Tapering!

Ok, last long run done on Sunday, and I have to say, I’ve had a narrow escape!

I started coming down with a cold the Sunday before (i.e. over a week ago), but I managed to do my workout (a progression run) on the day, even if I opted for the relative safety of the treadmill… On Monday and Tuesday it had become a full-blown feverish cold and I was worried a bit whether I’d be in a position to run on the weekend (as I’ve written before, some of my long runs have been a bit hit-and-miss, so I didn’t want to miss the last one), but thankfully my cold eased by Friday, so I was able to go on a gentle 10k run with Demi on Saturday and felt well enough to do my long run on the Sunday.

With a heavy heart, as I wasn’t 100% well, I opted for the treadmill again, as I didn’t particularly want to get stranded miles from home and have to make my way back in a drenched t-shirt in the wind. Apart from mind numbingly boring (even with an audiobook), the thing with treadmills is that they are a very inaccurate representation of the real thing and for that I have found them a false friend in the past. Still, they have their uses on occasions, and Sunday was one such.

It went ok, I’m pleased to say, the nutrition and hydration plan I’ve settled on (after the failed experiments with the Saltcaps of a couple of weeks ago) worked a treat, and I’m so happy I know what I’m doing on that front!

I once again adjusted the incline on the treadmill to simulate the inclines on the route. Yes, the hill (especially the long, middle one) is serious, but on a positive side, I felt that breaking down the route like that helped me very much mentally. In sort, I’ve broken the route down in 5 parts, each with its own theme (and target pace):

Athens terrain

  1. Start to 10km: This starts as a mild downhill (till about the loop around the Tomb of the battle of Marathon), so I intend to take it at a steady pace, but without getting carried away – there is still a long way to go!
  2. 10km to 15.5k: The first hill: slow down accordingly, try to keep a balance between remaining fresh (it’s still early in the race), but without sacrificing too much time. After all, this is followed by:
  3. 15.5k to 18.5k: A nice, fast, downhill section, but keep it steady: The aim here is not to shave time (what, maybe a minute? minute and a half?) off, but to recover from the previous hill and making sure I am fresh for:
  4. 18.5k to 30.5k: The ascent to Stauros! The 12km that will make the difference to my race, I think. In 2011, I ran this on average about 30” per km slower than my average total race time, so that is a useful rule of thumb as to how I should approach it. Just think of it as run in itself, and not the 3rd quarter of a full marathon!
  5. 30.5k to 42.195k: All downhill! Whether this is a good or bad thing will depend on the state of my knees by then, but mentally… it makes it so much easier to will yourself up the preceding hill knowing that at least the last section of the race is (in theory) the least challenging.

I also remember that once I had crested the top in 2011, the one thought that filled my mind was “there’s no way I’m not finishing this now!” That of course was my first marathon and I didn’t know what the last kilometers would feel like, but it’s a pleasant recollection and one I will be hanging on to! 🙂

So that’s it! Even if I feel a bit undertrained, I’m resisting the temptation for “one more” long run “to get it right”. Instead I’m sticking with my programme and running the Leicester half on Sunday as my last progression run and to make sure I’m comfortable with my race number and gel holder. I’m just grateful to have solved my hydration / nutrition quandry and to have booked my pre-race massage…

Not long to go now!

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…but it should be fun!

Seeing me in the state of mind that led to yesterday’s post, Demi gave me a good talking to and reminded me that running is supposed to be fun and something we do to feel better.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment and promised to get my act together, but the recollection of our “running should be fun” conversation while doing my 15 x 1′ strides in near horizontal rain on the more exposed paths of Regent’s Park made me smile…

At least the rain stopped in time for my cool-down so I could take these photos as dusk was setting in:

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And taking my time under a hot shower afterwards wasn’t bad either…

No one ever said it was going to be easy!

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Sunday’s long run (35km) was another painful and disappointing experience. I started well, in a relaxed pace, purposely keeping it a bit slower than previous LRs. I was chugging along nicely till about the 20th km when I felt my hamstrings tighten till, a few kilometres later, they had seized up completely and I had to take a walking break. When I felt the tightening easing, I tried to get back up to an easy jog, but it soon returned, so I had to run-walk the last 9 km, walking in total something like 2-2.5 km of that.

The detail behind this is that for my hydration / electrolyte replacement I was trying out using SaltSticks with water instead of the High5 Zero solubles I am more used to, on the basis that the tangy taste of the latter make them harder to use to wash down sweet energy gels. It is my third outing with Salt Sticks and I don’t think they really work for me… in two of the three occasions I’ve tried them out (inc this last time), they’ve given me stomach cramps and they haven’t really been successful in preventing my muscles cramping, either. This is not me knocking the product by the way, I know everyone who uses them swears by them, but they didn’t seem to do it for me…

I suppose that from a glass half full perspective, this is what training runs are for, to see what works for you and what not and to prepare yourself for the race proper. But they are also meant to improve your fitness, condition your body to running long distances and give you the confidence to know you can run 42.195km on the day. And run-walking from the 26th km isn’t the way to do this! And even this optimistic view of things assumes that what caused my hamstrings to cease up was my choise of electrolyte supplement and not my body not being up to the distance (remember those missed LRs in September? And what do they say about workmen and their tools?)

This coming Sunday I’ve a 2h progression run and the week after that my final 3h long run… So hopefully I will have it all sorted by then, arrange a massage during my tapering period and be all fresh for Athens. But I have to say that am not in a happy place right now, the extreme disappointment and frustration that I felt whenever I had to slow to a walk on Sunday still lingering in the form of doubts… Will I be really ready for the marathon, or will it be another painfest like the latter stages of Rome? And speaking of previous marathons, what’s my record like exactly? My first (Athens 2011) went much better than I could have hoped (even as my harshest critic I was pleased with 3:52:11 for a first marathon on a tough course), but then I sprained an ankle in the opening stages of my second (Lakeland trail marathon 2012) and basically limped around the course; and then was Rome where despite a (relatively small) PB, I came up with a whole host of excuses for walking close to the end. And even for Ashby 20 (miles) earlier in the year I think I blamed not doing as well as I had hoped on the lack of endurance training. There is always an excuse (runners’ excuses are as notorious as fishermen’s tales), but judging purely by outcomes, perhaps I’m not really cut out for these sorts of distances.

Or perhaps it’s just the frustration speaking. Hopefully. At any rate it was never supposed to be easy, so I shouldn’t be disheartened to find out it isn’t. At times like this I think of Chris and his “that’s why only 1% of us ever run a marathon” mantra. In the meantime I’ve got strides after work tonight, intervals on Friday, an easy run on Saturday and a progression past race pace on Sunday. Let’s concentrate on these. And a lot of conditioning and strengthening exercises daily. Oh, and I need to stop whineing!

The day is getting closer…

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I’m reaching the business end of my marathon training plan, and I’ve got slightly mixed feelings: On the one I think I’ve done as well as I could with training consistency, considering all other planned and unplanned demands on my time since I started in July; with perhaps one exception (the long progression run last week which went terribly wrong), I feel I’ve been able to follow my plan and run the distances, paces, repetitions etc it included; I’ve have avoided injuries (he writes touching wood), and the few niggles I had at the beginning of my training seem to have gone.

On the other hand I still have missed more sessions than I’d like (crucially, including a couple of long runs in September), I have not been able to do much strength training or conditioning and I somehow can’t see myself completing the marathon in the time my plan is based on… I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the Athens route is quite hard, with a long hill from the 18th to the 31st km, so you have to pace it very carefully: Make the most of the relatively flat first 18k, but at the same time don’t set off too fast, and remember to keep enough in hand for the 13km long hill that follows. And if you are still strong at the 31st km, you can try to shave a few minutes off your time in the final 11km (gently downhill), but they will never be enough to allow you to run a negative split race. So you have to have a pretty good idea of your (realistic) target time and run the first 18k accordingly. And while I know I’ll be slower than what my plan says (less-than-perfect training and that bastard hill!), I’m yet to decide on my realistic target time.

That’s part of the reason why I joined the Leicester half, which is a local race which I enjoyed immensely last year and which this year falls on the first Sunday of my taper. I hope it will be a pleasant distraction from the training runs, give me an idea where I am fitness and training wise and – hopefully – boost my pre-race confidence a bit!

On other news, I got the letter informing me I didn’t make it through the ballot for London this year and, while I’d love to run for charity again, I don’t think that I can realistically commit to the pledges most charities ask for (most around the £2,000 mark), not with all my time already as stretched as it is with work and everything else…

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My original fall-back plan was to enter Paris (it’s two weeks before London and as my parents live there it would work out very nicely), but I think I’ll sleep on it… perhaps even see how Athens goes before signing up for the next one…

But that is all for another day – the priority today is to have a decent rest and then a decent long run tomorrow!

This week’s joke!

Aside

Have you heard the one about the dedicated runner who, on realising the gym facilities in his hotel were inadequate, decided to have a short but vigorous burpee workout in his room?

He twisted his knee and had to limp to the restaurant, 200 yards away… 😦

Comical, but it doesn’t feel like something that will trouble me after a good night’s sleep… we’ll see!

Keep on Training!

Runnermoon

There were no noteworthy running encounters last week, no colourful characters from Rocky’s Philadelphia or nose-in-the-air runners, only September’s glorious moon for company during the past few sessions.

I am having to adapt my training (the long runs in particular) these days, as it seems we’ll be busy all weekends in September, doing one thing or another. This usually means seeing friends on the weekend, eating and drinking far too much, then leaving the long run for Monday night and distributing all other sessions through the week as life permits… I’m still on top of it though and I’ve not – yet – missed anything more crucial than the odd easy run in a week, but I know it is going to be a struggle fitting everything in over the next few weeks.

Generally speaking, I’m encouraged with how my training is going: the interval and – especially – the tempo sessions are hard but I see them through at the pace my plan requires, and I have been completing all long runs as prescribed (with aches and pains that usually come with upping the distance again, but nothing that lingers after a day or so). Now, for serious runners, following a training plan to the letter is taken for granted, but my approach has tended to be just muddling through, ticking off as many sessions as I manage to and hoping for the best! I’ve tried to do better this time round, and I think to a great extent I’ve succeeded – so far!

Had I more time, I’d like to be able to fit in more strength training (I know this would make the long runs less painful) and I miss my easy runs on the weeks (like last one) when I can’t fit them in. I enjoy these immensely, just making the route up as I go along at an easy pace and reminding myself that running is not always about reaching your physical limit…

In the mean time the weeks pass, and here we are with less than two months to go… That thought makes me feel very unready! Still, with 6 more long runs to go before tapering (inc yesterday’s which I’ve deferred to today), there is plenty of time to build the distance, although I’ve no idea how I’ll maintain my target race pace on the day!

Still, that’s not for now. Now I just need to stick with the plan through another busy period, see if I can add some strength training back in my routine and try to fit more miles in the week!

A bit of love, a bit of hatred, but something…

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So the results of the vote last week are in, and a clear majority of 60% recommend that I keep smiling in the face of the unfriendly and sometimes downright contemptuous runners I tend to meet when I run in London. You are obviously a much more civilised bunch than I am, because my instinctive response was to meet unfriendliness with a scowl; but there lies the slippery slope into anarchy, chaos, the breakdown of society and – worst of all – discourtesy! And that we shall not tolerate.

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But as a lovely contrast to my post from last week, today I became the object of a very vocal outburst of support and encouragement: I was staying in a different hotel than usual, so my morning run (6 x 4’ intervals) took me along the south bank of the Thames, from Lambeth Bridge to HMS Belfast and back. On the way back, I was holding on for dear life on my fourth interval past Borough Market and the Clink when a big black guy standing under the railway bridges saw me approach him and cried in an American accent “way to go man! Drop me five!” and offered his open palm for me to slap. He carried on offering encouragement and as I re-emerged into the sunlight I could still hear him shout after me “looking good, looking good, keep going man!”, which made me feel I was in some Hollywood film and that if I turned back I would see that a crowd of children had followed me out of the market and up the steps to the nearest monument!

I love it when little things like that happen, even if I know full well that it is all a bit of fun and not intended as an earnest compliment or in-depth-appraisal of my running form, pace or physique (none of which usually move the masses to vocal expressions of adoration!) I suppose the only earnest compliment there, if there is one, is for being out at that time of the morning / afternoon / evening and putting miles in. And not giving up when you look as beat as I am sure I did then. At least that’s what gives me the urge to spur another runner on, when I’m doing the watching.

There have been a number of such incidents lately: on my Sunday long run, I passed a boy with his father in the village of Thurlaston and he too (the boy that is) started shouting encouragement, gave me a high-five and run next to me for a while. And then, on the same run, after many miles, detours and loops in the countryside, I was leaving Huncote in the direction of Narborough when a lady cyclist who looked like she had struggled up the hill to Huncote, still found the energy to tell me to “carry on, well done!”

Encouragement is much more common in races of course, but there are still stand-out instances that stay with you: Demi, Alexia and Niko at the 32nd km of my first marathon (in Athens), when I had resigned myself that no-one would see me run; the girl in Rome that egged me on in Piazza del Popolo, when my cramp had gotten so bad that I had to walk; or the old lady, again in Athens, who – almost in a whisper and with a lump in her throat – offered the equivalent of “well done boys” (“μπράβο ρε παιδιά”), more to herself than us; there was something about her that has left a great impression on me, something that suggested there was a story behind what brought her out to that stretch of road between villages to see us pass…

I love running, and the memories it gives me. Alone, not passing another living soul for miles; alongside someone else, at pace or more relaxed; or interacting with people I pass, whether earnestly or in jest. And in the end, it seems it wasn’t the “rudeness” of the Regent’s Park runners I minded: I now know it was their indifference.

So I will leave you with this (a line of which I stole for today’s title):