February Running Challenge | 75 Miles

Toward the end of last year, after a huge amount of stress left me exhausted and utterly unmotivated, I took an involuntary break from running. I wanted to run; I simply couldn’t. Every time I tried, anxiety would show its ugly face and I’d end up panicking before I’d even made it to the door.

After three weeks, I finally laced up my shoes and headed out for a little 5K around the village… Needless to say, it wasn’t the best run. My body ached, my feet cramped after only a few steps and I generally felt out of balance – like my body didn’t know how to run anymore. Despite all that, that run actually got me back on track and I resumed my usual sporadic, unscheduled running.

I guess it’s true that sometimes you just need to take the first step for the rest to follow!

In January, I started running more regularly and slowly increased my mileage. From 18 miles in November and December, I ended up running nearly 50 miles in January, which is probably the most I had ever run in a single month! I felt proud, confident and I was probably a little high on endorphins. I didn’t want that feeling to stop, so I signed up for ‘Race at Your Pace‘ and challenged myself to run 75 miles (120 kilometres) in February.

I know 75 miles is not much for many other runners out there, but for me it was challenging enough without being unattainable and that’s exactly what I was looking for. I also didn’t want to up my mileage too fast and injure myself.

I hit the pavement 15 times in 28 days, ran my longest run so far (10 miles) and finished the month with a total of 76.2 miles. Yay!

Below is a mishmash of lessons learned throughout the challenge and stuff that crossed my mind during the many hours I spent alone with my thoughts:

1. Sleep is essential. I rarely sleep past 7:00, even on weekends, but during the first two weeks of that challenge I could have slept ALL THE TIME. I had to make some changes to my sleeping schedule, which included going to bed half an hour earlier on week nights and reducing the number of my early morning yoga practices from five to three so I can stay in bed a little later on the days I have longer runs planned. I still have semi-regular afternoon naps, but I am back to being a perfectly functional human being.

2. Food is fuel. It seems obvious, but it’s really not always that easy. Going from a few 5Ks every week and the odd 10K once in a while to regularly running 16+ miles a week means I have to fuel differently. I didn’t make massive changes to my diet – I still eat gluten, meat and plenty of chocolate – but I’m learning what works and doesn’t work for me in the food department. I also increased my protein intake to help with recovery; eggs, peanut butter and soy milk are now daily staples. On a side note, I also started cravings vegetables… Weird?

3. I miss running off-road. I used to include little bits of off-road running in most of my runs back home simply because there was urban and woodland trails easily available at my doorstep. Since moving to the UK, I ran mostly on roads; however, after a fun snowy trail run with Edward on the last day of this challenge and a particularly unchallenging hike a couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to try something new and finally splurged on a proper pair of trail running shoes! I look forward to more off-road runs, especially now that the weather is getting better.

4. I can and I will. It became my mantra during the most challenging runs… Running has a lot to do with mental strength as well as physical fitness and I found that having a few simple words to repeat over and over was a good way to keep the negative thoughts at bay.

5. Why do my feet hurt so bad? Turns out it’s because I needed new trainers! After 370 miles in them, my beloved Brooks Ravenna 8 were dead (as you can see below). I found a great deal online and reordered a pair, but maybe I’ll try the updated Ravenna 9 next, or possibly the new Launch 5. Is there such a thing as too many pairs of running shoes?

Brooks Ravenna 8 - Old VS New

6. Running in the rain is really not that bad at all. I always hated it before, but February in England can be quite rainy so I had to get used to it and I eventually started enjoying it. It’s actually quite exhilarating!

7. Strava is great. It satisfies my inner ‘stats geek’. I like seeing the miles add up every week, taking part into monthly challenges, checking my ‘suffer score’ after every run or keeping an eye on my yearly stats.

8. My asthma improved. I was worried it would make running difficult as I increased my weekly mileage, but running actually got easier as the challenge went on. By the end of the month, I was taking my preventer inhaler only twice a day (instead of four times before the challenge) and had an average peak flow of 390 (instead of my usual ‘I can barely blow the thing up to 300’). The nurse I see every few months for a check-up even told me I didn’t need to see her again until next year!

9. I missed snowy runs. I know a majority of runners prefer running during the spring and summer months, but I am definitely a fall/winter runner and I’ve always enjoyed running in the cold and snow. Like running in the rain, there’s something exhilarating and vivifying to it.

10. Running withdrawal IS a thing! I had to decrease my mileage drastically after the challenge due to an injury (thanks to the dead shoes mentioned above) and spent a whole week being moody and irritable. It took me a while to realise it was likely because of the lack of endorphins but once I figured that out and started moving a little more, it pretty much resolved itself. I now fully understand (and relate) to all those ‘beware of tapering runner‘ memes!

Unfortunately, March wasn’t as smooth…

I was out of the game for a little more of two weeks because of a niggle in my right ankle, and everyday life was generally busy and a bit difficult. On the plus side, I got plenty of rest and I am ready to get back into some kind of routine regarding my running.

I’ve planned all my runs for the coming week – my schedule even includes a trail run provided that the weather conditions are good. If my ankle survives the mileage, I might sign up for an April challenge! I’d also like to run a half-marathon this year, so I should probably stop procrastinating and find a race (and a training plan)…

Until then, happy running!

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