achieved, am still achieving, and that this is greater than anything of which I thought I was capable.

Anyway, enough of the soul-searching. The running this week has been really great. A weekend away with my wife meant I did not get in any running at all last weekend, and i was pretty tired when I flew out to Dublin on Monday for work. The last few months of constant travelling is beginning to take its toll I think. While I have gone to the Irish capital many times in the past, this was the first time I had the chance to run in city centre along the banks of the River Liffey.

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The weather in Dublin was spectacular

It was warm all week – in fact my hotel room felt like a sauna – so I took advantage and went out three times during the three days I was there. On the first run I realised that trying to run through the tourist area of Temple Bar was not really on, as there were just so many people, but once I got past O’Connell Street things opened up and I was able to get in around four miles right along the river to the waterfront and back.

Other than races, I almost always run on my own, but a colleague from work was in Dublin with me this week, so I persuaded Jon to come out and we got in a gentle three miles the following night. It was great to run with him and I will continue to pester him to join me on a 10k race later this year. He is definitely capable.

Then on Wednesday morning, I forced myself to get up at 5.30am to get out for a run as part of #worldrunningday as part of a virtual team of runners I have met through Twitter. So while I have never met any of the other team members in person, I still felt that team ethos to get out and do what I had pledged to do, and this was the only time of the day I could do it. It was probably also the only time of the day that even Temple Bar is quiet!

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My early morning route through Dublin

Returning home on Wednesday night, there was then a lovely package for me when I got back. I have written a few race reviews for the website Racecheck this year, so I was lucky enough this month to be chosen as a new member of their Visor Club. You can read more about the club here, but I have found the whole online community on Twitter of the likes of racecheck, #ukrunchat, @great_run and others really supportive and I hope I can play a role in that community in the future, wearing my visor with pride when I race then posting a review to help other runners.

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My #teamwhite Racecheck Visor

I had a day off from work on Friday, so I got out for a nice four mile run combining a bit of road and trail around the moors where I live. Since my 10k a few weeks back I have put a bit of focus onto pace work so my runs are getting quicker and I feel my ability to handle this improving as well. It is now around three months until my next race – the Great Aberdeen Half Marathon – so my training journey towards that is about to start. I have really enjoyed my running this week, so maybe when I look in the mirror I should reflect more on that than anything else.