Tapering did you say? Leicester half 2014!

2014-10-26 09.12.45I picked the Leicester half marathon as the transition, if you will, from marathon training proper to tapering and as a way to check how my training had gone, with all its interruptions and hiccups. I intended to run this as the training run I had scheduled for that day, i.e. a 1h 30′ progression run (ok, I never expected to run the half within 90′, but what’s an extra 10 ‘- 15’ between friends?)

It didn’t quite work out that way: the first 2.5km of the course were downhill and I let myself go a bit too much and for a bit too long: and to make matters worse, after about the 3k mark, I spotted a speed of Harriers (I’ll settle for that as the collective) in the distance who had started ahead of me in the race, so… I would be lying if I said that pacing considerations weren’t hampered by a desire to edge closer to them… After seeing their bright vests appear and then vanish again through the throng, I eventually caught up with them at around the mid point mark, but the impact of the faster-than-planned first half was showing, so any thoughts of still running this as a progression run and accelerating, and then upping the pace again 5k later went out the window!

In the event Chris and Andy were out for a relaxed race (I never would have made up the distance otherwise), so after staying with them for a bit, I eventually went past and – mindful of the uphill last mile (and the small business of the upcoming marathon) – I tried to take it relatively easy for the remaining 8km, not digging deeper than I had to and using whatever downhill to catch a breath.

I was impressed by Sarah though (who I occasionally called ‘Claire’ in the race for no apparent reason! Sorry!) who also detached herself from the speed of Harriers and stuck stubbornly to my shoulder! As the race went on we traded places a few times but she set off up the New Walk hill faster than I did, which I think is what made the difference in the end: For all my faults, I’m reasonably good at judging the pace up a hill (it should be slow!), so I had enough left for a push over the top and a decent 500m strong run to the finish.

Photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Harriers charging (after a fashion) up New Walk – photo curtesy of Andy Ball

Where I promptly folded in half and gasped for dear life, but that’s ok, that was on the other side of the finish line! 🙂 My (chip) time was 01:40:39 which is a PB with a decent margin, which I’m very pleased with, especially as I didn’t set out to blast this. So I don’t begrudge the 40”, I see it as an opportunity to break the 1:40:00 mark on another occassion.

What I’m less happy with is my lack of discipline at the start: something I will need to be more careful with in Athens. I could also tell the lack of strength and core training, I felt my abs and glutes complain a bit after the 18km, which isn’t great news with a full marathon coming up in less than two weeks’ time!

On the positive side, I did much better than I thought I would overall, I was pleased with my uphill running (ok, not the hilliest course in the world, by a margin, but the last 3km were all uphill, the New Walk mile in particular was the course’s sting in the tail) and with the fact that I still had enough in the tank for a very strong last 500m culminated by a final sprint.

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But the highlight of the day was once again being part of such a great running club! I arrived at Victoria Park alone (Demi was looking after guests at home), just one of over 3,000 runners, and within minutes I was in a huddle of Harriers keeping each other company till the starting gun. And it didn’t stop there: I already mentioned that the first half of the race was haunted by a vision of a speed of Harriers in the distance and the other half was ran just ahead or just behind Sarah. But the majority of the Harriers I saw were lining the streets offering very loud support, many of them were cycling or walking around the route to cheer us over and again! It makes a massive difference to our running, perceived suffering and enjoyment of the day!

And of course, once again congratulations go to the organisers, all volunteers and everyone involved with the race: I’ve run it two years in a row now and it’s becoming a favourite – especially the last stretch: yes, even the New Mile uphill but mostly the last few hundred meters along the tree lined Granville Road and across the finish line!

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After I had regained my breath (much to the relief of concerned spectators, who didn’t want their enjoyment of the day spoiled by a noisy fatality), the day kept getting better: Home for a quick shower and to join the guests I had been neglecting all morning (their fault really: I had offered them the opportunity to wake up at 6:30 on a Sunday to stand in a windswept park for a few hours but they – quite unreasonably – passed on it!) and then back to town for a runner’s very lengthy lunch in The Globe, followed by a relaxed afternoon watching footy, sipping autumnal ales and generally taking the sting out of Sunday evenings…

Dash and I

I don’t know about valets, but every man is a hero to his own dog! Photo curtesy of @Elemil

So, full speed ahead for Athens now! I’m really pleased I ran the half at the point I did: it gave me an idea of where I stand running-wise (I love the absurdity of this phrase, so I’ll keep it!), things I should watch out for and it reminded me that running is always different on a race-day. It also gave me a sense of confidence. Even if I’ll probably miss the target I had set myself when I started my training, I am still in the race. I’ve done all the long runs I’m going to do, I’ve balanced work etc. the best I could and have come through all the surprises, upsets and spells of self-doubt that past few months had to throw at me faster than I was this time last year, stronger and more self aware.

I’ve no idea what will happen in Athens (you can never take even finishing any race – let alone a marathon – for granted), but – all things considered – I’m happy with my prep. Bring it on!!!

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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!

…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!

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!

Back in training!

 

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Last week was the first of the 19 weeks of ‘proper’ marathon training after three weeks of sloth, and boy was it a shock!

Fortunately the first workout my programme had in store was sprint reps and they give you a nice feeling of speed and power, even if you’ve put on some extra weight – you don’t really notice it in the half-minute burst! Maintaining the same effort for all the reps (15 in my schedule) was a bit harder, but I just focused on technique, pushing through the elbows and lifting my heels toward my glutes to generate knee-lift (is that even a term?) By contrast, it was during the shorter (1′) recovery periods between sprints that I felt the worst, out of breath from the effort and fatigued from the number of repetitions; but win that mental battle, start the next sprint strong and it’s over in a flash!

The tempo run that followed a couple of days later was a much harder affair though – my lack of fitness really showed, and I wasn’t able to maintain the target pace on the undulating route through Huncote, Thurlastone and Narborough… In the end I ended up 5” per km off target pace and seriously out of breath, but for the first tempo run back I’m not complaining… my only concern is that the tempo section of this run was 25′, while it will be 35′ in the next one! Gulp!

I cross-trained on the Saturday (longish bike ride), and did Sunday’s progression run on the gym treadmill, sacrificing the road’s realistic training conditions (mainly in terms of pushing yourself to run at a certain pace, as opposed to having the conveyor belt coming at you) for the ability to structure the workout exactly as per the plan (being able to set the precise pace I wanted to run at at each stage of the progression). While I don’t want to rely on the treadmill to set the pace for me (there will be no such luxury in the race!), having just returned from a break I felt that completing the exercise was more important.

So, first week done and if it was a bit hard… well, it’s going to get much harder! Let’s hope I can get into shape fast enough to keep up with it!

And if this post was drier and more factual than usual, I apologise; but that too reflects the week’s training: it didn’t pay to concentrate on impressions, how I felt or what I was thinking of. It was all about overcoming the inertia, getting out there when it was the last thing I felt like doing and putting one foot in front of the other, taking it one rep at a time and getting back into training.